November 2014


Maher Vs. Affleck and a Bigger Question



Last month on Real Time with Bill Maher—which I saw in real time— Ben Affleck took on Mr. Bill, calling him racist for his sweeping statement concerning followers of Islam. In part, Maher had said:

“It’s the only religion that acts like the mafia that will [expletive] kill you if you say the wrong thing, paint the wrong picture or write the wrong book.”

The aftershocks were felt long afterwards, in the follow-up commentary of bloggers, social media, journalists, talking heads, and one supposes, around water coolers, if such quaint gatherings still exist.



Even Fox News sided with the Liberal atheist Maher, for what one would have to think was a first (“News at 11!”).


Though in the past, Maher has been known to get under the skin of Liberals as well, as was clearly the case here. He is nothing if not politically incorrect. Which is the reason he lost his show on ABC back in 2002. And one of the reasons I enjoy watching him, to be honest.


Though in his long standing rants against organized religion (and no, not every Christian believes the world was created in literally seven days Bill. As a Christian, I believe it took the whole month of January at least.), he sounds like “a broken record.” (A broken record? What’s that?).


He not only thinks all religions are off base… but evil. Islam, only more so. Or, most so? And he had already set the tone for this POV once again, when in an interview with Charlie Rose three weeks prior to his Affleck encounter of an unexpected kind, he would have this to say:


MAHER: … in Mecca where infidels, non-Muslims, are not even allowed in the holy parts of the city … we don't have that example in other religions.


They do behead people. Now if they were beheading people in Vatican City, which is the equivalent of Mecca, don't you think there would be a bigger outcry about it?


So this is the soft bigotry of low expectations with Muslim people. When they do crazy things and believe crazy things, somehow it's not talked about nearly as much.


With two such polarized points of view on the matter (Maher’s being supported by another guest that night, atheist Sam Harris; in Affleck’s corner… NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof), it should at first blush, have come down to a fairly basic question for a viewer: Who do you think is right?


On one hand, any time a group of any kind gets painted with a broad brush, it seems instinctively unfair. No one likes to be stereotyped or pigeon holed. Especially given that everyone is in fact potentially vulnerable to such generalizations on some basis or another: nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or literally, any defined segment of people you can think of. (Oh, those poor maligned lawyers).


Most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are not extremists. Score one—and an important one— for Affleck.


Yet, Maher responded by saying, that it’s not just a case of a “few bad apples” when according to Pew Research, 90% of Egypt, a Muslim country of 80 million—a U.S. ally—believes that the penalty for leaving the Islam faith is death. (It really is “only” 64%* in favor of death, Bill.).


In looking further into the research he referenced that night, the top six countries surveyed, wherein over 50% of Muslims hold this rather chilling belief— if you do the math— translates to over 200 million people. Startling numbers by any stretch of the imagination. Point for Maher.


In listening to a debate on an issue of this kind though, the question for me is a larger one than who is right? And it never really got an airing that night, or to my knowledge, anywhere else since: Is there a moral imperative, to strongly denounce and/or take action against, wrongdoing that occurs under your roof, and sullies your house?


It is a question I also remember asking, when the Ayatollah issued a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie. And asking again when my own church seems asleep at the wheel in addressing its sex abuse scandals. And how many knew, or were satisfied, or comforted by the fact that only 4% of U.S. priests were accused of sex abuse with a minor? (Source: John Jay Study).


In silence, or in tepid response the takeaway cannot help but be, an implied complicity. Then of course, what constitutes wrongdoing is often subject to debate itself. Not to mention, “ain’t my roof…ain’t my house.”


This is all by way of saying, that I can understand where both Ben Affleck and Bill Maher are coming from, overbearing though they both at times may be. In between the black & white, there is often that unfortunate and uncomfortable bleed into gray. An area in which, not only are there no easy answers, but no easy questions.








Quote of the Month




       “Music expresses that which cannot be put into         words and that which cannot remain silent.”



                                   Schermerhorn Symphony Center

                                   Nashville, TN



                                                            —Victor Hugo









"Nobody asked me but..."



Eons ago, there was a New York sports columnist of great renown named Jimmy Cannon. Writing for the Hearst owned evening newspaper New York Journal-American (1937- 1966), he was one of the highest paid of his profession in the country.


On slow news days in the world of sports, he would “put his two cents in” (as anachronistic a figure of speech you will find), on every other subject but sports. Or maybe with just one or two references having to do with his regular beat.


Beginning with the phrase, “Nobody asked me but”… he would be off and running with his list of terse (usually one line), non sequitur, buckshot opinions to complete that sentence. The resulting column might be described as persnickety, with a capital “P”. That was Jimmy.


A sampling.


… How many people do you know who have ever been to the Dakotas?

… People in bus terminals always look tired before they start the trip.

… I never saw a laundry-truck driver with a clean shirt.

… Only two things make a nightclub waiter civil: a big tip or bad business.

… With few exceptions, sports broadcasters function as publicity men, not as reporters.


… I can't remember the last time I saw anyone whittling.


… People who crush cigarettes in butter plates ought to be barred from every restaurant in town.


… Whatever became of Twiggy?


… Anyone who can drink whiskey out of a paper cup qualifies for Alcoholics Anonymous.

… I never heard a funny ventriloquist.

… Roasting chestnuts smell better than they taste.


… I haven't the courage to smoke in bed.

… I don't like Boston because all the men look like me.

… People who wear sunglasses usually walk on the shady side of the street.

… Box seat holders in ballparks are the most abusive fans.


… Did you ever hear anyone bragging about Cincinnati being a good town? It's the only city in the country about which the locals are absolutely neutral.

… Only lions should be asked to eat hamburgers that aren't well done.



This slow-news-day device has been “borrowed” over the last forty years (Cannon died in ’74), by many columnists from all sections of the newspaper. Invariably, they will lead off by paying tribute to, or “with apologies to,” Jimmy Cannon, and then be merrily on their way. As I will now do here, and as you might feel free to as well. It’s fun.


Not that any of us are newspaper columnists—a breed dying along the newspapers themselves— but on the other hand, with 152 million blogs on the internet (Source: WP Virtuoso 2013), and with the exponential growth of social media outlets, everyone is not only entitled to an opinion, but for sure, has one. Which then gets expressed through a myriad of venues, whether it has been asked for or not. Some even call them Muse-Letters. Given inflation, everyone is now “putting their two bucks in.”


Echoing the aforementioned apologies to Mr. Cannon, here goes.



Nobody asked me but…


… there is no cat litter out there that really works, despite what is claimed on the bag.


… you can see the wire that moves Bert Lahr’s tail in the Wizard of Oz, during his singing of “If I Were King of the Forrest.”


… anyone younger than you, doesn’t get it.


… the people who design packaging that can’t be opened with bare hands, ought to be brought up on charges.


… why doesn’t LA have an NFL team?


… following gay marriage, comes gay divorce.


… I’m leery of someone who doesn’t drink coffee

… with my kids now adults, I find baby strollers on sidewalks, a nuisance.


… atheists have an ax to grind.


… I’ve never had to wait more than fifteen minutes for the AAA to arrive.


… don’t believe it when an actor on a talk show, talks about how hard it was for them to do a nude scene.


… we need a new pronoun to replace the cumbersome qualifier “he or she.”


… Derek Jeter is boring off the field.


… lip balm is the only product that performs exactly as promised. It works every time.


Alioto’s on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, has the best Oysters Rockefeller you will ever taste in your life.


Ballato off Houston and Mott…the best clams oreganato.


… what ever happened to dandruff?


… Ralph Kramden’s apologies to Alice, would always make me teary-eyed.


… restaurants have gotten noisier.


… dogs are the salt of the earth.


… there are more toothpaste choices out there than we need.


Jump in here.







Happy Hour

Along the contoured wood we assume our places

Having come like thirsty cattle to the trough

In a smattering of light upon our faces

Refracted through the vessels held aloft

To alter the course of the classic battle

Between what is real and that we call perception,

While allowing the day we’ve tried to seize unravel.

Narcissus on Medicare on seeing his reflection

Dives into a pool of a dry gin martini

Touching the bottom then coming up for air

Exchanges pleasantries in ways less unseemly

Knowing that flattery will get you everywhere—

Though a din of cartoon voices drowns him out.

The men in monkey suits have come and multiplied

Holding forth on what they do and on what they’re all about

To the “Monica Lewinskis” who’ve swallowed their pride.

     The barkeeps continue to turn water into wine

     Turning, in turn, the homeward bound into swine.




                                                  Ron Vazzano







Irony Pop: A Nun Covering Madonna's "Virgin"


It’s hard to believe it has now been thirty years since Madonna’s mega hit and one of her most defining songs, “Like a Virgin” was released. Along with an equally defining and controversial video. Controversial in that many family type organizations, complained that the video and the song…

“… promoted sex without marriage and undermined family values, offering an unsavory image of Madonna as a whore. Outraged moralists condemned her as a sex kitten and sought to ban the song and the video. Conservatives were angered that Madonna dared to portray religious symbolism and the virginal wedding attire in a sexual context.” (Wikipedia)

One can only wonder what such groups might be thinking now that a Catholic nun, has covered that song, and released her own video interpretation of it, last month.



In case anyone has missed any of this, and I am usually the least in the know on such matters, Sister Cristina Scuccia, in a stunning Susan Boyle moment, blew away the judges on The Voice of Italy—their version of Britain’s Got Talent and American Idol. ( As of this writing, it had over 62 million views on YouTube!


As they say, the rest is history. Or about to be history. Her first album, Sister Christina, which includes “Like a Virgin,” actually won’t be released until November 11th. In this new world culture, fame comes before fulfillment.


Where I see irony in this sort of thing, the good sister doesn’t. As to why “Like a Virgin”? Simple.


“I chose it. With no intention to provoke or scandalize. Reading the text, without being influenced by previous interpretations, you discover that it is a song about the power of love to renew people. To rescue them from their past. And this is the way that I wanted to interpret it. For this reason we have transformed this song from the pop-dance piece which it was, into a romantic ballad, a bit like the ones by Amos Lee. Something more similar to a lay prayer, than to a pop piece”. (


Predictably, many Italian Bishops weren’t buying it. The explanation nor the album. And predictably, denunciations have a way of fanning the flames of curiosity. So no doubt sales will soar into the heavens.


She is not the first nun to become a professional singer. There was that night on The Ed Sullivan Show in ’64 when “The Singing Nun,” Sister Luc-Gabrielle from Belgium, sang her hit Dominique. As it was in French, God only knows what she was singing—for most of us— but I’m sure it wasn’t anything close to...


                            Like a virgin/ ooh, ooh

                            Like a virgin

                            Feels so good inside

                            When you hold me, and your heart beats, and you love me…



This sort of thing, though ironic, is unsurprising to me. I got to meet nuns who were singing and swaying to the cultural secular beats of their native Kenya, on my visit there a few years ago. And at that same health facility where they tended to neurologically impaired children, I met another who had worked under Mother Theresa. Though we didn’t discuss that saintly figure’s taste in music, but rather her philosophy and approach to the most efficient way of doing laundry. They defy stereotype.


Of course, Madonna tweeted her support for Sister Christina’s covering of her song. And you know at some point, this nun will be appearing with Pussy Riot. I mean, you just know it. Which will piss off Putin. Not to mention, those “family value” folk groups.









October 22, 2014: Artists Without Walls at The Cell Theater, 338 West 23rd St. NYC.


This review appeared in the newspaper The Irish Echo:


Ron Vazzano performed a monologue entitled Ten Totems of Obsolescence in Passing, adapted from an essay he had posted on line in his monthly “Muse- Letter.” This stunning piece, that ran the full gamut of emotions, from pathos to joy,captivated the audience.


A highlight was his bemoaning the fact that the 100 Watt bulb had now been replaced by a new squiggly fluorescent one, that he suddenly produced from his jacket pocket with an existential bewailing, “A light bulb that will outlive me!”


Why The Irish Echo? The two founders of Artists Without Walls, Charles R. Hale and Niamh Hyland are of Irish descent, and have been active in cultural events promoting Irish artists of all types.



Charles R. Hale was born, raised and educated in New York and is a descendant of New York City’s Irish famine immigrants.


His film Walls: We Are Not Forgotten, about the life of singer Judy Collins, was presented at the 2012 Eugene O’Neill Award ceremony, which honored Ms. Collins work in the arts and humanities. In 2013 Charles was honored by the City University of New York for “Outstanding Service to New York and Irish America.”



Niamh Hyland, was born in County Leitrim, Ireland. She received a vocal scholarship to the University College Dublin where she performed during a Papal performance at St.Peter’s Basilica for Pope John Paul II.


She has toured Europe & the US as the lead singer of the original rock band Lily Sparks. Notable band and solo performances include The Ourland Festival at Lincoln Center, Webster Hall and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


As such, “The Echo” has been particularly interested in covering their monthly variety shows, in which I was once again happy to participate.






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