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This Sunday's NY Times, finding a jumping-off point in Gwyneth Paltrow's instantly derided "I Am African" ad and Madonna's recent, ten-minutes-behind-the-trend push into Malawi, turns its attention to the rapidly cooling continent whose myriad problems are the current fascination of celebrities looking to combine a vague intention to, like, do something socially responsible n' junk with some excellent opportunities for favorable publicity. Says the Times:

"Celebrities," Mr. Musto said, "have added a glamorous patina to it." And to themselves, he said, especially if they need a little good press, like Lindsay Lohan, who has suffered through a year of rough tabloid treatment for her party-girl ways and has vowed to visit Kenya in support of the One Campaign. [...]

But, said Morgan Binswanger, a former liaison between performers and philanthropies for Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles: "There's self-interest and there's enlightened self-interest, and the fringe between the two is gray. I think those that step forward and really carry out enlightened self-interest move an agenda."

Alyssa Milano certainly hopes that is true. The actress, who toured civil-war-torn Angola in 2003 (and strayed into an active minefield, without incident), said Africa is one way celebrities can transform an unprecedented level of scrutiny into their lives into something productive.

Given the PR problems that have dogged Lohan ever since she became famous enough to bypass the celebrity-optional age requirements of Hollywood drinking establishments, she might be the perfect person to take this fascinating idea of "enlightened self-interest" to the next level. The good she might do simultaneously for her image as a spoiled party girl and for the plight of Africa when she emerges from an extended bathroom break on a UNICEF photo shoot, staggers into a Kenyan orphanage, then tries to teach a roomful of starving children the technique involved in a well-executed body shot.