Category Archives: Religion

Homonograph Reviewed @ C4SS

Eric Fleischmann—who is not just a student of my work and a very dear friend, but a very fine young scholar in his own right—offers a critical and provocative review of my monograph Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation on the site of Center for a Stateless Society, which, not coincidentally, is offering the “Homonograph” for sale at its C4SS Store here.

Eric interviewed me for the piece, which places the monograph in its proper context—a nearly two-decade old discussion of the relationship between Objectivism and those in the LGBTQ+ community who were drawn, “like moths to a flame,” to Rand’s uplifting celebration of individual freedom and authenticity “only to be burned in the process.”

Despite some many on-point criticisms of the work, of Rand and her acolytes, and of reactionary elements within the libertarian movement, Eric argues that the “monograph serves as one of the centerpieces in the establishment of thick libertarian ideas. It especially forwards the point that it is not enough that people refrain from trying to use the state against the LGBTQIA+ community. We must go further and combat a culture that breeds both physical and nonphysical violence.”

Check out the review here and other reviews of the work here. And thanks, Eric, for your challenging and wide-ranging examination of the monograph!

The “Homonograph” (Leap Publishing, 2003)

The Mandalorian Finale!

After having finished season 1 of “The Mandalorian” just four days ago, I knocked out season 2 and thoroughly enjoyed it!

I won’t say anything to those who have yet to see it, but the finale was so rousing that the moment the “first” of the last scenes was over I expected that triumphant John Williams music to engulf me! But I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell folks not to fast forward through the credits because there is one extra scene that is quite obviously a set-up of things to come!

Finally, no matter how much George Lucas‘s Industrial Light and Magic has forever altered our cinematic experiences, the one thing that this particular show never sacrifices is the wonder of storytelling. You don’t have to be a hardcore Star Wars “nerd” to appreciate the mythology of these stories and the universal thematic content they express. Two Thumbs Up!

Ten Iconic Hollywood Film Scenes (II)

Following up on yesterday’s “challenge”, today I post the second in a series of ten iconic Hollywood film scenes among my all-time favorites. Little surprise here … from my all-time favorite film, director William Wyler’s 1959 version of “Ben-Hur”: The Chariot Race (though this segment was actually directed by Andrew Marton and stunt legend Yakima Canutt). There’s only a highlight of this action-packed cinematic gem on YouTube. NO CGI here! Nothing like seeing it, however, in all its widescreen glory in a theater equipped to handle it! But this will do:

Ten Iconic Hollywood Film Scenes (I)

As part of a new “summer” challenge (even though the Solstice doesn’t arrive until June 20th), I will post one image and/or film sequence per day for the next ten days, of ten iconic Hollywood film scenes. There are plenty more than that, but these ten are among my all-time favorites. And, no, I’m not going to tag anyone… but folks are free to add their own to the mix. I’m not wavering though. My ten have been picked and their fate is sealed! 🙂

First up, the scene that gave birth to what I would call a “Red Sea Moment” in reference to an epic-scale special effect—the parting of the waters in Cecil B. DeMille‘s classic 1956 rendering of “The Ten Commandments“:

“The Greatest Enemies of Peace are Those who Extol War as Noble and Heroic …”

An earlier version of this revised essay first appeared on the Liberty and Power Group Blog (Memorial Day Weekend 2004). It also appears here. This 2021 Memorial Day Weekend mirrors that 2004 calendar.

As people honor the memories of those who died in wars past and present on this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about a man who, not unlike others of his generation, served in World War II. His name was Salvatore “Sam” Sclafani, first cousin to my Dad, married to my mother’s sister, and forever etched in the minds of our family as “Uncle Sam.” Born in 1915, Uncle Sam left us in 1994, having succumbed to prostate cancer. But it was this man who was my earliest inspiration in all matters political; he nourished in me a love of history and politics, and was the guy to whom I dedicated Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

My Uncle Sam was, without doubt, one of the funniest and most benevolent souls to ever grace this planet. And when you got him to talk about politics, it was like a veritable ride aboard the Coney Island Cyclone, that landmark splintery wooden rollercoaster. He was the most opinionated and outspoken critic of politicians, left, right and center, whom I’ve ever had the privilege to know and love.

Back in 1976, I interviewed Uncle Sam for a special project I’d done on the veterans of World War II. His comments are as precious today, as they were back then.

He remembered that “day of infamy” in December 1941. His mother labored by the stove, preparing the traditional Sunday home-cooked Italian meal. In the background, the radio played the sounds of a Swing band … and then, a news flash came that the Japanese had attacked the US military base in Hawaii.

My Uncle had been classified in the army for the draft, but after years of working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he decided to enlist in the navy instead. Several days after his enlistment, he was shipped out to the Great Lakes Military Installation in Waukegan, Illinois, outside Chicago. Like a tale out of a storybook, he married his girlfriend, my Aunt Georgia, the day before he left.

From his hair-scalping at the installation to the strenuous marching, walking, running, rifle and rope exercises, boot-training was a test of his endurance. Even learning to sleep in a hammock—or as Uncle Sam reminisced, “trying to get into them, and involuntarily getting out of them”—was a chore. From Illinois, he was sent to Norfolk, Virginia for further training. He eventually became a part of the Seabees (the United States Naval Construction Battalions), a relatively new branch of the navy that was similar to the army corps of engineers. In learning the arts of naval engineering, these Seabees were taught everything “from building bridges and laying down airfields in record time, to advanced techniques of camouflage.”

From Norfolk, Uncle Sam went on to Pleasantville, California, and then on to the Bremerton Navy Yard in Puget Sound, Washington state, where he participated in the salvage work on the USS Nevada, damaged in the Pearl Harbor raid. As they awaited orders on their next assignment, Uncle Sam’s group was split into two: Group 1 was headed south—to Guadalcanal. By the mere accident of being part of Group 2, Uncle Sam ended up in the North Pacific. “We then realized,” he recalled: “This is it. This isn’t playing anymore. We’re not training. From here on, everything is real.”

Morale was remarkably good on the trip. But there was a common expression on everyone’s face, he told me: an expression of suppressed horror, worry, and uncertainty. There was that constant alert for possible enemy aerial or submarine bombardment. While he remained remarkably calm, many of his newfound pals were desperately ill. “My comrades wished they had died. Men were throwing-up against bulkheads and walls and fainting on decks. They lost their appetites from terrible fear and severe seasickness.”

Ten days after rough riding, the ship neared its destination. A heavy fog descended. And when the land mass came into focus, it looked like the cold, barren surface of a distant planet: no trees, no vegetation, immense mountains of stone and volcanic rock. Uncle Sam wasn’t a few minutes on land before an alert signaled an imminent Japanese air attack. An earlier attack that day had destroyed the boats that lay docked around a makeshift pier. Running to take cover, the men passed an enormous hill of greenish-white pine boxes … coffins waiting for new inhabitants. It was the kind of greeting that sobered the most stubborn among them. “A morbid, depressing and unsettling sensation came over me,” Uncle Sam said. “We were finally aware that we had been sent to the notorious Dutch Harbor in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, the closest US military base to Japan, only 600 miles away.” This was a place where temperatures ranged from 12 below to 60 above. At times, many feet of snow would fall. Certain seasons brought 18-hour days, while others brought 18-hour nights. But always, there was a damp, musty fog; for the two years that Uncle Sam was stationed in the Aleutians, he never saw the sun.

Within the first week of their arrival, the new troops faced air attacks, volcanic eruptions, storms, earthquakes, and “horizontal rain,” due to “winds that could blow a building across the Hudson River.” Those winds, dubbed “Williwaws,” were sudden and severe, up to 200 mph. Ironically, it was the difficult climactic conditions that saved Aleutian Island residents from both constant Japanese aerial bombardment and the typical diseases that infected troops stationed in the South Pacific. “American pilots remarked that there were better odds in flying 50 missions over Berlin,” Uncle Sam would say, “than even one mission over the Aleutian Islands.”

He remembered walking along a dirt road, when a light breeze had suddenly transformed into one of those Williwaws. By the time he had hit the deck, the wind had uprooted steel cables, boulders, and a 13-ton patrol bomber on the beach—smacking it up against a mountain. The Seabees’ efforts to camouflage their work were not very successful because of these winds. “We were forced to build revetments for planes to try to camouflage them with heavy steel-cabled nets. After the first storm, all the nets went flying across the Pacific Ocean and days of work went down the drain.”

But the Seabees transformed the rough Alaskan terrain, by literally leveling mountains. After laying down many miles of airfields with heavy metal stripping, the Seabees paved the way for an Aleutian air-force, since land-based bombers were now able to land.

By this time, Uncle Sam had become a Second Class Petty Officer. His days began at 5 am. His meals consisted of passable substitutes, since there were no eggs or milk. Remarkably, he gained 30 lbs. while living in Dutch Harbor. It was weight he desperately needed, as he worked hard on airfield and submarine installations. (He remembered going into one of those primitive subs: “I was qualified for submarine duty,” he said, “but they were out of their minds: it was like staying in a narrow coffin, cluttered with levers, wheels, and machinery. I would never have survived!”)

When his day of rigorous work was complete, he’d go back to the bunkhouses, which had been built to withstand the wind, the rain, and the war. Fighting his solitude and isolation, he found comfort with his comrades, smoking cigarettes, reminiscing of home, listening to their “Pacific sweetheart” on the radio: Tokyo Rose. Whoever she actually was, Uncle Sam had vivid memories of all the things she told them on the radio. “She’d tell us how our girls were cheating on us back home. She would say that we were very stupid to be fighting … we were going to lose anyway. So we might as well rebel, destroy our superiors, and go home.” It gave them a lot of laughs, he said, but it was hard to avoid sobbing, silently, as you listened to the Swing music she played. From the crackling of the radio speaker, came the Big Band sounds of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey; more than anything “Tokyo Rose” had actually said, the use of this great music constituted a form of psychological warfare that infected everyone with homesickness, he said. “It would place us in a very depressing state. Some men cried openly.”

The men of Dutch Harbor served as a diversionary force in the Battle of Midway. They prepared munitions for the bloody US invasions of Amchitka, Adak, and Attu. They played an active part in the isolation of Kiska, even though they failed to prevent the evacuation of 5,100 Japanese troops, who departed in the middle of a fog-heavy July night to return to Paramushiro Harbor.

During his two-year tour of duty, Uncle Sam experienced about six Japanese air bombardments; though the attacks were only seven to eight minutes in duration, they felt like seven to eight hours. A two-hour alert would usually precede an attack, as men would frantically prepare their anti-aircraft positions. “We were told to run off the ships and scatter into the hills, where there were fox holes.” Men clung to their own hopes for survival, some praying and giving substance to the old adage “there are no atheists in foxholes.” You just didn’t know if “that next bullet would have your name on it. Then you’d hear the incoming planes.” Within seconds, bombs would be dropping, destroying installations, oil tanks, gasoline storage facilities, and piers. Raging infernos and thick, black smoke would engulf the camp. “Things flashed quickly through my head,” he painfully recalled. He had fears of invading parachutists, naval bombardment, “the end of the world. In one attack, our ship, the Northwestern, was blown into a million pieces as a bomb was dropped down the smokestack. Shrapnel and other fragments went flying, as the explosion echoed through the hills and canyons.”

Uncle Sam learned a few things about wars, even “good” wars. He thought it was a joke when some said that the Americans would sell you the noose with which to hang them … until he realized that scrap metal from Manhattan Els (elevated trains) had been sold to the Japanese and used by them to create their machinery of war. He even remembered going over to a downed Japanese Zero. “And on the engine was labeled ‘Pratt-Whitney Motors, USA.'”

While he wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting another human being in order to survive—“quite frankly,” he’d say, “it was either them or us”—he never accepted the notion that he should hate his enemy. “We had been taught to hate the enemy for their bombardment of Pearl Harbor, for their cruel and inhumane treatment of our men.” But when prisoners were caught, “you’d look at these men, ‘our enemy,’ and see a reflection of yourself. I felt sorry for them.”

In 1944, Company C was reorganized and sent back to San Francisco. As his ship neared the Golden Gate Bridge, Uncle Sam cried “like a baby. It was the most fabulous sight I had ever seen. To be on American soil again, a feeling you can’t imagine unless you had been in that situation. And there, on the dock was the American Red Cross—with gallons and gallons of ice-cold milk.”

The climactic changes were not friendly to Uncle Sam. He developed a mysterious illness in which his legs swelled, as he lay nearly paralyzed in pain. When it was apparent that he would be in a military hospital for months, he was given an honorable discharge. In May 1944, he finally came home to New York. For months, he had difficulty adjusting. He was immensely uptight and shuddery. He developed a fear of passing overhead planes—a fear that some New Yorkers might remember, in the wake of 9/11, in a way that my Uncle could never have dreamed. The war had split homes and families, had taken away friends and relatives, and had damaged relationships. “You never know if you’re going to come back during a war,” he stated. “But if you have that luck, you can really appreciate what you left behind.”

A bolder and more “patriotic” American you’d be hard pressed to find. But Uncle Sam had had enough with politicians. He had voted for FDR because he was convinced that the President would preserve the peace. “The President had said that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. He forgot to add: ‘They’d be buried in it.'” For thirty years thereafter, Uncle Sam refused to go into a voting booth.

I come from a family of servicemen. Uncle Sam was fortunate enough to come home and to live a wonderful life, becoming a second father to me, as my own father had passed away when I was 12. But other relatives were not as lucky. My Uncle Frank was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. My Uncle Charlie survived, but was unable to talk about his war experiences for the rest of his life, having lived for years in a German POW camp. Fortunately, my Uncle Al and Uncle Georgie lived to talk about their experiences in the European theater. And my Uncle Tony remained in the army for the rest of his life. They are all gone now.

The human cost of war is usually calculated by raw data on battle deaths, casualties, and medical evacuations. But my Uncle Sam always believed that Memorial Day weekend was not a celebration of the majesty of war. He used to cite the old adage that “the greatest enemies of peace are those who extol war as noble and heroic.” This weekend is about remembering those who were the victims of war, especially those whose lives were sacrificed on its battlefields. It is also important to remember, to tribute, those who survived, those who lived to tell us about the horrors of war, and who did the most heroic thing imaginable: Building and sustaining their own lives in the aftermath, drawing strength from their love of family, of friends, and for life itself.

I honor their memory.

This brick was placed in memory of Uncle Sam by my cousin William Jannace as part of the National WWII MuseumRoad to Victory Brick Program.” It is a commemorative with the exact engraving of the brick therein.

Salvatore “Uncle Sam” Sclafani (1915-1994)

Happy Easter to the Easterners!

Christos Anesti” to all my Greek (Eastern) Orthodox family and friends: Happy Easter. Enjoy this celebration of renewal and rebirth.

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…

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.

Happy Western Easter!

Here’s wishing a Happy Easter to all my Western Christian friends. My Eastern Orthodox family and friends will not be joining you in this celebration of life and rebirth until May 2nd!

Have a great day!