Rosario. A. Iaconis

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Stan Lee: Avenger of Intolerance

Stanlee
Stan Lee

No matter what Bill Maher may say, Stan Lee matters.

Following the death of the comic-book icon, Maher callously asserted that “America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.”

And then the smarmy late-night comedian posited a bizarre convolution of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: “I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.”

So why did Maher accept a check for his cameo appearance in Iron Man 3?

Stanley Martin Lieber revolutionized the dormant comics industry by creating characters with human foibles to go with their superhuman powers. He introduced nuance, continuity and neorealism to a medium that had become ossified and formulaic. With a bevy of multitalented cocreators — Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Buscema — Stan Lee dovetailed derring-do and pulse-pounding prose to comment on the human condition, enthralling young and old alike.

And like Edmund Burke, he showed us how to forestall the triumph of evil.

Writing ex officio in “Stan’s Soapbox,” Lee admonished: “Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”

Stan Lee no doubt channeled his Jewish heritage and the concept of tikkun olam to repair the world.

But Bill Maher knows nothing of the better angels of our nature. When he hosted Politically Incorrect on ABC-TV, Maher referred to Italian Americans as “My Cousin-Vinny-guineas.”

Unlike Maher’s bigoted body of work, Stan Lee’s career was a cri de coeur against intolerance — and a resounding success.

Just ask Jeremy Dauber, the Columbia University professor who, along with writer Danny Fingeroth, notes that Lee’s business strategies “have become integral to how the entertainment industry operates.” In fact, Avengers: Infinity War grossed over $2 billion worldwide.

A longtime Long Islander, Lee helped create Spider-Man and the Hulk while living in Hewlett Harbor.

Stan Lee’s cinematic approach to comic books was first noted by none other than Italy’s filmic genius, Federico Fellini. In 1965, the director of La Dolce Vita met the maestro of Marvel at Stan’s office on Madison Avenue. The two visionaries bonded instantly, becoming lifetime friends.

One of Fellini’s most famous quotes might well serve as a fitting tribute to Stan Lee’s creative vision: “There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life. ”  

NY Politics: A Game of Thrones

President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.


Politics in New York resembles a Game of Thrones.

Rabid ideologues clash with pragmatic progressives in a fierce power struggle over governance of both city and state.

Last year, when called upon to expunge the statue of Christopher Columbus from Gotham’s skyline — and the pages of history — Gov. Andrew Cuomo crossed swords with feckless New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, defying the false gods of revisionism and declaring: Not today. And not ever.

In 2018, Cynthia Nixon relied on identity politics, a far-left agenda and her fame as a thespian to mount an ultimately futile gubernatorial primary campaign to wrest the gubernatorial Democratic nomination away from the governor.

Like Bill de Blasio, Nixon failed miserably.

In honoring his Italian heritage, championing Western civilization and defeating the uber-ideological wing of his party, Cuomo paved the way for a possible White House bid. Though Mario Cuomo missed his rendezvous with presidential destiny in 1992, the current governor of the Empire State is well positioned to make a full-throttle run for the Rose Garden in 2020.

Cuomo the younger values performance over populism. That is, he favors solid accomplishments over sturm und drang identity politics. This leitmotif combines the legal acumen of Ferdinand Pecora with Niccolo` Machiavelli’s virtu`.

From the Excelsior Scholarship program to gun-control legislation to LGBTQ rights to infrastructure revitalization and environmental protection, the governor has demonstrated profoundly astute leadership. What’s more, by persuading IBM, Intel, Samsung, Globalfoundries and TSMC to spend $4.4 billion in New York, Cuomo has also laid the groundwork for making the state a global nanotechnology center in the 21st century.

And in lauding New York’s fabled diversity, Andrew Cuomo has cited e pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”  But America’s national motto is not just a point of pride for the Empire State. It derives from the governor’s ancestral Italian roots in antiquity’s Pax Romana.

While he may never attain the rhetorical heights of his eloquent paterfamilias, Andrew Cuomo remains utterly sui generis: a pragmatic progressive untethered to ideological orthodoxies.

He takes immense pride in the august Italian jurisprudential tradition — and in the blood, sweat and toil of his grandparents who first made the trek to America.

Such cultural bona fides would play well in Potsdam, Patchogue and, yes, Peoria.

Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election created a void in the Democratic Party. Enter Gov. Cuomo.

A contest between Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump calls to mind Marcus Aurelius’s timeless juxtaposition: “A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.”

By Rosario A. Iaconis is an Italian Heritage Educator at Suffolk County Community College

The Historic Flight of a Flawed Aviator

Italo Balbo

July 15, 2018, marked the 85th anniversary of the first large-scale trans-Atlantic flight. Yet few Americans have ever heard of the event.

One reason may be that Italo Balbo, a member of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, spearheaded this trailblazing aerial trek.

The world is grateful that Fascism has long since been cast into the ash heap of history. However, one can acknowledge an aeronautical achievement while repudiating the repellent ideology under which it occurred.

Though historians have castigated Charles Lindbergh for assorted pro-Nazi sympathies prior to Dec. 7, 1941, they still laud his solo Spirit of St. Louis journey.

Italo Balbo headed the-then Kingdom of Italy’s Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica). Having hobnobbed with Orville Wright and Henry Ford, he had been an early advocate of flight, presaging the advent of regular intercontinental air travel.

After years of technological and logistical planning, he led the voyage across the Atlantic in 1933. Spearheading a squadron of 24 Savoia-Marchetti SM.55X seaplanes in formation, the Regia Aeronautica’s air marshal flew on to Chicago in time for the Century of Progress World’s Fair.

General Balbo and his squadron departed Italy on June 30, 1933, arriving in the Windy City on July 15, with some refueling stops in Amsterdam, Londonderry, Reykjavik, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Montreal.

At Chicago’s Soldier Field, 100,000 well-wishers welcomed the crew. Mayor Edward Kelly declared “Italo Balbo Day” and named a street in the aviator’s honor. In New York, a ticker-tape parade was held down Broadway. And Balbo visited President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.

Such accolades did not–and do not–mitigate, condone, support or embrace the harshness of Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship.

In fact, Italo Balbo publicly denounced the repugnant racial laws of 1938. An outspoken opponent of Germany’s virulent anti-Semitism–and a fierce critic of the eventual Pact of Steel–Balbo invited Ferrara’s Jewish Mayor, Renzo Ravenna, to dinner at a restaurant frequented by the Fuhrer.

Jonah Goldberg has detailed the anomaly of the Axis alliance: “Not a single Jew of any national origin under Italian control anywhere in the world was handed over to Germany until 1943, when Italy was invaded by the Nazis.” Il Duce “actually sent Italian troops into harm’s way to save Jewish lives.”

In July of 1934, Balbo saw Mussolini mobilize 75,000 Italian troops at the Brenner Pass to thwart Adolf Hitler’s first attempted Anschluss of Austria. Along with FDR, Italy’s Air Marshall cheered when the German dictator backed down.

Still, Italy eventually joined the Axis.

But in The Wall Street Journal of Dec. 22, 1993, in an article titled “An Army of Schindlers From Italy,” Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote of “Hitler’s allies, the Italians, whose government ministries and army and highest political circles moved heaven and earth to see to it that no Jews under their governance fell into German hands.”

Rabinowitz noted how “Berlin was naturally bitter over this intransigence.” In fact, “The answer from the Italians was an unbending–if silent–‘Never.’ And, indeed, so long as Fascist Italy remained independent, and until its occupation by the Germans in 1943, the answer was the same.”

Moreover, she reported that “Not only would the Italian government–reflecting the popular attitude of the citizenry at large–resist deportation, its army and consuls undertook extraordinary efforts to rescue Jews in their zones of occupation. As an Axis partner, Italy’s forces occupied a large sector of Greece, part of Yugoslavia and eight sectors of southeastern France, including Nice.”

Italo Balbo did not meet Mussolini’s ignoble end. He was felled by friendly fire over the skies of Libya in 1940–long before Pearl Harbor. Consequently, it was Balbo’s aeronautical achievement of July 15, 1933–not his association with Il Duce’s regime–that prompted the-then NATO commander Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1950 to hail General Balbo as “a great leader and a gallant aviator.”

Rosario. A. Iaconis is Chairman of The Italic Institute of America and an Adjunct Professor of Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College