George and Me

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Bush turned to me and said, “C’mon, let’s put our arms around each other to show everyone we’re friends.”

You may not remember this. Leonard Zelig was the kind of ordinary everyday man who  you’d expect to live an ordinary everyday life. Somehow, though, he managed to find himself regularly appearing with extraordinary celebrated people during extraordinary celebrated events. Leonard Zelig isn’t a real person. Never was. Yet Woody Allen’s brilliant 1983 mockumentary Zelig left theater-goers thinking he was.

It seems like we all have our Leonard Zelig moments. We live each ordinary day in an ordinary way. Then, fate brings us face-to-face with extraordinary people in extraordinary times. Think about the times you’ve found yourself at the same shop with a movie or TV star – someone who seems so distant because our only connection to them is through some unapproachable media context. When we’re young, that can be a very exciting thing. As we age, we come to understand those distant stars are no different than us.

Like you, I’ve had my fair share of close encounters. Like the time I rode the train seated across from Pearl Bailey. (Don’t remember her? Read “My Lunch with Pearl Bailey,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, September 13, 1990, to find out more about the incident and the subject.) I always tried my best to be polite and respect the person as a person. (Except in the case of John Dean, who, while having dinner with him, I bluntly said, “You Continue Reading “George and Me”

Thanksgiving Leftovers

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If your family is like our family, you’ve no doubt dined on Thanksgiving dinner for, oh, about five days. Nothing says “Thanksgiving” more than “leftovers.” It is in that spirit that I offer these remnants that somehow never were able to make a complete plate:

Why is it we always end up with more turkey than we started with (as in, a 21-pound turkey yields 25 pounds of leftovers)?

Will the Redskins ever beat Dallas on Thanksgiving?

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Bohemian Rhapsody (the story of the rock band Queen) was much more enjoyable than Continue Reading “Thanksgiving Leftovers”

Cuomo Courts Amazon with Our Money

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Let’s get this disclosure out of the way first. We use Amazon. We’re Amazon Prime members. Our parent company, Pandamensional Solutions, Inc., uses Amazon print and distribution services for the books it publishes. In all, we spend a lot of money at Amazon and Amazon generates revenue for us. We have certainly benefited from Amazon.

That being said, we don’t think New York State taxpayers will benefit from Andrew Cuomo’s terrible deal to bring Amazon to his state. Enough was revealed when Amazon announced its decision to “split the baby in half” and create two “second headquarters” instead of one. The “lucky” winners were Long Island City in New York and Arlington in Virginia. Amazon promises to hire 25,000 employees at each location. In addition, the on-line retail behemoth also declared it would open a smaller regional hub in Nashville, Tennessee (where they will hire 5,000 jobs).

As we said last year (“This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, October 26, 2017), bowing to Amazon’s extortion-like tactics was absolutely a terrible idea. We stand by our Continue Reading “Cuomo Courts Amazon with Our Money”

The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

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Panem et Circenses. It’s a philosophy that goes back to ancient Rome. Literally translates from the original Latin as “Breads and Circuses,” it defines a strategy to mollify a potentially unruly populace by distracting them with basic needs and entertainment. It’s what you do if you’re not sure the sudden surge in pitchfork sales are destined for farms across your nation or a dense mob about to knock on your front door.

Such was the condition of France throughout the period of the French Revolution. The new government, recognizing its tenuous position, organized a series of festivities beginning with the Festival of the Federation held on July 14, 1790, a year to the day about that aforementioned mob stormed the Bastille. During the final stages of Révolution française, well after the Reign of Terror, the Directory ruled France. In 1798, a little more than a year before the coup d’état that ushered in a new triumvirate that included Napoleon Bonaparte, the Directory decided Continue Reading “The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair”

First Man – A Titanic Odyssey of The Right Stuff

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What could be more fitting that, on the heels of the month where we celebrate the incredible voyage of Christopher Columbus, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the movie First Man. The film depicts the life of Neil Armstrong and culminates in his historic voyage to the moon, a feat of exploration that, at the time and even today, has been compared with Columbus for its historical significance.

Imagine combining 2001: A Space Odyssey with The Right Stuff, then throwing in a pinch of Titanic at the end. That describes First Man.

First things first. Speaking of 2001, there’s a joke going around that Stanley Kubrik allowed Continue Reading “First Man – A Titanic Odyssey of The Right Stuff”

What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?

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It’s that time of year. “One, two, three strikes your out at the old ball game.” As we wallow in the World Series, who can help but remember the greatest of the greats. The line is long, but for some reason a lot of uniforms in that line sport pinstripes. Sandwiched in between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on one side and Micky Mantle on the other side is the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio.

Joltin’ Joe was long retired and within a few months of renewing his relationship with Marilyn Monroe by the time I was born. Still, for some reason I always felt an affinity to him. In sixth grade the teacher gave us the assignment to write the biography of our hero. I chose Joe DiMaggio. What could I say. He’s Sicilian.

Continue Reading “What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?”

Charles Angelo Siringo, The Cowboy Detective – A Classic (Italian) American Archetype

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Ah, you’re wasting your time,” said the self-assured Butch. “They can’t track us over rocks.”

Sundance peered into the distance from behind the large boulder. “Tell them that,” he said, almost ashamed to disrespect the wisdom of his mentor.

Butch turned around to see for himself. He couldn’t believe what he saw. “They’re beginning to get on my nerves,” he said with a tinge of anger. Then, after a pause, added with heartfelt curiosity, “Who are those guys?”

“Those guys,” as they referred to in the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, were Pinkerton Detectives. In the film, the Pinkertons chase the outlaws after their gang had robbed the Union Pacific train. Butch Cassidy identifies one of them as Joe LeFors. No matter how hard they try, they can’t escape the posse.

In real life, the Wilcox Train Robbery, as it has come to be known, took place in the early morning hours of a rainy June 2, 1899. At 2:09 AM, a number of masked robbers – from three to six, the accounts vary – held up the first section of the westbound Union Pacific Overland Flyer about a mile west of Wilcox, Wyoming. Officials immediately suspected Continue Reading “Charles Angelo Siringo, The Cowboy Detective – A Classic (Italian) American Archetype”

Declaration of (Italian) American Independence

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“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus/When he said the world was round…” So begins the lyrics of Ira Gershwin for brother George’s 1937 composition “They All Laughed.” The Gershwins wrote the song for the movie Shall We Dance, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra famously included the tune in his masterpiece Trilogy album, where he sings the closing lyrics “Who’s got the last laugh now?” with a knowing wink.

From Christopher Columbus to Frank Sinatra, it’s clear that Italians and Italian-Americans have had a tremendous impact on America. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on those names history books seem to have neglected.

Did you know Italian-Americans played a prominent role in the founding of America? For example, three of the first five American warships were named after Italians. These were Continue Reading “Declaration of (Italian) American Independence”

Celebrate! October is Italian-American Heritage Month!

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According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of illegal lynchings between 1882 and 1962 was 4,736. This data was compiled by the Department of Records and Research, Tuskegee Institute, Alabama; and published in: Ploski, Harry, and Williams, James; The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on Afro-American, 4th ed. New York: Wiley, 1983. As you might suspect most of these lynchings (roughly 73%) were perpetrated upon blacks. It might astonish you, however, to learn the largest lynching event in U.S. history contained no black victims. Here’s how I discovered this fact.

A couple of weeks ago, Tim and Deb Smith’s “Mendon’s Historic Hamlets – Rochester Junction, Part 2” told the story of the death of Spencer Howe. The suspect, Nicolo DeNardo, fled the scene, but was later captured by police. The headline in the Democrat and Chronicle shouts “Struck Down by a Dago.” The casual use of that ethnic slur got me curious. Did other newspapers of that era also use it?

I quickly found out there’s an island called Dago in the Baltic Sea near the Gulf of Finland. Apparently, it was quite the popular place to wreck your ship in the eighteenth century.

I landed closer to my mark when I saw the following page two of the Friday, January 2nd, 1835 edition of The New York Evening Post. Here’s what it said: “Five Dollars Reward, for Continue Reading “Celebrate! October is Italian-American Heritage Month!”

Facebook and Free Speech

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There’s been a lot of talk among some in the media about the suppression of the First Amendment – every American’s right to free speech. Folks like to point to President Trump’s never-ending battle with his major media opponents. You hear a lot about Trump supporters shouting down national media celebrities. You can argue the anti-media crowd is merely exercising its First Amendment right to free speech, but that’s another topic. For all the ink spilled, one thing is certain: merely complaining about the press is a far cry from actually shutting down that press.

There is, however, another national actor that actually is shutting down the free press. And that could be a much bigger problem than the sum of all of President Trump’s tweets.Continue Reading “Facebook and Free Speech”