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
Coup (U.S. Ally)
||July 14, 2016
||84 (3 Americans)
||July 9, 2016
||July 2, 2016
||June 17, 2016
||Mar. 22, 2016
||32 (4 Americans)
||Dec. 2, 2015
||Nov. 27, 2015
||3 (1 Policeman)
||Nov. 13, 2015
||130 (1 American)
||Jan. 7, 2015
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
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.
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
the Sorcerer (capital “S”) now strikes me as that
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.
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.”
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
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
I ran across an article on
nypost.com 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…
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,
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.
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.
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