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Jul. 27 2010 — 3:44 pm | 111 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

WikiLeaks: Sex and the City Edition – Another Failed US Foray into the Middle East

A trove of more than 90 thousand documents released by the self-proclaimed whistle-blower WikiLeaks offers a grim picture of the latest US foray into the Middle East – one that senior White House officials knew would likely end in failure:  Sex and the City 2.

The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from June 1998 through May 2010 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the successful 2004 completion of the popular television series, producers refused to give up on the Sex and the City franchise even while opposition to it increased exponentially with the 2008 release of the first Sex and the City movie.

Sex and the City 2, released in May 2010, brings to the screen the now familiar gal-pals, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, who are flown on an all-expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi by an Arab sheikh.  Culture clashes ensue.

“Frankly, since the movie was already a critical failure back in May, we thought we dodged a bullet,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject. “The fact that WikiLeaks released these documents means someone simply wants to embarrass Warner Brothers, HBO, and the White House.”

The reports — some spare summaries and others more detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the Sex and the  City 2 production that pointed toward almost certain failure:

  • Grossly oversimplified stereotypes would be inflicted upon civilians not just in US movie theaters, but around the world.

“The bitch, the slut, the princess, and the everywoman – forming a circle of friendship unlikely to sustain itself in real life -– these are stereotypes that might have had some traction in the late 90’s, but are long since past their sell-by date,” said one report.

  • Those stereotypes would only be amplified in a Middle Eastern setting.

“Of course they have to ride camels,” said one classified document.  “Of course most Muslim men are portrayed as thugs, while Muslim women are all simply closeted Manhattanites.”

  • Obscene displays of conspicuous consumption far outweighed concerns related to narrative flow, plot development and character growth.

“This is what happens when power is taken out of the hands of the American movie-goer and put into the hands of those who benefit from product placement,” said another secret document.   “It’s the rise of the fashion-industrial complex.”

The hugely popular Sex and the City television series starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Kim Cattrall -  all hailed for their portrayals of modern women in a post-feminist landscape.

The series, which ran from 1998 until 2004, was nominated for 50 Emmy awards, winning seven times.   The Sex and the City movie, released in 2008 – and focusing on the married lives of the characters -  faced lackluster reviews.

While not directly involved in the production of Sex and the City 2, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says President Obama “is owning up to the responsibility” of what the US “foisted” upon its allies, the emirate of Abu Dhabi (UAE), where major segments of the film are set, and Morocco – where the movie was actually shot.

“These documents simply highlight what the President has been saying since the campaign,” Mr. Gibbs said in a White House briefing. “Not every superhero, not every theme park ride, and not every tv series needs to be made into a film  – or a sequel.”

Jul. 16 2010 — 9:00 am | 136 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Obama Takes a Meeting with Mephistopheles

Despite his scholarly eminence, Faust is bored and disappointed. He decides to call on the Devil for further knowledge and magic powers with which to indulge all the pleasures of the world. In response, the Devil’s representative Mephistopheles appears. He makes a bargain with Faust: Mephistopheles will serve Faust with his magic powers for a term of years, but at the end of the term, the Devil will claim Faust’s soul and Faust will be eternally damned.

July 14, 2010. Washington, DC.

President Obama paces in front of his desk in the Oval Office, when his secretary pops in.

“Your 2 o’clock is here.”

“Send him in.”

Dressed in an Armani suit, Mephistopheles appears. He can pass for a lobbyist, despite the faint whiff of sulfur.

“Mr. President,”  Mephistopheles smiles – but the president’s manner is brusque.

“You’ve probably already gathered why I called this meeting,” Obama says. “I’ve spent 18 months in office, and I can’t help but notice – you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.”

Mephistopheles sits, uninvited, on an Oval Office sofa.  “What ever do you mean?”

“I mean we had an agreement that I would be given transcendent powers of persuasion and an unprecedented mandate to transform our fractured national discourse, resulting in positive political gain and reaffirming the resilience and greatness of our nation.”

“Oh, but you have,” Mephistopheles insists. “How quickly you forget that you were nothing! A community organizer in Chicago, who despite coming from a racially-mixed, peripatetic and fatherless childhood rose above circumstances and all manner of plausibility to become a senator, electrifying a flatlined Democratic Party, redeeming the very principles of democracy in the eyes of a jaundiced electorate, whose historic presidential campaign has also helped restore the world’s faith in the United States as a global leader! You’re the first post-racial president! Your middle name is ‘Hussein’ for Satan’s sake!”

Mephistopheles stops to draw a breath.

“Don’t you remember, ‘Yes, we can?’”

“Yes, I do,” Obama says, his voice clipped. “But the arrangement we made covered 8 years in office, and I can’t help but notice you’re slacking off on your end of the bargain.”

Mephistopheles rolls his eyes. “Would you stop saying ‘bargain, arrangement?’ You sold us your eternal soul.”

“And what am I getting in it for return?” Obama says, his voice rising, striding around the Oval Office. “We’ve got an ongoing financial crisis thanks to the rampant greed on Wall Street, we’ve got would-be terrorists in Times Square, we’re still in Iraq, the question is only how badly we’ll fail in Afghanistan, closing Guantanamo’s a bitch, and we may be losing the House in the fall.”

“Oh, so now health care -  and excuse me, but the Nobel Peace Prize  – don’t count for anything?” Mephistopheles’ voice is laden with sarcasm.

Obama turns.

“And don’t think I haven’t noticed that some of the biggest problems are coming from underground. The Haitian earthquake? Oil pouring out of a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?  The volcano?”

Mephistopheles looks up – clearly surprised.

“You thought you could slip that by me by putting it in Iceland? Don’t think for a second that I don’t recognize your handiwork.”

“Fine!” Mephistopheles stands up. “But the boss and I have problems, too!”

“Like what?”

“We’ve been losing ratings to cable and the internet like everyone else! It takes a critical mass of belief in the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Lucifer, a Corporeal Manifestation of Absolute Evil for us to sustain original programming! I mean, Come on – Oprah? Dr. Phil? Lifetime? Susan Boyle? All this happy do-gooder self-affirming nonsense is putting a dent in our bottom line!”

It’s Mephistopheles’ turn to start pacing.

“Even the pedophilia scandal across the breadth of the Catholic Church, the cover-up to which implicated the Pope – the Pope, for Satan’s sake – didn’t give us the ratings bump that we deserved.”

“Yeah – well, I feel your pain,” Obama sneers.

“No, you don’t,” Mephistopheles shoots back. “That was your Democratic predecessor.”

Obama looks taken aback. “I’m not your first president?”

“Don’t be absurd,” Mephistopheles shoots Obama a withering look.  “And have you ever wondered why Dick Cheney just won’t die?”

Obama looks down at the floor for a moment and exhales. “That all may well be. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. Unless I see some performance changes, you’re simply not getting my eternal soul.”

“Fine.”  Mephistopheles prepares to leave. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Obama stands in front of him. “That’s not good enough. Let’s start with the Gulf of Mexico, financial reform, and then take a look at the mid-term elections. If those go well, then we’ll talk.”

“All I’m saying is, I’ll take it to the boss,”  Mephistopheles grumbles.

“You do that.”

And with just that hint of brimstone in the air, Mephistopheles goes.

President Obama buzzes his secretary. “Ok, what’s next?”


July 15, 2010

The Washington Post. “Congress gave final approval Thursday to the most ambitious overhaul of financial regulation in generations, ending more than a year of wrangling…”

- The New York Times.  “BP said Thursday that it had capped its hemorrhaging well, at least temporarily, marking the first time in 86 days that oil was not gushing into the Gulf of Mexico….”

Jun. 15 2010 — 3:08 pm | 138 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

A Back Room Chat Between Obama, Gates and Karzai

The New York Times: U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan


WASHINGTON – The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits – including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium – are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe….

[Afghanistan could become] “the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

…. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

Below is how I imagine that conversation went between President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

May. 24 2010 — 10:29 am | 255 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Backstage at the Crackdown

The Thai government cracked down on anti-government rioters known as the “Red Shirts” on May 19, 2010 — this is my view from “backstage.”

By government accounts, 52 people were killed during the operation and hundreds were injured.  That’s in addition to 37 killed in a failed crackdown on April 10th.  (Among the dead are two foreign journalists; while at least four foreign journalists and three Thai journalists were wounded.)

It’s important to note, on the edges of the roughly 6 square mile protest zone in central Bangkok, troops spent days clashing with Red Shirt hardliners, some of whom were armed. In the very center – on an intersection called Rajaprasong, the protests were peaceful. Many were families from Isaan, Thailand’s rural northeast.

In the post-crackdown hangover, there’s been a backlash at the Western press – particularly CNN and the BBC -   for the coverage of the Red Shirt protests and the military action. Some seem to think the coverage was weighted in favor of the Red Shirts, and it’s generating some conspiracy theories.

Because of this shoot-the-messenger paranoia, a quick what-should-be-obvious disclaimer for any Thailand-based readership.

-       this blog post does not claim to represent every nuance of the arguably 9 years of politics leading up to the May 19, 2010 crackdown and rioting.  It is what it says it is:  a view from “backstage” during it.

-       Because I was 17 floors up in a building at the time of the military’s final push into the center of the Red Shirt camp in Rajaprasong, one should not assume that all foreign media were. Plenty of news organizations had correspondents on the ground with the Thai military.

-       While troops entered the Rajaprasong intersection area without any real resistance, a clash erupted near the Wat Prathunam temple – where many peaceful protesters had taken refuge – later that day. This has led to questions as whether the army purposefully targeted civilians in a humanitarian zone, in what may prove to be the most controversial moments of the crackdown.  Read The Independent’s Andrew Buncombe’s account of the incident and how he was wounded there.

-       Please read Thai journalist Karuna Buakamsri’s account of a Red Shirt mob’s attempts to burn down Thai Channel 3.

-      For more on Thailand’s byzantine politics, watch my last video blog;  read this Reuters “what’s next?” story; this Asia Sentinel piece, or an excellent BBC analysis.  There are many other solid accounts and analyses.

In addition:

-       Please forgive the shoddy camera-work. This was me playing with a Flip camera on the sidelines of my real reporting, contributing to National Public Radio and SBS Australia.

-       My thanks to my friend and colleague Adrian Callan for use of his photos, many more of which are viewable on Flickr.

May. 12 2010 — 6:35 am | 212 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Thailand’s Farcical Politics Would Be Funnier, If It Weren’t So Serious

On May 12, 2010, the Thai government announced an ultimatum to the “Red Shirt” protesters who have been occupying Bangkok’s central business district for the past two months:  Leave by tonight – or else.

“Or else” might amount to the government cutting food, water and electricity to the area – not a big deal, given that the Red Shirts have generators, and I imagine they’ll  be fairly ingenious about the rest.

It may also signal a military crackdown in the coming days.

Or it could mean nothing at all.

A political farce, I decided, deserves a farcical explanation.  It’d be funnier, as you’ll see, if it weren’t also so damn serious.

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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist and writer who has recently returned to the US after 17 years living overseas, primarily in Southeast Asia.

    In 1992, I went to Cambodia – then at the height of the UNTAC peacekeeping mission - to cut my teeth on journalism.

    ….I was in Hong Kong, for the 1997 Handover to Chinese rule; and then it was off to

    …..Indonesia - for the fall of President Suharto in 1998, through the the reformasi movement; the East Timor conflict, its independence ballot and peacekeeping mission; the fallout from September 11th in “the world’s most populous Muslim nation” and the Bali bomb, and myriad points in-between during a five and a half year span;

    …. and onwards to India, where I was Voice of America radio/television correspondent for South Asia between 2003 and 2006, which included rotations in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with my “patch” of India, including Kashmir; Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

    I’ve freelanced my way in and out of Bosnia, Burma, Egypt, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand. I’ve also filed out of Vietnam and Malaysia.

    My name is Mary Patricia Nunan, and I vastly prefer “MP.” If you’ve heard me on the radio or seen me on tv – NPR, VOA, CBC, BBC or others -- it would have been as “Patricia Nunan.” I’ve never had much use for the “Mary.”

    See my profile »
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    Contributor Since: August 2009
    Location:New York City