Category Archives: Culture

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 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.

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!

To 2020 (2): Pearls Before Swine II

Another “tribute” to 2020 from “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis, courtesy of The New York Daily News):

🙂

To 2020 (1): Counting My Blessings — But Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out…

Clichés, by definition, are trite and lacking in originality. But you’ll find more than a few in the following post. This year didn’t lack for originality, but it helped to illustrate more than a few clichés.

This week, I’ll be featuring a few hilarious tidbits from my favorite comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis), all centered on a single theme: What a Miserable Year 2020 Was! Today, it’s best captured by yesterday’s featured strip in the New York Daily News:

Courtesy of The New York Daily News (27 December 2020)


So, before we start counting our blessings, let’s review our journey through the utter misery of 2020. I wrote 29 Notablog installments on the Coronavirus pandemic, not to mention umpteen entries on everything from racism and social injustice to civil unrest and a crazier-than-usual election year. (In-between, there were nearly 100 new songs added to my “Song of the Day” series—because music helped to ease the pain of a year like no other.)

Our social fabric has been drowned in so much sadness—in grief, in fear, in pain, in anger—but somehow, we seem to have made it through to the end of 2020. Then again, there are still a few days left to this miserable year, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the truth of that other cliché: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” Or as that old poster for “Jaws 2” once declared: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water …” SLAM! The Great White Shark Shows Up Again!

For me, personally, I experienced more sorrow crunched into twelve months than I ever thought possible. I saw mass death and destruction in my hometown on a scale that, after living through 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, I never could have imagined. I lost neighbors, friends, beloved local proprietors, colleagues, and even a cousin to a virus that hit New York City like a nuclear blast, with the fallout going on for months on end. I saw the ugliness of racial injustice give way to the agony of civil unrest. I saw political actors and political pundits incapable of dissecting, analyzing or helping to resolve complex social problems with intellectual scalpels, as they approached every issue with a sledgehammer, giving expression to yet another old cliché: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

But there was another side to this tale that reveals how many blessings I truly have.

Professionally, I count my blessings to have been here to celebrate the twentieth anniversary volume of a scholarly periodical that I cofounded way back in 1999: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I also helped to organize and moderate an illuminating four-month Facebook symposium with over 100 members, including nearly all of the contributors to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (coedited with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins; Lexington Books, 2019).

Personally, I count my blessings that I saw compassion manifest itself throughout 2020 as people came to each other’s assistance.

I count my blessings that I have family and even neighbors, who have become like an extended family, offering their love and support through it all.

I count my blessings that I have great doctors who were able to coordinate the squeezing of nearly six months of “elective” surgical procedures into a two-month period, completing (and recovering from) four surgeries by the first week of November.

I count my blessings that I was then able to summon the strength to face a dire medical crisis on November 13th, when I almost lost my sister (to a non-COVID-related illness). In the middle of this, we had to give up our cat Cali for adoption, but I count my blessings that she was adopted by a loving mommy—who had first given her to us!

I count my blessings that I have seen, for months on end, the heroism of first responders, saving the lives of countless people, including my own sister’s life, as EMS workers rushed her to the emergency room on that harrowing morning. After a month in the hospital, my sister returned home on December 12th, brought up the stairs in a wheelchair by a couple of other EMS workers who showed the same depth of care as those who first brought her down.

Through it all, we’ve never lost our sense of gallows humor. When my sister wondered how on earth she would get down the stairs to go for follow-up medical appointments, I told her: “If all else fails, there’s always the Richard Widmark Way!” (For those who haven’t seen the 1947 film, “Kiss of Death,” check it out [YouTube link]!) We have a tough road ahead, but we are here to talk—and to laugh—about it.

I count my blessings that when I wrote about my sister’s ordeal, I saw an outpouring of love and support on Facebook, on email, and elsewhere, attesting to how deeply she has affected the lives of so many people: her colleagues, her friends, and, most of all, those who were her former students.

I count my blessings that at the end of this challenging year, I am here, my sister is here, my brother and sister-in-law are here, my family and dear friends are still here. We are here to lift a glass to the promise of 2021, knowing full well that when we did so at the end of 2019, in the hopes that 2020 would bring greater health and happiness to all, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that this too shall pass. Or as my urologist’s office reminded me: “It may pass like a kidney stone. But it will pass.”

Count your blessings, folks. For there is no truer cliché than this one: Where there is life, there is hope. And where there is love, all things are possible.

Brooklyn Business Hard Times: But Bassett Caterers Will Rise Again!

2020 has been the “gift” that keeps on giving.

This year, so many tragic stories have been told by so many beloved local proprietors. First, after 45 years, we lost one of the most gentle souls in our neighborhood: Joe “Pisa” Sanfratello, a founding owner of the great Pisa Pork Store in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Joe died of COVID-related illness back on May 12, 2020, and the store, with its classic Italian delicacies, closed permanently thereafter. Later that month, another Brooklyn staple—this one in Sheepshead BayJay and Lloyd’s Kosher Deli also closed its doors after 28 years.

Today, however, we received horrible news that one of the best caterers in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn was hit by a devastating fire on Christmas Day: Bassett Caterers on Avenue X. A three-alarm fire tore through the establishment, which has been serving the community since 1962. Two minor injuries were reported after 138 firefighters got the fire under control in two-and-a-half hours. The incident started as an electrical fire in the basement; no foul play is suspected.

But Bassett Owner Russell Dantonil has vowed to reopen the Brooklyn mainstay, with its fantastic homestyle cooking that has filled the bellies of so many loyal customers. “Even during the pandemic, we were open every single day,” said Dantonil. “Every single day. My guys had work, they got a paycheck every week. And now, not because of the pandemic, they don’t have their checks. It’s going to be hard on them.”

Our thoughts are with the folks at Bassett—folks such as Russell, Frank, Laura, Deb, Domenic, and others we know and love over so many years. To a better 2021 …