Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

“Cancel culture” is scary. It can destroy reputations, bankrupt businesses, stifle dissent, and ruin lives. 

At least, that’s what conservatives tell me.

And they’re not wrong.


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I am right-handed, and I live in a right-handed world.

It’s the hand with which most of us write. It’s the hand we use to salute, take an oath, and offer in greeting. It’s the side on which we seat our most trusted allies. It’s the hand we deem dexterous, while the left hand we label sinister.

It’s not surprising that our left hands get short shrift. We right-handers often think of them as the clumsy, oafish sibling to our dominant hand. We use these “lesser” appendages to write joking notes in a purposefully childlike script, and to deliver less-than-flattering compliments.

I do not look at my left hand this way.

My left hand is pretty damned amazing. It’s stronger than my right. It can hold something rock-steady while my right hand tinkers away for hours. Having been a musician, I can tell you that my left hand has just as much dexterity as does my right, perhaps more. Oh, sure, my right hand is quite adept at making squiggly lines on a sheet of paper, but can it play Beethoven or manage the tricky fingerings of a Hindemith sonata? On a keyboard (piano or computer), they each match the other for adroitness.

When I’m working a project, which hand always gets injured? Not the left hand, despite being the one (literally) doing the heavy lifting. (Exception to this rule: when cooking, the left is always the injured party, but that’s only because the right hand is the one holding the knife.)

While my left hand cannot throw worth a damn, it can catch like a boss; throw me a baseball, a Frisbee, an apple, or a set of car keys, and my right hand will fumble it, bobble it, mistime the grip, while my left hand will bring it home every time.

My left hand is my support, my brace, my counter-balance. It is the lifter of sacks and the grabber of railings. It is dependable, fearless, powerful, perseverant, uncomplaining. Above all, it is modest, content to let its partner take the glory; it seeks neither praise nor the limelight.

So, let us raise a glass with and to our non-dominant hands. Let us recognize that it is the disparity between right and left that creates their synergistic whole, a partnership that has conquered the world. Let us admit that our non-dominant hands are as important, in their way, as their mirror images.

It is their differences that make them strong.

As with many things.


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I do not believe

. . . that all cops are bastards

. . . that all pharmacists want us sick

. . . that all lawyers are heartless

. . . that all Republicans are stupid

. . . that all Democrats are socialists

. . . that all conservatives are evil

. . . that all progressives are anarchists

. . . that all Blacks are criminals

. . . that all Whites are racists

. . . that all Arabs are terrorists

. . . that all Hispanics are gangsters

. . . that all men are pigs

. . . that all women are bitches

The world is greyer than this

Much, much greyer than this

On these points

And a million other ways

Thinking so



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Natalia has been with me for over forty-five years; Jess, over fifty.

Natalia and Jess have been my constant companions. They have accompanied me on journeys around the country and to foreign lands, accruing enough miles to circumnavigate the globe, twice. They’ve been there for every important event of my adult life. When I have needed them, in every instance, they have performed to the best of their ability.

I love them both dearly, and I want nothing for them but the best and fullest that life can offer.

Which is why it’s time for them to go.


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As the last four years enter the realm of memory, one image is strong in my mind:



Lt. Uhura : Captain, the Enterprise is up there. They’re asking if we want to beam up.

Capt. Kirk : [softly]  Let’s get the Hell out of here.


Indeed, Captain.


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We’ve had a few tense weeks here, and not because of current events. Short version: My wife had a cancer scare, but thankfully it was only a scare.

The past eight weeks, and especially the last two weeks, were filled with appointments and waiting and procedures and more waiting and biopsies and even more waiting. As you can probably imagine, during that waiting, all that downtime when the “What if?” scenarios bounce around your head like a ping-pong ball at a championship match, we desperately needed something to occupy our brains.

My wife (the one in greatest need of distraction) found her solace in Blue Bloods. It’s a show we’ve never watched before, and she now had eleven seasons (!!) to binge on.

And binge, she did (with me at her side, for much of it).

For those unfamiliar with Blue Bloods, it follows a family of Irish Catholic police officers in New York City. Gramps (Len Cariou) is retired, Dad (Tom Selleck) is the police commissioner, and the boys (Donnie Wahlberg and Will Estes) are cops. My wife was there primarily for Tom Selleck as the gruff but gentle patriarch. For my part, I was there solely for Bridget Moynahan, who plays the daughter, an Assistant DA for the city.

The shows are simple. There’s an A plot and a B plot in each episode. The family always gets together for Sunday dinner. There is ongoing character development, but for the most part, it’s purely episodic. It’s a dependable show. Dependably good. Dependably homey. Dependably entertaining.

During one episode’s Sunday dinner scene, I turned to my wife and said, “One thing I like about this show: they’re all Republicans.”

She looked at me like I had suggested they were all rabid dogs, a look that said, “Are you crazy? That’s impossible. I like these people!”

Given recent events, this reaction can be forgiven, but I stand by my opinion. Law enforcement skews strongly toward the GOP. Catholics lean conservative. Taken with the characters’ commentary about political and social issues (e.g., stop and frisk, personal responsibility, etc.), it was clear that this family had a strong conservative viewpoint. Doing the math, it was clear to me that the characters would probably vote Republican.

This deduction, however, was not offered up as an insult. As I said, I liked that aspect of the show. As a staunch liberal, a guy whose father campaigned for Adlai Stevenson (twice!), you might think it odd that I like watching a show about a family of Republicans, but it’s not odd. Not odd at all.

Why? Because these characters are old-school GOP, like the Republicans of my youth. Conservative? Yes. Tough on crime? You bet. Fiscally tight-fisted? Damned straight. But they are also capable of compassion, of seeing the gradients between black and white, of taking into account mitigating circumstances, and (above all) the necessity to compromise. They care for people as people, seeing the world not just as cops and robbers, heroes and zeroes.

In short, they are not of the rabid Jim Jordan GOP, nor the morally relativistic Lindsey Graham GOP. The Blue Bloods family is more akin to the Eisenhower GOP.

And I miss that GOP.

I miss the GOP with whom you could actually debate, the GOP that wasn’t blind to the massive common ground between the extremes. I miss the GOP that understood that politics is ideology but governing is compromise. I miss the GOP that was willing to give something up, to negotiate in good faith, in order to advance what they saw as the greater good.

Yes, polarization exists on both sides, these days, but if there’s one party that owns the centrist, moderate ground, well, it ain’t today’s GOP. Today’s GOP has been moving off that part of the field for over a decade, and in the past four years, they ceded it completely. Today’s GOP is all about power and money and control and is nothing about governing. Today’s GOP is the party of the Big Lie, conspiracy theories, and slavering devotion to Dear Leader. And sadly, of sedition.

I know there are some exceptions to this new norm in the GOP, and I feel for them. They are grossly outnumbered by the wild-eyed cohort that has shifted the GOP so far to the right. These few, these moderate few, are trapped between the mob their party has built and the abyss that now exists between our parties’ ideologies.

I miss the GOP, and I suspect perhaps some of these politicians do, as well.


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Hey, Kiddo

I get annoyed when people mispronounce their own surnames.

Growing up with a last name like mine—a name that somehow survived intact its journey through Ellis Island’s patented Name Mangler—meant that I had ample opportunity to correct the spelling and pronunciation of others who, it seemed, were determined to succeed where Ellis Island failed.

Giambastiani starts with a soft “g” and has a wave-like rhythm: JYAHM-bas-TYAH-nee.

Not “guy-am-bass-tee-ANN-ee.” Not “guy-am-baa-STEE-nee.” And certainly not “Sebastiani.”

Nor is my name John Bastiani.

(And do NOT get me started on the written permutations I’ve received over the years.)

So, when friends of mine would give their own surnames an inaccurate pronunciation, I used to get a bit pedantic.

Like Lisa Yakubowski, whose family (at some point) decided that “yah-koo-BOV-ski” should be said “ya-ka-BOW-ski” where the “BOW” rhymes with “COW.”

Or Bob Boccaccio, namesakes of the great 14th century Italian writer, whose family inexplicably swapped the pronunciation of the c’s from “bo-CA-chyo” to [shudder] “buh-CHYA-ko.” Why, oh, why?

I’d try to show these folks the error of their ways, saying, “Hey, kiddo, you’re obviously ignorant of the proper way to pronounce your own last name,” which I’d follow with a remedial lesson on how it should be pronounced.

This rarely went well.

Correction: This never went well.

Because a person’s name is their name to say as they wish, and no one dubbed me (or anyone) the arbitrator of surname pronunciation.

I eventually learned this lesson, and though I continually cringe at the way newscasters butcher any Russian patronymic (especially the feminine forms), most of my complaints remain unaired. By way of example, consider this: Prima ballerina Natalia Makarova was famous for lecturing on the pronunciation of her surname, because Ms. “ma-KAH-ro-va” heartily disliked being called Ms. “MA-ka-RO-va,” as the latter pronunciation sounds like the Russian equivalent of “my cow.”

But that battle was for Ms. Makarova to fight, not me, and if she wanted it to be pronounced in a different way, that was her right and her choice. If she wanted us to pronounce Makarova as “Marky-Mark,” that’s how we would have said it.

It’s the same as with a person who, after years of study, earned a non-medical doctorate. If that person wanted to use the title “Doctor,” there’s no reason for us to question or deny this.

Even if the title wasn’t earned (e.g., Colonel Sanders), people with manners will use the title if the individual prefers it so.

A person gets to choose their name, their pronouns, and their titles, whether earned through toil, bestowed as an honor, or made up out of whole cloth. It is their identity, and their choice, and while we might have opinions about the validity and necessity of those choices, it is simply common courtesy to acknowledge the choice and use the names, pronouns, and titles that they choose for themselves.

And that, kiddo, is all I have to say on the matter.


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