The Question to Ask Trumphole on Gun Control

I am not going to weigh-in again on the gun debate, as I have already shared my opinions several times over the course of the past five years. And, yes, that’s right boys and girls, this week we celebrated the 5th anniversary of Nipple Monkey!

However, I do wish that one of these grieving parents from Florida would ask Trump the one question that might get his fat ass off the bench in the gun control debate. And, no, it’s not asking him to think about how his campaign contributors, the lobbyists and special interests who helped put him in the White House, and all the far-right Republican hypocrites who have swallowed every ounce of self-respect in order to keep him there would feel if he introduced legislation that would not only reinstate the ban on assault weapons (which, let’s be honest, are made for mass murder, not hunting) but also establish measures that would prevent people with mental health issues from owning a gun as well as prevent people who are on our nation’s terrorist watch list from owning a gun (yes, Republicans actually shot down legislation to prevent confirmed terrorists from purchasing guns).

Instead, I am hoping that someone will ask Trump how he would feel if it was one of his own children who were gunned down in a mass shooting. OK, if Ivanka was gunned down, since she seems to be the only one of his kids that he genuinely cares about – even if it is just for her looks. I’d like him to think about how he would explain his inaction on gun reform to Melania, assuming she’s still talking to him at this point, or whichever of his three wives was the actual mother of his freshly slaughtered child.

Yes, it’s a gruesome thought, but no more gruesome than what those 17 families have had to face. And given that Trumpo is clearly incapable of thinking of anyone but himself, someone needs to get his pea brain thinking about what it would be like if his family was on the receiving end of an AR-15 or some other assault weapon in a mass shooting.

But as we debate this issue, keep in mind that there are two types of gun owners in this country. There are the responsible people who may or may not fear that enacting any sort of legislation will open the door for the repeal of the Second Amendment (personally I love guns, but I would support the sort of legislation I mentioned earlier, in the second paragraph, because I don’t live in a world of fear and therefore am confident that we are strong enough as a nation to always retain our right to bear arms responsibly). And then there are the people who burst into a crowded pizzeria with an AR-15 assault rifle – the same kind used in the Parkland shooting – and start firing off rounds because they genuinely believe that Hillary Clinton, who has a net worth of $45 million, had to resort to running a child sex trafficking operation out of a secret room in some random local pizzeria (no, I’m not making this up), presumably so she could afford her private email server.

And I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the number of people who actually believe that kind of nonsense or the fact that they are walking around with loaded assault rifles. Which reminds me, as bad as the Russian trolls may be, they hardly compare to some of these alt-right ones who were responsible for propagating moronic shit like this.

The Shithole President

Most Americans are horrified that Donald Trump is president. The man embodies the worst traits of humanity. Plus, he’s impulsive, irrational, ignorant, and unstable.

Assuming we survive this, I think history will teach us that the greater horror is the realization that there are many Americans who are happy with Trump as president. They don’t seem to mind the ignorance, irrationality, instability, ineptitude, xenophobia, misogyny, and thinly-veiled racism.

So far, we have been trying to rationalize this support, pretending that they tolerate his behavior in hopes of furthering some political agenda. Though what that agenda is isn’t exactly clear.

Some would argue that they wanted to drain the proverbial swamp, removing the corrupting influence of special interest groups and their well-funded lobbyists on our government. But then why choose a wealthy one-percenter who has bragged about manipulating the system for his own personal gain? That’s like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of your life savings because you don’t trust Wall Street.

Others may have believed that Trump was genuinely all-in for Steve Bannon’s far-right agenda. But it’s equally hard to imagine that these voters would be foolish enough to entrust a man, an admitted political opportunist who has flipped more times than the griddle cook at IHOP, to become the vanguard for a political turn so far to the right that it makes Barry Goldwater look like a hippie.

Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that these people truly appreciated Trump’s nationalistic fervor. Given the fear and uncertainty that has befallen America since 9/11 and the financial crises, those who enjoyed the relative comfort and prosperity of the 90s might be willing to sacrifice certain values, principles, and freedoms in favor of the presumed security of a more authoritarian approach to governing our nation.

Yet the ugly truth is that even when Trump is nothing more than a punchline in one of so many possible jokes, the people who thought he was a good choice – and many still do – will still be around. Though, depending on how bad it gets, it might be hard to find them after the fact, like people who are willing to admit that they supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But they will still be out there. And that may be the scariest aspect of this entire American nightmare.

Thought of the Day: Shake & Fake

Donald Trump is the Ricky Bobby of presidents. That pretty much sums the man up in a nutshell.

Not culturally, of course. That dishonor would go to George W. Bush.

But when you think of the character’s overwhelming confidence in his overwhelming ignorance, that’s 100-percent Donald Trump. We’re talking about blatant, brazen, flagrant, obstinate, pervasive, and reckless ignorance. It’s worthy of a comedy, but sadly it’s a national tragedy.

Waco and the Wackos

Being curious about how religious extremists come to be, I’ve watched a number of documentaries about the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas over the years. And last night, out of snowbound curiosity, I found myself watching a special on ABC titled Truth and Lies: Waco.

I’m not sure why this national network decided to dedicate two-hours of primetime television space to such a tragedy. Perhaps it’s because we are nearing the 25th anniversary of the event. Or maybe they were simply looking to capitalize on the apparent appeal of sensationalizing such tragedies and feeding fear-mongering conspiracy theorists desperate for such mainstream attention. After all, we’re now living in Trumpland, a sensationalized tragedy produced by fear-mongering conspiracy theorists (and the deep-pocket, deep state of wealthy one-percenters who, in a manipulative master deception that would make Keyser Soze proud, managed to dupe these rubes into thinking they were draining the swamp of corruption when in reality they just handed the keys to the swampmaster himself).

For what it’s worth, I have always harbored a degree of distrust and perhaps even a little disdain for authority. And I am not a particularly big fan of law enforcement, which I feel is an essential and important function in our society but one that attracts and recruits people with a certain viewpoint and fosters a culture that reinforces that viewpoint, all of which encourages the abuse of power and force. I would like to see more humane policing, better pay and training for law enforcement professionals, and frankly a complete overhaul of our judicial system.

That said, I do not fear the authorities, or my government. Nor do I adhere to all these conspiracy theories and “deep state” nonsense, the sort of stuff that is so appealing to those who thought The X-Files was a reality show. Perhaps if our government was a little less inept then I might share some of the rampant fear and trepidation that seems to fuel these people’s lives. But, as it stands, I don’t even own a tin-foil hat.

As for Waco, I still think that the Branch Davidians are responsible for that tragedy. Yes, the authorities made a number of mistakes, as is often the case (which, again, is one of the reasons I don’t share the fear and paranoia harbored by these conspiracy theorists, because I can’t be afraid of a force that is so frequently flawed and often inept, whereas a ruthless and efficient force like the old East German Stasi might actually inspire me to don a tin-foil cap and crawl into a bunker at the first sight of a chemtrail). But when a group of religious extremists starts talking about waging war against the government and then begins stockpiling automatic weapons, hand grenades, and other munitions that even the well-funded spinmeisters at the NRA couldn’t pass off as hunting gear, action needs to be taken.

And keep in mind that Koresh and his followers didn’t just oppose the government. They considered everyone who failed to heed his personal prophecy as their enemy, as tools of Satan. This wasn’t about government oppression or the right to bear arms. This was about a man who considered everyone who refused to recognize him as the one true voice of God to be his enemy. This was about a man who wanted a violent confrontation that would thrust him into the national spotlight. This was about a man who wanted he and his followers – including the children – to go out as martyrs in a blaze of glory.

Sadly, conspiracy theorists have used this tragedy as a springboard for the anti-government movement that helped put Trump, ironically the posterchild for everything that’s wrong with our government, in power. They see Waco, along with the tragic events at Ruby Ridge, as seminal moments in their vision of a “deep state” conspiracy within the government that’s working to turn America into Amerika, an imaginary authoritarian state where citizens are stripped of their rights and subjugated by those in power. And yet, again, the irony that these people still voted for Trump, already the most authoritarian and anti-American president we’ve ever had.

In the end, it was Koresh who ordered the death of his followers. He and his lackeys set three separate fires, killing 76 of the Branch Davidians who remained in the compound, including all of the children. Some died as a result of the fire, but many were shot or stabbed to death by fellow cult members, reminiscent of the murder-suicide finale of the People’s Temple cult in Jonestown, Guyana.

Recordings from inside the compound prove that it was Koresh and his fellow Branch Davidians who started the fires. And it appears to have been part of his final solution, his plan to martyr his followers. Weeks before they set their compound ablaze, the handful of children that Koresh did allow to leave had drawn images depicting the compound fully engulfed in flames. When asked by their appointed caretakers why the compound was burning in their drawings, weeks before it actually did, the children simply said, in what proved to be an ominous warning, “you’ll see.” Clearly the kids already knew how it would end – in an inferno.

Yet, despite such evidence, ABC opted to include the likes of Alex Jones in their two-hour special, giving voice to the irrational, to the factless fear mongers, who continue to blame the government for these deaths (and a litany of other nonsense). A shameless self-promoter, Jones used the tragedy to gain a national audience and a platform for spinning all sorts of baseless conspiracy theories to further his anti-government agenda. And now it seems ABC is looking to capture a little of that thunder – and perhaps a little slice of this sadly growing demographic – for themselves.

Could more have been done to safeguard the children in the compound? Yes, of course. And I’m not just talking about what happened during the assault, but the fact that all of the adults in that compound knowingly and willingly let Koresh physically and sexually abuse these children for months – even years. Those people – most of whom still blame the government – refuse to accept their role in these crimes.

And there’s absolutely no excuse for this. There’s no passage in the Bible in which Jesus tells a 12-year-old girl that he wants to fill her with God’s seed before raping her. These “Christians” were complicit in these crimes, in this evil, and now want to deflect that harsh reality by trying to make this about an aggressive government interfering with their rights. That’s a much easier narrative for them to swallow compared to having to admit that they were suckered by a drifter who claimed he was the voice of God and then stole their wives and raped their daughters.

For those of you who still think the government overstepped its bounds in this instance, ask yourself this: if the Branch Davidians considered Koresh a prophet of Allah instead of a prophet of God, would you still feel that way? Be honest, now. Would you want the government to stand down if there was a compound of heavily armed Muslim fanatics in the heart of Texas who considered America evil and were preparing to do battle against us? Let’s be honest, folks. Heavily armed religious fanatics who routinely sexually abuse children and have vowed to wage war against anyone who doesn’t follow their faith? In many ways, Koresh and his Branch Davidians were like a Christian version of ISIS.

Look, you may not agree with all the laws of this land. And I certainly have a few I’d like to see changed. But we still have to abide by them, even while we lobby to change them. Koresh and his cult broke the law, and preached of doing battle with anyone who challenged their freedom to do so. Yes, the authorities could have used different tactics, and more patience, but the people truly responsible for that massacre are Koresh and the adults who blindly followed him. The only conspiracy here is the one that has convinced you otherwise.

By the way, next Thursday, ABC will be airing Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story. Because, hey, why should the supermarket tabloids have all the fun, right? Like those Branch Davidians, I fear our society may be getting exactly what we deserve.

Trump Makes History…

Donny Trump is now officially the most unpopular U.S. President. He finishes his first year with the lowest approval rating in the modern era (i.e., when they were able to actually do reasonably accurate, statistically significant mass polling). Only 35 percent of the Americans polled approve of Trump’s performance while 59 percent of them disapprove. LOSER!!!

Thank You, Alabama

You shouldn’t have to congratulate someone for not electing a fecal blossom like Roy Moore, but considering everything he represents, I can’t help but feeling obliged. This is for you, ’bama.

Gino Sorbillo: Making Immigration Great Again

A margherita pepperoni pizza at Zia Esterina Sorbillo on Mulberry Street.

When I relocated to California for work in the mid-90s, the thing I missed the most – more than my friends and family – was good pizza. One of my new California colleagues remained perplexed about this until I took her to John’s Pizza in New York City. She, as they say, got religion.

New York has the best pizza in the nation. It all started with Lombardi’s, at the turn of the century – last century. Italian immigrants (yes, Trumpy, immigrants making America great again) from Naples brought the dish to America, before it even took off in Italy. Pizza apparently originated in bakeries as a way to cool a spot in the over before baking bread. And over the years, a New York version has slowly emerged.

Staff from the original New York pizzeria, Lombardi’s, went on to start Totonno’s, John’s, and Patsy’s. Of course, Patsy’s has a whole confusing legacy of its own. The original, in East Harlem, has evolved into an almost unique style, and was famously declared by Frank Sinatra to be the finest he’s eaten anywhere on the planet. But staff from there went on to open Grimaldi’s. Both branches licensed out their respective names, resulting in multiple branches of exceedingly substandard quality, and even an additional offshoot, Juliana’s, as a result of a real estate dispute. Sadly, John’s has suffered a similar fate, as the descendants of these great pizza families can’t seem to get along with one another. NY Mag/Grub Street’s Julie Ma breaks it all down better than anyone.

At the turn of this century, a second wave of Italian immigrants – and their American disciples – have spawned a Neapolitan pizza renaissance in the city. From one of the pioneers of this new wave, Roberta’s, to the latest craze, Razza’s, the focus has been on the classic Neapolitan pie. And this time the folks back in Naples, especially piemasters, have taken notice.

Which is why the latest entry in the New York pizza scene is Neapolitan pizza legend Gino Sorbillo. Before he became the pizza king of Naples, Sorbillo used to be a cop. And he endeared himself to the locals in his hometown by battling the mob, as Eater’s Gary He explains in this wonderful feature on the man.

Zia Esterina
This year, Sorbillo brought his authentic Neapolitan pizza, and his acclaimed brand, to New York City. First he opened Zia Esterina Sorbillo, on Mulberry between Hester and Canal. Named for his aunt, the focus at this casual hole-in-the-wall is on pizza fritta, a deep-fried calzone-like creation that is a popular Italian street food.

I stopped by to try both the pie and the pizza fritta at this unassuming outpost. The crust on the pie doesn’t quite match what you will find at Razza’s or Roberta’s, New York’s reigning Neapolitan pizzerias, but there was something about Sorbillo’s ratio of sauce and cheese that makes it a real contender.

The massive pizza fritta at Zia Esterina Sorbillo on Mulberry.

As for the pizza fritta, it’s essentially a pie folded over onto itself and then deep fried. I know that sounds fantastic, but the description hardly does it justice. They use smoked mozzarella in the pizza fritta, and that makes a world of difference. It’s hard to eat, given that the molten innards make it risky to do so by hand, the Italian way, so I swallowed my pride (and it never tasted so good) and opted for a knife and fork for the first half. You definitely need to try this, so bring a friend and you can split one before devouring a regular pie.

The only downside is the neighborhood. Unfortunately, despite his much-touted marketing savvy, Sorbillo opted to open up in Little Italy, which any native New Yorker will tell you is the last place you want to go for authentic Italian anything. It’s a tourist trap, second only to Times Square, where diners are likely to select a restaurant by the volume of “That’s Amoré” being piped into the dinning area and the number of Hollywood “wise guy” photos hanging on the wall. You know, the kind of people who think New Yorkers actually say “fuhgeddaboudit.”

Sorbillo Pizzeria
The good news is that Sorbillo has just opened his namesake pizzeria on the Bowery, between 2nd & 3rd Streets. There were many delays and plenty of fanfare, but I stopped by a week after it opened to see if it is worth all the fuss.

The antica margherita pizza at the new Sorbillo Pizzeria on the Bowery, taken by a man who was clearly trembling with hunger and delight.

First off, the atmosphere. Unlike Zia Esterina, this is a pizza restaurant, a sit-down place. And like many of the city’s top pizzerias, Zia Esterina included, slices are not served. Go big or go home, feeders!

The decor, the ambiance, the vibe can best be described as modern European. And if that sounds like an insult, it’s because it’s meant to be one. The furnishings are like high-end Ikea. It’s very brightly lit. And they have that song playing in the background…you know, that same nondescript song that seems to be playing in the background everywhere you go in Europe…airports, hotel bars, cafes, pizzerias, etc.

The walls are adorned with an abundance of cheap-looking fixtures, signs, and what I presume are meant to be decorations. It was the opposite of cozy. Imagine a European Applebee’s without the big screens everywhere.

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Sure, there are some nice touches, like the cloth napkins, ceramic pizza plates, and a marble bar. But the decorative mirrors on the wall triggered flashbacks to those sad old Greek dinners that used to clog our city, before people realized that you can take breakfast to the next level.

And the service was abysmal. Now, in fairness, this was only their second week, and some of the wait staff clearly were finding their way. I was seated promptly at the bar, unlike some other sap who came in later. And my food came out soon enough, though they forgot to make the last cut, leaving me with two proper-sized slices and two double-sized slices.

It also took forever to get the check, and then have them take my card for processing, and then process and return it. Though maybe they are just trying to give you an authentic Italian experience.

But the pie, you ask? It was really good. Similar to what I had at Zia Esterina, but better. Sort of a cross between Roberta’s and Patsy’s (the East Harlem original, of course).

The cornicione, which is pizza-nerd-speak for the raised edge of the crust encircling the pie, reminded me of classic Neapolitan pizzas like Roberta’s but the crust in the center of the pie, on which the sauce and cheese rest, was super thin and melted in your mouth, like Patsy’s. The cheese was also classic Neapolitan (being an American, I prefer cheese that’s as thick and evenly spread as Kim Kardashian’s mascara, but I do appreciate this style as well, especially when it’s done right…as they do here at Sorbillo). What really set it apart, though, was the sauce. Like Zia Esterina, they seem to have found a good balance, though there was a little more sauce on this one, and it was tangier than most – as opposed to sweet, which is just wrong.

If you love pizza, then Sorbillo’s is definitely worth a visit. The basic pie costs $17, and it’s six slices (unless they fail to cut yours properly as well). That may seem like a lot for an individual, but probably not for someone who read this far in a story about pizza. Besides, the center melts in your mouth and the ends, the cornicione, don’t suddenly turn into a brick inside your belly. In fact, they’re great to soak up the rest of that sauce.