November 2012




Note: This 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": The Debates



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.


The 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 in.





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.

Fight II: The Twitching Foot

“Patterson 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 debate.

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 books.

But you want Lincoln-Douglas? “You can’t handle Lincoln-Douglas!” Try this format on for size:

One 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. (Wikipedia)

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 or not.

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 one percent.

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. China?

“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 anyone?

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



               Los 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 new direction:

“.. 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…


…Princess 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.”

                                            Dylan 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.






First Lights



I saw the first lights go up on a sidewalk tree
     like a vine designed to cling to the branches
          to 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.
          Nor 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.
          Today 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.

                                                                                         —Ron Vazzano







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