Articles by: Jerry Krase

  • Something named Van Westerhout in Brooklyn, 2006.

    Random Images/Thoughts about Italy

    As the photos demonstrate, things which have the same name are not necessarily the same even though they may be closely related.

  • Op-Eds

    IRAQ PAINPROGRESS, Redux, again

    I originally wrote this Italianesque piece (PAINPROGRESS) in 2003 for The Free Press, and then I republished it in 2006 (PAINPROGRESS, Redux). Since the minor self-recriminations and a few “celebrations” of the Fifth Anniversary of The Invasion of Iraq many of the cheer-leading establishment press organs have been squirming about how wrong they had been for so long. However, they still haven’t gotten up the courage for mea culpas. Perhaps when Barack Obama becomes President their tune will change from loud militaristic drum beats to more appropriately muted taps for our four-thousand plus men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the follies of a few old men (and women). This is the introduction to the 2006 piece:

    Now that some of us are about to admit at least a few of “our” past mistakes about the ill-everythinged Iraq Invasion, Iraq Occupation, Iraq War (both Civil and UnCivil), I would like to re-admit one of my own non-mistakes which I wrote for the Free Press, the original can still be read here. It was overlooked by The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman’s recent (12/08/2006) “They Told You So” essay about those who early on questioned America’s bellicosity. He concluded his Op-Ed in this way:
    "We should honor these people for their wisdon and courage. We should also ask why anyone who didn't raise questions about the war -- or, at any rate, anyone who acted as a cheerleader for this march of folly -- should be taken seriously when he or she talks about matters of national security." (click here to read it all).


    This is what I wrote: January 28, 2003. Park Slope, Brooklyn.

    Today is the first day for the rest of my retired life. Yup, that's correct I am retired. I took the Early Retirement Incentive for New York State workers that was offered by a Governor for whom I more than once didn't vote, but to whom I will be eternally grateful. It's not that I will no longer be working. For example, I just got back from a trip to Rome. I was invited to participate in a conference entitled 'Merica. Convegno sulla cultura e la letteratura degli italian del Nordamerica. As you might guess, it is about the culture and literature of Italians in North America. My travel expenses were paid, and I will go almost anywhere that my expenses are paid. I don't get that many invitations to travel further than New Jersey, and New Jersey is not exactly my idea of exotic or even interesting.
    I flew on an economy ticket code shared between Alitalia and Delta Airlines. My wife didn't want to go with me, this time, so I traveled alone, but one can hardly be alone in Italy, as they don't allow it. Seriously speaking, I was honored at having been invited to join a group of distinguished American scholars to meet with equally distinguished Italian colleagues at two prestigious American Studies Centers in Rome and Cassino, which had as well a teleconference video connection with Siena. I had hoped that the meetings would not be conducted in Italian because my Italian language skills are not that great (ne non sono buono?).
    However, when I finished my own presentation, one of the few which was entirely in English the moderator, in italiano, called for questions and comments and un professore italiano rose to the occasion. Italian professors always rise to the occasion and this one was no exception as he expounded for ten minutes in his favorite language before finally asking a question, also in his favorite language, and to which I rose to the occasion by expounding in ten minutes in my favorite language and then answering my own question which was the only one that I both understood and knew the answer to. When I finished my response, I was greeted with a sea of blank expressions and substantially polite applause.
    We took a bus trip to deliberate at the University of Cassino and also tour the famous monastery at Monte Cassino. During the ride I read a short book written by an Italian who immigrated to Boston after the World War II. As a young boy he had fled the area with his family as the Allies (the good guys) began to bomb the centuries old Benedictine Monastery and the surrounding countryside. The war had continued even after Italy surrendered as Germany occupied the country and battled allied forces who slowly worked their way up the peninsula.
    1700 ft above the town below, Monte Cassino was the center for the German Gustav line, 100 miles south of Rome. It dominated the surrounding countryside, including the valley that ran through the mountains to the north and the main highway linking the south to Rome. After weeks of furious bombing and shelling it was finally destroyed, killing German soldiers, and monks alike, as well as hundreds of civilians who naively had sought refuge there. As a result of the extensive campaign most of the surrounding towns, and farms, were also obliterated. The author described the sights of his return to his hometown. Nothing previously vertical was standing, neither buildings nor trees. Bomb and artillery craters had filled with water and in the summer heat they were breeding pools for malarial mosquitoes. The heat and humidity also accelerated the rotting corpses of animals, soldiers, and civilians. I guess you might call it, Collateral Damage Italian Style.
    Italians are intensely territorial and most of those who survived their "Liberation" slowly returned to rebuild their homes and lives, and by the late 1950s the monastery itself was completely restored. Actually, at the monastery I missed the guided tour because I misunderstood the instructions of one of my gracious hosts, who actually was speaking in English.
    Speaking of multilingual confusion, I took off while our own monosyllabic bilingual Baby Bush (as opposed to monolingual polysyllabic Papa Bush) was gearing up to bomb the hell out of someplace, preferably Iraq but if that's not available; who knows? When I got to Italy, I read in Corriere della Sera that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was emphatically denying, in Italiano, that Italia was supporting the US multi-unilateralismo (I just made this word up, I think) while in direct contrast in the International Herald Tribune, Bush's spokespersons were claiming, in English, that despite what Berlusconi was saying, in Italian, that Italy was in the pocket of the US. I think that the current administration in DC doesn't realize that that il Duce Mussolini is no longer in power in Italy and that Italy, for better or for worse, is an imperfect democracy.
    As for Fear of Flying Italian Style, although I got back home to JFK airport in one piece, there was a two-hour delay in Rome's Fiumincino Airport. Alitalia claimed that there were some "equipment problems;" which didn't raise my confidence level in taking a nine-hour ride in a complex machine that just had technical problems fixed by people who don't speak English. I think they really postponed the take-off in order to fill the plane up with extraneous travelers, as there appeared on the departure monitor that an Aeromexico flight to NYC had mysteriously been combined with our Alitalia/Delta one. This merger happened only after they moved the departure gate first from 30, to 24, and then to 23 while I lugged my duty free booty from gate to gate to gate in search of flight 0611.
    The Boeing 777 on which I flew both ways was a nice plane. Even in the narrow economy seats which lack sufficient legroom for anyone taller than 5' 6'' there is individual video service so I was able to watch on demand movies, which if I had to pay for them I wouldn't have. The screen provided many languages options, so I fooled around by watching American movies in Italian and Italian movies in English, but they still weren't worth paying for. So I listened to classical music with these little earphone things that are supposed to fit into your ear holes but don't, unless you push them in further than they were designed to go. Occasionally the sound would cut out and there would flash across the screen "PAINPROGRESS." At first I was puzzled as to how they knew that my ears were hurting. Then it came to me that PAINPROGRESS meant "Public Address in Progress." But my ear holes still hurt.
    It also appeared to me that PAINPROGRESS is a perfect symbol for the media war hype we are getting now from the USA's allegedly "free" jingoistic press. Even the once dependably skeptical NPR and its local version, WNYC, sound like Government Radio Stations when it comes to fronting for the President from Armageddon, Texas. Equally offensive are the visual variants of PBS to which we are currently subjected. Too bad they don't flash the PAINPROGRESS sign across the TV screen when some government "expert" or "independent" scholar from one or another enterprising institute is called upon to explain why Iraqi civilians deserve to die.
    One constantly painful argument that is heard is that collateral damage is justifiable because Saddam had slaughtered "his own people." I guess the ones we are going to kill are not "his."
    The most odd thing on the flight was that when we within an hour of JFK airport, while I was avoiding embolisms by stretching by the toilets, I noticed that there were several swarthy brawny men going into a passageway that seemed to lead somewhere above the cabin. At first I thought that maybe there was a "party" up there. When they came down they were in Alitalia steward uniforms and until we were strapped in for landing they walked up and down the aisles, I think looking for likely members of Al Qaeda. I guess they are the Italian version of Air Marshals.
    In anticipation of the final, Final Battle against one or another of the Evil Empires which rotate along the Axis of Evil, a contingent of members of Voices in the Wilderness are already in Baghdad. Voices in the Wilderness is a US/UK group which is trying to end the economic sanctions against the "people," as opposed to the "government," of Iraq. Since March 1996, in violation of sanctions, almost fifty delegations have traveled to Iraq.
    American authorities have warned that the penalty for traveling to Iraq, in violation of US laws, could be as much as 12 years in prison and over $1 million in fines. VIW says that each member represents thousands of people who oppose the economic sanctions that miss the target of the regime of Saddam Hussein and instead fall on millions of Iraqi people, young and old. VIW follows the nonviolent tradition of Mohandas Gandhi. They oppose the development, storage and use by any country of weapons of mass destruction whether nuclear, biological, chemical - or economic. Today, as the drum beat quickens, they maintain a constant presence in Iraq.
    They point to the devastating effects in the schools and hospitals, on the streets and in the homes of Iraq of more than a decade of economic sanctions and frequent bombings. They say they are in Iraq to serve as human shields for Iraqi women and children when the bombs start raining down on the city. The US has already notified Voices in the Wilderness that, as opposed to Trent Lott, US bombs don't discriminate, and that Saddam will ultimately be held accountable for any anticipated Collateral Damage. I believe that the moving deadline for Iraqi surrender is "any day now." I was happy to go to Italy and I was even happier to get back home unfortunately just in time to watch W's State of the Union Address and then not watch a rerun of "CNN Live from Baghdad." When W was having his usual trouble with hard words across my mind's eye in bold letters ……

    These are some photos I took in March 2003 at the Anti-Iraq War demonstration and March in Washington DC. Please ignore the image dates as we didn't know how to set the camera.

     Head of the March with wheeled escorts.

     Sidelines Poster

    Marching toward the Capitol.

     Pro-War Horses in park near White House.


    Pro-Anti-War Demonstrators.

    Anti-Anti War Demonstrators.

    Family on the subway going home after march.


  • Op-Eds

    Glass Houses (Case di Vetro)


    It is always a good idea before beginning a new quest to check on reality as we have come to know it. So, when I started writing this article to ascertain who and what is captivating America’s Collective Consciousness, I checked the “Hot Searches” on AOL. They were as follows: American Idol, Ashley Dupre, Big Brother, and Geraldine Ferraro.
    Such mixing and matching is to be expected in our hyperrealistic world. Similar, whenever I complain about the faulty writing of my students, I am often reminded that “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” (Popoli che abitano in case di vetro non doverebbe gettare le pietre.) It is best to just go along with the flow.
    A short while ago Geraldine Ferraro threw the belated second of two missives at someone of color (qualcuno di colore). In short she had offered that “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” What she meant by “this position” of course was in front of her own favorite Presidential aspirant, and incidentally fellow white woman, Hillary Rodham Clinton. As a result she left her perch as "Honorary New York Leadership Council Chair" for the Clinton campaign so she could “speak for herself.” The first rock found its mark during the 1988 Presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson when, according to the Washington Post, she had remarked that "if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race." More troubling (disturbandosi), for us Italian Americans at least, is that when she unsuccessfully ran as Vice President in 1984 and for the Democratic New York Senate nomination in 1992 she suffered from anti-Italian bias and stereotyping.
    Ex-Governor (“9”) Eliot Spitzer made a lot of enemies (molti nemici) when he was New York State’s top stone thrower. As Attorney General of the State of New York he famously went after pimps, pros, politicians, and potentates with a vengeance. Now they are returning the favors. At first he was only under a small cloud for illegally using his newly acquired authority as the Democratic Party’s Governor to persecute the Republican Party’s Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno in the still pending “Trooper Gate” affair. Now he’s under a massive cloud for possible criminal acts such as transporting someone across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, money laundering, misuse of campaign funds, and misuse of State funds. With a great deal of Schadenfreude Italo-americano Joe Bruno, and ex-NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso might say, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” Eliot’s most favorite DC date Kristen (Ashley Dupre) would agree, as she is signing contract after contract to profit from the expensive assignation (convegno galante costoso). 
    While we weren’t looking, New York State Lieutenant Governor David Paterson just became the first Black Governor of the State of New York, as well as America’s first Blind Governor. He has demonstrated that, with great effort (con sforzo grande), one can simultaneously overcome more than one hurdle. As Geraldine would agree, Blackness is more talked about in politics than blindness, at least blindness of the eye as opposed to blindness of the mind. It is alleged that Governor Paterson makes up for his visual limitation with a sharp wit and tongue. His oratorical prowess was quickly challenged at an Albany news conference where he was asked whether he had ever patronized a prostitute. He briefly paused and cast his first stone: “Only the lobbyists.” No one seemed to hear the tinkling glass in the background. His father Basil is a member of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, PC, where according the firm’s website: “Among the more than forty labor unions the firm has as clients, Mr. Paterson (dad-babbo) personally represents Local 1199/SEIU; Local 237 (the largest Teamsters local in the U.S.); the United Federation of Teachers and Local 100/Transport Workers Union" Information about the firm can be found “Lobbyist Search.” 
    Just like Hillary, Barack Obama seems to attract stone throwers. One of Barack’s top advisors, Samantha Power, threw a small stone at Hillary (called Hil’ a “monster” ((mostro)) and then resigned from the campaign. The white woman was Senator Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers. His Black Pastor, The Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr, of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, on the other hand seems to make a living throwing stones at prominent pale persons. Television networks and web cams alike have been replaying his holy day performances during which he righteously complains that, among other things racial, America is run by rich white people. If this weren’t an election year his political homily would hardly be news worthy. In Hillaryesque fashion Obama has denounced his entertaining but nevertheless racist rants as “inflammatory and appalling (infiammatorio e spaventoso).” Reverend Wright no longer serves on Barack’s African American Religious Leadership Committee, I am told.
    One thing is even more sure than death and taxes in political campaigns; more misdirected verbiage is to come, unfortunately.

  • Op-Eds

    What’s Real (and not) in American Politics?

    For me at least, the passing of William F. Buckley adds another nail in the coffin of “real” as opposed to “reality” tele and other journalism. Bill never crossed the, at one time, clear line between the two. As conservative as Bill Buckley was, he was also respected by those on the Left and was often critical of the Right. Frankly speaking, I often can’t distinguish between The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, O’Reilly, Hannity and Colmes, Hardball, Lou Dobbs, and even Kudlow and Company. Virtually all stripes of writers and TV hosts barely hide their partisanship and boosterisms. As the graffiti subway poster shows, the public is not fooled by claims of journalistic objectivity but they also don’t seem to care.


    Not surprisingly, today’s candidates for the highest public office are as likely to appear today on Oprah and Saturday Night Live as on Meet the Press and Charlie Rose. Does fact and/or fiction make a difference in life? When I was growing up on the gritty streets of Brooklyn, I was constantly bombarded by cautionary aphorisms, admonitions, and axioms such as “Trust him as far as you can throw him.”, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”, “All that glitters is not gold.”, and the multi-purpose “Things aren’t always as they appear.” It was many years before I grasped the meanings of statements which, paradoxically, refuted themselves. I was singularly gullible and often talked into engaging in dangerous, and sometimes criminal acts by so-called “friends.” So much so that a common retort by authorities (parents, teachers, priests, cops) to my many admissions of guilt was: “If he told you to jump off the Empire State Building would you do it?” To which I would reply, “It depends.” Little did I know that many others had trouble deciphering reality. Plato needed a cave and Lewis Carroll a rabbit hole to explain the worlds they lived in. And Baudrillard?; he gave up on the project and invented hyperreality.


    Now many pundits talk about the US Presidential race as though it were a simulation of something else. They mistakenly think the public is confused and can’t distinguish between the actual and the virtual. The most recent of these was an excellent piece by Allessandra Stanley in The New York Times. In The TV Watch she asked the rhetorical question: “20th Debate: Reality Show or a Spinoff?” (2/27/08) Alessandra noted that at the televised Ohio debate Hillary claimed that the press was tougher on her than ‘Bama. To prove it, she unabashedly cited a Saturday Night Live sketch in which the “journalists” asked Barack if he was comfortable. “And for the rest of the evening, the MSNBC debate did look a bit like the “S.N.L.” parody.” In the same sense that The New York Times mirrors The Onion (a parody paper), I might add. There is also the case of the “Two Hil’s.” By that I mean the consecutive appearances of Paris Hilton and then Hillary Rodham Clinton on The David Letterman Show just before “Super Tuesday” (February 5th) which, if I remember correctly stopped one of “Hil’s” in her tracks. We must wait until the results from “Little Super Tuesday” (March 4th) to measure the impact of the “SNL” as opposed to the Letterman” Effects. Apropos of the blending of realities was a recent “Hot Search” offered on Google for: “democratic debate,” followed by “American idol.” Writers and commentators of merit can’t keep themselves from scribing about the time that “Hillary cried” and when “girls swooned when Obama smiled,” or wore a “Somali costume” and committed “plagiarism.” They note that John McCain may have had an “affair with a lobbyist” but ignore the fact that McCain bases much of his “right” to the presidency on his stature as both a victim of torture as well its occasional advocate. There seem to be no real, I mean burning, issues in America today. There is no “manifesto; as in “what to do.” We Americans select the candidate first and then screenwriters script a platform. It is the Great Race, American Idol, Survivor, et al combined. I’m sure that “fictional?” television programs like 24 made Obama more acceptable as President because viewers got used to seeing a Black man (Dennis Haysbert as President Palmer) in the White House. The short-lived Commander and Chief , starring Geena Davis as President Mackenzie Allen, might have done the same for the “better half.” If you were to Google the interrelation between real and imagined black and female presidents during this, an election year you would find tens of thousands of entries, not the least of which (CNN 2/23/07) notes that


    BEVERLY HILLS, California (AP) -- The United States will have a female president next year—on the Fox TV series “24.” It is no wonder why we can’t distinguish reality in our virtual cave today where reality, simulation, simulacra, and hyperreality are interchangeable. American politics is not “like” a television show. It “is” a television show. “Where is Jean Baudrillard when you need him?”, he said jokingly. Ask William F. Buckley.

  • Life & People

    Italian Unity - Unità Italiana

    Because I had recently witnessed the orgiastic rite of the Right as the Left left from governing Italy, I wondered what Italian Unity (Unita Italiana) might look like were I ever to observe it up close and personal.  Then I fondly remembered one warm summer night in Urbino a few years ago. It was July of 2006 and I had been invited to the University of Urbino to give a few lectures on Visual Sociology during its UrbEurope Summer School. My topic was “Urban Europe Between Identity and Change” and I held my students enrapt (he said jokingly) as I expounded upon “Visualising change in urban contexts.”  


    All was not lost however as my wife Suzanne and I were given the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful city, Urbino, and an exquisite region (Le Marche) of Italy. Our visit was accidentally tied to both the graduations of Urbino's students and the World Cup (la Coppa del Mondo) of Soccer (il Calcio) between the favored (la favorita) France and underdog Italy. 




    Suzanne and I reserved a corner, ring-side table at a restaurant on a small square where a large screen had been set up so that people in the town could watch the contest together. In virtually every other location in the city, bars and restaurants had converted their establishments into extensions of the world cup stadium. The space slowly filled with those of every age and sex, and by the start of the game, we were forced to watch the game under, around, and through those who stood just outside the perimeter of the restaurant and our obstructed view point.


    When the international battle ended in a tie, I decided to take a position near the front of the audience and try to capture their reactions during the sudden death shoot off. The following photos need no further explanations as Italians reponded in unison with every shot until they burst into ecstatic fury with the win, hugging and kissing everyone in sight.


    They then moved en masse to the main square, Piazza Garibaldi, as folks from other parts of town joined them in a rare dsiplay of national unity.

  • Facts & Stories

    Schadenfreude Italiano

        After all this fuss a few weeks ago about how Ian Fisher of The New York Times was making Italy look bad (faceva fare una mala figura all'Italia), Italy did it all by itself (da sola). The Germans have the word Schadenfreude to describe the malicious pleasure one enjoys when they see someone else fail. Come si dice in italiano Schadenfreude? There certainly must be a cognate, as it seems to be a favorite Italian pastime. 

    Almost every evening at 7:30,  I watch RAI Television News (Telegiornale) on Channel 63. It is there that I witnessed the spectacle in the Italian Senate as the 20 month-old, allegedly Center-Left, government of Romano Prodi disintegerated amid pushing, shoving, shouting, spitting, cursing, and the uncorking of what looked like Asti Spumonti bottles that overflowed during the political orgasm (orgasmo politico). It was brought about by the pique (picca) of a minor party Minister of Justice, Clemente Mastella, who resigned and then vented his anger by withdrawing his party's support in the Senate because his wife was being investigated for corruption. The final tally was 161-156.

        It is said that "nature abhors a vacuum" (la natura aborre il vuoto). Perhaps because of its tragic historical experience with them, Italians abhor strong majorities. It is certainly difficult to have a national leader, no less a Dictator, if no one is allowed to speak for anyone else.  Absolute autonomy is the preferred antidote to Fascism (Fascismo) of left and right. It is also the alluring charm of Italy - chaos (caos). It also explains why Prodi had an easier, and much more successful, tenure leading the European Union than he did Italy (twice-due volte). Over the decades I have read many versions of the story of Italy as Alice's Wonderland (paese delle meraviglie) by the likes of Edward Banfield, Carlo Levi, Luigi Barzini, Gaetano Salvemeni, Antonio Gramsci, and Alexander Stile, and many others. Some thought the backwardness (arretratezza) was limited to the lower classes. Others to the South (il Mezzogiorno)... but of course it runs from top to botom and north to south. For example, many Italian business owners abhor large (especially multinational) corporations who they fear (hanno paura di) will take over a whole industry and reduce Italians to mere little fish in a much bigger bowl.

        This adversion to cooperation, and to the good of the whole over its individual parts (Comunità), obviously came over with Columbus to America. Ironically, America is the place where the Children of Columbus are recognized leaders in almost every aspect of American life; especially as to major American businesses and financial organizations (Iacocca, Bartiromo, Grasso, et cetera.). Yet, for better and for worst, Italian American organizations themselves don't rule. One brief example must suffice here. I may have mentioned somewhere that some three decades ago I was at the founding of American Italian Coalition of Organizations in New York City. A number of us (piu o meno promenenti) had gathered to deal with a crisis of social services to a needy segment of the large Italian American community in the Big Apple (la Grande Mela). My position as a Board member and experience as a community organizer brought me into close contact with dozens of Italian and Italian American groups. One such was a marvelous "Federation" of organizations (clubs) representing more and less recent immigrants organized around the towns, and regions in Italy from which they regularly came and went. 

        My good friend, and one-time President of both the Federation and Coalition, Mario DiSanto often took me to meetings of all the individual clubs, but it was the larger gatherings when all the groups sat around a set of tables that was most instructive as to Italian-style organizations (organizzazioni all'italiana). The official language of the meetings was English; which suited me very well as my facility with Italian was almost nothing (quasi-niente). I was introduced, spoke, and was addressed by the assembled members in English. However, when the group representatives didn't want me to know what was going on, they spoke to each other in Italian.  When they didn't want the other clubs to understand, they whispered amongst themselves in their own dialects.

        According to Jeff Israely in his "How An Italian Government Falls (Time Magazine: 1/24/08): "Most expect that the next showdown at the polls will feature Berlusconi and Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, who was Prodi's No. 2 back in 1996-98 administration but is no longer close in the same camp. There are reports that Prodi will team up with small parties from the far left to try to stave off Veltroni's rise, which would no doubt bring on more nasty infighting. Many believe that a caretaker government made up of moderates from both center-left and center-right is necessary to bring about the reform necessary to bring more stability to the political system. Such an interim affair would probably turn out to be arcane, and painfully boring. That may be just what the country needs."

        When I was young (quando ero giovane), people said that Italian cars, like the Alfa Romeo, looked good but spent more time in the repair shop than on the road. It was also said it was difficult to find a good Italian mechanic. Given that there have been more than 60 since the end of World War II, one might say the same about Italian governments. Finally, I might say, in sardonic contrast, that American governments seem to run very well but unfortunately (purtroppo) often in the wrong direction.
    Postscript (poscritto): As soon as I finished writing this barely bilingual (bilingue) essay, America's Mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who once led the Republican pack in the race to become America's President, withdrew from the competition. Although this may give rise to Schadenfreude Italiano among many, it is not so for me. As a life-long Democrat, I preferred him as the Republican Party nominee. John McCain, whom Rudy embraced and endorsed, will be a lot more difficult for either Barack  or the Rodham-Clintons to beat in November.

  • Op-Eds

    Giuliani's Italian American Voting Bloc?

          When I finished reading here at i-italy Dom Serafini's animated opinion piece, "Against Rudy Guliani the Strategy is to Divide Italian Americans" that concludes with the phrase "all Americans of Italian origins should indeed vote for Rudy exclusively because he's Italian, which is by itself a good enough reason and a guarantee of everything America stands for." I thought to myself "Great! Italian Americans have finally become so together as a hyphenated ethnic group that they pose a threat and will no longer be ignored by the political powers that be. Then I thought of all the Italian Americans (and Italians) I know who find it difficult to agree on the time of day, even when they are looking at the same clock.

        There is some history to the fact of Italian disunity, as well as their dissing themselves. I'll mention only a few instances which are close to home as to direct experience, and some about which I have written (see below). For example, people often speak of the "old days" when the Brooklyn Democratic Machine was led by cigar-chomping Italian American icon Meade Esposito. In response to complaints by many Italian-American judge-wannabees that they were overlooked by him in favor of other hyphenated-wanabees, I asked him about it at a dinner where he was being honored by an Italian American organization as its "Man of the Year." Meade's matter of fact answer was that Italians were not noted for voting, or contributing. It was a very Italian response.

        When I was campaigning for Mario Cuomo the first time he ran for New York State Governor we had great difficulty generating the hoped for, but never quite realized, overwhelming support from the large Italian American community. Most of the Children of Columbus found him too liberal for their own tastes. Cuomo became much more popular among his brethren as a powerful (but still misunderstood) incumbent. Another very Italian attitude. When Rudy Giuliani ran for Mayor of New York City he also evoked a less then enthusiastic response from many Italo-Americans who said his mob prosecutions showed he was against his "own kind." Like Cuomo, Giuliani became more popular with his own kind as he had patronage to dish out. Also as with Cuomo "it" was never enough. Beyond ancient and contemporary history, there is also ample theory as to why Italians might not vote for other Italians. The Political Machine got its name from the analogy of a mechanism that moves without thinking... automatically. Simple-minded ethnic and other voting blocs are part of the process; Women for Hillary, Blacks for Obama, Mormons for Mitt, Creationists for Mike. etc. Vote for me because I look, speak, pray, believe, like you do. Intelligent voters in real democracies vote in their interests. But in order to do so they must ask and answer the question "If this person is elected how will it benefit me?" My experience in politics, as both a partisan and a researcher, is that although Italian Americans hardly act in concert they are keen on electing people who they think best represent their interests. In fact, even the historically less than stellar rates of participation of Italian Americans reflected their all too often correct judgement that it really didn't make much difference who was elected.

         In order for Italian Americans to be unified, they first must see themselves as sharing some common fate. There are very few issues which weld Italian Americans together (as Italian Americans) and are not cross cutting issues with other groups. Italian American business owners have far more in common with other business owners than with Italian American workers. One issue tested as a unifier has been "Stereotyping" and "Defamation," but too many Italian Americans themselves are more a part of the problem than the solution. By the way, both Mario and Rudy are big fans of Mafia genre films and television. Those who wish to build an Italian American "nationalism" frequently contrast themselves to Jews and Blacks as in "Why can't we be like them?" Frankly, I don't think that the experience of the Holocaust or slavery is devoutly to be wished for anyone.  Perhaps it can happen in foreign policy: "Italy as the homeland for the Italian people ...?" This wouldn't even work in Italy today.

        Although Rudy can count votes on the stereotype of Italians as tough, the fact is that Italian Americans are not monolithically conservative. It is true that many Italians have changed allegiances from the Democratic party. However it was never a real allegiance. Even when Italians were Democrats, they were liberal on economic issues ( as in union contracts) but more conservative on social ones (such as abortion). Ironically, as Italian Americans have become more educated many have also become more liberal on social issues. Rudy is one of these "tough but liberal" conservatives. As to Ethno/Racial Italian solidarity it is doubtful that followers of Geraldine Ferraro, Nancy Pelosi, or Andrew Cuomo would even lip-sync praise to Giuliani. The best thing going right for him right now in the primaries is the pathetic array of candidates displayed by the Republican Party.

        My free (for what it's worth) political consulting advice to Rudy Giuliani, if he really wants to get Italian Americans to vote for him, is to show how they will gain by his elevation. How will they prosper? How will their children not be left behind? This is the same strategy needed by the other (non-Italian-American) candidates to capture and wake up the sleeping giant. For his supporters to simply employ a strategy of saying, even screaming at the top of  their lungs, that Italian Americans should vote for Giuliani because he is, like them, Italian-American is taking a big chance. Italian American voters are hardly the type to respond to "trust me" or "just say yes" campaign slogans.



    Jerome Krase, "The Missed Step: Italian Americans and Brooklyn Politics." in F. X. Fem­minella (ed.) Italians and Irish in America. Staten Island, New York: AIHA, 1983: 187‑198.


    J. Krase and Charles LaCerra. Ethnicity and Machine Politics: The Madison Club of Brooklyn. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1992.


    J. Krase, “The American Myth(s) of Ethnicity.” in Shades of Black and White: Conflict and Collaboration between Two Communities. Edited by D.Ashyk, F. l. Gardaphe, and A. J. Tamburri. Staten Island: AIHA, 1999: 103-16.


    J. Krase, Phillip Cannistraro, and Joseph Scelsa, (eds). Italian American Politics: Local, Global/Cultural, Personal. Staten Island: AIHA, 2005.


  • Op-Eds

    Authentic Little Italy: Che Cos’è?


    There are many in the field of Italian American Studies who are not especially sanguine about its future; either as an academic or a more popular cultural enterprise. At meetings of the American Italian Historical Association and the Italian American Writers Association the eyes and smiles of old-timers widen whenever a new young voice is heard. As everyone knows, scholars and authors of all ethnicities require intellectual progeny. To die unquoted or unread is the fate of those in a special section reserved for intellectuals in Dante’s First Circle of the Inferno.

    On the brightest side, I had the recent pleasure, and indeed honor, of helping to launch a new journal with my “Authentic Little Italy: Che Cos’e? A Photo Essay” (presented here in brief) in The Harvard College Journal of Italian American History and Culture. The Journal was created by Editors in Chief- Justin Rossi and Sabino Ciorciari, under the guidance of their Faculty Advisor- Elvira DiFabio, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Romance Languages at Harvard.

                The Harvard Italian American Association started this project in November, 2006 to be distributed on campus as well as to Italian American leaders, scholars, academic programs, and organizations. Its goal is to promote the highest level of scholarship and provide a forum and resource for those with a passion for all levels of Italian American culture. HIAA’s
    is “t
    o promote and engage the rich culture of all things Italian American and to provide a welcoming Italian American community on the Harvard campus.” More information about the group can be found on its website:



    Is there an “authentic” Little Italy, and if there is, what does it look like? On the first part of the question, I take the negative position. The second part of the question though is a bit more complex. In cities across the
    United States
    , Italian neighborhoods of one sort or another, real and imagined, are presented as spectacles for visitors from far and near. Even more unfortunately, these places are seen as representations of “real” Italian Americans.




    Portland, Maine July, 2000


    During a trip to
    Portland, Maine I asked where I might find the Italian American section of town. He gave me simple directions that I followed across a recent highway extension to a partially cleared mixed residential, industrial, and commercial part of the city. There I found a few “Italian” restaurants and businesses, “St. Peter’s Catholic Church founded by the Italian Community” as well as indications of an Italian past in the form of fig trees and grape vines growing wild. It seemed to have an Italian Present, but little in the way of an Italian Future except for this delivery van making a claim of ethnic authenticity for “Amato’s Italian Deli.”

    Despite the fact that more than sixteen million claim to be Italian American today and that Italian American stereotypes are common, a many scholars maintain that Italians Americans are not a “real” ethnic group at all. Rudolph Vecoli strongly disagrees and argues that Italian American are not “just like” any other White Folks. In American society today being an Italian American, or being identified as such, has significant effects on one’s life chances which are different from others, even other White Ethnic groups. For better as well as for worse, that which stands for Italian Americans and Italian America is Little Italy. For some Italian Americans, it is also the place where they periodically seek authenticity and a return to “Their roots.” One often reads in local newspapers about Italian Americans who return to the “old neighborhood” from the suburbs to shop, touch base with remaining old friends, or to attend a religious or cultural festival. In most cases the neighborhood they or their offspring are returning to is not what they left behind. Some “Italian” neighborhoods are virtually empty of those with Italian roots. In other cases remaining Italian Americans are surrounded by restaurants and shops more designed for tourists than for them. Little
    entrepreneurs have often responded by “creating” authenticity in sometimes perverse ways.

    Most of these Little Italies are examples of what I have termed “Ethnic Theme Parks” which are preserved as spectacles for the appreciation of tourists. I must caution the reader however that I have selected for this essay some images which are the most glaringly, in my opinion, non-representative of Italians in
    today. Although the images are taken in different Little Italies they could have been found in almost all of them. In many of these same neighborhoods there is much to be commended and recommended as to local Italian American life and culture. Unfortunately it is not these more accurate ethnic elements which are the easiest to turn into saleable commodities.




    North End,
    , 2004


    I have been observing and photographing the changing urban landscape of
    for a quarter of a decade. The North End of Boston has long been an urban tourist space with a split personality. All year long, in this now highly gentrified neighborhood most of the visitors come in search of American Colonial and Revolutionary War landmarks such as the
    Old North Church, and follow one or another variant of the Freedom Trail walking tour. For many others, it is a place to find “Authentic Italian Cuisine” at restaurants like Al Dente, and, in season, observe an Italian feast. Note that as tourist restaurants open, old neighborhood ones close to make room for them.





    Wooster Street, New Haven, 2003.


    As most other Little Italies, the Wooster Street version in
    New Haven
    has well defined boundaries. In addition to an impressive street spanning arch marking the grand entrance to the Wooster Street, red white and green banners like this festoon the commercial strip. Not far away, minus the banners, one might discover the more historically important Italian Consulate building.





    Al Capone at the Italian Market on Arthur Avenue, The
    Bronx, 2006





    Umberto’s Clam House Replica on Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, 2006


    As other Little Italies in New York City continue to demographically wane, Arthur Avenue in the
    section of The Bronx has made a strong claim to be the most authentic of the remaining enclaves. This is despite the fact that only a small minority of persons who identify themselves as Italian American still live there among Latinos and Albanians. Old institutions such as the “Italian” Public Market still remain, but others such as a replica of Manhattan Little Italy’s Umberto’s Clam House have recently appeared on the scene.



    Al Fresco Eating on Mulberry Street, Manhattan, 2007.





    San Gennaro among Wooden Indians in a Cigar Store Window,
    , 2007


    The most venerated, perhaps venerable , and certainly the most visited of all of America’s Little Italies continues to be on Mulberry Street which is squeezed on three sides by a growing Chinatown and on the other side by  gentrifying NoLito (North of Little Italy). The barely religious Neopolitan feast of San Gennaro still takes place here but most of the year it is simply a collection of more or less “Italian” eating places and emporia.


    Frank Rizzo Mural
    , 2002


    The ethnic composition of
    ’s Bella Vista neighborhood has been ethnically mixed and changing for almost a century and a half. Italian Americans comprise the one European group that stayed in large numbers after Irish Catholics, and Russian Jews moved away. Yet the neighborhood is still described in tourist brochures as a “Little Italy.” In the same sense Black, Chinese, Jewish, Korean, Lebanese, South Asian, Vietnamese and other merchants bring their ethnic foods and other products to sell at the famous Ninth Street “Italian Market”. In 2002, Philly’s Italian political icon, two-term Mayor, Frank Rizzo (1920-91) was still watching over the neighborhood in a mural by Diane Keller.




    Al Pacino as Don Michael Corleone, The Godfather III, 1990,
    Baltimore, 2003


    ’s Little Italy can be found just east of the city’s Inner Harbor Area and boasts that it is one of the city's busiest restaurant districts. The photo below was taken in one of its most well-known eateries, but Al Pacino’s familiar face is frequently plastered on the walls of Little Italy bistros. As in other urban enclaves, Italians moved into the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even though most other groups left, the neighborhood is still home to a significant Italian community in a “hot” local housing market.




    Gift shop in The Hill,
    St. Louis, 2002.


              When I visited “The Hill” in 2002 I knew that the area was settled in the early 1900s by Italian immigrants and that some of its residents carry on traditions in this neighborhood which is a short distance from a rather unimpressive downtown. I also knew that baseball personalities Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola had once lived there. Having visited similar sites, I was not surprised to find fire hydrants painted in the Italian tricolore and gift shops which sold products like those displayed in the photo above.




    North Beach,
    San Francisco, 2001.


            At the late 19th century the space near Fisherman’s Wharf was known as “
    Italy Harbor” as Italians, originally crammed into the steep sides of the bay side of Telegraph Hill overflowed into the valley and formed the
    North Beach “Italian Colony.” A hundred years later little is left of the illustrious maritime community near the wharves at the base of Columbus Avenue other than numerous “Italian” restaurants.

     Note: Some of my photo galleries on Little Italies in The Bronx, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Haven can be found at: on the right had side of the page.


    Rudolph J. Vecoli, “Are Italian Americans Just White Folks?,” in Jerome Krase and Frank Sorrentino (eds), The Review of Italian American Studies. Lanham, Maryland:
    Lexington Books 2000: 75-88.

  • Op-Eds

    Losing in Translation


    Unlike most third-generation hyphenated-Americans, who are barely monolingual, I am not fluent in many other languages as well; Italian being only the best of a large collection of them. At 7 AM every weekday morning I stroll down the street to “Dizzies Finer Diner” where I read all the
    New York City
    daily newspapers, placing them carefully back in the rack when I am finished. So when, last Thursday (December 13, 2007), I perused Ian Fisher’s “In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment” in The New York Times I was more than a bit amused. His opening paragraph set the tone for the next two-thousand-five-hundred words: “All the world loves
    Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk,” (devoutly to be wished?)… “But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths,
    seems not to love itself.” The funk was “--summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in
    Western Europe.” Even
    ’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, was quoted as saying something Jimmy Carter might have said better --“There is more fear than hope.” Because not understanding Italian, Italians, and
    is not unusual in even the most exulted of American journals, I thought nothing more of it. After all, to be Italian is to be as was my Sicilian-American mother, pessimistic. That is until later that day.

    My usual Thursday evening habit is making dinner for my wife, three daughters, occasionally their spouses, and always my grandchildren. After dinner, while they go upstairs to visit my wife’s ninety-something parents it gets marvelously quieter. So, I put in my hearing aid and watch-listen to the evening news in a few of my bad languages. For the first ten minutes of RAI’s evening news program, a long list of important persons seemed to be much less amused than I was about Ian’s funky article. They sounded as though they were insulted, but then again perhaps it was I, and not The Times that misunderstood Italians.

    On weekends, Dizzies opens late for brunch so I go to Jimmie’s to get the papers (Newsday and Nowy Dziennik on Saturday and The New York Times and La Repubblica/Oggi on Sunday). Then I cross the street to Connecticut Muffin for coffee and quality reading time. There was nothing about
    (Wloch) in Nowy Dziennik that I noticed. However, on the front page of La Repubblica, left bottom corner I found La Polemica. There, Vittorio Zucconi wrote something cleverish about America “seeing itself in the mirror of Italy” which segued on page nine to what looked like “sinking dollar, weak economy, and ghosts of “fatto in
    .” Vittorio’s first paragraph was an even worse mirror image of
    America than Ian’s was of Italia, as well as more sarcastic. There was also a word there for which I couldn’t find another, “mucillagine” but I assume it wasn’t nice. Facetiously he concluded with, “
    Courage, America, keep your head up and don’t listen to newspapers and polls.”

    Knowing that there will be some out there who will claim that either Fisher and/or The Times, is biased against things Italian, I searched the Times website archive for Ian Fisher’s 2007 articles on Italy and found in order: Romanian Premier Tries to Calm Italy After a Killing; Italy Struggles Under Truck Strike; 701 Planned Expulsions And 141 Arrests in Security Sweeps;  Migrants Drown Off Sicily; 6 More With C.I.A. Sought in Kidnapping; For Italy’s Premier, Endurance Pays Off, for Now; Italian President Visits Pope; Germany: Denial From Suspect in Italy, and  Italy: U.S. Will Not Hand Over C.I. A. Suspects. Minus the calcio, not much different from La Repubblica. At least it’s better than when a previous Times correspondent on Italy, Allessandra Stanley, seemed to think that reporting about the Vatican was the same as reporting about

    I can’t end this linguistic excursion without a note about Oggi, where I found an interesting piece on the recent establishment of a Fiorello LaGuardia Day in
    New York City
    . Among the usual suspects at such events (ex-NYC Mayor Ed “I” Koch and current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg), were La Guardia impersonator Tony Lo Bianco,  LaGuardia’s great-granddaughter Katherine, and Gay Talese. Talese when asked replied that the contemporary figure, he thought most like LaGuardia was Rudolph Giuliani. Katherine Gabriela LaGuardia D’Addario seemed to me to demure as she offered that among the presidential candidates, Barak Obama might be a “little” like him. Perhaps it’s the African connection. Were I asked, in Italian, for a political comparison for Rudy it would be with Silvio Berlusconi (minus the cosmetic surgery of course). If the question were asked in American, it would be Hillary Rodham, vis-à-vis married men fooling around while in public office. Then again my American is not perfect either.


  • Facts & Stories

    Nancy Pelosi for President and other Proposals

    The other day I was perusing one of four New York city dailies (I can't remember which or don't wish to reveal which) and came across an unusually less than accurate and reasonably inarticulate column (so it might have been the New York Post) in which there was a sycophantic droolathon about Rudy Giuliani (definitely the Post) and his fitness for filling the shoes of "W" which in my humble opinion is relatively easy to do.

    In the piece, a well-misinformed official of a major national Italian American group was quoted as an expert on Italian American voters who it seems are a more or less sleeping giant which could be aroused by "The Rude One" (my nickname for Himself when he mayored us in NYC). In fact he incredibly said about Giuliani's chances that: "Still, this is the first time Italian-Americans have had a national candidate to support."

    Wow! This Italian American expert guy never heard of Geraldine Ferraro, who was an actual candidate of the Democratic Party for Vice President as the running mate of Walter Mondale in 1984. I thought to myself, how is this possible? Because she is an Italian American? Because she is bright? Because she is (excuse the word) articulate? Because she is beautiful? Because she is a Democrat? Because she is liberal? Which of these traits, or combination thereof, makes her so unremarkable?

    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. For example the head of the Executive Branch told her, the titular head of one half of the Legislative Branch, that she shouldn't go to Syria and she told him where he ought to go. As we know, "W" has trouble remembering the intricacies, and even the obvious, of the US Constitution at times. Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House of Representatives doesn't have similar problems in recognizing the limits of her power.

    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. Seriously though, wouldn't she make a great "first"? Nancy for President campaign contributions (preferably in cash) can be sent to me starting immediately, and don't tell my wife.