Category Archives: Culture

Ski & the BTHS Homecoming 100

2022 marks the centennial year of Brooklyn Technical High School. This weekend is the Tech Homecoming, sponsored by the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

My sister, Elizabeth (“Ms. Ski”) Sciabarra, began her career at BTHS as an Apprentice Teacher of English in September 1972. She was officially appointed in 1977, and would go on to become Coordinator of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services at Tech. She later served for nearly a decade as principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island, moving on to the Deputy Superintendency of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools and the Deputy Superintendency of High Schools. Her career with the NYC Department of Education reached its apex when she became Superintendent of Selective Schools and founder of the Office of Student Enrollment and the High School Admissions Program.

Upon her retirement from the DOE in 2010, Ski would return to her Tech roots, and eventually become Executive Director of the Alumni Foundation, a position from which she stepped down at the end of June 2021 due to her current health challenges.

Even though she was never a Tech graduate, she has always held Tech close to her heart. One might say that as a member of the “class of 1972”, she has had a depth of love for Tech for virtually half the years of its existence. So, yesterday, she was elated to receive from the Alumni Foundation this wonderful Centennial Package (pictured below). She hopes to participate in the Virtual Homecoming event on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Ski & BTHS 100
#GoFundSki

Also see Facebook post here.

#GoFundSki

On behalf of my sister, I am sharing this publicly—and sending our appreciation to those who have continued to show their love and support. This is a GoFundMe for my sister. #GoFundSki to donate!

***

This is the kind of appeal that the family of Elizabeth Sciabarra (Ms. Ski to her students) never wanted to post. But we are facing some very difficult realities. My sister became seriously ill and nearly died in November 2020, which was followed by extensive spinal surgery in mid-March 2021. We nearly lost her again in mid-October 2021. Since that time, she has been receiving in-home hospice. As her devoted brother, I have been her primary caregiver—despite dealing with my own lifelong medical issues. As my own health has been compromised over these many months, we have been compelled to turn to health aides to assist with my sister’s in-home care.

My sister brings in a pension from her many years of service as an educator in the New York City public school system. She also brings in a Social Security retirement check. Given the state of American healthcare, she is in the unenviable position of being in that great “middle” ground where so many others find themselves—not “wealthy” enough to cover all her medical expenses; too “wealthy” to qualify for Medicaid. As a woman who has worked for over fifty years, and paid millions of dollars in taxes to local, state, and federal governments, she qualifies for a single Medicare home health aide, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, though she needs 24/7 care.

Having maxed-out some assistance from the Council of Supervisors and Administrators for both the 2021 and 2022 calendar years, she is spending, on average, approximately $15,000 a month on aides and other non-insured medical supplies—more than she earns with her pension and Social Security combined. She has sold her car, exhausted her savings, and cashed-in retirement accounts—paying taxes on that too. Complete financial collapse can be avoided if my sister is placed in a Medicare-insured inpatient hospice, which would constitute a dramatic change to her quality of life. She wanted to remain at home, but without the financial capacity to do so, she will be compelled to make a decision that will break all our hearts. And hers most of all. Out of personal embarrassment and a sense of pride, she never wanted to make an appeal such as this. But after being in-and-out of hospitals and medical facilities for 17 months, even she realizes that this situation is financially unsustainable, threatening her ability to pay for even the basic necessities of life … food, clothing, and shelter.

We appreciate anything anyone can offer; we have no hope of paying anyone back. We only hope that a woman who, as an educator, devoted her life to helping thousands upon thousands of children and young adults, can raise enough funds that would allow her a level of dignity moving forward—despite the serious health challenges she continues to face every hour of every day.

Sincerely,
Chris Matthew Sciabarra (on behalf of my sister)

My dear sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra

Also see Facebook post here.

Sciabarra Household Getting Ready for Easter

Western Easter falls on April 17; Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on April 24. But here in the Sciabarra household, we’re getting ready for the holidays!

On Our Front Door
In the Dining Room
Toward the Kitchen
On the Hutch, with the Daffodils
By the Window
Toward the Living Room
And Our Window Display

The Church & The Squirrels

… with a H/T to my friend Michael Morrison; for those who are hyper-sensitive… Move On! From Partisan Issues

After a particularly mild winter the small town of Chestermere became infected with squirrels in the spring.  Because the local churches had the best trees, the squirrels often congregated (pun intended) near them and this is what each church decided to do about the pesky animals.

The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrel infestation. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they should not interfere with God’s divine will.

At the Baptist church, the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistry. The deacons met and decided to put a water-slide on the baptistry and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.

The Lutheran church decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist church. Two weeks later, the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the water-slide.

The Episcopalians tried a much more unique path by setting out pans of whiskey around their church in an effort to kill the squirrels with alcohol poisoning. They sadly learned how much damage a band of drunk squirrels can do.

But the Catholic church came up with a more creative strategy: They baptized all the squirrels and made them members of the church. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.

Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue. They took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.

So I’m Not a Boomer?

H/T to my Facebook friend, Gerry Os … “Why People Born 1955-1964 Aren’t Baby Boomers“. I was born in 1960. I mean, how many years after World War II do you have to be born to not be considered a Boomer?

Apparently, I’m a member of “Generation Jones”… short for “jonesin’ for short, embodied craving or yearning.” Well, I wouldn’t go that far. 😉

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection

This is the thirty-seventh and final installment to my Coronavirus series, which began two years ago on this date. This installment serves as an index to the entire series.

I use the word “indexical” not only to suggest the index herein, but as a reflection of the word’s actual meaning: a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context. That is what this series has done over time; as the context has continued to evolve, not a single installment has ever been written in stone, and all of them should be subject to evaluation based on the contexts in which they were first composed. What could be more dialectical than that?

As a kind of personal “journal,” this series has been as much a therapeutic exercise in dealing with an unfathomable number of deaths in my beloved city of New York as it was an attempt to come to grips with the many issues raised by COVID-19 and the policies adopted in response to it. Ultimately, it asked more questions than it answered.

As dates go, this one has an additional degree of irony. Fifty years ago today, “The Godfather” premiered at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City to much fanfare. The film, and its later re-edited incarnation (with its two sequels) as a chronological epic, remains one of my all-time favorites. Not for its famous tropes or its classic quotes, but for its illustration, in painstaking detail, of how the inversion of values destroys the human soul. The characters therein ostensibly try to preserve that which they value through nefarious means that lead to the loss of those values—and of life itself.

While that 1972 film drives home this point in the context of warfare among mob ‘families’, their legions of hitmen pale in comparison to the warfare perpetuated by states across the world, which have perfected the art of mass murder in a way that would make even the most ruthless of Mafia Dons blush.

In war, even in those wars fought against horrific forces of oppression, there are always consequences, both intended and unintended, that forever become a part of the political landscape. For example, the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II left in its wake the consolidation of a U.S. military-industrial complex and a national security state and ongoing policies of “perpetual war for perpetual peace”—whether it was called the Cold War, the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs. But states and their ruling classes, ever responsible for wars, have also exploited disasters—natural or man-made—to expand their powers, suppress civil liberties, and destroy the fabric of social and economic life.

That is why libertarians have been gallant opponents of state expansion, knowing full well that state actors rarely act in good faith and that governmental overreach especially during emergencies is not easily rolled back. Such emergencies have been exploited throughout history in ways that tap into people’s anxieties and fears while augmenting their obedience to a class of politically connected “experts.”

I am a libertarian—a dialectical one at that. Which means that while I retain my libertarian distrust of political and economic elites, I fully understand that we live under a certain set of institutional constraints and that the real conditions that exist give human beings highly limited and imperfect tools to deal with emergencies as they arise.

I am also a native New Yorker. I have experienced much heartache in this city, from 9/11 to Superstorm Sandy. And I have witnessed, with my own eyes, the deaths of countless fellow New Yorkers at the height of the COVID pandemic. I was utterly aghast when many of my libertarian friends were branding the pandemic an “exaggeration” or worse, a “hoax”. There has always been room to debate the effectiveness of this or that policy in response to COVID. But the epidemic of denialism that swept across libertarian circles—while neighbors to the right of me and neighbors to the left of me were literally dropping dead—only compounded my sadness. Denialism is not a strategy. It is an admission of defeat—that one has no proposals to deal with an externality, whatever its scope or fatality rate.

***

I was recently asked a very interesting and relevant question by my friend, Alexander Wade Craig: “What context have we lost in the changes COVID brought to our social lives that you think we are 1) better off for having lost, and 2) worse off for having lost?”

I acknowledged that this was a very difficult question to answer. Even though I’ve written 36 previous installments covering the pandemic and its implications, it is going to take many years to truly understand COVID-19 and the response to it—and the costs that each brought to both life and liberty. Still, this event helped to illuminate notions that we are better off for having lost, as well as notions that we are worse off for having lost—and these notions are essentially two sides of the same coin:

1) The spread of COVID-19 made it clearer than ever that the world is a global community, interconnected in ways that cannot be altered by artificially created borders. Given the ebb and flow of peoples across artificial boundaries imposed by nation-states, we learned swiftly that a virus, like the people it infects, knows no borders. What first shows up in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in China, spreads to the Korean peninsula, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the United States, Russia, Africa, and throughout the world. This is not a call to close borders; it is simply an acknowledgment of the unavoidable interconnections between peoples across the Earth. So, we’re better off for having lost the idea that somehow people can be isolated from one another—a rather sobering lesson, considering that the response to an infectious disease has typically been lockdowns, quarantines, and other policies of separation.

2) So, the other side of that coin introduces us to a whole litany of ‘separateness’: distancing, mask-wearing, quarantining, and so forth. Hence, just as a global pandemic illustrates that people cannot be hermetically sealed from one another (a good thing), it simultaneously leads to efforts to do precisely that: hermetically seal ourselves off from others. The effect of isolation (whether it was chosen or coercively imposed) has been increased social alienation, a rise in mental health problems, substance abuse, and overdose deaths. People of all ages, from the very young to the very old, were deleteriously affected by this isolation. I suspect that these effects will lessen over time, as the COVID ‘crisis phase’ dissipates, but we are still worse off for having lost that social connectedness for such a long period of time, no matter how necessary it may have been for various people in various contexts.

Nathaniel Branden once wrote: “We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other.” It’s very sad that so many people have learned the truth of this principle in such a tragic way.

Here is a chronological index to all the installments in my Coronavirus series; unless there is some huge issue that needs to be addressed in some dramatically different way, I suspect that this installment, like the last one I wrote on 9/11 (for the twentieth anniversary of that day), will be the final installment in this series. And it’s fully in keeping with my friend Tom Knapp‘s “Prime Number Obsession”—that “all sets should consist of a prime number of items.” 37 is a Prime Number! (Tom also reminds me that it’s Pi Day too!)

Coronavirus (1): School Closures (March 14, 2020)

Coronavirus (2): Disease and Dictatorship (March 18, 2020)

Coronavirus (3): Love, Pets, and Booze to the Rescue! (March 22, 2020)

Coronavirus (4): In New York State … and Beyond (March 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (5): C’mon Ol’ Folks – Do Your Part for the Sake of the Country and Die! (March 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (6): Corona-Comedy – A Little Gallows Humor To Get Us Through (March 27, 2020)

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos – A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal (March 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (8): A Message from Italy (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (9): A Message from New York City (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (10): “Standing Man” as Metaphor … or Blessed are the Healers! (March 30, 2020)

Coronavirus (11): “Opening Day” and Pitching In … (March 31, 2020)

Coronavirus (12): The Trials and Tribulations of Grocery Shopping … and Living in New York City (April 3, 2020)

Coronavirus (13): New York State of Mind (April 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (14): Numbers and Narratives (April 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (15): What’s in a Number? (April 13, 2020)

Coronavirus (16): Pearls Before Swine – Comic Gems In These Times (April 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (17): Ilana Mercer on Covidiots! (April 17, 2020)

Coronavirus (18): Gallows Comics (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (19): Reality Check (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office (April 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation (May 5, 2020)

Coronavirus (22): Spring Cleaning (Or Three Cheers for Sanitation Workers!) (May 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (23): Mutual Aid During a Pandemic (or Three Cheers for the Volunteers!) (May 11, 2020)

Coronavirus (24): Three Cheers for the Ol’ Folks (May 12, 2020)

Coronavirus (25): Joseph “Joe Pisa” Sanfratello, RIP (May 15, 2020)

Coronavirus (26): Gallows Humor In These Times (May 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (27): Majority Rules NY (June 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (28): Sweden is Not New York (July 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (29): Medical Procedures in the Age of COVID … And I’m Still Alive! (October 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (30): “Cuomogate” and Systemic Crisis (February 19, 2021)

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus (March 18, 2021)

Coronavirus (32): Junior’s Cheesecake (or Bring On Dose #2!) (March 27, 2021)

Coronavirus (33): Dose #2 and Done—Or Not! (April 15, 2021)

Coronavirus (34): “Virtue Signaling” vs. Doing the Right Thing (August 21, 2021)

Coronavirus (35): The ABCs – Authority, Boosters, and Caregiving (November 10, 2021)

Coronavirus (36): Denialism = Death (January 5, 2022)

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection (March 14, 2022)

I will end this series with one final dose of gallows humor, something that has marked many of the installments I posted over the past two years. And let’s face it, we have needed some laughter to get us through [YouTube link].

In one of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis, “The Game of COVID Life” reminds us of how crazy our lives have been upended since the beginnings of this pandemic. Here’s hoping that the Finish Line is not one of closeted isolation, but a new commitment to social life, human freedom, and personal flourishing.

Mis-Corrected Auto

For those of us who have suffered at the fate of ‘autocorrect’ …

Memories of Dad

As ballroom dancers, Mom and Dad met on the dance floor. Nobody could cut a rug doing a swift Peabody or a Lindy-Hop better! Dad always said if he had to die, he wanted to go out dancing.

And that is exactly what he was doing when he died on this date, fifty years ago.

On March 4, 1972, my father, Salvatore Charles Sciabarra (“Sal” to his family and friends), died of a massive coronary at the age of 55. He would have turned 56 on June 11, 1972. At the time, I was 12 years old, suffering from serious life-threatening medical problems, and the news of his passing shattered me. It was my first experience with death as a fact of life. It was so very hard. But the cherished memories I have of him are still very much alive.

Mom was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1919; Dad was born in Manhattan in 1916. As young children, they both moved to Brooklyn, New York and met as teenagers because of their mutual love of dancing. In 1935, she was 16 and he was 19. They had attended a wedding together and Mom missed curfew and didn’t want to go home to the wrath of her father, my Papouli, the first pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church. They decided to elope. Times were very different back then; intermarriage between faiths and ethnicities was frowned upon. Mom was an American-born Greek Orthodox woman whose parents had emigrated from Olympia, Greece. Dad was an American-born Roman Catholic man whose parents had emigrated from Porto Empedocle, not far from Sciacca (hence the last name), in the province of Agrigento, Sicily. Or as I put it, tongue-in-cheek: My maternal grandparents came from the home of the gods and goddesses and my paternal grandparents came from the home of the godfathers; clearly, this Brooklyn-born boy came from tough stock!

My parents were not gods, goddesses, or ‘godparents’. But they were very human renegades for their time. And, in many ways, they raised three renegade children, each of whom danced to their own music. My brother Carl—exposed to my father’s mandolin, guitar, and drum-playing, would go on to become a virtuoso jazz guitarist. My sister Elizabeth—exposed to my mother’s love of education (Mom was the first in her family to graduate from high school, James Madison High School in Brooklyn)—would go on to become a lifelong educator. And both my parents encouraged me to follow my own dreams; I would not have become what I am today without them.

Mom and Dad separated when I was 5 years old. Though my sister and I lived with my Mom, my Dad remained a very strong presence in my life. In fact, in the wake of that separation, his presence in my life only grew. There were difficult times for sure, but these were far outweighed by fun times. Trips to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, its hills like huge mountains to me, its zoo full of wonder, nourished my love of nature. Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, car rides, music, and movies delighted me.

One of those movies was “The Love Bug,” whose action centered around Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle. Dad had proposed taking my sister and me to see the film, which was playing at the Cinema Theatre on East Kings Highway (previously known as the Jewel Theatre). Mom was flustered by both the title and the theater. “You’re taking them to see a film called ‘The Love Bug’ at the Cinema!”—knowing all too well that the theater was an infamous headquarters for first-run racy porn flicks. Dad explained that it was a Disney film.

Like Mom, who worked in the garment industry for most of her life, Dad too was a factory worker. Initially, he was an eye-setter in a doll factory. We still have some of those dolls, with their life-like eyes, which my Dad brought home for my sister Elizabeth. Eventually, he would become a cargo worker for Trans World Airlines at JFK International Airport. I still have plenty of TWA memorabilia, including TWA soaps and TWA Flying Magic Boards, given to kids of all ages on flights (see the collage below). Today, you’re lucky if you can get complementary snacks! I hadn’t flown on a plane in my Dad’s lifetime, but I got to see planes up close at the airport as a kid. It fueled my awe of the heavens and sparked my lifelong fascination with the human journey into air and space.

Despite losing my Dad in 1972, I continued to be nourished by a very loving and supportive family throughout my entire life. And it was to these family members that I dedicated each of my books. I told Mom that I would dedicate my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, to her. Alas, she died in April 1995, before that book was published. I told my Uncle Sam—my Dad’s first cousin, who married my mother’s sister (my Aunt Georgia) and who was like a second father to me—that I would dedicate my second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, to him. But he died in 1994. It got so that I was very concerned about who would have been “sentenced” to death-by-dedication, for my third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So I opted for strength in numbers, a group dedication—to my brother, sister, sister-in-law, friend Matthew, and dog Blondie, and all, except for Blondie, are still kicking till this day!

I never had a chance to honor my father. I was his “Chrissy Bear”; he was my Daddy. This post acknowledges his joyous impact on my life.

That’s me with Mom and Dad in September 1969, along with that TWA memorabilia …








Song of the Day #1933

Song of the Day: Bring Back the Time, words and music by Lars Jensen and Donnie Wahlberg, is a throwback tribute to 1980s pop, and features New Kids on the Block, Rick Astley, Salt-N-Pepa, and En Vogue. It’s a hoot to watch this collaboration, which made its video debut on “Good Morning America” today. See if you can catch all the artists referenced in the hilarious video [YouTube link]!

Paul Cantor, RIP

I was shocked to learn today (H/T to FB friend Shal Marriott) of the death (on February 26, 2022) of Paul Cantor, the American literary critic who was the Clifton Waller Barrett Professor in the English Department at the University of Virginia. Paul was 76.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945, he would go on to write extensively on a wide range of topics, from Shakespeare and English Romanticism to pop culture. I was introduced to his work through our mutual friend Stephen Cox, with whom he edited a fine 2010 anthology, Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture.

I contacted Paul for the first time in December 2021 to invite him to submit a review essay to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, an invitation which he enthusiastically accepted. I found him to be an amicable and hilarious guy. He admitted to being a “frustrated stand-up comedian,” who was looking into “booking a lounge in Vegas.” His sense of humor was clearly fueled by his Brooklyn roots. As a native of the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, he would have had plenty of material to work with. He attended P.S. 208, Meyer Levin Junior High School, and Samuel J. Tilden High School, where he became co-captain of the Math Team before going on to earn an A.B. and Ph.D. at Harvard University in English literature.

He took long subway rides to see Ayn Rand lecture at Hunter College in the 1950s. He said that it “was very exciting to see Rand speak. She had a real flare for the dramatic.” He also attended the NYC seminars of Ludwig von Mises.

In his work on pop culture, Paul had examined TV series as varied as “Gilligan’s Island” and “The X-Files.” He told me that he was already working on essays dealing with “Shark Tank”, “Pawn Stars”, and “The Profit”. I would have been honored to have had his work appear in JARS.

My very deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Paul Cantor (1945-2022)