August 2016


It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World



This was the title of a 1963 epic comedy. It is a title that would now apply to the epic tragedies we now see around us. Us, as in Americans; us, as in citizens of the world. Last month was particular shocking, given the frequency of high profile atrocities in one form or another. Six to be exact, as of this writing.


They came at us from all directions. And after a while, added to what had preceded these in the previous year and a half, it all started to become a blur. You could not help at one point wondering, “just when was San Bernardino again?” Or what about that shooting in Colorado Springs? And the attack at Charlie Hebdo seemed like ancient history, having occurred in January of 2015. (FEBRUARY, 2015 MUSE-LETTER, Je Suis MAD.)


No sooner had I finished lamenting with a bartender I know from Bangladesh over the terrorism that had broken out in his country—for the first time, he said— when within a week, we were shaking our heads over five policemen being gunned down in Dallas. And in the midst of writing about that horror, more mass murders flowed in through the TV, the PC, the iPhone. Each seemingly more fictional than the last. You began to wonder, who’s writing this?


Anyway, if you had lost track as I had, below is a deadly log just in the last 20 months alone, of mass-killing incidents that occurred outside of any war zones, and in what are called soft target areas. In descending chronological order, there is no singular way to collectively describe or characterize them.




Death Count


Mall Shooting
July 22, 2016



Police Attacked
July 17, 2016

Baton Rouge


Attempted Coup (U.S. Ally)
July 15, 2016



Terrorist Attack July 14, 2016 Nice 84 (3 Americans)
Police Attacked July 9, 2016 Dallas 5
Terrorist Attack July 2, 2016 Bangladesh 21
Terrorist Attack June 17, 2016 Orlando 49
Terrorist Attack Mar. 22, 2016 Brussels 32 (4 Americans)
Terrorist Attack Dec. 2, 2015 San Bernardino 14
“Planned Parenthood” Nov. 27, 2015 Colorado Springs 3 (1 Policeman)
Terrorist Attack Nov. 13, 2015 Paris 130 (1 American)
“Charlie Hebdo” Jan. 7, 2015 Paris 11


Yes, they are in the main, acts of terrorism. At least as we seem to define them, i.e. acts driven by “foreign ideologies.” (Are attacks on police by “full-blooded” Americans, terrorism?) But whatever their designation, they are all in some way different. Different causes, different influences, different psychopathology, different venues, different means of destruction. And so one should be wary of any simplistic assessments and solutions as to how it can all be stopped.


There are steps that can be taken to minimize their potential impact, if people in and out of government work together without trying to score political points. No one person can fix it. And the cowboy rhetoric that invariably follows such tragic incidents, doesn’t help. There are no magic bullets to use against the bad guys, and who, as I once suggested in a satirical piece not long ago, are not exactly easy to spot. (JANUARY, 2016 MUSE-LETTER;“A ‘Good Guy’ Considers Getting an AK-47”)






A Lone Gunman Returns to Dallas



What happened in Dallas seemed particular poignant to those of us of a certain age, who when you hear the chilling words “sniper in Dallas,” you can’t help but be transported back over fifty years to that November day and Kennedy’s assassination. Though in no way can you cast dispersions on that city as a place that somehow is a spawning ground for unfathomable acts of socio/political violence—albeit fifty years apart.


Other than being U.S. military trained, the only other commonality between Micah Johnson, who gunned down those five policemen, and Lee Harvey Oswald who gunned down JFK, is that they acted on their own.


And if I may digress for a moment as I often do—all conspiracy theories aside, and as has been demonstrated now through updated technology as applied to ballistics, etc., not to mention the improbability of how the paths of JFK and a mad malcontent came to intercept on that day at that precise place— Oswald acted alone. A discussion for another day perhaps, for those who continue to disbelieve (as I once did), how one man could cause something so cataclysmic in such a rather casual way.


In any case, the context and circumstances between the tragedies there in ’63 and 2016 could not be in greater contrast.


You start with the actions of the Dallas police. Behaving in ’63 as if the Keystone Kops, and without retracing all of their miscalculations and sheer stupidity before, during, and after JFK’s assassination, the lowlights that readily come to mind for me include …


• allowing Jack Ruby to roam freely throughout the police station (because he often gave them free passes to his strip club)

• the holding up of Oswald’s rifle, barehanded, for the benefit of the press and a photo op (and thereby risking contaminating the evidence and issues of getting an impartial jury, that Oswald’s lawyer might raise in a trial to follow)

• and of course, being unable to get Oswald safely into an armored vehicle for transportation to another jail.



Fast forward to 2016, and we now saw a police force last month exhibiting a bravery, intelligence and a creativity, that was stunning. Headed by an African-American David Brown (something as inconceivable in ’63 as an African-American President), his force was out that fateful Thursday night last month, protecting a citizen’s rights under the First Amendment to protest peacefully. Which people were doing in response to two recent questionable killings of African-Americans by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. Yet within that potentially highly charged backdrop, all seemed to be going well and in the proper spirit. There were even reports of the Dallas police playfully taking selfies with the protestors. Then gunshots rang out.


The police did two things simultaneously without flinching: 1) ushered protesters to safety 2) and started off in the direction of the gun fire. It’s not for nothing that today’s Dallas police force has been a paragon in this country, of how to do it right in the face of racial tensions that still run high in many communities. This was personified by Brown’s unique call to action message following the police slayings: "We're hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. We'll put you in your neighborhood and we will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about."


When JFK was assassinated, there was ONE video camera on the scene which resulted in the legendary 26 second so called “Zapruder film.” Here, cameras and video devices were everywhere. And so the sniper could be seen moving about from one point to another to get into position for his next firing.


While Oswald denied killing anybody (including a police officer named J.D. Tippet), Johnson laughed and bragged to police about his killings in the course of “negotiations” which went on for a couple of hours. And when enough was enough, and not wanting to risk the loss of any more lives (not to mention injuries— an additional seven were wounded), in dealing with a man who had no intention on giving up his plan to kill white cops, a piece of technology that had never before been used in police work was brought into play. A robot with a bomb. It blew up the perpetrator. End of story.


"They improvised this whole idea in about 15, 20 minutes —extraordinary," said Police Chief David Brown (himself no stranger to personal tragedy what with his losing a son in a police-related shooting…talk about irony). And so a Jack Ruby need not apply. You needed to keep Oswald alive; you needed Johnson dead.


And of course this robot (which “delivered” a bomb and presumably could deliver other things, even a morning newspaper if given that assignment), evoked much surprise and questions. Firstly, that so many police departments have such a robot but have never used it. Who knew? And then, where might all this lead in going forward, as it represents a further militarization of municipal police forces? Is the line between policing and warfare being blurred? asked one columnist I ran across. And just when do you send in the robot? And a question I could not help wonder about, is how long would it be until, in an updated interpretation of the Second Amendment, the NRA might insist that any citizen ought to be able to purchase and arm, one of these cute little gizmos.


By now, none of this would be news to anyone who followed the story. And how could you not? For me, it had much to reveal about how things, incongruously, can both remain the same, and yet, profoundly change.






                                                                   —Ron Vazzano






Fantasia: Man and God in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice



When I saw Fantasia at the Museum of Modern Art not that long ago on the film’s 75th anniversary, along with a lecture by a man who had just written a book about the technical aspects of making it, it left a lot to be desired. The lecture and the movie. The latter being especially surprising, as like so many of us, I had seen Fantasia many times before. Though not in recent times, as my kids have long since grown up


In short, it now seemed ponderous, and oh so very dated. (Hadn’t I noticed that before?). In long? Well, the dancing mushrooms for example made me uncomfortable with its depiction of “Orientals” (which was how Asian people were commonly referred to at one time, and still are by some) and their culture, that stereotypically consisted of them shuffling about in cute coolie hats.



But in terms of racial discomfort, thankfully we were spared when this scene was eliminated in a late 60’s re-release of the film:

Jesus, Walt. What were you thinking?


Then of course, in a world now of same sex marriage, the implication that love and a mate could only be found in a heterosexual union, seems, well, so Kim Davis. Not to mention a bit icky, what with their bluish-purple coloration. Though I suppose Disney is to be applauded for showing no bias toward centaurs of color, and it would be a bit peevish of me to point out that in Greek mythology, these creatures are only of male gender.


But then there’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. With its music by French composer Paul Dukas (1897)… ah, so sublime. Still.


This segment has always been a favorite, and is the most famous of the film. A piece only Bernie Sanders might find fault with, in that the lowly hard working (and presumably underpaid) Mickey Mouse character, seems to be under the thumb of a stern and exploitive sorcerer (Wall St.?). Yet, eureka! I suddenly got a whole new take on this scene. And it has to do with man and his relationship with his God, of all things. Especially regarding the question: Where is God in all of this? One that has been voiced throughout the ages whenever people are the victims of some unfathomable tragedy, as for example, the dirty dozen listed at the start of this Muse-Letter.


If you’re an atheist, the answer is easy. There is no god (small ”g”). But most people aren’t atheists. Most people have some sort of faith or belief in God or at least in a higher power (I’ll spare the stats on the matter). And in the Fantasia clip (, the Sorcerer (capital “S”) now strikes me as that higher power.


Yet contrary to many a theological tenet, he is not a God who is constantly watching over us. In fact, and even as written in Genesis, he too needs to rest. On the seventh day to be exact. At which time, he has finished performing His magic. And so off he goes to get some shut-eye. Enter man.


Man has always been mesmerized by the prospects of playing God. For God, is in complete control. And for God, everything is easy. And do the scriptures not say that in so many words? And in so many words. And yet often in the Old Testament, He is still an angry (not to mention vengeful) God at that; not unlike the scowling Sorcerer we see before us. Who, as his work is done for the day, retires from the scene.


Mickey, the apprentice, now sees his chance to assume the role of God. To make magic. But he discovers that trying to play God is tricky. Not to mention dangerous. And maybe life is meant to be about having to tote the buckets after all? Life is not easy. Whoever said it was? But whoever hasn’t ever wished it so? And so, what if we could have the buckets carried, simply by the power of our command?


But man, and in this case mouse, in his hubris, falls asleep on the job of Not Working. Because after a while, even magic can get boring and tiring and lose its novelty. And it all gets out of control and the deluge comes. Yet here, in Disney fashion, God returns in time to bail him out.


Unfortunately, we are not living in a Disneyfied world. God does not step in to bail us out. And therefore that eternal question persists: where is God in all of this? The answer to which being…uh, I don’t know. Sleeping? But what I do know, is that man ain’t doing too good a job of it either. And that making magic is much more than just putting on the hat. Reminding me of a catch phrase I used to hear frequently about posturing, “All hat and no cattle.” Or in this case… “All hat and no magic.”





Quote of the Month


“If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t
understand being black in America and you instinctively
underestimate the level of discrimination.”




That was recently said by:

a) Spike Lee
b) Al Sharpton
c) Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement
d) John Lewis, civil Rights Activist, U.S. Representative
e) Newt Gingrich, former Republican House Speaker


As read in an article in the July 25, 2016 issue of Time, the answer is “e.”







That the Tie Has Died is News?



I ran across an article on last month entitled, “Let’s face it the tie is dead.” Really? This seems like an obituary written long long after a passing. Yet, it was reported as if this was something new in the world of men’s fashion.


The essence of the piece…

“Neckties are increasingly absent on fashion runways, even those of classic brands such as Giorgio Armani; on red carpets, many style-minded celebrities prefer to pair tailoring with tees and open-neck shirts; even President Obama has famously turned the Oval Office into a tie-optional zone. Is the necktie finally dead?”

Finally? Seems like ties, as part of the white collar business culture, died almost 20 years ago; not too long after the birth of “casual Fridays.” Which when that novelty had worn off, soon turned into casual Everyday. At least that’s how it was for we Mad Men of sunny LA; pejoratively referred to often as La La Land. And weren’t we just so wild and hip in our khakis and checkered shirts, sans ties?


This wasn’t on the magnitude of women going braless at the height of the feminist movement of the late 60’s/early 70’s, “clothingly” speaking. But as men of business, “masters of the universe” (if even in our own minds) —to steal that great catch phrase from Tom Wolfe’s classic “Bonfire of the Vanities”— we had to show some circumspection. I mean, you couldn’t come to work in a tank top. Order hadn’t broken down to that extent.


I remember all this well. And as a means of making some sort of personal statement, I went against the grain and continued to wear ties, almost out of spite, long after they had gone out of vogue in our office. “Lose the tie” a somewhat rotund person once suggested while in my office. “Lose some weight,” I wanted to reply. (Wouldn’t it be great to just blurt out what’s ever on your mind ala Donald?).


Anyway, here’s a small poem I wrote on the subject way back then.




For a hundred years I’ve worn a tie.
First mandated by exacting schools,
later, business and formal functions;
weddings, funerals, first impressions—
they seem to be going the way of beliefs.
And yet I cling to a closetful.
Picked out as much now for whimsy, as for wear.


Those about me see no purpose
for this albatross about my neck;
for this ancient mariner that I’ve become.
I can almost read the question in their eyes:
Why do you choose to be so adorned?
The answer to which lies in my stride:
Does a peacock willingly relinquish its feathers?


And to this day, in the back of the closet, some still remain. I’m a collector of things; a creature of habit. Though now more a turkey than a peacock, I regret to note.






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