Maher Vs. Affleck and a Bigger
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?
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:
… 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.
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?
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—
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
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
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
expresses that which cannot be put into
that which cannot remain silent.”
asked me but..."
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.
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
… People who wear sunglasses usually walk on the shady
side of the street.
… Box seat holders in ballparks are the most abusive
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.
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
… 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
… I’m leery of someone who doesn’t
… 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.
Along the contoured wood we assume our places
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
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
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.
continue to turn water into wine
turn, the homeward bound into swine.
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
“… 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
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”?
“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”. (Avvenire.it)
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
a virgin/ ooh, ooh
so good inside
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.
This review appeared in the newspaper The
Vazzano performed a monologue entitled Ten Totems
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.
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.
R. Hale was born, raised and educated in New York
and is a descendant of New York City’s Irish famine
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
As such, “The Echo” has been particularly
interested in covering their monthly variety shows, in which
I was once again happy to participate.