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Quick Hits: Stars Strike It Rich in Middle East

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Brief scrutiny of today's headlines.

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Here's the simple solution to your financial woes: Become a rock star -- or burnish your credentials as a has-been actress -- and travel to the Middle East to scoop up barrels of money.

You may not have Christina Aguilera's bod, but chances are your warbling in the shower tops Madonna's singing talent, so give it a shot.

The oil-rich folks in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates are coughing up big bucks for private appearances by American celebs. Even Meg Ryan, former box-office queen of saucy innocence, pocketed $150,000 for hosting the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last month.

Word on the street is that Aguilera received $700,000 for a single concert. Think about that the next time you fill up your gas guzzler.

While such things can't be confirmed for all the obvious reasons, rumor has it that Madonna negotiated a $3 million deal for a one-night appearance in the United Arab Emirates. Question: Will her name be offensive to the locals?

The price tag for private appearances underscores the fascination with American popular culture, even in regions where you'd think it would be verboten.

Of course, the fascination with big names isn't limited to the Middle East. Magazines and TV shows in the US dutifully chronicle every silly thing our beloved air-head celebs say and do. Wall Street tycoons have spent big bucks on rock stars for their kids' birthdays or bar mitzvahs, and Bruce Springsteen campaigned for President-Elect Barack Obama. First runner-up Senator John McCain campaigned with that old bodybuilding geezer who's now governor of California.

It's fruitless to ask why we care about celebs.

Better to note: It's the fascination with famous ninnies that unites us, Republican and Democrat, East and West, schlub and sheik.
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