Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

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 (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 …

Song of the Day #1828

Song of the Day: Ode to Joy, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, constitutes the fourth movement and finale of his Ninth Symphony (in D minor, Op. 125). It is one of the most performed works from the corpus of the great composer, the 250th anniversary of whose birth is being noted this month. The master based the choral sections on a poem by Friedrich Schiller. But it is a theme that has been used by both dictators and freedom fighters the world over, giving it a particularly checkered history [YouTube link]. And yet, it is no coincidence that the great Leonard Bernstein conducted the full symphony as an “Ode to Freedom” on the occasion of the collapse of the Berlin Wall (the finale itself can be heard, triumphantly, in two parts: part 1 and part 2) [YouTube links]. Bernstein embraced the Ninth Symphony [YouTube link], as a jubilant celebration of peace and brotherhood, having recorded it two previous times: first with the New York Philharmonic in 1964 and again with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1979. It has also been embraced by diverse cultures for its exuberant spirit; in Japan, for example, in keeping with the holiday season, it has become a veritable Christmas carol. And it has been used by dissenters throughout the world in protests such as those against the oppressive Pinochet regime in Chile and in those that rocked Tiananmen Square. What better way to end a two-day celebration of this important anniversary!

Yes, It’s Come To This!

H/T Ryan Neugebauer and Devin Alexander on Facebook

Song of the Day #1823

Song of the Day: Stuffy Turkey, composed by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is actually an extension of saxophonist Coleman Hawkins‘s composition, “Stuffy” [YouTube link]. As a paean to Hawk, it is a standout track from Monk’s sixth album, “It’s Monk’s Time.” The album features Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Butch Warren on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. The title may not please the vegans among us, but it is a jazz nod to today’s Thanksgiving holiday. To say that 2020 has been a year of challenges and heartache is an understatement of unfathomable proportions. I acknowledge the feelings of loss and grief that have dominated this year and my heart goes out to so many folks who have shared in these struggles. But speaking for myself, I can only say that I count my blessings that I am here to feel weary, to feel apprehensive, to feel loss, to feel grief—and to feel that with life, all things remain possible. On that “note,” I wish my friends and family a very Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving. Swing on Monk [YouTube link].

Some Godfather Therapy

This has been quite a year for so many folks, and the therapy business is, no doubt, booming.

Folks know I’m a big-time fan of “The Godfather Epic“… so, if Don Vito Corleone could use a little group therapy now and then, it must be a good idea …

John Belushi as Don Vito Corleone (Vintage Saturday Night Live clip)

Nucky Thompson is Still Right …

Back in March 2016, in a blog post, “Nucky Thompson Was Right“, I wrote:

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson—racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger—lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to ‘the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that ‘the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.’


This nightmarish ‘noble experiment‘ lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR’s initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:


“Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of ‘black-market violence’ and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement’s hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: ‘The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol… [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.'”

In that post, I discussed how the “War on Drugs” was one of those vestiges of the Nixon administration, a policy that Nixon’s chief domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman admitted was a blatant strategy “to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’.” He went on to say: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law—the majority of whom were African-American.

I reiterated in that 2016 post: “For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a ‘War on Drugs,’ 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed—drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets—but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia. It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those ‘beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.”

Well. Something extraordinary happened on Election Day 2020. It was noted by both Jonah Engel Bromwich in his essay, “This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic,” and Nicholas Kristof, who writes in his New York Times November 8, 2020 column, “Republicans and Democrats Agree: End the War On Drugs“:

One of America’s greatest mistakes over the last century was the war on drugs, so it’s thrilling to see voters in red and blue states alike moving to unwind it. The most important step is coming in Oregon, where voters easily passed a referendum that will decriminalize possession of even hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, while helping users get treatment for addiction. The idea is to address drug use as a public health crisis more than as a criminal justice issue. In Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota, voters decisively passed measures liberalizing marijuana laws. Marijuana will now be legal for medical use in about 35 states and for recreational use in 15 states. …


One result of the war on drugs is that today there are as many Americans with arrest records as with college degrees. Yet we still lost the war. Addiction has soared in the United States, and more Americans die from overdoses each year than died in the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars combined. A baby is born dependent on drugs every 15 minutes. … Left and right both recognize the need for new thinking on the topic …


The new Oregon law is modeled after one in Portugal, which pioneered decriminalization and has emphasized treatment of those with addictions. 

The movement from prohibition to treatment will have a decisive impact on the prison population in the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Let’s hope that this area of social policy will continue to find friends, both blue and red. Indeed, the time is now.

Postscript (16 November 2020): Check out “Who Will Follow Oregon’s Lead On Drugs” by Dr. Mary Bassett.

NEWS FLASH: The World Didn’t End After All …

For seven days up to and including Election Day, I suggested that readers embrace the Nihilism of The Moment and celebrate the impending “End of the World” with seven Songs of the Day that included that phrase in the title. Who knew we’d have to wait a few extra days to find out if the world would still be standing!? I mean, this is 2020! Were you expecting anything less than a little craziness?

Still, as I predicted, the world wouldn’t end after all! And unless the Electors wig out on December 14, 2020, Joe Biden will be taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021.

Oh, I know, there will be court challenges, contested seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, charges of fraud and cover-ups and conspiracies. I don’t expect any Kumbaya moments anytime soon! But for those who really think the world ended today … just remember, you’ve still got lots to be thankful for!

Count Your Blessings! (H/T Jack Walsh!)