was all written prior to the onslaught of hurricane Sandy.
At such times of devastation, all other life matters, issues,
curiosities, musings or whatever, seem instantly trivial in
comparison. If anything, all they can offer perhaps, is some
value as an escape from the harsh realities of the moment.
It is in that spirit, that I offer this month’s Muse-Letter.
"Toonder and Lightning":
Around the time just prior to the first televised
presidential debate— Kennedy-Nixon, which would change
the dynamics of political campaigning forever— a brash
Swedish boxer named Ingemar Johansson, arrived on the scene
to challenge the reigning champ of the world Floyd Patterson.
This all came to mind in anticipation of the
Obama-Romney debates last month, as the contrast between the
two men could not be more different in their look, style and
temperament, not unlike that of Patterson vs. Johansson, or
so it struck me. And of course, the boxing analogy wasn’t
a big leap to make, what with presidential debates having
long since been characterized by a boxing-like sensibility.
They come replete with posturing and predictions, and with
pundits, like bookies, handicapping the contests. It is reminiscent
of all the hoopla that used to surround a heavyweight championship
bout, in the days when such bouts seemed to matter to the
public at large.
And finally when the actual contest begins,
the analogy becomes extended: the jabs and counter jabs…
the bobbing and weaving… the cuts above the eye…the
wild roundhouse punches that miss …and those that connect,
even if at times below the belt… the scoring or losing
of points when one’s guard is left down… all this
rings loud and clear as a bell.
first of the three Patterson-Johansson fights in June of ‘59,
was mercifully stopped in the third round after the Swede
had knocked Patterson down seven times. Seven times under
a hail of jabs and a right hand punch Ingemar lovingly referred
to as his “Toonder and Lightning.” Listening to
this on radio I thought: Am I hearing right? He just got up.
He’s down again? Patterson had been a 5-1 favorite going
Obama was not beaten quite that unceremoniously.
But by an undisputed margin on all fight cards— pundits
and public alike — he lost big time. So much so, as
to be deemed and supported by post debate polls as: “A
game changer.” Which only Chris Christie, the way out
of shape Governor of New Jersey, had predicted. Thus even
more anticipation awaited the second debate a week later.
II: The Twitching Foot
knocked Johansson out in the fifth round with a leaping
left hook… and he hit the canvas with a thud, out
cold before he landed flat on his back. With blood trickling
from his mouth, his glazed eyes staring up at the ring lights,
and his left foot twitching…” (Wikipedia)
A rather gruesome sight to be sure.
While Romney’s left foot was hardly left twitching,
his dander was up and his binders were full of women, and
this one was a victory for Obama.
On March 13,
1961, I was taken to the Academy of Music theater in New York,
to view what was arguably the first "pay TV" or
"pay-per-view" event that ever occurred. Or at least
of any major significance, according to various on line sources.
Patterson-Johansson III, the rubber match.
In a seesaw battle, Johansson knocked Patterson down twice
in the first round, only to have Patterson rally to win by
a KO in the sixth. Something right out of the movies. But
we were after all, in a movie theater.
Perhaps Obama had more “horses and bayonets” or
Romney didn’t have enough battleships, but the President
by all accounts had a decisive win in the third and final
In the post mortems, the analogies would once again fly. References
to “punches,” “knockouts,” (or the
lack there of, as Romney was “still on his feet”),
“clinching,” “on the ropes,” were
seemingly on the lips of every talking head, or on the page
of every scribe.
One could debate that debates are not boxing matches
and should not be viewed as such. Or that they ought not be
scored so strongly on the basis of who looked or sounded more
presidential, got off more zingers, or had the better body
language. This certainly is not the stuff of the legendary
Lincoln-Douglas debates, of which we heard tell in our history
But you want Lincoln-Douglas? “You can’t handle
Lincoln-Douglas!” Try this format on for size:
candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other candidate
spoke for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed
a 30-minute "rejoinder." The candidates alternated
speaking first. Douglas spoke first in four of the debates.
This was not only from another time, but
from another planet. In the evolution of the species, our
attention span might have dwindled to all of two minutes.
If that. Except say, when watching Dancing with the Stars.
Anyway, it’s all over but for the voting, when “We
the people…” step into a booth, and not a ring.
There of course, is where the real winner and champion of
the world is decided.
Throughout the campaign and the debates, the
above number has been tossed out there as if it were a Frisbee.
It is purported to be our national debt. I say purported,
because a number that infinitely big defies counting. However,
in a left-brain strain of an exercise, and being borderline,
(if not over the line) OCD, I couldn’t resist the following:
Assuming it takes a second to count each
number, and given that there are 31,536,000 seconds in a
year (“non-leap”), it would take you over 500,000
years to count up to sixteen trillion dollars.
By which time your social security would
have run out, and you would have been dropped by any health
care plan in the public or private sector, pre-existing conditions
And to think that at one time it was only eight trillion.
Everett Dirksen, the colorful Republican Senator from Illinois
(1951-69), once famously said in the course of debating the
setting of a national budget:
“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re
talking about real money.”
Great line. But he would have been wrong in this context.
A billion here, a billon there, a billion even everywhere,
is still a mere bag of shells. As a percentage
of sixteen trillion, a billion is only a six-thousandth of
Forgetting the political POV surrounding such a number, who
keeps letting us slide to run up such a debt? Bill Gates?
He doesn’t even have those kinds of bucks.
“Please, just one more trillion?”
“Sorry Uncle Sam, but I just lent you a trillion last
month. Thatalottayen! What you do with it?”
Moving away from 16 trillion in dollar terms…cosmology
The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The age of the Earth as
a percentage of 16 trillion years, would make it a newborn.
Translated into human terms, as the life expectancy in the
U.S. is slightly over 78 years (28,690 days) …the Earth
would be but eight days old.
The American astronomer, astrophysicist, “science popularizer”
Carl Sagan, used to speak of billions and billions of galaxies
in his much spoofed Brooklyn accent. Yet it would take 16,000
of those billions to equal 16 trillion.
Numbers can be numbing. The very point. So for those who might
have left the building several paragraphs ago, it’s
understandable. The implications of such numbers, the context
in which to place such numbers, are almost beyond human comprehension.
This is true whether looking to the sky on a starry night
in Minnesota, or listening to a quadrennial presidential debate.
(To channel Andy Rooney: “Ever notice how we never hear
much about the national debt when someone’s not running
for President? I have.”)
And then for me, there’s this: if say 16 trillion Starbucks
coupons were distributed for a free drink, all 7 billion people
in the world could get one every day for over six years. You
think their stores have long lines now?
Quote of the Month
Angeles County Museum of Art; July 2012; photo by Ron Vazzano©
In the News: Newsweek
is Out of News
You could see this coming, if you were so
inclined to look at such things. Newsweek is a mere slither
of what it once was, what with its continual loss of ad revenues
and readership. It will cease publication after 80 years with
its December 31, 2012 issue, despite editor Tina Brown’s
last ditch effort to re-launch it last year. An effort that
has been roundly razzed by many, with this one critique in
particular noting the sense of desperation in Brown’s
the final months of the once-venerable 80-year-old print
magazine will be remembered for a series of sensational
stories and shock-and-awe covers…
Diana, photo-shopped back to life alongside Kate Middleton…
Jesus Christ in Times Square… President Barack Obama
wearing a rainbow halo, dubbed “The First Gay President…”the
sexually suggestive stock photo of asparagus being lowered
into a lipstick-adorned mouth. “The Fantasy Life of
Working Women.” … Just to name a few.”
Byers on Media; Politico
In the throes of irrelevance, the whole newsweekly
magazine category has been drying up for quite some time now,
given a world of a 24/7 news cycle so accessible through a
click on a high tech device. And the newsweeklies have now
long been characterized more by opinionated pieces and essays,
than the hard news recap in their heyday. But really, does
anyone care or argue anymore about Time’s Man-of-the…excuse
me, Person-of-the-Year selection?
And by the way, Time has not been without its tacky
covers either, as evidenced by the May 21st issue this year.
According to Pew Research in a study
done two years ago, when asked “Where did you get your
news from yesterday?” 44% of respondents referred to
some digital platform. Reflecting this tipping point, Newsweek,
about to die a hard copy death, will continue via an on line
reincarnation entitled Newsweek Global. And good
luck with that.
Once upon a time, I remember the three bears coming into my
office—Newsweek, the momma, Time,
the poppa, and U.S. News & World Report, the
baby— in search of porridge. That is to say, the advertising
dollars I was entrusted to manage and spend in behalf of our
clients. And “I gave at the office,” so to speak.
For to reach an intelligent consumer… with money to
spend… in a quality editorial environment… on
a timely and relevant basis… you often had to feed the
bears. Especially poppa who boasted a readership exceeding
20 million people.
And now, as Newsweek has joined U.S News &
World Report in switching to an online-only format, only
poppa survives in the flesh (or fur).
If you consider the extinction of dinosaurs— to mix
metaphors with fairytale bears— to be nothing more than
a mere curiosity, this won’t phase you. But the passing
of print communication outlets as we have known them, bookstores,
newspapers and magazines, feels that big to those of a certain
age, in an age less certain.
I saw the first lights go up on a sidewalk
like a vine designed to cling
to the branches
dazzle like hoar frost when night descends.
Man-made light plays games with the seasons.
And on this day, the leaves have yet to turn.
We take no notice of moonlight design—
the crescent, the orange slice,
the perfect silver dollar.
do we see the moon work the tides.
Within city grids that magic escapes us;
the metropolis runs on mind and muscle.
Only God can make a tree.
But only we can decide what
to make of it.
it has been that decided that winter is near,
as if pressed for time and expressed as
only we know how—
I saw the first lights go up on a sidewalk tree.