Article One- Barak Obama;
Barack Obama and the new place of American power
History is the story of nations and empires that rise and fall.
Some think that the United States - stressed by economic problems at home and strained by two current wars abroad - has come to the end of its dominant role in global affairs.
The post-American era is not yet here. The U.S. remains the strongest military power on earth. Its economy is still by far the largest.
But it now must operate in, and cooperate with, a multipolar world of nations that are rising around it in stature and influence.
As President Obama put it at the G-20 summit in London earlier this month (once upon a time it used to be the G-7), no more Churchill and Roosevelt stuff, sitting in a back room together and deciding the future of the world. "That's not the world we live in," said the president. So the world today must be less influenced by American fiat, and more by American persuasion.
The U.S. needs Russia, a Russia intent on resurgence after the loss of Soviet satellites, to help curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. The U.S. needs China, a China increasingly robust economically and conscious of its new global influence, to restrain North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The U.S. turns to the European Union to bolster antiterrorist forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. urges India, fast becoming an economic superpower, to calm the fears of its old enemy Pakistan about another Indo-Pakistan war, so that Pakistan's military can concentrate on the Taliban and Al Qaeda within its borders. The U.S. needs the help of nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to smooth relations with Syria and negotiate with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Obama looks to a predominantly Muslim country such as Turkey to improve America's relations with nonterrorist Islam, perhaps even to facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam," he told Turkish dignitaries.
Throughout his first international foray since becoming president, Obama spread the words his interlocutors wanted to hear. He had come "to listen," as well as proffer ideas. America appreciates that "Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse. Japan is rebuilt [and] is a powerhouse. China, India, these are all countries on the move. And that's good," Obama noted.
Of his meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev: "What we're seeing today is the beginning of new progress in U.S.-Russian relations." Medvedev's leadership "was critical in allowing that progress to take place."
We shall have to see whether all the charm and sweet talk in play on this first Obama overseas diplomatic venture will be translated into tangible cooperation. Obama made it clear that at least in public, American diplomacy under his direction is to be characterized by more modesty and humility to friends and allies.
While the G-20 is undoubtedly made up of some heavy hitters, back in New York, on the banks of the East River, the United Nations gives voice to all the world's nations.
An interesting test for the Obama administration will be whether its diplomatic congeniality should extend to expanding the permanent, veto-wielding "Big Five" on the U.N. Security Council, who basically call the important shots at the U.N. They are: the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, which have held their closely preserved positions since the U.N.'s inception in 1945.
Newly influential nations such as Germany, India, Japan, and Brazil, whose cooperation the Obama administration now seeks, have argued that while the Big Five may have been representative of the world as it was then, they are not representative of the world today. Therefore the permanent membership should be expanded to include these nations of new heft and importance.
It is an argument of unquestionable reasonableness. Behind the scenes over the years, deep, dark politics have thwarted such change. Will the newly recognized interconnectedness of the world extend to the international body that is supposed to represent it?
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column for the Monitor's print weekly edition.
Article Two- Madonna;
Madonna and the Power Marriage
If a wife has more oomph than her husband, can it last?
Madge and Guy, on the rocks. For those of you who don't follow trash, that's not a new drink but an unsubstantiated story about the possible break up of two A-list celebs: Madonna and Guy Ritchie. But it's not the gossip that's interesting, rather a quote about the breakup from an ABC story that's making the rounds: "It seems that every time a super-successful female star gets together with a lower-profile man, tongues wag."
"Really? Do they wag? The tongues, I mean," Broadsheet's Rebecca Traister was quick to ask. "Because I don't really remember anyone batting an eye over Madonna's marrying Ritchie, an attractive film director who is not as successful as she. You want to know why he is not as successful? Because she's Madonna. Who's she going to date? Jesus is unavailable."
What everyone's wagging about here is the current politics of marriage and gender. People are presuming that Ritchie and Madonna (I'd use her last name, for equality purposes, but of course, she's Madonna and doesn't need one) are breaking up because the wife is more powerful than the husband. Which also, presumably, means it would be OK if the genders were reversed.
Others disagree that the power dynamic is the problem. "A lot of men don't mind being in the shadow of a very successful woman. It really comes down to the guy," offers Bradley Jacobs, a senior editor at US Magazine.
Let's ask the father
But Maureen Dowd's column in this week's New York Times, which is hooked to Madonna and Ritchie (and also the messy Christie Brinkley/ Peter Cook divorce trial), also wags in. Her column, which has the been the most-read item in the NYT for three days, is about Father Pat Connor's advice about whom not to marry, which the 79-year old Catholic priest has been offering up to high school students for 40 years.
Some of the advice is pretty good: don't hook up with someone who has no friends, for example. And "steer clear of someone whose life you can run, who never makes demands counter to yours. It's good to have a doormat in the home, but not if it's your [spouse]." Even a member of one of the most conservative institutions around thinks equality matters.
Adding up attraction
So if equality matters, how do we calculate that? The tabloids' barrage of coverage would have us believe it's all about numbers, often comparing Madonna's number one singles to Ritchie's number one movies, her $600 million to his double digit millions, her Grammy nominations to his Oscars, and finds that according to that calculation, Ritchie comes up short.
The ABC story also looks at other examples of mismatched couples like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (their Oscar nods don't quite match up) Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale's (she's had more record sales lately).
So what's wrong with this picture? I think we know which gender would get the higher score about 99.9 per cent of the time if it were solely based on money and career-related awards. And I don't think I'm going out on a feminist limb here when I suggest that doesn't mean that women actually are less powerful most of the time and that therefore most relationships are doomed.
The idea that it's a number, usually with a dollar figure in front, instead of a formula that includes intangibles, is whacked, to quote Dr. Tony Soprano.
One friend's grandfather earned millions as an entrepreneur, and grandmother never brought home a paycheque. But anyone who met them for five minutes would have no doubt of their equality. She made all the decisions about their household, four kids and social lives. And they spoke to each other with deep respect. When he retired, he still drove to the store every day to get her the day's newspaper with her favourite crossword (why they didn't have a subscription was never clear). When he died suddenly, she didn't even know what bank they used or where the deed to the house was, but amazingly to me, even with that factored into the equation, they were true equals.
It's a lesson I need to learn. Having grown up in the '80s and '90s in second wave feminism's heyday, I've come to think of my own power in a relationship in terms of a dollar figure -- whether I contribute equally to the household financially. Women worked hard to give me career-related opportunities, and it's my responsibility to take them. Looking at this story and others, it's not hard to see why I tend to discount the other intangibles I bring to the table (including the hours of domestic labour I contribute), and also why that's a mistake.
Sure, it helps to have money or fame or looks or awards that are roughly equivalent. But that's because, otherwise, there's so much ground to make up elsewhere.
So, what about the rumours about Madge and Guy breaking up because she's more powerful? Those rumours are now compounded by more rumours of her dalliance with New York Yankee mega-star Alex Rodriguez, whose wife is divorcing him for infidelity. In the richest baseball jock of all time, has Madonna finally found a suitably powerful match?
Well, keep in mind that Ritchie earned $20 million for one of his movies. He's not exactly a back up dancer. More important, Madonna has frequently said that Ritchie is the only man she's met who's her equal. So he's not really in her shadow, as Jacobs suggests, just because he doesn't have her millions.
But even if he was, people with calculators need to go ahead and put them away now because some things can't be measured by numbers.
Article Three- Miuccia Prada;
Desperation and luxury are mortal enemies. Fear and power do not peacefully coexist. It follows, then, that she who wishes to reach the most rarefied and potent ranks of fashion, whether in dealmaking or designing, must have a certain serenity. A certain above-the-fray quality. And a flat-out disregard for what you think. Which brings us to Miuccia Prada. The rise of Mrs. Prada, as she is known to her Italian staff members, is a well-known tale--your basic story of a onetime communist and mime student from Milan who takes over her family's dusty luggage company and, with the help of her go-getting husband, turns it into a luxury conglomerate that in 2002 had revenues of about $1.9 billion. Her power, first manifested in the minimal black nylon backpack draped over every influential arm in the '90s, also became incarnate in such celebrities as Uma Thurman, twirling down the red carpet in ethereal Prada-designed Oscar gowns.
But having created some definitive design benchmarks, while a sure sign of her eye, is not what has really given Prada her juice. What sets her apart is her disregard--in some cases, her open contempt--for the dictates of fashion. Whereas fashion expects an image to be constantly updated, Prada reportedly sank upwards of $100 million into projects that are supposed to be permanent, if not immutable: her architecturally pioneering stores in New York City (by Dutch brainiac Rem Koolhaas) and Tokyo (by the precise Swiss duo Herzog & De Meuron). Whereas common sense says a designer should design what she likes, Prada will choose a color (such as turquoise) that she despises, because of the rush it gives her when she can make something beautiful with it.
Prada has few celebrity friends. She lives in the apartment she grew up in. And, of course, season after season, she sends intelligent, beautiful and, inasmuch as anything in fashion can be, sui generis collections down the Milan runways. "If you want to know what a season is about, you don't miss the Prada show," says Julie Gilhart, fashion director for Barneys. "She never follows anyone else's lead, just her own original energy. Her collections are completely an expression of herself."
And herself is curious, independent and thoughtful. Prada once showed a raincoat that was transparent until it got wet and became opaque. This season she charmed the front row with a collection inspired by 1950s souvenir scarves and the quirky tchotchkes (beaded bags, raffish straw hats and embroidered suede moccasins) that a stylish housewife might have picked up on a honeymoon in Venice.
Prada the company has not been immune to the economic downturn and has some challenges ahead, including a heavy load of debt that it has been working to pay off. But one thing Prada the woman is unafraid of is a good fight. And more often than not, she wins.
Fear and power do not peacefully coexist. It follows, then, that the rise and fall of nations and empires through unsubstantiated stories are deciding the future of the world. Nations that are rising in stature and influence seem to have a flat out disregard for current politics, rather they spread the words their interlocutors want to hear, disagreeing that the power dynamic is the problem. These political issues are actually starting to surpass the hunger for A-list celebrity and fashion gossip and trash. Rather than asking what a season is about as Prada sends sui generis collections down the Milan runways, we must, to rise in stature and influence converse about how Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse, Japan is rebuilt and a powerhouse, China, India, all these countries are on the move which can lead to a disregard, and in some cases, open contempt to whether Madonna has finally found a suitably powerful match with these nations of new heft and importance. But rather than follow blindly the craze to fast become a superpower one must be curious, independent and thoughtful, providing their own power, whilst never following anyone else’s lead, just your own original energy. And hence the dominant role you proffer will produce definite deisgn benchmarks.