Author Archives: Cmsciabarra

Looking Back 55 Years: Our Cat Buttons

On March 17, 1969, a neighbor’s cat gave birth to a litter of kittens and among them was our cat Buttons. He was the kitten we chose and in June of that year, he came to live with us. He was with us until March 16, 1987, when he passed away on the cusp of his eighteenth birthday. We have had other very dear pets in our lives—our dog Blondie, who lived for 16 years, and our adopted cat Dante, who lived for 17 years. None of them was as crazy as Buttons.

Buttons was insanely playful and mischievous, especially at the witching hour—when he would begin to run through the apartment like it was a marathon version of the Belmont Stakes. His favorite holiday was Christmas, no doubt—when he would routinely scale the Christmas tree. On one Christmas morning, my mother came into the bedroom, screaming: “Get up! Get up!!! Look what he did!” The living room looked as if it had been ransacked. The Christmas tree had been toppled and many of its decorations were broken, scattered throughout the room. The curtains were down. The curtain rods were bent. And our Christmas presents were buried somewhere underneath the avalanche. It is still a mystery how none of us heard what was going on in the middle of the night.

Destructive though he could be, he brought us countless hours of laughter and joy. We loved him very much. As with all our pets, Buttons was part of our family. On the fifty-fifth anniversary of his St. Patrick’s Day birth, here are three photos of Buttons and me (I was 9-10 years old at the time).

* H/T to my friend Kevin for the Photoshop!

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand 25

Twenty-five years ago this past February, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand was released by Pennsylvania State University Press, as part of their series “Re-reading the Canon.” To my knowledge, it was the first time that Ayn Rand had been included in a series of volumes on thinkers of the Western canon. To date, there are 37 volumes in that series, featuring collections on thinkers as varied as Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Emma Goldman. (The Rand volume is not available electronically, but can still be purchased as a quality paperback here.)

I was a co-editor on the project with Mimi R. Gladstein. The controversial anthology featured 20 essays from a diverse group of writers, including Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Susan Love Brown, Sharon Presley, Wendy McElroy, Melissa Hardie, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Barry Vacker, Karen Michalson, and others.

One of the most enduring gifts from that collaboration has been my friendship with Mimi. As we got to know one another, she called our relationship “love at no sight.” I called her “sweetheart,” she called me “dear heart.” After the publication of the volume, we finally had a chance to meet in NYC. Till this day, we are the dearest of friends. Here are a couple of pics from those days …

Sifting through the Noise

We all face the problem of “epistemic flooding,” in which we are overwhelmed with information through online algorithms that appeal to our biases. Whether from the right or the left, it is incumbent on us to be diligent in our approach to information and how it’s presented. Being critically engaged with that information requires more than just recognizing any logical fallacies that might be at work. It requires stepping outside our “preferred” outlets and challenging not only views that we oppose but also our own grasp of the issues.

A fine piece appearing on Medium today, written by my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer, addresses this problem. “Sifting through the Noise: Thinking and Engaging in the Age of Mass Media and the Internet” focuses on how the mass media cultivates an atmosphere in which “people have fallen down the rabbit hole of online conspiracy theories,” placing many of us in an “emotionally charged echo chamber” of confirmation bias, which “closes us out of information/perspectives contrary to whatever we may hold dear …”

Ryan asks: “[H]ow do we strike a balance that sifts through the noise, helps us to think better and be better informed, keeps us out of reinforcing echo chambers, and preserves our sanity and decency when engaging in the process?” The essay provides various strategies for achieving this.

One strategy in particular strikes me as crucial. In critical engagement with those whose ideas we oppose, we should not strawman their arguments. It is best to “steelman” our opponent’s perspective and critique their arguments in their “strongest form possible.” Charitable readings are helpful in more ways than one:

Even using the term “opponent” can come across as too antagonizing or adversarial. It’s better to think of each other as conversation partners in disagreement or in a quest to figure things out. Let’s not approach the situation like we are in an arena getting ready to destroy the other, but rather in an open-ended conversation trying to figure out the best position. That invites friendly, civil dialogue rather than each person being put on the defensive and getting increasingly agitated or angry. Additionally, each person is looked at as someone who has something to offer the conversation rather than someone who is simply wrong and in need of correcting. This also lowers the temperature in the room and makes each person feel valued.

I can’t think of a more humane way to approach our interlocutors in an era of immense divisiveness. The whole essay is a worthwhile read—including the resources it reveals. Check it out here.

Song of the Day #2114

Song of the Day: Go Away Little Girl, words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was a #1 hit in 1963 for Steve Lawrence, who died today at the age of 88. He and his wife, Eydie Gorme (who died in 2013), made a terrific singing pair. One of the most memorable performances of this song was Lawrence’s delivery of it on the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon in the 1960s. Singing to a little girl—who took the lyrics seriously and began to cry—Lawrence embraced her and assured her that he wanted her “to stay”. By the time the song ended, she was all smiles. It was one of the most poignant moments I’ve ever seen on television. RIP, Steve Lawrence. Check out Lawrence’s rendition of this song [YouTube link].

The Project of Personal Flourishing

My very dear friend Ryan Neugebauer has published a wonderful Medium piece on the topic of personal flourishing. “Personal Flourishing for Everyone: A Commentary on Human Flourishing Accompanied by 25 People Exploring Personal Flourishing for Themselves” begins with a brief discussion of how the issue of human flourishing has been highlighted in both philosophy and psychology—from Aristotle’s focus on eudaimonia to the PERMA model developed within the tradition of Positive Psychology. Ryan recognizes the dialectical interconnections between freedom and flourishing, seeing an organic link between them: “You aren’t flourishing if you don’t have freedom, and you aren’t truly free if you aren’t flourishing.” But the central question here is: “What does ‘flourishing’ even entail?”

Ryan recognizes that there is no single way to flourish. In expanding on his vision for his own personal flourishing, he “explore[s] the many beautiful and unique ways that people flourish,” through the testimonies of 25 individuals. Though there is much differentiation in their outlooks, Ryan keenly observes “that since we all have a very similar biology and nature, you will see a lot of overlap throughout.”

I’m among the individuals interviewed for Ryan’s project. As I state in that interview, “personal flourishing is all about relationships—my relationship to myself and my relationship to others.” Folks can check out more of what I meant by that—and what two dozen other people say about their own unique visions in this insightful essay.

One of the nicest things to say about this compendium is that I have learned much about many people I have come to know and care for, while wanting to get to know many more people with whom I’ve never had the pleasure of interacting. Thanks so much, Ryan, for putting this project together!

Check out Ryan’s Medium article here.

Song of the Day #2113

Song of the Day: Lady and the Tramp (“What a Dog / He’s a Tramp”) features the words and music of Oliver Wallace and Peggy Lee, who sings this classic song from the 1955 Disney animated film. It is also heard in the 2019 live action Disney reboot, where it is sung by Janel Monae. Check out Lee’s original and Monae’s rendition [YouTube link]. I started my 20th Annual Film Music February Festival with a Disney classic, and “Leap” to the end on another Disney note. Till next year …

Song of the Day #2112

Song of the Day: Back to the Future (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Alan Silvestri, features themes from the Robert Zemeckis-directed 1985 film, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. The film spawned a franchise of movie sequels, short films, television series, a video game, and a stage musical, and it is Silvestri’s wonderful music that can be heard thoughout those media.

Song of the Day #2111

Song of the Day: Kings Row (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link], composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, is derived from one of the signature film scores from this cinematic musical giant. The acclaimed 1942 melodrama is famous for having given us Ronald Reagan‘s line, “Where’s the rest of me?“, which became the title of his 1965 autobiography. Korngold’s notable score influenced the John Williams-penned opening theme to “Star Wars”.

Song of the Day #2110

Song of the Day: Man Hunt (“Soundtrack Suite”) [YouTube link] was composed by Alfred Newman for this 1941 Fritz Lang-directed war thriller, one of his four explicitly anti-Nazi films (the others being “Ministry of Fear“, “Hangmen Also Die!“, and “Cloak and Dagger“). The film stars Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, and Roddy McDowell in his first Hollywood role (at the age of 13). David Buttolph has been credited with having assisted Newman in the dazzling number of films that he scored in 1941. And this suspenseful film is one of them. Over his lifetime, Newman scored over 200 motion pictures.