Epic Films for Holiday Weekend!

For the first time in memory, television networks are showing two epic Biblical films in prime time, on consecutive nights. First up, tonight, is TCM’s 8 PM (ET) showing of “Ben-Hur” (as part of their A to Z tribute to “31 Days of Oscar“). Second up is tomorrow night’s annual ABC showing of “The Ten Commandments” at 7 PM (ET).

Charlton Heston has the distinction of having starred in what many consider to be the last great “costume” epic of its time (“The Ten Commandments“) and in the first great “intimate” epic of its time (“Ben-Hur“). The former film remains a stunning Cecil B. DeMille achievement that has forever given new meaning to the phrase “A Red Sea Moment” to describe any remarkably monumental special effects sequence on the big screen. The latter film remains the all-time Oscar champ (11 Oscars, tied with “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King“), directed by William Wyler, which ushered in a new kind of epic for a new era, one heavy on intimate characterization that is never eclipsed by its action sequences, including an unforgettable real chariot race, that makes CGI look fake by comparison.

Of course, what would a post like this be without at least one Sciabarra footnote. Aside from Heston, one of the key things that connects these two films is that Martha Scott plays Heston’s mother in both of them!

I could just as easily throw on the Blu-Ray of either film, but there’s still something charming about the fact that they’ll be on this weekend back-to-back. They remain truly notable achievements in the history of the cinema, however you might view them, critically, symbolically, or from a religious standpoint. Of course, nothing beats seeing these films on the Big Screen; I was lucky enough to see “Ben-Hur” for the first time, in 1969, on its tenth anniversary re-release in glorious 70mm at New York’s great Palace Theatre and “The Ten Commandments” a couple of years later at the wonderful Ziegfeld Theatre. Lacking that, find yourself the biggest TV screen to appreciate their artistry.

Epic-scale films with epic-scale scores—Elmer Bernstein’s great soundtrack for the DeMille classic and Miklos Rozsa’s spectacular Oscar-winning soundtrack [YouTube links to their “Soundtrack Suites”]—still worthy of your attention after all these years.

Play Ball!

… oh how I’ve been waiting to say that! And it’s not even an April Fools’ Day joke! And they’ll actually be a few fans in the stands!

The New York Yankees’ Opening Day will start out a little damp this afternoon; the Mets open on the road with the Nationals tonight. As a New Yorker, I’m ecumenical enough to hope that both teams give us something to cheer about. Of course, if both teams are blessed enough to make it to a Subway Series—all bets are off, and the Yankee fan in me will be on full display.

Here’s hoping for a safe, healthy, and exciting baseball season—with the return of the 162-game schedule and a grand postseason!

Postscript: Well that sucked. The Yanks lost and the Mets have been postponed because the Nationals are leading the league in COVID outbreaks! Sheesh…

Happy Passover to All My Jewish Friends!

A very Happy Passover to all my Jewish friends who celebrate this holiday.

While we’re on the subject of religious holidays, this year, the dates for Easter are sharply divergent. Every so often, the typical rule of the Eastern Orthodox Easter date is such that it comes much later than the Western Easter. So while Western Christians celebrate Palm Sunday today, the Eastern Orthodox churches won’t be carrying palms until April 25th. Orthodox Easter, which typically follows the Passover, doesn’t occur this year until May 2nd!

Don’t ask me to explain the ways in which these dates are decided upon; it’s not just a difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars (because the Greeks, unlike the Russians, follow the “Revised Julian Calendar“—the same as the Gregorian calendar, for every Christian holiday, including Christmas). But for Easter, it’s a Julian rule, with a quirky calculation based on full moons and the equinox! The next time that the Western and Eastern churches will celebrate Easter on the same date will be in 2025. (Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, they have coincided in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2017). Apparently, because of various cumulative changes in the calendars, by the year 2700, the Western and Eastern churches will never celebrate Easter on the same date again!

Either way, getting back to the topic of this post: A very Happy Passover to all those who celebrate!

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

This just in from the New York Daily News (27 March 2021), by Larry McShane: “Sweet Offer from Junior’s for COVID Vax“:

Brooklyn’s famously to-die-for Junior’s cheesecake is now something to live for, too.


The quintessentially New York restaurant, beginning this Monday, will offer a free cupcake-sized version of its renowned taste treat to any customer with a COVID-19 vaccination record card.


“What we’re seeing locally, in our Brooklyn restaurant, is a lot of hesitancy to get this vaccine,” said owner Alan Rosen. “And Brooklyn was devastated by this. We’re right down the street from Brooklyn Hospital, so we decided, ‘Why don’t we do something to maybe change somebody’s mind?’”


The Flatbush Ave. eatery opened its doors back in the 1950s, founded by Alan’s grandfather Harry. The third-generation landmark business’ sweet freebies will continue through Memorial Day. The handmade cheesecakes use a special Junior’s recipe of premium cream cheese, heavy cream, eggs and a touch of vanilla atop its signature sponge cake.


“If that can’t convince you, maybe there’s no hope,” joked Rosen, tongue firmly in cheek. “But maybe, if Dr. Fauci can’t convince you, this will put you over the top.”

Indeed, who needs Brooklyn-born Anthony Fauci when you can have Brooklyn-born Junior’s Cheesecake as Incentive. Okay, the cupcake-sized one ain’t the larger Strawberry Cheesecake, but we’ll take it!

Bring on Dose #2, scheduled for April 15th!

Spring Grammar

Happy Spring Everyone! The Vernal Equinox occurred this morning in the Northern hemisphere at 5:37 am, ET. Bring on the Spring Allergies! Yay!

This has nothing to do with spring though; just an excuse to review our English grammar lessons as students move toward the end of their Spring semester.

Libertarian PBS

I know this is making the rounds, but still, it’s hilarious. H/T to my friend Ryan Neugebauer 🙂

Facebook as Deity?

Another Classic from Stephan Pastis and “Pearls Before Swine

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus

Having recently attacked everything from Big Pharma to the medical-science-state-corporate nexus that plagues U.S. healthcare in the thirtieth installment of my Coronavirus series, I nevertheless want to make a few things clear about how I have personally dealt with weighing the risks and benefits of taking any of the three major COVID vaccines currently available in the United States (from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson).

First a few words to the Covidiots among us, who continue to deny the extent, seriousness, or even the very existence of COVID-19. My friend and colleague Roger Bissell addressed this issue first on Facebook (back in October 2020), and in addendums to that in a paper he shared with me (dated December 12, 2020), which I excerpt below. Roger focuses exclusively on the issue of “excess deaths”—for “if they exist,” he writes, “then the disease and its reported death toll are likely real; if not, not.” He continues:

Being an equal opportunity skeptic by nature, I was intrigued by an online claim, supposedly supported with data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that there are in fact no excess deaths this year, and thus that 2020 will ultimately end up with approximately the same number of deaths from all causes as the most recent preceding years.

As reported by the CDC, the 2016, 2017, and 2018 figures for United States deaths from all causes were, respectively: 2,744,248; 2,813,503; and 2,839,205 (see here, here, and here). CDC figures for 2019 will apparently not be available until at least January 2021; however, hot off the press, as reported by the CDC, is the figure for United States deaths from all causes from February 1 through October 30, 2020: 2,347,341. Since this period is essentially three-fourths of the calendar year 2020, multiplying that number by 1.33 will produce a reasonable projected estimate of total 2020 United States deaths for all causes: 3,121,963.

From this, some simple arithmetic shows that in 2020, there will (likely) be more than 300,000 “excess deaths” compared to 2017. As of October 30, 2020, the number of United States deaths from COVID-19 was 235,158; a reasonable projection (based on an average of 1,000 deaths a day between now and the end of the year) would be about 295,000 deaths for the full year.

To me, this is solid proof (without all the technical bells and whistles from academic statistics) that we are dealing with a real, new disease, not some result of phony, fraudulent manipulation by people trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Whatever this disease really is, and whatever other questionable categorizing and reporting of deaths there may have been, about 300,000 more Americans [will have] … die[d] from all causes [in 2020] than have died from all causes in typical past years, and those deaths will likely be due to COVID-19.

On December 12, 2020, Roger provided additional analysis of the preliminary data (based on this data source):

The 2020 deaths from all causes for February 1 through December 9 is 2,703,232. If COVID is fake and there are no “excess deaths” for 2020, then all we need do is divide 2,703,232 by 313/366 (the ratio of days from Feb. 1 through Dec. 9 to the total days in 2020).

Simple math: 2,703,232 divided by 313/366 = 3,161,675.

So, the projected total deaths for 2020 is 3,161,675. The deaths for all causes for 2018 (above) is 2,839,205.

More simple math: 3,161,675 minus 2,839,205 = 322,470.

Does that look like COVID is fake to you? Something will have caused over 300,000 extra deaths [in 2020]. To paraphrase SNL’s Church Lady: “Could it be … COVID?” [YouTube link]


Now that we’ve gotten that issue out of the way, let me turn to a more personal issue. I’ve detailed throughout this series, the nightmarish extent of the death that I have witnessed in my hometown, New York City. A summary of my thoughts can be found in my last installment. But given my own lifelong health problems, clinically referred to as “comorbidities,” I had to weigh the risks of taking a relatively new vaccine (of whatever variety that is currently on the menu for U.S. citizens) versus the risks of contracting COVID, given those comorbidities. I spoke with all of my doctors, and the overwhelming consensus was: Take the vaccine, because the risks of dying from the vaccine are far lower than the risks of dying from contracting COVID, given my pre-existing conditions.

More than that, whatever problems I have had throughout my life, I am now the primary caregiver to my sister (“Ms. Ski” to all the students whose lives she changed dramatically throughout her nearly forty years as an educator), whom I love dearly, and whom I nearly lost in mid-November 2020 due to a non-COVID-related serious illness. She spent a solid month in the hospital, and after three months at home, returned to the hospital last Monday, due to complicating factors now requiring surgical attention. She undergoes major surgery tomorrow morning. We are hoping for the very best of outcomes.

So, again, this is a very personal decision and I would not for a moment engage in context-dropping (it’s against my dialectical sensibilities) to assume that I could make this decision for any person other than myself. And given my libertarian predilections, I’m not inclined to put a gun to anybody’s head to force them to take any vaccine—or to put a gun to anybody else’s head to force them to open their establishments to those who refuse to take vaccines of any kind, and whose inaction might put others at risk for deadly diseases that have been essentially eradicated (like smallpox).

After a couple of months of trying to get an appointment, I finally lined up one on Tuesday to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine late this afternoon. I arrived on time and it took about a half hour to receive the inoculation, sit for observation, and set up the date for my second dose in mid-April.

As yet, I have not sprouted any new ears, limbs, vestigial or highly active new parts of my body above or below my waist. I don’t suspect that the vax was designed to combat any alien virus straight out of “The X-Files“—or to create any alien-human hybrid race.

I made this decision for my own health, and as a responsible caregiver to my sister (who will eventually be vaccinated herself). 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.

#IGotTheShotNYC

Postscript (19 March 2021): My sister’s surgery had to be postponed to Monday, March 22. Watch this space for updates! Thank you to all those who have expressed their love and support.

The Poetry of Rap

As a mobile DJ back in my college days, I learned early on just how to keep the crowd moving by spinning (yes, vinyl records back then!) hip hop and rap hits. Whether it was a party anthem, like the “Good Times“-fueled “Rapper’s Delight” [YouTube links] by The Sugarhill Gang and the Old School street sounds of Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaata (whose cousin was one of my best friends: RIP, dear Ronnie) or, later, Run D-MC and the Beastie Boys, it never failed to pack the floors at a school dance or a senior prom. Over the years, I wrote a few essays about rap (especially its relationship to improvisational art forms like jazz), including one on the controversial Eminem.

So I was very impressed by an article published in the March 7, 2021 issue of The New York Times Style Magazine, “Free Flow” by Adam Bradley, which focused attention on the ways in which rap artists were dismantling the barriers between rap and poetry, especially during “a renewed era of American racial reckoning.” Discussing everything from the nature of sampling, the role of improvisation and the use of literary allusions (going as far back to Homer and Shakespeare), Bradley writes:

[A] line of demarcation persists between rap and poetry, born of outmoded assumptions about both forms: that poetry only exists on the page and rap only lives in the music, that poetry is refined and rap is raw, that poetry is art and rap is entertainment. These opinions are rife with bias — against the young, the poor, the Black and brown, the self-educated, the outspoken and sometimes impolite voices that, across five decades, have carried a local tradition from the South Bronx to nearly every part of the world.


Yet today, a new generation of artists, both rappers and poets, are consciously forging closer kinship between the genres. They draw from a common toolbox of language, use the same social media platforms to reach their audiences and respond to the same economic and political provocations to create public art. In doing so, rappers and the poets who claim affinity with them are resuscitating a body of literary practices mostly neglected in poetry during the 20th century. These ghost appendages of form — repetition, patterned rhythm and, above all, rhyme — thrive in song, especially in rap.

The article is well worth your attention.