Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

Big Apple 100!

Larry McShane, in yesterday’s New York Daily News reminds us that May 3, 2021 was the 100th anniversary of the first time the term “Big Apple” was used to refer to New York City (by New York Morning Telegraph cub reporter and horse-racing writer, John J. Fitz Gerald). In his article, “Apple of Our Eyes: 100th ann’y of Nickname that’s Synonymous with City,” McShane relies on the work of Gerald Cohen and Barry Popik, who traced the lineage of the term:

Back in 1921, when Babe Ruth was in right field for the Yankees and Mayor John Hylan in City Hall, a horse-racing writer for the New York Morning Telegraph overheard a Louisiana chat between two Black stablehands. The pair mentioned an upcoming trip from New Orleans to New York — the Big Apple, as they called it. …

“Back then, if you wanted to refer to New York by its nickname, it was ‘Gotham’ or ‘Li’l Old New York.’ But not the Big Apple.”

The nickname was resurrected in the 1970s, during the days of rising crime and declining fiscal policy. Of course, folks at that time were talking about how the Big Apple was “rotten to the core.” But jazz aficionado Charles Gillett (and president of the NY Convention and Visitors Bureau) seized on the term, regularly used “among Harlem musicians of the ’30s, who hailed a New York gig as playing the ‘Big Apple’.”

Alas, there is no recognition anywhere in the city of Fitz Gerald (who is buried in an unmarked grave 160 miles north of Belmont Park). Nor has there been any attempt to track down those New Orleans stablehands who used the term that Fitz Gerald brought into print. Just “one more instance of the African-American influence on the language” and on New York City lore.

Song of the Day #1863

Song of the Day: Come on-a My House features the words and music of Ross Bagdasarian (yes, “David Seville” of “Chipmunks” fame) and William Saroyan. Based on a traditional Armenian folk song, it was performed in the off-Broadway production of “The Son” (1950) but became a huge #1 hit for Rosemary Clooney the following year [YouTube link]. Check out some other renditions by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima (with a few Italian delicacies thrown in), Kay Starr, and Julie London [YouTube links]. Today is Moderna Second Dose + 14 Days, which means that if you too have the proper paperwork, you can “Come on-a My House” and—as the song says—I can give you candy and figs and grapes and cakes and everything, even a Marriage Ring! Well, I’m not that easy. 😉

Be Kind …

This being the Greek Orthodox Holy Week, I can think of fewer messages more important than not giving into the very things you dislike in others. It reminds me of some great dialogue from “Ben-Hur” (1959). His family destroyed, his childhood friend (Messala), who betrayed him, is now dead, and Judah Ben-Hur is turning toward the dark side. Esther, who loves him, tells him:

“It was Judah Ben-Hur I loved. What has become of him? You seem to be now the very thing you set out to destroy, giving evil for evil! Hatred is turning you to stone. It is as though you had become Messala! … I’ve lost you, Judah.”

The “miracle” at the end of the film has less to do with leprosy being cured and more to do with Judah laying down the sword, upon which his own soul was being impaled.

Inherit the Wind … Still Riveting


This scene from the 1960 film, “Inherit the Wind” (which is on the local NY PBS station tonight), is one of the most riveting cinematic statements of the power of the individual human mind in the debate between science and religion. Based on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, it features two giants of the silver screen: Spencer Tracy and Frederic March. Breathtaking…

Sheep Labor!

This story in today’s New York Daily News, “Sheep Labor: 5 New Workers Sink Their Teeth in Job on Governor’s Island,” just made me go: “Awww…”

Cheers to Flour, Sam, Evening, Chad and Philip Aries

Song of the Day #1860

A fortuitous “Song of the Day” in light of today’s verdict in the Chauvin trial.

Song of the Day: Strange Fruit features the words and music of Abel Meeropol (though credited under the pseudonym, “Lewis Allan,” because Meeropol was a member of the American Communist Party at the time). It was recorded on this date in 1939 by the great Billie Holiday (who was born on the 7th of this month in 1915). This song is at the center of the plot to the 2021 film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which shows how the FBI and other political authorities persecuted the singer (played brilliantly by the Oscar-nominated Andra Day), as a means of stopping her from performing this powerful protest against the lynching of African Americans. It remains what jazz musician and historian Leonard Feather once called “the first unmuted cry against racism,” as important on this day as it was over 80 years ago. Check out the original 1939 Holiday recording, and renditions by Diana Ross (from her 1972 Oscar-nominated performance in “Lady Sings the Blues“), Nina Simone, and, from the 2021 film, Andra Day [YouTube links]. I’ll be featuring two more selections from film music this coming Oscar weekend.

Coronavirus (33): Dose #2 and Done—Or Not!

As I reported on 18 March 2021, I received on that date the first of two doses of the Moderna vaccine. As I said at the end of that Notablog post:

I made this decision for my own health, and as a responsible caregiver to my sister [who was vaccinated herself during her recent hospital stay]. True, it is not clear if getting vaccinated will prevent any of us from being asymptomatic carriers of the virus (though one study has suggested that those who took the Moderna vaccine might be able to prevent two-thirds of asymptomatic transmission after a single dose).

The decision is yours. I’ve made mine.

What’s One Dose when It Takes Two To Make a Thing Go Right [YouTube link]? Though on my way out of the facility, I was told “The Department of Health will contact you and we’ll see you in December for your Booster Shot!”

Either way, I’ll let you folks know if I end up flat on my face after this second dose. But for now, all is well in Brooklyn, New York.

My Vaccination Record Card!

Postscript (17 April 2021): So I have survived my second dose. No fever, but have had some chills and body aches, not to mention an arm that feels like somebody took a bat to it. Drinking plenty of fluids, and getting lots of rest. 🙂

With a library from left to right … 🙂

[I was asked offline to prove this was not a bot! I am alive, with a library from left to right behind me… 😉 ]

A Pearls Before Swine Potpourri!

Some recent hilariousPearls Before Swine” installments, courtesy of The New York Daily News and Stephan Pastis:

Sign of the Times (Exhibit A)
Sign of the Times (Exhibit B)
Sign of the Times (Exhibit C)
Sign of the Times (Exhibit D)
Just for Fun!

Holocaust Remembrance Day: The ‘White Coat’ in Art—and Resistance

Today is the internationally recognized date for “Holocaust Remembrance Day.” “Yom HaShoah” is observed in Israel as a day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who died as a result of the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” What can be said about this horrifying episode in human history that has not already been said so many times before?

As it turns out there is always some new layer of understanding that emerges with each passing year. Two recent articles that appeared in the New York Times provide us with different portraits to contemplate—in the art of painting and in the act of resistance.

The first, published on 4 April 2021, by Bret Stephens, asks: “Can We Really Picture Auschwitz?” It is a portrait of Auschwitz survivor “Buba Weisz Sajovits and her sister Icu, who arrived in Veracruz in 1946, their eldest sister, Bella, … waiting for them by the dock.” Bella “insisted that they were not to speak of what had happened to them in the war. Life was meant to be lived facing the future, not the past.” Eventually Buba married and “started a beauty salon.” And the family looked forward, never backward. Stephens writes:

Only one reminder of the past could not be erased, because it was etched permanently in ink on the inside of her left forearm: A-11147. What went with that alphanumeric was, as she would title her memoir, Tattooed in My Memory. Decades later, when she was well into her 60s, she decided to take up painting, and soon the past became more vivid.

All the volumes that have been written about this subject throughout the decades, even trips to the sites of the death camps, are unable to bridge the chasm between “what we know and what we understand”… except through the recollections of “personal experience.” We are not talking simply about the thousands upon thousands of testimonials, the documentaries and photographic evidence, or even the diaries of the dead or the autobiographies of the survivors.

In Buba’s paintings, the unfathomable dimensions of this exercise in genocidal mass murder become all too vivid. Stephens writes:

On May 31, 1944, she and Icu (pronounced Itzu), their parents, Bernard and Lotte, and the rest of the Jewish population of Cluj were deported in cattle cars to Auschwitz, a journey of degradation and hunger that lasted five days. Buba, then 18, last saw her parents on the night of their arrival in the camp, when her father jumped out of line to hand his daughters their baccalaureate diplomas.

Buba was given a factory job. It came with extra rations, which she shared with her bunkmates. One day, she was called into a cubicle of the block elder, a female prisoner who was in charge of barracks discipline. The elder tore off Buba’s clothes and shoved her toward a man who had been waiting for her. “I gathered every last ounce of strength that I could muster,” she said, “and ran.”

How can we understand what it’s like to be a half-starved, naked Jewish girl running for her life from an Auschwitz rapist? We can’t. I can’t. But in 2002, Buba painted the scene, and through her painting I could catch a glimpse of what it means to be the most vulnerable person on earth.

“Needless to say,” she added dryly, “I lost my job and my ration.”


Stephens adds: “For all of its scale, the special evil of Auschwitz ultimately lay in the fact that the murder and torture was clinical, something I only really understood after seeing Buba’s painting.” Even animals depicted in some paintings wear white coats, like that of the man who attacked her.

Courtesy of The New York Times (4 April 2021)

Additional, shattering images painted by Buba can be viewed here. As Stephens puts it: “In this month of Holocaust remembrance, it’s worth pausing to consider how one brave woman’s memory, and art, help us to see what we must never forget.”

Another, very different, portrait of the Holocaust emerges from an article that first appeared on 18 March 2021 in the Times—and it was a revelation to me. Judy Batalion’s essay, “The Women of the Jewish Resistance” is a preface to her new book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, which provides us with a history of uprisings by over 30,000 Jews led predominantly by women, who fought throughout European forests—and in at least nine cities, from Warsaw to Vilna. Batalion’s research began in London’s British Library, but extended across Poland, Israel, and North America. Batalion opens her essay with this story, which completely inverts the image of the “white coat” found in Buba’s art:

In 1943, Niuta Teitelbaum strolled into a Gestapo apartment on Chmielna Street in central Warsaw and faced three Nazis. A 24-year-old Jewish woman who had studied history at Warsaw University, Niuta was likely now dressed in her characteristic guise as a Polish farm girl with a kerchief tied around her braided blond hair.

She blushed, smiled meekly and then pulled out a gun and shot each one. Two were killed, one wounded. Niuta, however, wasn’t satisfied. She found a physician’s coat, entered the hospital where the injured man was being treated, and killed both the Nazi and the police officer who had been guarding him.

“Little Wanda With the Braids,” as she was nicknamed on every Gestapo most-wanted list, was one of many young Jewish women who, with supreme cunning and daring, fought the Nazis in Poland. And yet, as I discovered over several years of research on these resisters, their stories have largely been overlooked in the broader history of Jewish resistance in World War II.

Batalion’s research has uncovered an interesting episode of such resistance that goes far beyond tales of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (see here as well). She writes:

Where I had expected mourning and gloom, I found guns, grenades and espionage. This was a Yiddish thriller, telling the stories of Polish-Jewish “ghetto girls” who paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in teddy bears, flirted with Nazis and then killed them. They distributed underground bulletins, flung Molotov cocktails, bombed train lines, organized soup kitchens, and bore the truth about what was happening to the Jews. …

After Hitler’s conquest of Poland, … youth groups formed militias. … Those who were forced to labor in Nazi uniform factories slipped notes into the boots urging soldiers at the front to drop their weapons. They constructed workshops where they experimented with homemade explosives and designed elaborate underground bunkers. “Haganah!” was their rallying cry: Defense! Women who were selected for undercover missions were required to look “good,” or passably “Aryan” or Catholic, with light hair, blue or green eyes, good posture and an assured gait. …

As women, they were well positioned to do this work: Their brothers were circumcised and risked being found out in a “pants drop” test. Before the war, Jewish girls were more likely than Jewish boys to have studied at Polish public schools (many boys attended Jewish schools and yeshivas). They were, over all, more assimilated than Jewish boys and spoke Polish without the Yiddish accent, making them excellent spies.

The individual stories she tells are riveting—and worth your attention. In the end, both of these pieces teach us something profound about the reclamation of the human spirit from the depths of human depravity.