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Monday, August 25, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres






"ALONG with a billion Muslims across the globe, I turn to Mecca in Saudi Arabia every day to say my prayers. But when I visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the resting place of the Prophet Muhammad, I am forced to leave overwhelmed with anguish at the power of extremism running amok in Islam’s birthplace. Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter this part of the kingdom, so there is no international scrutiny of the ideas and practices that affect the 13 million Muslims who visit each year. Last week, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counterterrorism agency. This was a welcome contribution, but last year, Saudi Arabia rejected a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it. et’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe ... Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their 'purer' form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.  After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates." (Ed Husein)



Left, © Eric Boman; Right: From The Condé Nast Archive


"How did Gianni and I meet? It feels as if I had always known him, but the truth is that we met through his sisters shortly after World War II. I must have been 18 or so, and Gianni was 6 years older. It was after a brief encounter with his mother in 1943 that I began to listen to stories about the Agnelli clan and about Gianni, the eldest son. My girlfriends spent hours telling me about his reckless military actions as well as his gallant bravery. These narratives of heroic and irreverent behavior filled my imagination during those last war-torn years with a kind of longing. It was at that time, I think, that, without even having met Gianni, I started to feel butterflies fluttering for him. The Agnellis had been at the center of what was known then as “the fast set.” They led a glamorous life of parties, streamlined yachts, fast cars, and luxurious villas. Like most members of that set, they kept lovers. Their lives filled the gossip columns. I wouldn’t say they belonged to an immoral world, just a freely amoral one—at least by comparison with the one I had grown up in, an isolated, slightly conservative world known as the anglo-beceri. It was inhabited mainly by wealthy Anglo-American expatriates, like my mother, and members of the old Italian aristocracy, like my father—a set of people who spent their days visiting one another’s exquisitely refined gardens and crumbling villas on the hills of Florence and getting into interminable philosophical disquisitions. The Agnellis—seven siblings who all looked alike, talked alike, and often laughed at the same jokes—emanated a tribal aura. Their parents, Edoardo and Virginia Agnelli, had died young, so Gianni, at 24, found himself the head of the family. His youngest brother, Umberto, was only 11 at the time. Gianni was very close to all his siblings, and so when he and I got engaged, in the late summer of 1953, I felt daunted at the prospect of having to take on such a large, clannish family. But everyone was very supportive of us, including the devoted house staff that had served the Agnelli family for decades. They were delighted that, at the age of 32, their Avvocato, as they called him in tribute to his law degree, had finally decided to get married. When Gianni came from Turin to Rome to see my parents and ask for my hand, as one did in those days, I was in a state of total anxiety. I think I may have even stood behind the closed doors trying to eavesdrop. My mother wasn’t enthusiastic about this marriage at first. Her Puritan streak made her wary of the Agnelli glamour, and she didn’t like the fact that Gianni was a fixture in the gossip columns. My father was less judgmental and gave our union a chance. We were married on November 19, 1953, in the chapel of Osthoffen Castle, just outside of Strasbourg. My father, at the time, was secretary-general of the Council of Europe, which was based in that city. The day of the wedding was cold and gray, but the house was full of life. Our two families were there—including my Caracciolo cousins, uncle, and aunt—as well as our closest friends, some 60 people in all. I wore a Balenciaga gown. Gianni was on crutches following a bad car accident the year before. My mother had organized everything to perfection. She tended to be disorganized in the management of her everyday life, and on the whole she avoided social events, but when she had to be, she was amazing. When I had gone back to Italy in the spring of 1953, after my 18- month experience working in New York with photographer Erwin Blumenfeld, Condé Nast offered me a job as its correspondent in Italy. It worked well for me, but once I was married I had to give it up. I just didn’t have time to keep up with everything." (VanityFair)


Clare Boothe Luce, right, with Eleanor


"THAT PROVERB appears, by no coincidence, and with significant meaning, in an astonishing book, 'Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Boothe Luce' by Sylvia Jukes Morris. This is Ms. Jukes second volume on Mrs. Luce. The first, 'Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce,' I somehow, incredibly missed. But I didn’t feel out of my depth plunging into this one. I know a good deal about Mrs. Luce — at least the public woman — and 'Price of Fame' supplies enough background on Clare’s rather grimy, unhappy childhood, and her years as the beautiful, witty playwright of “The Women” and Society’s darling, to assuage any fears to missing 'the good stuff ... The BOOK begins in 1943, when Mrs. Luce, married to Henry Luce of Time, Inc. fame, sweeps glamorously and controversially into Washington as the Republican Congresswoman from Fairfield, Connecticut. Once fairly Democratic, she has swung violently Republican, never pausing to berate President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his handling of World War II, and innumerable other issues. Though not so Republican that she didn’t constantly push for women’s rights and civil rights. On the former, in much later years, her views could be typically, frustrating — oblique and conflicting. Women, she would say, who gave too much of themselves to their careers, faced 'loneliness and fatigue.' This from one of the century’s great career women!)  Clare’s various adventures as a Congresswoman, a war correspondent, the first female Ambassador to Italy (a successful but fraught several years, which might have included intentional arsenic poisoning!) and her brief tenure as Ambassador to Brazil, is a sturdy but essentially plain support for the story of Clare the woman. No movie star biography I have ever read has so many dramatic personal crises (mostly self-inflicted, natch), romantic/sexual episodes, and conflicting versions of the protagonists personality. Judy Garland, Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor seem downright normal against the tsunami of Mrs. Luce’s struggle with life, love, ambition, fame." (NYSD)

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