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Articles by: Jerry Krase

  • Op-Eds

    The "Right" to Marry


    I haven't been blogging for the past few months because I have been writing a book Seeing Cities Change for Ashgate that should be out by December. It seems, however, that no one has missed me and my missives. Then today I got a Facebook message from Otto Capelli asking:

    What's your take on the Same-Sex Marriage Bill the New York State Senate just passed and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law?

    Everyone seems to be talking now about the new New York State law that gives non-heterosexual couples the right to get married, but to me it is really about belatedly and bregrudgingly recognizing homosexuals as what they are --- ordinary people. Unfortunately the equal rights of my friends, neighbors, and relatives seemed to be dependent upon wealthy Republicans with Libertarian points of view who also support the idea that those who have shouldn't pay taxes to help those that don't. So I am very happy for my friends, neighbors, and relatives but at the same time regret that our Governor Andrew Cuomo has an easier time asking rich people for help to give homosexuals their due than asking rich people to pay their fair share of New York State's expenses. It is these same rich people who have done so well during the fiscal crisis, even though they caused it by disregarding the rest of us, straight and not. The "victory" has also stimulated more buzzing about Andy as a Presidential candidate, but I wonder which party he will best fit into. If truth be told, and it seldom is, if I were a registered Republican, I would vote for him in the Republican Presidential Primary over Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney but as a Democrat he would be hard sell, even to what's left of liberal Italian Americans.

    As to the gay rights to riches story, my first search yielded this one by Ujala Sehgal who in

    Rich Repubilicans Given the Credit for Legalizing Gay Marriage, wrote about Michael Barbaro's "blockbuster" article in The New York Times

    "... on the behind-the-scene story of how the gay marriage law was passed in New York. He suggests that on the surface, the story of gay marriage may be about about 'shifting public sentiment' and 'emotional appeals from gay couples.' But behind this optimistic picture, it was really about 'top Republican moneymen helping a Democratic rival with one of his biggest legislative goals.'

    But the donors in the room — the billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay, joined by the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb — had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.

    Within days, the wealthy Republicans sent back word: They were on board. Each of them cut six-figure checks to the lobbying campaign that eventually totaled more than $1 million."

               Now if only Andy could prevail upon his rich buddies to pay their fair share of taxes so the children of LBTG couples and singles could look forward to the opportunity for affordable decent education, housing, and medical care. How about the elderly LBTG who rely on Medicaid? How about the jobless and homeless LBTG? After reading Mureen Dowd's Op-Ed "Utopia on the Hudson" in the Times this morning in which Himself described himself as "an aggressive progressive" who thinks straight, or not, liberals have to reorient themselves toward a government with goals and effective service, rather than big government, I say "Lots of luck."; especially after his gubernatorial coming out, which Dowd noted, was as a socially liberal fiscal conservative pushing through an "austerity" budget that capped property taxes, and saved everyone from the poor to the zillionaires from paying more State income tax (he said facetiously). 

     


  • Op-Eds

    Anti-Italian Bias: Surreal or Not Surreal, That is the Question


    Recently I spoke at the Calandra Italian American Institute about my essay “Shark Tale—“Puzza da Cap’” in Bill Connell and Fred Gardaphe's Anti-Italianism Essays on a Prejudice. And, almost every time I speak about the besmirched reputation of the ethnic group to which I accidentally belong, I reflect on how little things have changed since, at least according to Connell, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately,  blaming The Bard for anti-Italian bias is like blaming God for snowstorms. Curse Him/Her if you wish but you still have to shovel your way out, and if you die in the process you'll go to where you'll wish it was still snowing.


    Apropos of painful thoughts, much of the bad opinion people have of Italians and Italian Americans emanates from the antics of a few members of the groups in question. The fact is that WE (NOI) do lots of stupid and, occasionally, even really bad stuff. However, there is a real issue of discrimination, which is that just about the only news we get to read about US (NOI), outside of the Italian American ethnic press such as OGGI, seems to be bad news, and despite aphorisms to the contrary, all publicity is not good publicity. For example, Italians and Italian Americans are hardly ever front-page news in the American media, which usually have more important things to squawk about in the first six pages such as The Oscars and Afghanistan. So when last week I was greeted by two mega-stories that concerned my Italian roots in the “all the news that’s fit to print“ paper  I was, to say the least, nonplused. (Sconcertato). The first story was the round-up of 125 of my alleged friends and relatives by “de Feds” (as we say). Lucky for me most of the guys from the seven families are being detained in Brooklyn so I don’t have to travel very far to visit. 
    Charges include murder, as well as “the more run-of-the-mill" stuff like racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, money laundering, gambling, etc. according to William K. Rashbaum. “Names from mob lore" included former Patriarca boss Luigi Manocchio, 83, who it was said "dressed in women’s clothing to avoid capture decades ago.” "Baby Shacks" was arrested in Florida for shaking down strip clubs back home in Providence, R.I. The sweep employed almost a thousand federal, state and local agents who targeted small-time bookmakers, shakedown artists, mob middle managers, and 34 "made members" of New York’s  Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese along with a few from other families in New Jersey and New England.
     
    U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that the mob is weakened, and probably not national in scope but was still a major threat “to the economic well-being of this country.”
    Closer to home the alleged crimes include defrauding New York City in connection with La Festa di Santa Rosalia in Bensonhurst. In Manhattan, 26 Gambinos were charged with racketeering, extortion, assault, arson and (for 30 years) marijuana and cocaine trafficking. These mob roundups are a kind of decennial ritual for law enforcement; like the annual roundup of bookies here in the Big Apple a week or so before the Super Bowl that forces the cops, judges and prosecutors to make their bets on-line. It is not surprising that so many of these mob guys are aging members of the least successful groups. One seldom hears about all the moguls of Italian descent in the finance industry. Then again, given the recent economic crisis perhaps we don't want to talk about that either.
     
    The other big story was about the randy role model Italian politician "Surreal - A Soap Opera Starring Berlusconi" by Rachel Donadio  

     

    "KARIMA EL-MAHROUG, the beautiful 18-year-old nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby Heart-Stealer) at the center of a sex scandal involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, went on television last week to explain herself. As her gripping testimony, décolletage and muted leopard-print top drove up ratings on a channel owned by Mr. Berlusconi, Ms. Mahroug said she had never had sex with him — “He never even laid a finger on me” — and never asked for 5 million euros ($6.7 million) to keep quiet. “I’m capable of exaggerating, but not that,” she said. Nor, she said, had she ever worked as a prostitute, although she did say Mr. Berlusconi gave her 7,000 euros in cash after the first party she attended at his house (when they were introduced, she said, “Hi, I’m Ruby, and I’m 24,” she recalled)." Ruby was not perturbed by her voice on wiretaps saying she had been going to Silvio's  parties since she was 16.

    Donadio seemed surprised that Italians are rather blase about Berlusconi's 17 year-long performance. If she really understood Italy, she would have known that the term "surreal' is inappropriate for Italian politics as Berlusconi’s conduct is hardly: bizarre, fantastic, dreamlike, unreal, odd, weird, strange (surreale, bizzarro, fantastico, dreamlike, irreale, dispari, bizzarro, sconosciuto)

     
    What IS (E) surreal was that while Ruby's sexy interview and cleavage captured headlines in the US and Italy, Berlusconi’s straight-laced political opponents were hosting Gary Hart at a meeting during the ‘crisis’: ROME - The Lingotto. L'obiettivo dell'appuntamento convocato oggi a Torino da Walter Veltroni sembra molto lontano dalla semplice riunione di area. Vuole essere una convention, una kermesse dove tutto il Partito democratico possa ritrovarsi. Dopo Veltroni parleranno Gentiloni, Chiamparino, Civati, Salvati e Soru. Prenderanno la parola anche Gary Hart e Anthony Giddens. (The purpose of the meeting convened today in Turin by Walter Veltroni was more than a simple assembly. He wants it to be a convention, a festival where all those in the DP might reunite. After Veltroni will speak Gentolini, Chiamparino, Salvati e Soru. Also, saying some words will be Gary Hart and Anthnoy Giddens.)

     
    Even more surreal is the fact that Silvio and his minions have based much of their popular appeal in Italy on anti-immigrant, anti-african, anti-Moslem rhetoric, therefore "Sleeping with the Enemy" might have been a more appropriate title for Donadio's missive about the Morrocan-born teenager who stole his heart.


    Finally, the connection between bad news about Italians in America and Italy could not be made any stronger than by the most recent installment of the saga of “Jersey Shore” which is a kind of Shark Tale for immature adults of all ethnic persuasions. Three perfectly timed parallel stories about this no class, low-class show caught my attention as they well served the public relations firm looking to attract more brainless viewers.


    The First was "Jersey Shore" cast to embarrass Italian Americans" by Linda Stasi in the Post which, given the Post's generally anti-cerebral readership, even though Stasi's piece is superbly anti-Jersey Shore, is a perfect fit for the "any publicity is good publicity" bit.


    Just when the Italians were finally getting over the barbarian sacking of Rome 1,600 years ago, a bunch of invaders so savage they make Visigoths look like a marauding army of Helen Mirrens are headed their way.

     
    The Guidos are coming! The Guidos are coming! Hide your children! Hide your spouses! Hide your hair gel. The second fall of the Roman Empire is upon us.
    Yes, in the latest, ever-expanding racist portrayal of Italian-Americans on TV as brain-damaged house pets, the half-wits of "Jersey Shore" are being sent "back" to the old country to strut their stuff and embarrass all us normal Italian-Americans who are tarred with their tanning brushes....

     
    But to TV suits, stereotyping Italian-Americans as ill-mannered pigs has proven to be a very profitable win-win. After all, what do they have to worry about -- the Mafia?
    Weren't they all arrested last week.

     
    The second reaction to the same press release was "Jersey Shore" season four move to Italy is a "freak show" enrages Italian American group UNICO" by Joyce Chen in the Daily News
    Italian-American group UNICO National calls the 'Jersey Shore' cast move to Italy a 'freak show.'
    Not everyone is thrilled that the rowdy residents of Seaside Heights are invading European shores.
    UNICO National, an Italian-American watchdog group, is up in arms over MTV's recent announcement that the "Jersey Shore" guidos and guidettes are taking on Italy for the fourth season of the show.

     
    "It will not only hurt Italians but all Americans," a rep from the interest group told TMZ. "Their outrageous, reprehensible behavior will make us look like buffoons and bimbos."
    Added the group: "People used to go to the circus to see the freak show - that is what this will be."

     
    MTV announced Tuesday that the hit reality show will be shooting its next bout of GTL in Europe this spring, with the show airing later this year.
    The network insists that the continent-hopping is necessary for the successful show to evolve... Members of the "Jersey Shore" clan are nervous about their trek to Italy as well."I'm excited to see my roots," Pauly D told MTV News "I have family in Italy, but I don't speak with them since I don't know the language. My mother still talks to them, though. [And] I know Vinny has family there. But none of us have ever been. It's gonna be fun."....


    Finally (finalmente)  "Jersey Shore arriva in Italia, con uno strascio do polemiche," needs no translation because you already read it in English. "Sara girata in Italia la quarta edizione di "Jersey Shore", il discusso reality trasmesso da Mtv sui giovani (coatti) italo-americani.... etcetera, etcetera  (blah, blah) " Come ho detto prima, quanto agli italiani ed agli Americani italiani, tutta la pubblicità non è buona pubblicità.


  • Op-Eds

    Andrew Cuomo: Coffee, Tea, or Cappuccino?



              With all the national attention on whether the Tea Partyniks have surpassed the Coffee Partyniks in the House of Representatives and elsewhere in the U.S. political landscape, few seemed to have noticed that the Executive Branch of New York State's government has just been almost taken over by Italian Americans in the corporeal form of Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller-elect Thomas DiNapoli. This turn of events is something that I am very happy about, but for very different reasons than most voters. The best thing about Cuomo and DiNapoli is that they both also ran on the Working Families Party line. Cuomo put the Working Families Party in row “D,” or fourth favored placement, for the next general election. Also good news for those Italian Americans concerned about the natural, as opposed to political, climate in New York State was the “victory of Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins who garnered more than the 50,000 votes needed to give the Green Party a guaranteed line on state ballots during the next four years. Howie Hawkins is, I think, not Italian however.

     

                 On the other hand Italian Americans, who are receiving a State pension, should rejoice in DiNapoli's victory as the sole trustee for the $129 billion State pension fund that is one of the world's largest. Not only was his Republican opponent a non-Italian, he also offered his Wall Street experience as a positive qualification for investment advice. Finally, DiNapoli is the only state-wide candidate who listed his membership in the Sons of Italy as part of his biography (Member, Sons of Italy, 1983-present) at Project vote Smart. 

     

    Given the unfortunate hot breakfast drink metaphors brewed to simplify the already simple-minded partisan political debate in American politics, I use the Cappuccino logo to ask: “What does this all mean for New York State’s Italian Americans?" My guess is that, like his father Mario, Andy Cuomo knows he owes little to the Italian American voter. Since there are few exit pollsters who thought to ask Italian American voters for whom they voted, it would be necessary to do our own poll or to look at the county or assembly district data. Even before looking I would have bet that Italian Americans (especially the men) voted for Carl Paladino and that this would be indicated by Italian American districts having margins much lower than the 2-1 for Cuomo's Statewide average. State-wide elections are won and lost in the New York City Metropolitan area.  Since we know from exit polls that 90% of blacks and 85% of Latinos voted for Andy, we can pretty confidently surmise that the Cuomo vote was shared among the racial and ethnic “rest of the electorate.” The final nail in the "Italian American vote for Andy" effort can be teased out of the returns for New York City and its Suburban Counties which clearly show that the more Italian Americans there are the less the vote went for Cuomo. The Richmond County (Staten Island) vote is most informative. Staten Island was only place in the Big Apple where the Republican Party won a congressional seat. There Michael Grimm got 51% of the vote and the Democrat Michael McMahon got 48%; despite moving so far to the right that you would think he was Silvio Berlusconi or even Roberto Maroni.

     

     

         % Italian-American Population                    % Vote for Cuomo    % Vote for Paladino

                 37.7     Richmond  (Staten Island)                     57                              40

                 28.8     Suffolk                                                   57                              38

                 23.9     Nassau                                                   60                              36

                 20.8     Westchester                                            64                              31

                   8.4     Queens                                                  76                               19

                   7.5      Kings   (Brooklyn)                               78                               16

                   5.5      New York  (Manhattan)                        83                              10

                   5.2      Bronx  (The Bronx)                              86                                9

     

     

    In the New York City press, Cuomo and Paladino were contrasts. For simplicity, I’ll limit this piece to the Times where, for example, it seemed that Paladino was forged in Italy and Cuomo in Italian America. Obviously ethnic terms like “Italy” or “Italian” or “immigrant” were not frequently used, but many stories had emotional references such as "passion." One particular article was crammed with the ethnic crap, evidently to make up the difference. This despite the fact that, as I had shown in a previous I-Italy article, neither was especially active in Italian or Italian American causes.

     

    In New York Governor Race, Two Italian Identities by MICHAEL BARBARO told prospective voters that:

     

    “Strategy sessions have been held at a restaurant called Sinatra’s. “Sopranos”-style gold chains have shown up in campaign advertisements. Ethnic-tinged terms, like “goumada,” and wisecracks about Sicilian grudges have been bandied about. And television news crews from Italy have descended on the candidates.

     

    In the raucous race for governor of New York this year between Andrew M. Cuomo and Carl P. Paladino, an unexpected debate is mesmerizing the Italian-American community and increasingly spilling out into public view: Is the contest shattering long-held ethnic stereotypes or reinforcing them?”

     

    More nuanced contrasts come from two other articles. The New York Times Magazine article “The Making of Andrew Cuomo” by Jonathan Mahler starts with:

     

    “LAST MONTH, ANDREW Cuomo took some time off from his job as New York’s attorney general, rented a recreational vehicle and drove upstate with his three daughters on an 11-day campaign swing with a little family vacation mixed in: “Camp Campaign” is how Cuomo joked about it with me. The trip infelicitously coincided with what turned out to be a historic heat wave across New York, and he couldn’t get the R.V.’s air-conditioning to work. At his first stop, a community college in Rockland County, Cuomo emerged from the Gulf Stream, his blazer slung uncharacteristically over his shoulder and a bead or two of sweat on his forehead, calling his new vehicle “a toaster oven on wheels.”

     

    And ends with:

     

    “Spitzer, ever the prosecutor, relished the role of combative crusader. Cuomo is casting himself as a very different sort of character. During our conversations about the Legislature, he repeatedly quoted a homespun homily — “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar” — from his grandfather Andrea, a grocer who came to America by boat from Southern Italy. “Everybody is bracing for a confrontation,” Cuomo told me. “I don’t believe there’s going to be a confrontation. The Legislature doesn’t want trouble. They want good news from a P.R. point of view. They need redemption. They need a friend. Eliot could have been their best friend. I think I can be their best friend.”’

      

               

    On the other hand, Gaia Pianigini’s “A Village in Italy Embraces Paladino” article starts with:

     

    “SANTA CROCE DI MAGLIANO, Italy — To many in this hilltop village in southern Italy, Carl P. Paladino is simply known as “O’Mericano,” or the American.

    Most of the town’s 4,876 residents do not spend much time on the Internet and know little about United States politics. But word of mouth travels fast, and when the news hit that Mr. Paladino, whose family left here in 1926, was running to be governor of New York, residents were excited."

     

    And ends with:

     

    "Mr. Paladino’s Democratic opponent, Andrew M. Cuomo, also has roots in Italy, in a town not far from Naples. But in rural areas of Italy, the connection to the local soil is more important than bonds of nationality.

    As Teodoro Colombo, 75, a retired construction worker from Santa Croce, put it, “We always like our paesani better.”

     

                Although Andy’s victory may create a political dynasty by being the first son of a New York governor to be elected to that office (his dad appointed me to the New York State Council for the Humanities), what I especially don’t like about the younger Cuomo’s campaign was his ineloquent, use of Tea Party rhetoric, especially since most of his life has been subsidized in one way or another by taxpayers of one sort or another. To rail against government workers and unions makes me, a pensioner, shudder. In the past, New York State has made good use of our pension funds to borrow from as a last resort. My pension funded the state out of its last near bankruptcy and will probably be called upon again to do the same, involuntarily. The State is in financial trouble not because it gave out too much but because, in its wisdom, it collected too little and gave out rebates and reductions like a drunken sailor. New York City also mimicked President Bushes reckless tax cuts and over the years gave up potential sources of revenue such as the Stock Transfer Tax, carelessly abated Real Estate taxes, and lent public money to private groups to buy up public assets as a way to assuage individuals and corporations who threatened to move to places like New Jersey.

     

    Public unions also allowed the State and City to defer payments into the fund while the stock market was rising (the value of the variable funds rose with the market so the argument was there was less need to make payments) with the promise of making it up in the future when the market, and the value of fund, declined. Of course you can trust politicians to keep their promises…he said jokingly. Everyone knows that the unemployment rate is rising because governments are firing workers and I am sure that the fired workers are not the friends and relatives of those in office.  One needs to be reminded that Government is the only employer who takes back part of the wages it pays out and that our previous mischievous State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi’s plea deal allows him to keep his felonious pension while workers whose pensions were undermined by his actions may lose theirs. 

    Since I began this essay with a bad food analogy, I am obliged to do the same at the end. In celebration of the end of the election season, Michael Barbaro in The New York Times announced:“Out With the Lamb Chops and In With the Lasagna” November 3, 2010 and explained that the former Governor David A. Paterson’s  “Favorite Meal” was “Lamb chops” and the new guy, Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Favorite Meal” was “Lasagna” with the parenthetic remark  “(Just don’t ask whose is better: his mother’s or his girlfriend’s.)” Given our own ethnic hyper-sensitivities we should be glad that, for comparison's sake, David didn’t like fried chicken. One final note, this election must have been a boon for Italian and Italian American journalists. I have never seen so many such bylines in The Times.

  • Op-Eds

    Blame it on Columbus



    I often wonder whether there is a particular place in the Columbus Day Parade for half or other “not quite” Italians, like the space in Limbo where the un-baptized have to wait for the Second Coming of Christ. I know there are lots of non-Italians who participate but they must be specially invited guests. Since I know Italians are very status conscious, who gets to lead the parade has got to be very important. The prominenti of various professional and cultural fields are probably first to step off and then comes the rest (il resto di loro). As Italian region seems to make a big difference to many, I wonder whether Northern Italians are first or last in line --- and what about the Sicilians? This year I understand that in honor of "Meet the Breeds," a group of Italian canines also marched in the parade. They included Bergamasco, Bracco Italiano, Cane Corso, Cirneco dell’Etna, Lagotto Ramagnolo, Neapolitan Mastiff and Spinone Italiano. I would have hated to march behind this pack of Italians.

    Although, at the special invitation of a Turkish friend and colleague I have marched down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in the Turkish Day Parade with the "Turkish American Professionals" group, I have never been similarly invited, or even encouraged, to march in the Columbus Day Parade despite having been Director of the Center for Italian American Studies at Brooklyn College, President of the American Italian Historical Association, as well as Vice-President of the American Italian Coalition of Organizations Inc. To be honest (per essere onesto), even if I was given a very special invitation I probably wouldn’t have gone this year anyhow. I should note that I have never mentioned my Turkish Day parade credentials to my Armenian friends.

    Although I can be considered left-leaning, for me the controversy over the role that Christopher “C” played in despoiling the Western Hemisphere is not the only issue. I am sure that if Eric Kasum who wrote “Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery” in the Huffington Post was there, it was on the sidewalks shouting obscenities at the marchers. According to Kasum, the gentle, honest, and open native peoples impressed Cristoforo so much that he “seized their land enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines, sold 9 year-old girls as sex slaves, cut off workers’ hands, ears and noses of resistant slaves, burned escapees alive, and most horrific of all “If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food (ucciso per l'alimento di cane).”  A much more charitable view of Columbus Day is provided by Bill Connell who wrote in The American Scholar:

    "When thinking about the Columbus Day holiday it helps to remember the good intentions of the people who put together the first parade in New York. Columbus Day was first proclaimed a national holiday by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, 400 years after Columbus’s first voyage. The idea, lost on present-day critics of the holiday, was that this would be a national holiday that would be special for recognizing both Native Americans, who were here before Columbus, and the many immigrants–including Italians–who were just then coming to this country in astounding numbers." Or Fred Gardaphe here at I-Italy who said a few years ago: " However, Columbus, like many figures of history, has outlived his usefulness for all Americans, but for Italian Americans he continues to represent the struggle their immigrant forbearers overcame in becoming Americans. I am here to tell you that we do not need to depend on Columbus’ story if we 1) tell our stories, and 2) incorporate those stories into the history of the United States."

    For me going to the parade is more a problem of being associated with other more and less honorable, or despicable, Italian American characters who tend to show up at such events. I started thinking about this while watching RAI Television News (Telegiornale) on Channel 63 and heard someone singing the song “Maria” from Westside Story to this year’s Grand Marshall Maria Bartiromo. Obviously no Italians lost money in the stock market since she has been hosting CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” Her Sophia Lorenesque looks obviously make up for the bad investment advice, or perhaps they (the men at least) don't notice. I was also not very entertained by a troupe of what looked like little people tossing pizza dough (piccoli pizzaioli?). I understand that there was also an appearance of Pinocchio (Pinnochio) at the ethnofest; probably preceding politicians proudly pandering for the non-existent “Italian vote.”

    I must take the time here to apologize here for my recent blog entry; “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe, Vote for the Guy whose Name Ends in ‘O,’” that was so far off the mark. It was only belatedly, and regrettably, that I discovered Carl Pasquale Paladino as a candidate in November for captaining the New York Empire ship of state. For me he was an afterthought, way behind Rick Lazio, for the Republican Party nomination. Like America was for Columbus, an unknown wild and dangerous continent (continente selvaggio e pericoloso) that lay between two known worlds, Carl emerged just at the point in the electoral season when we thought (hoped) it was almost over. As might be expected, both Paladino and Cuomo were an essential part of THE parade and both got more press coverage after the event then did Columbus after he got back from "The New World."

                I was going to entitle this essay “Vote for Cuomo not the Homophobe (Voto per Cuomo non il Omofobo)” in deference to the really nasty campaign that created a storm when Andy’s dad Mario was running (and losing) against his old nemesis Edward I. Koch for NYC Mayor in 1977. In that campaign rumors were spread about Cuomo and the mafia on one hand, and Koch’s sexual preferences on the other. Andy was, if I remember correctly, one of his dad’s campaign managers. Both warring camps denied their excesses and, as in the current campaign, the candidates personally apologized for things they said they had no knowledge of. The "Cuomo-Homo" bit was so important that The Gothamist reported that “Mario Cuomo Patched Things Up With Ed Koch For Andrew. ” In the story Koch, for his part, told Esquire "The signs said, VOTE FOR CUOMO, NOT THE HOMO. Andrew says he didn't do it, and I believe him. Mario says he thinks he now knows who did it. I was very angry at the time. Primary races always end in anger. They're different than the general election: They're like a civil war — it's brother against brother. But I've forgiven them. I'm eighty-five now, and grudges take your energy away. I've forgiven them all."

    Sadly, the name-calling wasn’t the worst part of the 1977 election… it was Koch winning it. Koch ran as a clean reformer but during his tenure in City Hall we got more scandals than one could shake a stick at (più scandali che uno potrebbe agitare un bastone a). According to Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett's City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York (Harper & Row): “When he was elected mayor in 1977 Koch's reputation rested on his anti-machine credentials. But by 1982, he was kicking off an ill-fated gubernatorial campaign with a press conference flanked by Democratic party bosses-Bronx boss Stanley Friedman …” who was convicted in 1987 for bribery and racketeering, Queens boss Donald Manes who committed suicide in 1986 while under investigation, and Meade Esposito who was convicted in 1988 for bribing Congressman Mario Biaggi.

    Accusations have also flown back and forth about Paladino’s and Cuomo’s real and imagined scandalous moral lapses in business and politics. Naturally it is sex that gets the most attention. From the prurient interest angle we have on the one hand Carl trumpeting Andy’s alleged infidelity, and loudly condemning same sex sex as well as same sex marriage. On the other hand we have the Cuomo campaign pretending not to notice Paladino’s own extramarital sexual exploits of the “normal” kind. Unlike Fox News, The New York Post, and The World Street Journal I don’t pretend to be fair and balanced (giusto ed equilibrato) when it comes to the world in which I live. There are lots of people, Italian American and otherwise who are telling me that they have some difficulty voting for Andrew Cuomo in this New York State Gubernatorial election. As I have often said, if you can’t find something to like about Mario and Andy, then do it for Matilda.


  • Op-Eds

    Ground Zero Mosque: Ramadan Mobarak!


    I wrote this blog a few weeks ago but the intolerance is growing so I thought I'd add a new note about "Park51," "Cordoba House," "the Islamic cultural, community center," and, of course "place of worship," (mosque) that its proposers and supporters (like myself) believed (hoped) would promote peace and understanding.


    The most venomous blabber so far has been the Newt's equating of Moslems to NAZIs and 9/11 to the Shoah. Given his recently reported conversion to Roman Catholicism, I assume the next Newt revision is the Inquisition and the Crusades and then, I assume, there is more to come. In Europe such Newtish hate mongering gets quickly labeled neo- or not-so-neo-Fascism. Here in the USA it simply gets iterated to the point of Foxy "fair and balanced" "facts". Research showing that almost half of the population thinks Obama is both a terrestrial alien as well as a crypto-Moslem is to be expected given the pointed stupidity that passes for "media" commentary.


    Nationwide, the media is carrying stories of objections to anything that reminds even reasonable people of Islam. Having many Moslem friends and having benefited if not been blessed by their courtesy and hospitality, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on what is becoming an incredible embarrassment for people like me who try to proudly represent America to foreigners here and abroad.


    Now that "THE" Mosque has cleared another hurdle when the NYC Landmarks Preservation Committee decided not to landmark the structure to be torn down to make way for "THE" Mosque in Lower Manhattan I thought I might cut and paste and edit here some brief remarks I wrote in response to an excellent New York Times essay "A Mosque Maligned" By ROBERT WRIGHT.


    He started his piece with: "Just to show you how naïve I am: When I first heard about the plan to build a mosque and community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks, I didn’t envision any real opposition to it."


    My comment is as follows:

    A far more serious threat to the usually 'tolerant' climate of New York City is the real, but mostly imaginary, insults used by intolerance mongers to sell one or another politically partisan product such as a plethora of pandering candidates for local or statewide office. The disingenuous mongers, such as those found at The Weekly Standard, can also be found in local weeklies where they are enraged at Moslems wanting a place to worship that might challenge the hegemony of a newly minted 'Judeo-Christian New York.'


    I note this in re: the oldies but goodies in NYC and elsewhere as to outrages over Christian bells disturbing non-Christian ears, and eruvs enclosing non-Jews. I guess we should be grateful for the pseudo-Judeo-Christian coalition as perhaps, had it occurred some decades earlier, there would not have been a need for the Holocaust Museum near to the WTC that should shame the intolerant into respectful silence.


    Perhaps we need 'father' Charles Coughlin or 'rabbi' Meir Kahane to revisit the Big Apple to remind us of how far we thought we had come baby. Other than requiring a trip to Mecca before we die and accepting Mohammed as 'The' Prophet, almost all of us are supported (more or less) by the other pillars of Islam... belief in one god for all, charity, fasting, and prayers. Like Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and myriad other believers and nonbelievers alike, Moslems do not need a big building in which to worship; anyplace, anywhere. But NYC and New Yorkers do need to demonstrate the tolerance for which we are noted and which is the real threat to al qaeda and all the others in this world who can't tolerate tolerance.


    I hope that by August 11 (the start of Ramadan) I'll see in The Times a report on the schedule for building the mosque and a photo of the ecumenical collection of leaders (with shovels in their hands). I won't read what The Standard (or the Foxers) will have to say about it, as it has long been far below my own standards of intelligent 'commentary.'


    ps: I can't wait to see how Sarah Palin and Dan "Kwail's" son spell Ramadan mobarak.

  • Op-Eds

    Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe, Vote for the Guy Whose Name Ends in “O.”



    I hope one is not offended by my poetic title "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, vote for the guy whose name ends in 'O.'"

    I assumed that since Andy Cuomo and Rick Lazio have thrown their relatively large hats into the ring in an effort to replace one of the most inept unelected governors in the history of New York State, David Paterson, that I might be called upon to comment on this Italian American embarrassment of riches. So I did Boolean searches on Google to determine who deserves half of my ethnic vote.  Boolean searches allow you to combine words and phrases using the words AND, OR, NOT and NEAR to limit, widen, or define your search. They are statements that mimic Venn diagrams that show all hypothetically possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets. (Pardon the pedantry but it's what I do for a living.)


    First I combined the name “Rick Lazio” AND “Italian.” This combination produced “About 3,730 results (0.24 seconds).”  When I discovered that “Rick” was really “Enrico,” I did “Enrico Anthony Lazio”  AND “Italian” and got “About 24 results (0.57 seconds).”  I then gave “Andy Cuomo” the same Boolean treatment and got “About 535 results (0.34 seconds)” and “Andrew Cuomo” for “About 42,700 results (0.29 seconds).” As a control variable I did “Jerry Krase” as well as “Jerome Krase” which gave me about 12,200 results (0.35 seconds) and About 6,400 results (0.37 seconds) respectively. I am sure that "Andrew"’s results were skewed by his ethnically notable papa (Mario) and especially his mama (Matilda).


    Since I know that there is a big difference between being “Italian” and “Italian American” (because my Italian friends are constantly saying so), I repeated the process with the hyphenated version of Italianita with similar result. If I take out the "Cuomo" family name factor from "Andy/Andrew," it is clear that I did better than both of them put together. This makes me more of an Italian and/or Italian American kind of person than either of them, and therefore more deserving of the non-existent Italian American block vote. Unfortunately, I am not running.


    It’s not unusual for Italian American politicians seeking higher (as opposed to local) office to keep their Italianita under the bushel; that is unless they are playing an especially local ethnic role on a larger stage such as did United States Senator “Pot Hole” Al (Alphonse Marcello) D’Amato, or showing operatic oratory passion as did Mario C.. Italianita doesn’t play well on the national political stage despite the numerous Italian Americans one can find thereupon from Alito to Pelosi and back again; although it is fun to watch them trying to act Italian while meeting with the various Italian (in)dignitaries who visit our shores upon occasion.


    Both deracinated Rick and Andy are presenting themselves not as Italo-ethnics but as tough-minded, prosecutorial, level-headed budget cutters. They seem to be emulating the campaign of British-born immigrant Abraham David Beame whose ethnically provocative campaign slogan  “he knows the buck”  got him elected Mayor in 1973 so he could use his lack of business acumen to lead The Big Apple into near-bankruptcy. After showing that he actually didn't know the buck he came in third to Edward I. Koch, and Mario Cuomo  (“not the homo”) respectively in the 1977 Democratic Party primary.



    Part of the fiscal tough guy stance of both Rick and Andy is their public animus toward those on government payrolls. Although it is laudable, it is also laughable since both of them spent most of their adult life at that same trough in one way or another. Rick’s first job after law school was as a prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office and proceeded onward and upward from there to the U.S. Congress. He only left the cushy House after his failed try for the even cushier Senate against Hillary Clinton. Even more ironic as to calling for fiscal austerity and responsibility, when Enrico got off the dole he enlisted with J.P. Morgan Chase, which knew the buck as well as Abe, and had to be bailed out by 25 billion taxpayer TARP dollars. Andy’s dependence on public generosity is two generations long as he served in his father’s campaign and then on dad’s Governor staff in 1983. He went on from there to other public service work such as with David Dinkins' New York City Homeless Commission, Assistant Secretary of HUD in 1993, and now as New York State Attorney General. 


    I should also note that both candidates have had what each of them recognize as some ‘minor’ ethical/legal issues raised about them. However, when they talk about each other the 'minor' issues become 'major" ones. In my opinion, their ethical challenges are more likely political smoke and vindictiveness than real fire. In fact, if someone is in office and hasn't been accused of something it means they haven't done anything while in office. Despite the fact that they are, for elected officials, pretty clean, they are certain to sling as much mud at each other as they can.

    As to disclosure, I must admit that the only one of the two candidates with whom I have been in reasonable proximity is Andy whose company I did not have the pleasure of when I was active in Brooklyn electoral politics in the campaigns of Major Owens for Congress and Mario Cuomo for Governor in 1982 doing a kind of liaison job between the two campaigns. Andy had a reputation as a “take no prisoners” campaigner, a personality trait that has served him well as Attorney General (unfortunately as it also did for Elliot Spitzer). My friend Azi Paybarah reminded me recently in the New York Observer that Cuomo and Lazio weren't always opponents. Azi playfully wrote:


     

    "On August 12, 2004, a caller to a Westchester radio show was speaking at length about politics with the two guest hosts, when the caller wondered aloud: When will America have an Italian-American president?

    'Soon as Rick runs,' said one of the hosts, referring to the other host, Rick Lazio.

    The other host? Andrew Cuomo."


     

    The idea of Italian Americans rooting for other Italian Americans because they are Italian American is a foreign notion in America. Not so, it seems, for Italians rooting for Italians because they are Italians. I watched in jealous amazement as Francesca Schiavone beat Samantha Stosur in the French Open to win her (and Italy's) first Grand Slam women's championship. What impressed me most was the Italians in the stands who moaned and cheered with every lost and won point. When it was over, Francesca kissed the clay and climbed into the stands for the kind of touching and kissing fest that I dreaded as a child while visiting the Sicilian relatives. As heart-warming as the scene was, such ethnocentricism is terrible for electoral politics, but not of course for supporting Italian and Italian American  educational and cultural efforts. In this regard Cuomo is tops, Matilda that is.


    Allow me to digress. A few evenings ago, the phone rang while my wife was working in the study and I was lying on my back on the floor watching Blade Runner for the umpteenth time. Since she was less indisposed then I, she picked up and called out that it was “Jim.” Unable to make out what she was saying because I was so engrossed with Joanna Cassidy’s lack of costume, she brought the phone to me. "Jim" is a friend who is also a leading, “progressive,” Democrat member of the New York State Assembly with whom I have worked on several projects. After exchange of pleasantries, he asked if I would carry nominating petitions for him. He knew the answer. People in politics seldom ask questions for which they don’t already know the answer. My wife and my children are all active in one way or another in politics. My wife’s family, about which I have often written, was much more political than mine. They were “Regular” Democrats. My politics were anti-Regular Democrats. It wasn’t a marriage made in political heaven but over time we learned to "get along." The point is, neither Andy or Rick is going to call me and ask me to do something because I am more active in Italian and Italian American affairs than are they. If they call me at all, it will because I can do something for them and if I do something for them, I expect them to do something for me and mine. That's my advice to Italians, Italian Americans, and everyone else. Support the candidate who will make the world better for you and your children, even if they don't speak Italian and have no idea who Carlo Tresca, or Carlo Levi, was.


    PS: I should note that another person with an Italian sounding name, Carl Paladino, it seems, is also a candidate for governor, and may go the petition route to get the G.O.P. line. FYI: I also beat him in both the Boolean searches.  Andy,  Rick (and Carl) may also appear on a long list of other lines on the ballot such as the Conservative, Right to Life, Tea, Working Families, Independence, and Green among many other parties.

     

     

  • Op-Eds

    Obama and Political Color Blindness – Not!



    Someone asked me the other day if I really thought that the Republican Party’s lockstep opposition to virtually anything proposed by Obama has anything to do with race so I decided to use 14th century English logician, theologian, and Franciscan friar William of Occam's razor to make my case in the affirmative. Occam’s razor is a meta-theoretical principle that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem) and thereof the simplest solution is usually the correct one. In other words, does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle? Is Too Tall Jones too tall? Do bears relieve themselves in the woods? Does Sarah Palin look great in leather even when standing next to an oh so pathetically pandering one time maverick John McCain before a crowd of Tea Partyniks? Occam would agree that if from coast to coast the words “race” and “Obama” seem inseparable, then they are so.

     

    Occam would need only a dull blade for David Paul Kuhn in the Los Angeles Times who noted that Democrats are losing White men. And an even duller one for New York GOP governor hopeful Carl Paladino who is under fire for sending out racist, trashy e-mails. According to Celeste Katz and Kenneth Lovett at the Daily News the renegade sent a string of racist and smutty e-mails to pals and associates ranging from screeds against Barack to videos of naked ladies, as well as racist rants, hard-core porn and a video clip involving bestiality. In one, an African tribal dance is labeled an "Obama inauguration rehearsal."

    Paladino has also offended recently elected New York State Senator Diane Savino who didn't find "Guido" offensive re: "Jersey Shore" but she drew the line with "dago." Evidently Carl used the term in a 2008 interview with The Buffalo News. To Savino the fact that Paladino (along with un/announced gubernatorial candidates Rick Lazio and Andrew Cuomo) is Italian-American is especially galling. "If I wanted to watch Italian Americans act like buffoons, I'd watch 'Jersey Shore,'" Savino said. "I don't want to see it in the governor's mansion...I was appalled when I saw that. And you know what's even more appalling? Nobody else seems appalled. Where's the outrage?"

     

    Let’s be real. Even the more and less rabid of the right-wing media know it when there is an 800 pound gorilla in the room and have no problem calling a spade a spade when the kettle is black. Take for example, syndicated right-leaning Pilipino-American pundit of color Michele Malkin, who Wikipedia claims went home crying to her mother when children called her a racist name. Mom, allegedly, comforted her saying “everyone has prejudice” for which she has been “eternally grateful.” No doubt because it informs her columns that claim, among other things reactionary, that the Left faked the racism, harassment, and violence against them by Tea Party activists such as shouting “nigger” at Black House Democrats.

     

    Of course not everyone who is against Barack Hussein is so because of his brownness.  I may be a racist, or not, but have been livid about many of his in/actions since taking office. From my point of view, the best thing about him so far is that he is, at least, half Black, which to me is a major step in the correct direction despite his putting down that he is all-Black  (but not ‘Negro’) on the 2010 Census form.  His action by the way, also greatly disturbed the non-racist right, which prefers his racial ambiguity.

     

    Even rabid rightist are worried about the “appearance” of racism and have been increasing the visibility of a few persons of color in their generally colorless midst. In “A Mighty Pale Tea” Charles M. Blow (assumedly a person of some color) tells of his visit to a Dallas Tea Party rally where he first thought “Wow! This is much more diverse than the rallies I’ve seen on television.” Then realized that he was looking at stadium workers…” when he “approached the gate and was asked, “Are you working tonight?” He went because it was supposed to be especially diverse. “The speakers included a black doctor who bashed Democrats for crying racism, a Hispanic immigrant who said that she had never received a single government entitlement and a Vietnamese immigrant who said that the Tea Party leader was God. It felt like a bizarre spoof of a 1980s Benetton ad.” The audience scene was a dffrent stroke: “with the exception of a few minorities like the young black man who carried a sign that read ‘Quit calling me a racist.’”

     

    Not to be outdone, Tommy Christopher, wrote “O’Reilly Proves Tea Party Is Not All White With ‘Paid’ Black Tea Party Activist” It seems that on his Factor program Bill examined charges of monochromic Tea Parties by interviewing black conservative author of The Big Black Lie, Kevin Jackson, who speaks and promotes his book at Tea Party events all around the country admitted getting paid to show up in his naturally Blackface at the rallies, where he sees no evidence of racism. When O’Reilly asked where all the black Tea Partiers were, Jackson said Blacks are “not really politically charged,” just after saying that Black congressmen were slaves to Nancy Pelosi’s ‘Massuh.’

    In the same vein of man biting dog story, Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times remarked that Obama’s election has had the unanticipated consequence of “at least 32 African-Americans running for Congress this year as Republicans, the biggest surge since Reconstruction.” This despite the Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s honest answer to “Why should an African-American vote Republican?” The GOP’s highest-ranking African American told 200 DePaul University students "You really don't have a reason to, to be honest -- we haven't done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True." (9)

     

    Studies clearly show that racism is a product of ignorance. I teach that racism is simply stupidity. One might ask therefore what fuels the ignorance (stupidity) so much in evidence at Tea Party rallies. Brian Stelter provides some clues. Fox is their favorite news source according to a New York Times-CBS News poll.  63% of Tea Party supporters get most of their TV news from Fox vs only 23% of other misinformed Americans.  (The survey did not include readers of The New York Post or the Wall Street Journal.) Stelter also reported that “Fox Canceled Hannity’s Attendance at Tea Party’s Tax Day Rally in Cincinnati.” Fox News executives said they canceled it because they didn’t know Tea Party organizers were raising money based on his coming to the rally. “But Mr. Hannity’s producers at Fox were aware for months that tickets were being sold, said Chris Littleton, the president of the Cincinnati Tea Party, a nonprofit group. And Mr. Hannity mentioned the sales on his TV show a week ago.” Fox is a unit of the News Corporation, whose chief executive is Rupert Murdoch.

     

    Even Republican Party controlled public education is getting back into the racism act since Obama moved into the once pristine “White” House.  As to “Southern Discomfort,” Jon Meacham in a New York Times op ed noted that Virginia governor Robert McDonnell issued a proclamation declaring April as “Confederate History Month” to celebrate those “who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth” and to foster understanding of “the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” The Republican governor at first did not mention slavery because he “focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”  Meacham concluded that “Whitewashing the war is one way for the right — alienated, anxious and angry about the president, health care reform and all manner of threats, mostly imaginary — to express its unease with the Age of Obama, disguising hate as heritage.” I should note that Virginia is hardly the only Republican state attempting to put more right-wing conservative stamps on public education. The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum reported that historians criticized proposed revisions to the Texas social studies curriculum, because many of the changes are inaccurate.  The changes define what textbooks must include and what teachers must cover. “The curriculum plays down the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state, and claims that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists during the Cold War.”

     

    Scientists tell us that it is hard to control our emotions from showing up on our faces. So seeing anti-Obamaism might be as easy as looking at the face of John Boehner who leads the Republican minority in the House of Representatives when he stands near the man or perhaps the loose lips of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. when the same man said at his 2010 State of the Union address:

     

    With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections.  (Applause.)  I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.  (Applause.)  They should be decided by the American people.  And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.

     

     

    Finally, on the Black side of the equation we have to consider whether Obama also suffers from expectations of being the ultimate Race Man. According to Mark Anthony Neal (re: Denzel Washington), “’Race Man’ is a term that describes black men of stature and integrity who represented the best that African Americans had to offer in the face of Jim Crow segregation. It has lost some of its resonance in a post-civil rights world, but it remains an unspoken measure of commitment to uplifting the race. Race men inspire pride; their work, their actions and their speech represent excellence instead of evoking shame and embarrassment.” With black and/or white, ying and/or yang, left and/or right and everyone in between looking at the current President of the United States of America though colored glasses, it is hardly necessary to invoke philosophical metaphors for answering simple questions about race in American society today, or even the late great state of Arizona for that matter.

  • Op-Eds

    Explaining American Politics Again: The Health of Democracy


    Not everything is easily translated from English to Italian and vice versa.  In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origins and Italian cognates give me agita. Case in point; when Italians demonstrate (dimostrano) or protest (protestano) against something they don't go to demonstrations (dimostrazioni) they go to manifestazioni (demonstrations) instead.


    Similarly difficult to understand are the sad sights of people protesting against their own best interests (contro i loro propri interessi) as in the photo above taken while I was (hands free - a mani libere) driving out of a shopping mall where half of the stores are shuttered and wannabee drug pushers walk their mixed breed pit bulls because they aren't making enough money to buy a real one.


    Anyhow, not far on Main Street in the proud but semi-depressed Connecticut downtown one can find a public health center, social service offices, a Salvation Army store, and lots of unhealthy unemployed men and women aimlessly cruising the streets or hangin' in the park. When Italians demonstrate at manifestazioni they go in piazza. In America they go where the traffic is, like this intersection where a number of ill-dressed men and women held up signs I am sure they didn't understand. In fact some probably were folks in need of employment being paid to hold up signs they didn't understand such as one about "Cap N Trade"' which even oil company executives haven't a clue but they're against it anyhow because it sounds "green." 


    Anyhow, Sunday night my wife and I were watching a bit of TV (TiVù) as preparation for sleep (soporifero). All day long CNN and other droning 24/7/52 cable news stations were drooling with inane equivocative conversations about the United States House of un-Representatives' pseudo-debate on the latest version of President Barack Hussein Obama's campaign-promised "Health Care Reform." I went to bed early, preferring not to waste my sleep time with fuzz-faced Oscar-the-Grouch clone Wolf Blitzer and the next morning when I looked at the front pages of The New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Newsday, and The World Street Journal after a not very brisk two mile quasi-run with my friend Michael-the-Lawyer, almost all of the headlines announced something "Historic" had happened during my Dreamtime (Altjira).


    When I got back to the house and opened my e-mail while eating breakfast, I saw this message from my good friends Ottorino and Letizia:

    "Dear friends and colleagues,

    A few minutes ago the House passed the Health Care Reform Bill.

    It shouldn't escape notice that this historic event takes place in large part thanks to the joint effort of the first African-American President and the first Italian-American Woman Speaker of the House.

    We would like to collect your feelings for i-Italy: anything from 3 to 10 lines would do.

    Would you take your time and send us a short email message?"



    Which I did, but now feel the need to expand on said few lines which went as follows:


    "When I asked my wife Suzanne for comment on Nancy Pelosi's 'victory' over a recalcitrant House of un-Representatives she said 'Go girl!.' Having been surrounded virtually all my adult life by Italian American women I was certain that only someone like Nancy Pelosi could get the job done in our dysfunctional legislative family dominated by males with government funded very expensive health care. For example, in my wife's all Italian American family, as well as my own half-Sicilian one, the women were the "generals" whose untiring efforts and constant strategizing led the family through thick and thin. My wife and daughters have been pushing for health care reform for ages (preferring a single payer system but willing to take almost anything at this point). As I wrote some time ago in i-italy 'Nancy for President and Other Proposals

    'Which brings me back to Nancy Pelosi; Italian American, bright, beautiful, articulately liberal Democrat who has the courage to go head to head with both enemies and friends to do the best for her country...If I weren't already married to a similarly endowed woman, I'd be chasing her all over the place. Since I can't propose marriage, I will simply propose Nancy Pelosi for President.'"


    Wikipedia
    says that “What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) is a book written by American journalist and historian Thomas Frank, which explores the rise of conservative populism in the United States through the lens of his native state of Kansas. Once a hotbed of the left-wing Populist movement of the late nineteenth century, it has become overwhelmingly conservative in recent decades. The book was published in the United Kingdom and Australia as What's the Matter with America?


    Two things for me to note here. One, I read the book and it is great, and scary as it iterates and reiterates redundantly how easy it seems to be for people to vote for other people who constantly sc(r)ew(er) them. And, two, Frank writes one of the only reliable columns that remain in The Wall Street Journal and, to prove the point, sometimes shares the same page with liable nemesises Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh.

    Finally as to convincing people that they shouldn’t be protesting against their own interests, it isn’t an easy task. One must remember that 50% of the human population is below average intelligence and, in my estimation; half of what's left is clearly uninformed. The right wing in America has done a very effective job in dis- and mis-informing people. Those who get their information from Fox News, The New York Post or Tea Party forums where savants (scienziati) like Sarah Palin keep their store of knowledge on the palm of their hand (and I believe it was on only one of them) are hardly educable and now that our once esteemed Supreme Court, on which ‘loose lips’ Sam Alito sits and childishly fidgets like a naughty boy in a grade school classroom, has lifted the remaining restrictions on corporate politicking, I think it will only get more difficult to convince people that human evolution (sviluppo umano)  and corporate greed (ingordigia corporativa) are facts of life. This, mental, health care crisis is one we need to quickly address as it threatens the health of all Americans, with and without brains.

  • Op-Eds

    Home Cooking: Italian American Style

    The other evening I had the pleasure of attending a New York City Italian Cultural Institute event that continues the trajectory of excellence in programming offered at 686 Park Avenue even as the Italian government that supports it pursues its programmatic slide in the opposite direction. Given that Gianni Di Gregorio's multi-prize winning debut film comedy, "Mid-August Lunch" (Pranzo di Ferragosto) is a RAI Televisione product, one wonders why Berlusconi's equally comic government gets such poor reviews (See: I-Italy's "Videocracy--Berlusconi's Jersey Shore" by Maria Laurino).

    In any case, in the tender comedy, Gianni plays Gianni, an unemployed fifty-something bachelor caring for his 90-something mother in her saw-better-times Trastevere (Tiber) condo. With the approach of Ferragosto (Mid-August holiday), the streets are abandoned (except for the occasional lost tourist) and Gianni is roped into caring for the elderly mother and aunt of the condo’s accountant, in lieu of paying outstanding charges. The accountant claims he wants a day or two to see his wife and children in the countryside, but Gianni, from his front terrace window watches as he jumps into a sports car with a twenty-something blond.
     

     To complete the complement of Musketeers (Moschettieri) to serve, that also were four in number, he explicably takes some money to care for his doctor’s mother. Much of the “action” revolves around shopping, preparing, cooking, and eating for and with the geriatric quartet. And, as Philip French put it in his Guardian review: “It's a wonderfully patient, delicately observed film; warm, generous, never for a moment sentimental or patronising, never exploiting dottiness and eccentricity.”
     

    It was a superb filmic experience (subtitling greatly appreciated (sottotitoli notevolmente apprezzati). Even more greatly appreciated was the post- showing appearance of one of my favorite Italian Americans --- Lidia Bastianich. Her television show Lidia’s Italy, that I often watch on Public Television WLIW Channel 21 is much more than a cooking program; it celebrates the spiritual dimensions of eating as it binds people together with history and culture; remember that only foodaholics eat alone.

    Not only have I learned to concoct things virtually in her kitchen, like recently a rolled stuffed breast of veal that I will never actually make, I have come to know Lidia’s daughter, son, mother, and grandchildren, whom I will never actually meet.
     

    Which brings me to the blurry photographs interspersed in this pseudo movie and television review. They are of 60% of my grandchildren; two Delgados and one Cahill, who often come to my house like a whirlwind to make a mess in and out of the kitchen/dining room. In this case they are engaged in the process of making individual pizzas (creazioni degli pizzaioli straordinari) for themselves.

    I must confess that, although I can, I don’t make the dough that they roll and toss. But they do vigorously (de)form their own pies and gleefully apply all the ingredients, which almost always actually fall on, or at least near, the dough, and often, although less frequently, get eaten by them at the chaotic dinner table (tavola di pranzo italiano).  The point of all this, I guess, is that for Gianni, Lidia, and I preparing food for the people we love often tastes better than the meal itself. There must be a cooking lesson here for Silvio & Company somewhere. Then again, perhaps not (Allora ancora, forse non.). Tutti a tavola per democrazia?

  • Op-Eds

    Guidos and Negros



    It is with great reluctance and intense trepidation that I enter into the, excuse the term – “passionate” – debate, or rather heated argument, about whether either ordinary people, such as myself, or professors, such as myself, have the God (G-d, Allah)-given, or United States Constitution-given right to use all words when I talk about, the discourse-defined world in which I currently reside. So here goes: “Guinea, Dago, WOP, Greaseball, Ginzo, Guido, Italian-American, American of Italian Descent, Italo-American, and Italian/American,” are all verbal expressions of varying degrees of insult/pride, that have been used to stand for those people who it can be claimed, or who claim themselves, a cultural/genetic heritage that is traceable to, more or less, the real or imagined boundaries of a place called “Italy.” To equivocate, but only somewhat: “Nigger, Negro, Colored, African American, Afro-American, Black, and Person of Color,” are all verbal expressions of varying degrees of insult/pride, that have been used to stand for those people who it can be claimed, or who claim themselves, a cultural/genetic heritage that is traceable to, more or less, the real or imagined boundaries of a place called “Africa.”



    When I was a child growing up in the yet (1940s and 50s) majority peopled White-European low-income Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn, my mother once washed out my mouth with soap for using the “N-word,” and I didn’t get to hear the “G-word” uttered as an epithet until I discovered its quotidian employment in common teenage “F-word”-laden conversations along with “Mocky,” “Spic,” and “Mick” for Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Irish dis/respectively. The fact that the gang of which I was associated contained authentic members each of these varieties of be-pimpled ethnics, including “Ns”, was, as today, no prophylaxis from political incorrectness (RCs please excuse the offensive term, but it is not as bad as “ejaculation” that I found lurking in a pamphlet about indulgences
    ).  To be fair, I must also note that we, Catholics, were referred to as “Mackerel Snappers” by anti-Papist, heathen Protestants as mutual speechified bigotry was rampant but hardly noticed in those halcyon days.

         

    Getting back to the point, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    There have been, over the last two centuries, many seemingly reasonable restrictions placed on these fragments of The Bill of Rights; and post-9/11 abridgments have been popping up like poison mushrooms all around us. The biggest threats, however, to our cherished freedoms of expressions as, for, and by Italian Americans seem to come from other Italian Americans.



    It is ironic, that Harry Reid
    , accurately discussing the racism that infects American political discourse at every level, is called a “racist” for, in part, correctly and in/sensitively using the term “Negro” in a candid analysis of, then Presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama’s likelihood of getting through the complexion/dialect test that was tougher for him than riding a camel (excuse the Saharan animal reference) through the eye of the needle, so to speak. 

    Similarly, my good friends and colleagues Donald Tricarico and Fred Gardaphe (and I) have (more than once) been taken to task by the ethnic pride/thought police for saying things they feel should be left unsaid. In the current case of having ones underwear in a bunch it is “Guidos” of one or another kind and, as was true with attempts to prohibit even the faintest praise of things Sopranoesque, the attacks can only serve, sadly, to focus more attention on both another crappy MTV "reality" program and, happily, the problem of Italian American ethnic stereotyping that continues to impact all of "us" (excuse my inclusion in the aggrieved class). 


    Not all stereotypes are negative but all stereotypes can have negative effects.

    There have been many images of Italians held in the minds of Americans. In the earliest years, Italians were esteemed as passionate, artistic, learned, liberal, and skilled. By the turn of the 20th century the image had been almost totally transformed by the "tired, poor, and huddled masses", except for the passionate bits. By the turn of the 21th the passion had dissipated somewhat, and some Italian Americans even became icons of exceptional, positive "American" values such as home and family. Unfortuantely, one of the most persistent stereotypes is of Italian Americans as anti-intellectual, crude, rude, and thuggish. In this regard, I think Italian Americans have every right, and good reason, to protest the frequent media depiction of some of the “life styles” that are presented as though they were intrinsically Italian as opposed to being bad cultural choices open to all.



    The latest version of hot-button media stereotyping is of the “Guido” style. The word has been around for quite some time but for those who practice it, it is hardly related to its historically offensive source. I know many Italian American and non Italian American young men who sport one or another aspect of the style, also referred to (still I believe) as “Cugine” at some of the clubs I never frequented. Some of my best …. are…. but, I am a cultural/style curmudgeon, and personally, I don’t get the Guido-appeal as its not aimed at me. For example, when, other than catchers, people began wearing their baseball caps backwards I was appalled and railed about it in front of my young children as, liberal political icon, New York City Mayor David Dinkins engaged in what I considered that “ghetto” practice; and when their ethnically varied boyfriends came into the house thusly garbed, I had all I could do to keep myself from snide comment. Today disgraced Wall Street executives wear their Yankees caps like the Mayor they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for. Maybe someday they will become Guidos and Guidettes.



    Some argue that the agency of youth created the style such as when the Buckwheat's “Our Gang” pickaninny ensemble became a couture; especially of pants that (in my opinion) didn’t fit and which has unfortunately (again in my opinion) been emulated by white as well as black style hounds? To me, thusly everyone looks stupid, which I guess is a condition of stereotypical equality/equity.  I associate the Guido style with excessive preening and narcissism, but then again, when I was a handsome young, muscular teenager, constantly combing my Vaseline-slicked back DA (duck’s ass) hair cut, I, and the (excuse the word) girls thought it was “cool.”  My exceedingly tight pants and muscle man T-shirts were also “tough guy” de rigeur in my neighbor-“hood.” Upon reflection, I looked like a “hood” but would hardly be called a “mafia type” or a “Guido” as I had no idea at the time that my mother’s family came from Sicily. If I did, it might have made a difference. Perhaps I would have been, like the half-Italian Henry Hill,
    initiated into the local Italian (as opposed to Irish or Jewish) mob. Mine, esconced near the 80th Precinct made in/famous by the Knapp Commission, was, after all, only a block away. I doubt if the young men and women who relish their Guidità today are of much danger except to themselves and those who, for whatever reason, seem to be fascinated by their real/virtual exploits.



    It still is true that Italian Americans suffer from both irony deficiency as well as bad press, but it won’t be cured by attacks on, for example, the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute that over the years has raised the level of respect for Italian America by providing a place for top-notch Italian American scholars and scholarship. I-A scholars (as well as “half-ones”) have had a great deal of difficulty getting proper recognition from their professional peers for their Italo-work in part because “ethnic studies” in general is seen as a “lesser” academic pursuit characterized by filiopietism and ethnic boosterism. Ethnic chauvinism, it is true, taints much of the output in these fields, but it is mainly because practitioners are often dependent on the largesse of the communities in question and therefore skirt "difficult" issues such as racial, ethnic, and gender biases, among other afflictions.


    New York State Senator John D. Calandra expended a great deal of his hard-won political capital in Fostering Higher Education for, and objective research on, Italian Americans. To limit reasonable consideration of any issue in and about Italian Americans would be an insult to his foundational enterprise. As with so many other things ethnic, there are those within the
    Italian American community who traffic in the negatives (and positive) stereotypes, but Professors Donald Tricarico and Fred Gardaphe are well outside that Pale. I wasn’t intending on going to Guido: An Italian-American Youth Style on Thursday, January 21st from 10 am to noon at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, 25 West 43rd Street , 17th floor (Between 5 th and 6 th Avenues) in Manahttan which is free and open to the public but seating is limited so please call (212) 642-2094 to pre-register and also be prepared to show a photo ID to the building’s concierge, however I will come as a show of solidarity with all those who understand how important academic, as well as artistic, freedom of expression is in today’s society.




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