Cheering for Ski!

I just wanted to extend my thanks to the many people who keep sending their good wishes for my sister’s recovery. One of her colleagues sent this YouTube video to me—when Ms. Ski (as she has always been affectionately called) was showing how much rhythm she’s got, with the Brooklyn Tech Cheering Squad (at the “40 Years of Cheers” reunion). She’ll be back dancing before too long …

Super Super Milesio

… I just love this kid (Roger Bissell‘s grandson). Any kid who can move (in a Jacob Collier mash-up) seamlessly from “The Flintstones” theme to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing” to the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” is a Super Super Milesio! Bravo!

Jelly: Who Needs It?

Okay, so you figure, it’s January 16th, and if I’m going to echo an Ayn Rand title, I’d put up one questioning: Where were you on the Night of January 16th? But noooo… I have to reference that other book (and essay) Philosophy: Who Needs It to address this issue! After all, there are much more pressing problems that I am compelled to face!

From the time I was a little kid, in those footsie PJs (yes, I wore a few of those when I was, like 3 or 4 years old), I remember my Mom (Rest In Peace) telling me, when I was eating toast with grape jelly smeared on it, “Watch the jelly! Don’t get jelly on your pajamas!” And without fail, the sticky stuff ended up on the PJs and everywhere else.

To this day, no matter who I am with, who is using jelly on their toast or crackers or English muffins, somehow, someway, that sticky jelly or jam gets SOMEWHERE on a utensil, a plate, a table cloth, the floor. This sticky stuff finds its way through the air onto surfaces far and wide!

Would somebody please explain this to me? Are we just slobs or is there some metaphysical reason why this happens?

The World is Going to Pot — And So Is Our Car!

Every Wednesday and Thursday in my Gravesend, Brooklyn neighborhood, we have this ritual called “alternate side of the street parking.” You have to move your car (or double-park it temporarily) from one side of the street to the other (or risk a parking ticket), so that a sanitation street-sweeping truck can drag filth from one end of the block to the other. This keeps our streets clean!

Well, last Thursday, I double-parked our car so that the street-sweeper could do its job efficiently; when the time was up for us to put the car back on the Thursday side, I parked the car right back in the same spot, two doors down. I left the car there until this morning, when I got into the car to double-park it again for our weekly exercise.

When I got into the car, it smelled like skunk. I took out the air freshener and sprayed the car. And then I left it double-parked until I had to go back down to return it to its previous parking spot.

The smell was still in the car. WTF? I’m looking around the car, under the car, now starting to wonder if some actual skunk had crawled up inside the car and died or something. I mean, I’ve seen an occasional racoon and even opossum, which were released by government officials some ten years ago to control the rat population! But never a skunk.

No luck. I mean, who am I kidding? This isn’t skunk. It’s the smell of pot! Perhaps somebody had been smoking pot near the car? So I get back into the car. I’m sniffing around, and I look down in the cup holder separating the two front seats. Lo and behold, I see that a $10 roll of quarters has been opened—no quarters left therein—and underneath it is a half-smoked joint. I guess whoever broke into the car (and HOW ON EARTH DID THEY GET INTO A LOCKED CAR WITH AN ALARM WITHOUT US HEARING IT?) was too stoned to finish, and decided to leave it there perhaps for another visit on another night. Too cold outside in the middle of January, after all! Better to be seated in somebody’s car where you can sit back, kick up your feet, smoke a joint, relieve the owner of ten bucks in quarters, which was sitting there to feed the parking meters of New York City.

Ordinarily, I’m a really understanding guy. I mean, it was only ten bucks, right? And I’m on record against the “war on drugs.” I couldn’t care less what you smoke, what you snort, what you mainline! But does it have to be done in our car?

Okay, I’ve been under a little pressure lately, what with having had a few surgeries in the early fall, almost losing my sister to a serious illness in mid-November, and becoming a primary caregiver in the middle of a pandemic, while dealing with healthcare bureaucracies and regulations designed to frustrate recovering patients from getting the after-care they require.

Yearning for a little respite from it all, during my morning stationary bike workouts, I’ve made my way through all those old “Karate Kid” films (I-IV) again, in preparation for the Netflix “Cobra Kai” series, amazed at all the kernels of wisdom that came out of the mouth of Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita). You know, things like: “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good” and “For man with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death.”

So I took a nice deep breath, the smell of Fabreze not quite having erased that other scent, yearning for that balance in a world gone to pot! I forgave the stupidity of whoever broke into our car, a person who obviously needed a nice cozy place to smoke a joint in the middle of the night. I picked the joint up and threw it out the window, making sure to use a little Purell to clean my fingers. Then, I picked up the empty $10 quarter-wrapper and put it in my pocket.

I looked up at the sky through the windshield and simply said in Italian: “GesĂą Cristo, Maria, San Giuseppe.” I didn’t yell. I didn’t scream. I didn’t even utter a single Sicilian curse! I simply marched upstairs and wrote out the sign below, came back down, and taped it to the steering wheel of the car.

I decided, last minute, to trim off the bottom of the sign, because to err is human, to forgive divine. Omitted was what I was really feeling, full of grace and forgiveness: “You toucha my car again, I breaka your face.”

Ed. – For the record: I looked on YouTube (and I’m NOT posting that video here), which shows how to ‘break into’ the particular make and model of our car without any damage to the car. [To be clear: It’s listed under how to get into the car if you left your keys inside…] Very nice! At least I know that nobody can drive off with it; they can just use it for, uh, hanging out! 🙂

The Eternal Healthcare Deductible …

For those who have tried to navigate through the labyrinthine network of health insurance regulations in this country, this one from “Pearls Before Swine” (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News) hits home … comically and painfully …

^ Yep.

Alex Trebek, Jeopardy Farewell

Tonight was the final segment filmed by Alex Trebek, which was supposed to air on Christmas Day, but which was pushed to the first week of January. The show was filmed on October 29th, just about a week-and-a-half before he died on November 8, 2020. This was an especially poignant way to end the Trebek years of one of my all-time favorite game shows: “Jeopardy!

The Trump “Revolution” in Foreign Policy … Not Quite

Back in July 2016, when I predicted that Donald Trump would win the White House, I wrote about the coming “Trump Revolution,” encouraged by only one thing above all: That Trump might foster a less interventionist foreign policy. He was belatedly critical of the Iraq War and when questioned by Bill O’Reilly about how Russia had interfered in U.S. elections, he replied correctly: “You think our country’s so innocent?” Indeed, the United States government has been responsible for toppling more governments abroad (both covertly and overtly) than perhaps any other government on earth. (The filth that is U.S. foreign policy was first made most apparent by the publication of The Pentagon Papers by the New York Times—through the reporting of Neil Sheehan, who died yesterday, ironically, and the Washington Post. We can thank whistleblowers from Daniel Ellsberg to Wikileaks for having provided so much evidence of this …)

Trump’s distrust of the so-called Deep State was also a breath of fresh air, given the long-standing power that has been exercised by administrative bureaucracies and agencies, all unelected, and embedded in the National Security apparatus, the U.S. intelligence community—and such institutions as the Federal Reserve System and the vast array of regulatory agencies, virtually all of whom operate to protect the very industries being “regulated.” This is in the very nature of the kind of “capitalism” that its advocates have defended with regularity. It is crony by definition—a system rigged in favor of those most adept at using its levers.

The problem, however, for Donald Trump, is that after four years, instead of “draining the swamp,” he became part of it. In fact, in all too many respects, he only deepened it. I’m not going to even begin to touch on what Trump’s years in office have wrought domestically, since I’ve discussed it here, here, here, and here, for example.

As one who favors radically freed markets liberated from the heavy hand of the state—and a culture that would necessarily support such liberation—it is simply a fact that Trump never endorsed freed markets. He remains an economic nationalist, harking back to the beginnings of the Grand Old Party, which championed, way back in the nineteenth century, high tariffs, subsidies for industry, and protectionism, all at the expense of the disenfranchised. Today, too many Democrats who oppose Trump with policies that are called “socialist” are typically advocating shifting forms of state intervention that will benefit a whole slew of other favored industries, be they in “alternative” energy or in healthcare. Neither party is a friend of freedom; the system is rigged to benefit those who are most adept at wielding the levers of power to augment their wealth and influence. Nothing that Trump did in four years has altered that dynamic. Period.

Moreover, those who think that the Trump years brought “peace” in foreign affairs, should check their premises. Like Obama before him, Trump focused on proxying-out military intervention. Sometimes it’s been trumpeted as good for the economy; after all, when the U.S. gives money to the Saudi government, the Saudis spend that money by purchasing U.S.-manufactured munitions, which are then used against countries like Yemen. As reported in Jacobin magazine, Trump’s promise to end “the era of endless wars” has only led to the repositioning of troops rather than their return home. Indeed,


the “endless” wars have not ended. Trump has dropped more bombs and missiles than George W. Bush or Barack Obama did in their first terms, and there are still roughly as many US bases and troops overseas as when he was elected. … Trump has vetoed every bill passed by Congress to disengage US forces from the Saudi war in Yemen and to halt the sales of US-made warplanes and bombs, which the Saudis use to systematically kill Yemeni civilians. … Trump has also backed a coup in Bolivia, staged several failed ones in Venezuela, and targeted even the United States’ closest allies with sanctions to try to prevent them from trading with US enemies. Trump’s brutal sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba are not a peaceful alternative to war, but a form of economic warfare just as deadly as bombs, especially during a pandemic and its accompanying economic meltdown. …


[M]ilitary spending for procurement, research and development (R&D), and base construction has risen by 39 percent. This has been a huge windfall for the Big Five US weapons makers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — whose arms sales revenues rose 30 percent between 2015 and 2019. The 49 percent increase to more than $100 billion for R&D on new weapons systems in 2020, part of the enormous $718 billion Pentagon budget, is a down payment on trillions of dollars in future revenue for the merchants of death unless these programs are stopped.

The Trump record is almost complete; future historians will debate his legacy—the last few days an ugly extension of it—but in the one area that some of us held out some hope, Donald Trump failed.

I do have to say, though, that I find it hilarious that the Democratic leadership is thinking about initiating a second impeachment trial or have expressed support for the invoking of the 25th Amendment to get Trump out of office before Inauguration Day, just 12 days away.

There was a real constitutional question as to whether a sitting President could pardon himself. If these Never-Trumpers succeed, there would be no question should the House of Representatives impeach him and a new Democratically-controlled Senate actually convict him, that the new President, Mike Pence, could very easily pardon Trump, with no constitutional issues clouding things up.

Either way, folks, on January 20, 2021, Mike Pence will be in attendance at the inauguration of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States (Trump is boycotting the ceremony). In the meanwhile, even long-time Trump supporters are running for the exits in light of the Capitol Catastrophe, an assault on that building the likes of which have not been seen since the War of 1812. Gone are Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Special Envoy to Northern Ireland and Former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Commerce Department John Costello, White House Council of Economic Advisers (Acting Chairman) Tyler Goodspeed, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham, Social Secretary Rickie Niceta, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews and now THIS! Deputy Undersecretary for Stabbing: Jon Schwarz! Have these folks have no sense of decency left!

For those who don’t get the allusion to Jimmy Cagney’s “White Heat” [YouTube link]
Bramhall’s World,
New York Daily News (7 January 2021)
(Yeah, yeah, I know the Republic seems to be in shambles, the Capitol was ransacked, and life is miserable. Each side is accusing the other of treason, and it’s nothing to laugh at. But at some point, you just look up and say: WTF?)

Dialogue on Home Health Care Or How to Raise My Sicilian!

Having been born with a life-threatening disorder (SMAS) that nearly killed me when I was 13 years old, I received life-saving surgery back in 1974 that enabled me to not merely survive but to flourish, despite some serious complications that required 60+ surgical procedures since that time for a wide variety of side effects (including kidney stones, intestinal bleeding, hernias, etc.).

The condition pretty much bankrupted me and my family; I received generous assistance from caring friends and relatives, but it’s taken a lifetime to get out of debt.

For those who don’t know, there is a serious problem with healthcare in this country. Now is not the time to get into what needs to be done to even slightly improve the systemic problems that have plagued the medical professions and the health insurance industry. Suffice it to say, when you are considered “too well off” according to the government to receive any kind of sustained assistance, but not well off enough to afford long-term care, you’re put in a position of trying to come up with a practical patchwork plan that will carry you to the next level up, rather than six feet under.

As I have written recently, I have become the primary caregiver for my sister, who suffered a life-threatening episode in mid-November that kept her in the hospital for a solid month. Both of us have been familiar with the role of caregiver: We both cared for my mother who battled small cell lung cancer for five years before succumbing to the disease back in 1995. My sister has also been by my side for most of those 60+ surgical procedures, and anytime she’s been sick, I’ve been right there for her.

Having recovered from four surgical procedures myself within a three-month period ending the first week of November, I was prepared to go face-to-face with all of my sister’s caring doctors when she was hospitalized on November 13th. When she came home, I knew that I would have to summon the strength to take care of her the best way I knew how. Fortunately, upon her discharge, she was to get both physical and occupational therapy, and I was told that she’d be getting a home health aide for four hours a day, three days a week.

Well.

The first week, the home health aide services kicked in a little late. She started on Friday, December 18th and was a nice enough person that we decided to keep her on. She returned on Monday, December 21st. But we were told she couldn’t make it on Wednesday, December 23rd, so she returned on Christmas Eve for four hours.

Last week, she came on Monday, December 28th. Wednesday the 30th came and… no aide showed up. I called to complain, and I was told that the aide would return on December 31st; they hadn’t heard from her and couldn’t imagine why she didn’t show up.

New Year’s Eve came and no aide showed up again. I was told that the aide would return on New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day came and nobody showed up.

Well. Having been raised in a Brooklyn household with a mother of Greek descent and a father of Sicilian descent, I learned all the Greek prayers and all the Sicilian curses growing up. All I can say is that every Sicilian curse I knew came flying out of my mouth and every permutation of the F-word was screamed loud and clear as I ranted for about a half hour trying to get a hold of a real live human being on New Year’s Day wondering WTF was going on! Finally reaching somebody, the dialogue ensued:

Me: I was told that we were going to get a home health aide three days a week for four hours a day. The first week, she shows up once. The second week, she shows up twice, but she does not show up the third day. This week, she showed up once, and I was told she was going to be here on the 30th, then the 31st, and then the 1st. Nobody has shown up. What the hell is going on here? My sister needs help!

I take a breath.

Me: This is not directed at you personally, but do you understand: My sister needs help! I am a 60-year old guy who takes care of her but I have my own disability issues; I’ve got a brother and sister-in-law up the block but they are older than me! At some point, something’s gotta give!

Representative: We’re sorry for the inconvenience, sir.

Me: Inconvenience? This is absolutely outrageous! It is unacceptable!

Representative: Yes, I know, it is unacceptable and we will try to get a replacement for you today.

Me: Yeah, right, on New Year’s Day you’re going to find somebody on the fly to come here and to help take care of my sister! What are you kidding me?

Representative: We know that your sister requires assistance and she is going to get it!

Me: Well, right now, my sister is getting stugotz!

Representative: [not knowing what “stugotz” means] … Okay, well, we’ll try to get her some assistance today!

The home health aide never showed up on New Year’s Day. We have been promised a new home health aide today. We’ll see if the new aide shows up or if my sister ends up with stugotz again!

To 2021 (I): Pearls Before Swine Strikes Again!

Well, the New Year has come in. 2021 is real, it is possible, it is yours! Alas, while watching the news tonight, I was reminded of another recent “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip installment that has already captured the spirit of the young New Year (courtesy of Stephan Pastis and the New York Daily News). I don’t care what your politics is because this one seems to capture the very culture of our age!