Toddlers running the US

WHEN director and comic writer Armando Iannucci was explaining the background for his political satire In The Loop, he said the film was in part inspired by his experience visiting Washington, where he discovered that US foreign policy and, by extension, the affairs of the world, were being run by ''22-year-old toddlers'' heading up their own departments. He told one interviewer: ''They're very bright. They … get degrees in things like strategic terrorism studies [and] suddenly this 22-year-old is this congressman's chief foreign affairs adviser. We met a 23-year-old who came up with a policy paper on Central America and the State Department liked it so much but said: 'we're all busy - you do it!' So, he was in charge of Central America. And another 22-year-old was sent out to Baghdad to help draw up the constitution. I don't know whether he can drive a car or even swear!'' The above came to mind because the Diary read in Haaretz yesterday that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's son, Ronan Farrow, pictured, was awarded a Rhodes scholarship. The 23-year-old graduated from college at 15 and, in the words of Haaretz, has ''already aced Yale law school [and] will study international development … He's now working as a special adviser for Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton''. So it is all true. That is the US foreign policy twists and turns explained.


It has been seven years since a notorious slashing of the City of Sydney's Christmas budget to $600,000 left some grouching about Scrooges. But clearly lord mayor Clover Moore's enduring of the sobriquet ''the Grinch who stole Christmas'' left its mark, for the city is spending $1.9 million on trees, decorations, concerts and choirs this year. However, it's not all about Christmas cheer, bread and circuses. Sydney has an ailing retail market (that is, it has an online shopping addiction) and the city is acting on the advice of the council's retail advisory panel by trying to turn the city into a bright, shiny consumer magnet. Tonight it will all kick-off with the council's children's Christmas concert and the lighting of the 21-metre high Christmas tree in Martin Place, which will sparkle from its broad base to its 1.5-metre star with 58,000 energy-efficient LED lights. In what we think is a dubious move, the lord mayor and Santa Claus will visit in a sleigh, amid fireworks from the rooftops of city buildings (What next? Clover Moore sliding down your chimney? Invitations to sit on Clover's knee?) Anyway, about 10,000 people are expected to come into the city for tonight's events. Retailers are hoping to snare some of them by staying open later, while a council-organised battery of carol singers and choirs serenades shoppers in Pitt Street Mall after the concerts. The Christmas on the Green event in Hyde Park is to host a parallel program for younger children. ''Our celebrations this year will be bigger and better than ever,'' Moore said. ''So I encourage all Sydney residents, workers and visitors to get involved in the celebrations taking place around the city.''


I do believe she's got it! Crownies actor Andrea Demetriades has landed the role of Eliza Doolittle in the Sydney Theatre Company production of Pygmalion, a role made suddenly vacant two weeks ago when Jessica Marais withdrew from the show, pregnant with her first child. Demetriades is an interesting choice to play George Bernard Shaw's cockney flower-selling guttersnipe, having recently appeared in Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Pericles for Bell Shakespeare. Whereas Eliza must improve her locution and diction, to play Eliza, Demetriades will presumably have to go the other way (yes, 'tis lucky she's an actor and all that). Given STC moved so fast (they had to - rehearsals start in three weeks) we asked if Demetriades had been in the running for the role in the first place? ''Jessica Marais was the only actress approached for the role when the production was programmed,'' STC's Tim McKeough said. ''When it became clear that the role of Eliza was now available she was an obvious choice. Andrea is obviously very different to Jessica but what they do have in common is an ability to combine the fragility and strength which Eliza demonstrates throughout the play.''


In Hollywood there's the ''Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon'' game where just about any actor worth his (or her) salt can be linked - in six steps or less - to the former Footloose star. It's all based on the oft-repeated idea that we're all part of the one human family and that everyone on the planet, no matter how distant, is just a few handshakes from everyone else. And it turns out the philosophers and poets were almost right, a study by Facebook and the University of Milan revealing everyone certainly is linked but the average number of steps it takes to get from one to another is just 4.74. Researchers examined 721 million active Facebook users - a figure that represents more than 10 per cent of the global population - and the 69 billion friendships among them and found the degrees of separation between any two Facebook users is smaller than the commonly cited six degrees and has been shrinking over the past three years. A spokesman for the Facebook data group said that ''99.6 per cent of all pairs of users are connected by paths with five degrees (six hops) and 92 per cent are connected by only four degrees (five hops)''. Which means, he said, that even if you took the most isolated Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rainforest, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend. And yes, Kevin Bacon is on Facebook.


THE controversial head of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Professor Kim Walker, is stepping down as dean after two terms and tonight she will enjoy an unofficial public farewell when she joins her supporter the composer Peter Sculthorpe and the artist Garry Shead to launch their DVD Journeys into Australia. It's fair to say Walker, a bassoonist, has divided staff and students and well, pretty much everybody during her seven years as dean. Her supporters claim she has brought the conservatorium to the world; and, by inviting international guests such as Michael Nyman, brought the world to the conservatorium. Her detractors feel she eroded the Con's reputation as an educational institution and spent too much time blowing her own bassoon. Walker has been dogged by unsubstantiated plagiarism allegations: in 2007 she was reinstated after an inquiry, the details of which were not offered for public scrutiny. And recently she attracted criticism for seeking to use a public relations firm for a reported fee of $137,000. A Con spokesman told the Diary: ''Kim Walker is looking forward to a year of research and performances. She will enjoy residencies at Yale University and the Juilliard School in the USA as a visiting fellow. In October, she was offered a distinguished affiliation as 'Guest Professor' at the Beijing Central Conservatory in China where she has been welcomed for the past 25 years and has ongoing standing invitations. She will be performing in Australia in the first half of 2012 and has two new CD projects to be released in Europe.'' Things are certainly likely to be a lot quieter without her around.




HE was no stranger to the big screen during his life, working with filmmakers such as Alex Cox, Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki, The Guardian reports. Now the late Joe Strummer, pictured, of the Clash looks set to be the subject of his own movie after the French filmmaker and actor Julie Delpy signed to direct a biopic titled The Right Profile. Delpy's film will focus on Strummer's famous 1982 disappearance from the spotlight, a stunt planned by the band's manager Bernie Rhodes to help boost flagging ticket sales for a Scottish tour which ended up with the singer and guitarist deciding to go missing. Uncertain about the subterfuge, Strummer travelled to France, where he is said to have taken part in the Paris Marathon in April 1982 after a training regime consisting of drinking 10 pints of beer the night before the race. The Clash began to break up a year later with the departure of Mick Jones from the band, and finally split for good in 1986. Strummer died suddenly in December 2002 from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just a month later. Delpy recently wrapped production on 2 Days in New York, the sequel to her 2007 comedy 2 Days in Paris, in which she starred opposite Adam Goldberg. The follow-up sees her sharing 48 hours with new beau Chris Rock. Delpy is also reportedly planning a second sequel to Richard Linklater's 1995 much-loved indie romance Before Sunrise, following 2004's Before Sunset. Before noon, anyone?


THE following is flattering after a fashion but, really, is it good for anyone in the long run? According to Associated Press, for the first time in a decade more people left New Zealand for good than those arriving to settle, and the bulk of the outflow came from almost 49,500 leaving for Australia in the year to October 31, with just 14,500 travelling the other way. Prime Minister John Key said he didn't believe National had failed on its promise to stem the brain drain across the Tasman. ''It's not something you can turn around overnight, although we are making progress in some areas,'' he told Radio NZ. Mr Key said one difficulty had been the global financial crisis, which affected Australia less because of its mining industry. And it's just better here, too, eh, bro?


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This article Toddlers running the US was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.