James Foley

Why America Is Culpable for the Murder of James Foley

An article in The New York Times yesterday revealed that ISIS demanded a ransom for James Foley’s release, according to his family. The U.S., along with Britain and Israel, refuses to pay ransoms to terrorists; kidnapping is a main source of income for Islamic militants. Al-Qaeda and splinter groups like ISIS have raised around $125 million extorting Western nations.

The Obama administration has admitted that it tried and failed to rescue Foley and other American hostages this summer. Attempted rescue is the correct course of action, but it is so much riskier than simply transferring money into a numbered account in some shady country. Foley paid the ultimate price for that risk as well as for our no-negotiation-with-terrorists policy.

The Cognitive Dissonance of the Modern American Conservative

I’ve long learned to skim over online comments left by wingnuts both right and left. Just as you know to steer clear of shouty-crackers schizos in the streets, you shouldn’t engage or even acknowledge extremists.

Still, I couldn’t help but respond to a right-wing whackjob the other day, who stated that Las Vegas meth-head shooters Jared and Amanda Miller were socialists because they were Neo-Nazis.

TRAIN SCENE 2046

Story of S: The Journey Into Bondage

“Vaping on the Surfliner to Santa Barbara. So Won Kar Wai,” I tweet. Everything is about film with me. I’m specifically referring to the glamorous robots and their lovers vaporously posing aboard zooming, futuristic trains in Won Kar Wai’s 2046. Maybe three people I know who could possibly read that tweet will get it. A minute later I get a response from a producer friend asking what the Surfliner is. She’s a dedicated driver, a Roman motorist, who would never take the train to either Santa Barbara or San Diego, the Surfliner’s route via Los Angeles, where it picked me up. Pity: it’s one of the most pleasant travel experiences I’ve ever known.

Paolo Sorrentino

Why Paolo Sorrentino Is and Isn’t the New Fellini

I was so put off by just the sacrilege inherent in the title of an article by Jimmy So in The Daily Beast that I couldn’t read it, and was less inclined to see Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty than ever. The blasphemous title was The New Fellini: Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Great Beauty.’ Sorrentino a new Fellini? Why, how dare he! Many Italian directors have added Fellinesque elements to their work, Woody Allen even make Stardust Memories as a spoof of il maestro’s , but to actually declare anyone to be Fellini himself? Like I said: sacrilege.

Eventually I was forced to surrender to the positive buzz and see the film. And then I read So’s article, in which he has a few of my same observations, namely that Sorrentino

Scared Shitless — Confessions of a Butch Pussy

I admit it: Most of my life I was a fraidy-cat, a panicked pickle, a serving of yellow-belly sashimi.

Not any more, for some reason. Something happened in early middle age: I stopped running and turned around to face my fears and went, “Boo, yourselves!” and they vanished, as specters of all kinds are wont to do when confronted.

Fear isn’t always unpleasant. There are entire recreational industries devoted to people tempting danger for the adrenaline rush. There are even professions that thrive on the natural high that comes from flirting with disaster: the armed forces, the stock exchange, Somali piracy.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper

‘Mad Men’: Let’s Get Metaphysical

If you look at Mad Men as pure entertainment, it simply isn’t.  Well, maybe if you’re an art director or costume designer it is.  If you look at it from an intellectual point of view, then season six is kicking off as hands-down the most philosophical series on TV.  Not that there’s much competition, except for perhaps Breaking Bad, but even that has too many gangsta moments to match the metaphysical meditation that Mad Men has become.

The new season opens with Don Draper on the beach in Hawaii (i.e., paradise) reading the opening canto of Dante’s Inferno:

Pope Francis

ANALYSIS: Pope Frank: What’s in a Name? Probably the Future of the Church.

SELF-PAT-ON-THE-BACK UPDATE: From Pope Frank’s activity the past twenty-four hours, his revelation about his inspiration for the name, it’s clear I hit the nail on the head with this article written shortly after the announcement of his election. If I were Nikki Finke from Deadline.com I’d blare “TOLDJA!”  Read on:

At the risk of annoying my regular readers, but as a way of explaining to the new, I was raised in Rome in the 70s, which means I had the strange experience of three popes in one year, 1978: the likely super-gay Paul VI died on August 6; John Paul I succeeded him twenty days later, then may or may not have been assassinated thirty-three days later (those were dodgy times in Italy, and more so than usual in the Vatican); then John Paul II stepped into the “shoes of the fisherman” on October 16

Pope Benedict

Is Frank the Last Pope?

UPDATE: This post was originally titled “Benedict: The Penultimate Pope?” and makes reference to the Prophecy of the Popes (see link below) as well as the real inexorable demise of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Wikipedia page about the prophecy has already been updated, less than an hour after a cardinal who appears to have suffered a stroke made the announcement. Wouldn’t you know it, the prophecy got it wrong.  To begin with, Frank’s chosen name isn’t Peter (conspiracy against prophecy?), and he’s from Argentina, a looong way from Rome.  But wait!  A last name like Bergoglio means that Frank is actually Italian, i.e. Roman, as are many Argentines. Here’s the text predicting what the last pope will be:

Gay Angel

Halloween? Bah, humbug.

Don’t get me wrong.  The few times I was able to go trick-or-treating as a kid, I loved it.  The problem is Halloween wasn’t celebrated where I grew up, in Italy, ironically the birthplace of that most ghoulish of religion sects, Roman Catholicism.  The Day of the Dead on November 1st—is anyone even aware that this is what is really being celebrated?—was a somber occasion on which all of those witch-like little old ladies in black, and they were legion, went to the cemeteries and tended the graves.  But the night before was bereft of kids going around knocking on doors and asking for candy.  Nothing happened at all.  I guess all the little old ladies just got a good night’s sleep before getting up for hours of marble tombstone scrubbing.

My sister and I were forbidden candy and granulated sugar growing up, so we found ways to procure it, usually pinching a few hundred lire here and there and buying sweets when we walked the dogs.  I believe we were allowed to visit the American embassy compound once or twice after we first moved to Rome, but my parents were somewhat disdainful of lower-level embassy employees, Marine guards and the like, so the kibosh was put on that ritual as well.

Perhaps I can blame my sneering at Halloween on my upbringing and my parents’ attitude.  I’m sure Mum being an Aussie didn’t help much either; whatever she was raised without was good enough for us, too.

Legendary French actress Annie Girardot

Remembering Annie—Part Two

Please read part one first, or this will make zero sense.

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We were on a family vacation in Florida when they told me Oliver Stewart had died—“We have some bad news for you, James: Your friend Oliver is very sick…  actually, he’s dead”—but I didn’t shed a tear.  It didn’t surprise me; I’d done my mourning already in the bathroom of Jules Feiffer’s apartment nine months earlier.  Or maybe shock numbed all normal emotion.  God knows, I can still cry easily enough about it today.

Had we been in New York, I might have made it to the funeral, but it was too complicated to get me to Rome from Florida on such short notice.  As a consequence of not burying him properly, for years I subconsciously believed that Oliver’s death was just another one of his pranks.