Category Archives: Remembrance

Song of the Day #1981

Song of the Day: The Christmas Tree [YouTube link], composed by David Rose, was recorded in 1959 and has been heard as a perennial favorite on the WPIX-TV Yule Log. It’s an annual broadcast that my sister and I so enjoyed. This is the first Christmas Day without my sister, who died on November 26, 2022. But not even this tragic loss can dull my embrace of this holiday, which she so loved, and which I will always love, for its message of Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward All. On January 1, 2023, I will begin posting two months—59 straight days—of terrific music that my sister knew I’d planned, celebrating one of the greatest franchises in the history of television in January and the magic of film scores in February. I want to wish a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and a very happy and healthy New Year to all.


Walter Grinder, RIP

October 12, 1938 – December 4, 2022

When I first saw posts circulating on Facebook that my friend, Walter Grinder, had died at the age of 84, my only thought was: “Oh, no.” We would sometimes share stories of our lifelong health woes, but Walter had sent out an update to his email list in late September indicating that he came “very close to dying a couple of weeks ago” only to “beat the Grim Reaper for the time being.” I had hoped he’d keep beating the odds moving forward despite his fragile state of health. Last weekend, however, he died, and so many people whose lives he touched have been expressing their condolences and genuine love for this gifted man.

For those who don’t know much about Walter, he was a graduate of Grove City College in Pennsylvania, who went on to study with Ludwig von Mises and Israel Kirzner at New York University. He taught economics at Rutgers University for a while, became the executive director of the Center for Libertarian Studies, and eventually the Vice President of the Institute for Humane Studies, which is where I was blessed to encounter him for the first time in the early 1980s.

Walter was a constant source of support, guidance, and advice for countless numbers of students in the areas of classical liberalism, Austrian economics, and the potential for a genuinely radical libertarian social analysis. Indeed, his seminal 1977 article, with his dear friend and colleague, John Hagel, “Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate decision-making and Class Structure,” was one of the most important contributions to the development of a uniquely libertarian understanding of class dynamics.

A more powerful defender of human liberty we would be hard pressed to find. But he was also second to none in promoting the works of those whose lives he so deeply touched—mine included. To be honest, sometimes his effusive praise of my work would make me blush, but it never came without constructive, helpful criticism concerning this or that point, which needed further development. He was always a teacher.

But he was also always a friend. Our relationship deepened immeasurably over the years, and I would say that among the most poignant memories I have of him were our literally countless exchanges on music—from the blues and rock to jazz. Indeed, among our last notes to one another, back in August, Walter shared with me a wonderful 1956 album, “Pres and Teddy”, a sweet jazz union of tenor saxophonist Lester Young and pianist Teddy Wilson. Walter said: “Just sitting here taking in two of my favorite musicians, and I thought you might wish to join in. Are there any smoother musicians anywhere? Lester Young is the epitome of cool, and Teddy is always also cool and unobstrusive. Put them together and one gets some mighty fine listening, for sure. Enjoy!” So, I checked out that YouTube link—and within 5 minutes, responded: “Awww, Walter! Both are terrific! And I’m already listening along with you, my friend.” We listened together from afar, and I’m only sorry I was never able to make the trek out to see him and to listen to so much more together—but life has a way of complicating things.

I will miss this loving, caring, gentle man.

***

This post is not about me… but I needed to pause a moment to acknowledge something very personal. Since late October 2021, I have mourned the loss of Anne Conover Heller and Sharon Presley. I also heard about the passing of the all-too-young Jeff Friedman, with whom I had many differences, but with whom I also shared many happy times when we were both involved in Students for a Libertarian Society and in the earliest days of Critical Review, which published some of my first pieces critiquing ‘the crisis of libertarian dualism’. And of course, the death of my sister, Elizabeth “Ski” Sciabarra—not even two weeks ago—has been emotionally shattering in so many ways. I know that my heart has an almost infinite capacity to love; I’m not sure it has an infinite capacity to grieve. But I draw strength not only from the many memories I will always cherish of those who have departed—but from the dear friends and family who remain behind and who continue to give me so much love and support moving forward. And that is not a small consolation.

RIP, dear Walter. My very deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Postscript (10 December 2022): Check out Irfan Khawaja’s essay, “Three Passings, Three Losses“.

Postscript (14 January 2023): Check out John Hagel’s obituary at the Cato Institute.

Song of the Day #1970

Song of the Day: The Thriller Megamix, mixed by DJ Jason Nevins, highlights some of the hottest tracks from Michael Jackson’s masterpiece. On this date in 1982, the “King of Pop” released the all-time global best-selling album, “Thriller“. It would have an immeasurable impact on popular music and culture. It spent an unprecedented 37 nonconsecutive weeks at #1 (and is actually back in the Top Ten this week), was the first album to spawn 7 Top Ten Hits, and advanced the art of music video—from the sparkling “Billie Jean“, the first video by a black artist to air in heavy rotation on MTV, to “Beat It“, directed by Bob Giraldi, with its kick-ass Eddie van Halen guitar solo and its Michael Peters choreography, to the John Landis-directed iconic short film, “Thriller“, a 14-minute music-and-horror dance extravaganza. Many of the songs on this all-time best seller are staged in “MJ: The Musical“—a wonderful “jukebox musical” that I saw on Broadway this past summer. This megamix highlights five key songs from MJ‘s 40-year old masterpiece, an unforgettable part of the soundtrack of my youth and of my years as a mobile DJ: the title track, “Billie Jean“, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’“, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)“, and “Beat It“. It is not without some poignant irony that this anniversary comes during the funeral week of my sister, Elizabeth “Ski” Sciabarra. She and I both saw MJ with his brothers on the 1984 Victory Tour and the 1988 Bad World Tour. We danced to his music anytime it echoed through a dance club. And every time she took one of her dance teams to a national competition, she looked forward to hearing an MJ track on the bus—as a sign of good luck. I miss her. But these memories live on …

Elizabeth Ann Sciabarra, RIP

September 2, 1952 – November 26, 2022

My sister Elizabeth Ann Sciabarra—Ski to the thousands of students whose lives she touched as an educator for half a century—died at 8 p.m. tonight after a two-year long bout with many serious health issues. Her passing came quite shockingly after a steep decline over the past week.

Ski was the recent recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala marking the one-hundredth anniversary of the opening of Brooklyn Technical High School [YouTube link]. She was fortunate enough to view the YouTube video of this presentation this past week and was very deeply moved; I think that it provided a poignant coda to her lifelong, passionate commitment to the education and well-being of young people.

Back in 2010, before she’d go on to become Executive Director of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, she retired from the NYC Department of Education—after a professional life that took her from teacher and coach to assistant principal at Tech, principal at New Dorp High School on Staten Island, deputy superintendent and founding CEO of the Office of Student Enrollment at the DOE. At that time, I had the occasion to speak at her retirement dinner. I highlighted one of my sister’s favorite quotations, which she often used at various commencement exercises. It could just as easily and appropriately speak to her own impact and legacy. Noted historian Rina Swentzell (1939–2015) of Santa Clara Pueblo said:

“What we are told as children is that people, when they walk on the land, leave their breath wherever they go. So, wherever we walk, that particular spot on the earth never forgets us, and when we go back to these places, we know that the people who have lived there are in some way still there, and that we can actually partake of their breath and of their spirit.”

In every place she has been, with everyone she has worked, all those students she has taught, advised, assisted, coached, all the teachers, assistant principals, principals, parents, community partners and others with whom she has interacted, not to mention her dear friends and beloved family—all these have been blessed to partake of her very strong spirit.

Wherever she has walked, people will be hard pressed to forget her and her impact on their lives.

I once told her that she may not have had kids of her own, but she mothered literally thousands of kids, whose lives were forever changed by their encounters with her. Indeed, as a caring educator, in the eyes of those kids, my sister flew around the city of her birth, the city she was so proud to call home, with a huge “S” on her chest, which could have stood for “Sciabarra” or “Ski”—or even “Superwoman.”

For me, however, that “S” always stood for “Sister,” which means more than that one word can ever convey.

Indeed, as siblings, we lived together for as long as I’ve been alive. She was more than my sister. She was my friend, my confidante, my partner-in-crime, my advisor, my guide, not only for all things academic but for life itself. As someone who struggled with chronic, congenital medical issues, I could never have made it without her loving support and encouragement. She was my strongest advocate and fiercest defender.

Even over the last month, as she struggled with increasingly difficult medical complications, she was elated as I completed the copyediting and formatting of the last essays for the 2023 grand finale of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. She gave me a fist bump when I told her, “It’s done!” As a lover of music and dance—and boy did she have rhythm [YouTube link]—she was also privy to all the “Songs of the Day” that I had already lined up for the upcoming holiday season, my projected January 2023 fifteenth-anniversary tribute to the “Breaking Bad” franchise, and my annual Film Music February Festival. And so, those songs will be posted, no matter what, with added poignancy.

There wasn’t a holiday she didn’t embrace or celebrate in grand style. She was even able to glimpse the Christmas decorations I put up the day after Thanksgiving. I know that it brought her peace and joy even as she fought bravely against the agony and pain that were consuming her body.

Tonight, my heart is shattered. I am comforted only because she is finally out of pain and that she died with dignity in her own home—by the grace of the generosity of the multitude of people who contributed to her #GoFundSki campaign. For all that love and support, our family expresses a profound depth of appreciation.

My brother Carl, my sister-in-law Joanne and I ask for privacy at this time. We will announce a more public memorial at an appropriate time and place, which will be held sometime in 2023.

I will always love you, my Bitty.

A Happier Time, late 1980s

See Facebook condolences.

Postscript (29 November): There is a poignant tribute to my sister by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (NY) on Facebook.

In addition, I was interviewed by Annalise Knudson of the Staten Island Advance this morning, before attending my sister’s funeral, and I was very touched by this wonderful article detailing my sister’s legacy as an educator. See here. And also see this tribute from Tim Bethea.

9:10 AM

You sent

Postscript (12/22/22): My deepest appreciation to the literally THOUSANDS of people who reached out and expressed their love and support during this difficult time. I am truly blessed. As is the memory—and legacy—of my dear sister. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Song of the Day #1969

Song of the Day: Flashdance … What a Feeling features the music of Giorgio Moroder and lyrics of Keith Forsey and Irene Cara, who took this song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Dance Club charts. This was the title track to the 1983 film, “Flashdance“. Cara died yesterday at the age of 63. Her sweet voice graced this film and the 1980 film, “Fame“. Check out the music video to this 80s pop gem [YouTube link].

Sharon Presley (1943-2022), RIP

My dear friend, Ellen Young, announced today that Sharon Presley, lifelong libertarian feminist writer and activist, died on Monday, October 31, 2022, at the age of 79. Her partner Art—who has had his own share of health challenges—was able to be there to say goodbye to her.

Sharon had been suffering from serious illnesses for quite a while. In the wake of eviction from her apartment and the loss of her cats, she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for over a year.

Sharon received her B.A. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, her M.A. in psychology from San Francisco State, and her Ph.D. in social psychology from the City University of New York. She taught on the psychology of women and other gender-related courses at California State University, Iowa State University, the College of Wooster, and Weber State College. Her published research included historical papers on women resisters, a study of Mormon feminists, an edited collection of essays on nineteenth-century individualist feminist Voltairine de Cleyre and the 2010 volume, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities: How to Avoid Being Intimidated, Manipulated, and Abused. Sharon was also a national coordinator for the Association of Libertarian Feminists and Executive Director of Resources for Independent Thinking.

Her frail state over these many months was quite a contrast to the rambunctious fireband whom I met way back in 1978, when I was an undergraduate student at New York University. She and John Muller had helped to launch Laissez-Faire Books, which offered a treasure-trove of classical liberal, libertarian, and anarchist literature in the heart of Greenwich Village. As a cofounder of the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society, I spent a lot of time at that bookstore, especially in 1980, when it became a virtual warehouse of antidraft placards and pamphlets that we distributed in Washington Square Park, joining with other student groups to protest Jimmy Carter’s reinstatement of Selective Service Registration.

From the very beginning of our friendship, Sharon and I had our differences, but it never interfered with her willingnesss to step up and speak out in an uncompromising, principled way on many controversial topics. She gladly accepted our invitation to speak at an NYU-SLS-sponsored event, delivering a fiery lecture in support of reproductive freedom. Given that Ayn Rand’s work played such a key role in initially sparking Sharon’s political radicalization, I was delighted, many years later, when she accepted an invitation to be among the diverse group of contributors to Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (1999), which I coedited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, for the Penn State University Press series, “Re-reading the Canon.” That volume, prominently featured among anthologies on thirty-five major figures in the Western philosophical tradition, brought Rand’s work into critical engagement with various feminist perspectives. Sharon’s essay, “Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Individualism: A Feminist Psychologist’s Perspective”, was one of its gems.

My very deepest condolences to all those who knew her. I will miss her.

Sharon Presley (1943-2022)

See comments on Facebook.

Anne Conover Heller, RIP

I was very saddened to learn this morning that my dear friend and colleague, magazine editor and journalist Anne Conover Heller, passed away on October 10, 2022. We had been in touch over the summer, and I knew she had been battling cancer. She lost that battle at the age of 71. As the NY Times legacy page tells us: “She is survived by many many friends from all corners of life, her dear sister Peggy, and David, her devoted husband. A memorial celebration will take place at the Church of the Holy Trinity in December.” My very deepest condolences to all those who had the pleasure of knowing her.

Over the years, Anne had been the managing editor of The Antioch Review, a fiction editor of Esquire and Redbook, features editor of Lear’s, and the executive editor of the magazine-development group at Conde Nast Publications. She would go on to author the probing biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made (2009) and the insightful Hannah Arendt: A Life in Dark Times (2015).

She was one of the most curious, tenacious, and courageous scholars I’ve ever known. She was also a very sweet, caring, supportive, and loving friend.

We first met many years ago, when she was researching her book on Rand. She was very deeply impressed with my own book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (1995, first edition), and was embarking on major research on Rand’s Russian background. Aware of my previous work on Rand’s education at Petrograd University and my discovery that Rand had studied at the Stoyunin gymnasium—including my essay “The Rand Transcript,” featured in the 1999 debut issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies—Anne worked diligently to provide further documentation of many aspects of Rand’s Russian beginnings that became more transparent over time. She gained access to materials that I did not have when I first put forth my theses.

Unlike those who had access to certain archives but who had refused to share these materials with others without stipulations that were meant to crush independent inquiry, Anne openly shared with me key documents on Rand’s education at Petrograd University. In collaboration with such scholars as the esteemed philosopher and intellectual historian, the late George Kline, I was able to provide Anne with a thorough exploration of the materials. The results of that investigation—“The Rand Transcript, Revisited” (JARS, Fall 2005; republished in the 2013 expanded second edition of Russian Radical)—were used by Anne in her 2009 Rand biography. In later years, I was able to revisit that material and expand on it greatly, in collaboration with my dear friend and colleague Pavel Solovyev. Our coauthored essay, “The Rand Transcript Revealed” (published in the December 2021 JARS), utterly delighted Anne. None of it would have been possible without the pioneering steps taken by her.

As a friend, she had this unique ability to lend a heartfelt word of support when times were tough and to laugh through the tears. And laugh we did. Our countless hours of conversation over the years were the source of great joy to me. I am greatly indebted to her—for so much. I will always honor her immense generosity of spirit. And I will miss her.

RIP, dear, dear friend.

Posted to Facebook with discussion.

Song of the Day #1966

Song of the Day: Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, words and music by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was first released on May 9, 1972 by The Undisputed Truth [YouTube link]. Today, however, marks the fiftieth anniversary of its release on Motown Records by The Temptations—a seminal #1 Hit, that in its full glory went on for 12+ minutes, with extended musical passages (even the single version was 7 minutes!). The song won three Grammy Awards. Check out the full album version as featured on the album, “Psychedelic Soul” [YouTube link].

Song of the Day #1962

Song of the Day: (Ah The Apple Trees) When the World Was Young, music by Philippe Gerard, French lyrics by Angele Vannier, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has been recorded by countless artists through the years. Check out renditions by Edith Piaf (in the original French, as “Le chevalier de Paris“), Aretha Franklin, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Eydie Gorme, and Frank Sinatra [YouTube links]. Apple is the official fruit of New York, and today, The Big Apple, and all those who have been nourished by its fruitfulness, mark the twenty-first anniversary of 9/11. In memory of those whose lives we lost.

The Twin Towers, from the Staten Island Ferry, May 12, 2001
Photograph by Chris Matthew Sciabarra

See Facebook discussion here.

Joey DeFrancesco, RIP

I was very saddened to hear of the death of jazz organ player Joey DeFrancesco, who died at the age of 51 on August 25, 2022.

RIP [YouTube link]

Courtesy, Wiki Commons