September 2015


A Bull in a China Shop


When the bull is the top dog, you have to let him into the shop —mixed metaphors be damned. And so Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the polls among 17 Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination, was given a prime position within the emporium last month. It was called a debate and it wasn’t pretty. Meaning, it was reality TV at its best! And while in today’s news cycle it’s old news, the moments, images and impact in the aftermath still linger. Especially in light of the polls that followed.


From Megyn Kelly’s first question to The Donald on his less than flattering remarks concerning the female gender (“You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president…”), to a post-debate salvo fired by him the next day ("You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes." "Blood coming out of her wherever."), what more could an audience want? Which explains why 24 million people, a record breaking number for these sorts of things, tuned in. Which explains why I, who never watch Fox News, was among them.


That women represented 53% of the vote in the last presidential election with a 55-45 margin over men in their voting for the Democratic party, matters little to Trump. He probably doesn’t have time for such statistical analysis any more than he has time to be politically correct. And in his interpretation of that concept, he makes no distinction between eschewing political correctness, and being vulgar at best; hateful at worst. Do we want a president who is going to blurt out any crude thought that occurs inside his oddly coiffed head? Especially when dealing with thorny issues having dangerous global ramifications?


Apparently we do. Or at least 24% of those polled following the debate. His sizable lead over the other candidates even ticked up a percentage point or two in the aftermath. Though the china shop to its credit, held up well under his bullish bombast.


Fox News asked some tough and direct questions not only of Trump, but of the other nine aspirants as well. Particularly admirable, in that Fox is coming from the same ideological place as the folks they were grilling. Call it a shining example of tough love. Though one could quibble with the absence of some questions (on climate change and environmental issues for example…unless they think them irrelevant) or the addressing of a particularly odd one, which the Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newson, called cringe-worthy. It came towards the end of the night by someone on Facebook, and it’s hard to imagine this kind of literal question being given airtime in this kind of forum on any other network:


“I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.”


Though Megyn Kelly, noting the weirdly worded question, did begin by posing it lightly: “Senator Cruz, start from you. Any word from God?


Kelly, who elicited the most heat from the bull’s Nostrils was particularly noteworthy throughout the night. At least to this viewer who had only been familiar with her in passing via the news story of election night 2012, when she had the audacity to question Karl Rove on the air as he was in the midst of a mathematical meltdown over Fox’s projection of Obama as the winner: “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?” Talk about being politically incorrect.


She apparently has not been without her own controversies though, once stating that Jesus and Santa Claus are white. Which she later rescinded saying, that she was only “speaking tongue in cheek.” (Though let it be noted that she never called Santa a fat slob, or got on Jesus’s case as being homeless and living off the kindness of hard working strangers.).


She was a lawyer prior to becoming a journalist, a news anchor, a political commentator. Some said she played none of those roles in baiting Trump during that midsummer night’s dream. Or, in keeping with the bull metaphor, she waved a red flag in front of the beast causing it to freak. To which I say, “Ole!” As did most of the other 16 Republican candidates. Clearly on this night, playing before an extended audience, she emerged a winner. She raised her public profile. Which is the way wins and losses are assessed in these times. Ask Jeb Bush.


It will be interesting to see what Round 2 brings this month on the 16th when CNN—in the person of Jack Tapper, host of their “State of the Union” show— gets to mind the store. How much china will the bull break this time? “Must-See” TV? You betcha!






Mind Under Matter









Unconditional Surrender: A Kiss Reconsidered



The 15th of last month represented the 70th anniversary of the news that Japan had surrendered, which in effect ended World War II. Called V-J Day— though technically that is September 2nd with the signing of formal documents— it was a day of euphoria in which people took to the streets across America in a collective spontaneous celebration.


One overly exuberant (and inebriated) sailor in Times Square, took liberties in kissing seemingly every woman in his path. Famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured one of those unsolicited kisses planted on a non-consenting nurse—full on-mouth with 45 degree body dip for added flare— in what has arguably become the most iconic of photographs ever taken. And it has only been within the last three years, that the participants, both of whom are still living, have been positively identified as George Mendonça and Greta Zimmer Friedman.



And as a particularly interesting footnote, Mendonça was with his date on that day of his serial kissing; a woman named Rita, whom he would come to marry. (She is standing in the background of the photo.). And according to a news story that ran not long ago, they were approaching their 69th wedding anniversary.


That moment in turn, has inspired a series of sculptures by artist Seward Johnson, which in an obvious play on words, he entitled Unconditional Surrender. The original was first installed in Sarasota in 2007, and it has since moved about as if on tour, to San Diego, Hamilton, New Jersey, Pearl Harbor, New York— in Times Square of course. And when it showed up last year in Normandy, France, a French feminist group petitioned to have it removed immediately, claiming that it depicts an act of sexual assault on a woman who did not give verbal consent to being kissed, and essentially being manhandled.


When I caught sight of it last month, it did now seem a bit icky. Especially given its mammoth 25-foot size, which only magnifies the transgression as evidenced once again, by the nurse’s posture and body language. It can hardly be called compliant.



But beyond what is debatable about the appropriateness of that kiss, is that it emerged from a state of mass and spontaneous—the operative word here— euphoria. When did that last happen? Where people took to the streets to celebrate as one? And under what circumstances can you imagine something like that ever happening again?


Yes, we celebrate each New Year in this very Times Square. As we do Mardi Gras in New Orleans. As we do in parades for one thing or another in the cities and towns across America every year. But all are planned and well-orchestrated. What now would make all of us suddenly, and joyously, take to the streets unscripted? If anything, more the likely we would “take to the Tweets.” But even in that contemporary forum of spontaneous expression, there would no doubt be dispute, with not everyone being on the same virtual page. Which brings one to consider war itself: what winning of what war today would be cause for celebration? How do we even define war any more, much less what constitutes the winning of one?


Ultimately what grabbed me looking at that statue, is how much more complex our life and times have become; how less black and white than that summer’s day in ‘45.


With that, we made our way over to Chez Josephine’s, a retro Paris bistro— circa: pre-war 1930’s— on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue, for a cool drink to beat the summer heat.






Unearthing a Poem in a Tabloid Rant



Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.


                                                        —T.S. Eliot

Mister Mayor, tear down this mall!


Then rumble the bulldozers downtown to liberate
     Herald Square
to let traffic flow through
the bustling city again, instead
     of diverting it
into gridlocked steel centipedes
of blaring horns and belching fumes,
stalled commerce and mounting road rage.


Start backpedaling on all
those precious bicycle lanes
that have been shoved down the gagging throat of the city
     by your predecessor
who appealed to the urban kale farmer vote
     and the bike Nazi’s


who speed through our city
without license plates or responsibility
fueled by a sense of arrogant entitlement
     rarely obeying
traffic signs, red lights or speed limits.

Sometimes killing people.



                                        —Ron Vazzano
                                   (source: Denis Hamill, Daily News)







Come September: The Pope and Colbert



One thing these two men have in common, is that they are both devout Catholics. Of a pope, that’s to be expected. (Though who am I to judge?). But of a sharp witted satirist who went on to fame by way of mocking political and religious institutions and their attendant beliefs? Come on. You’re kidding.


In truth, Stephen Colbert is actually a fervent Sunday Mass-attending Catholic who also teaches Sunday school. And he self-proclaims to be “the most famous Catholic in America.” But in an exchange once with Cardinal Dolan on “The Colbert Report,” in his inimitable style, Colbert had this to say about Pope Francis:


“I don’t care for the guy.” I’ll tell you why: here’s the thing: he’s too soft. He’s too soft on sin, for me, this pope. You heard what he said about atheists? He said even atheists are redeemed by Christ. If even atheists are redeemed by Christ, why have I been going to Mass every Sunday? I could have gotten another nine holes in!”


Of course he will drop his mock political conservative character when he succeeds Letterman on September 8th, in one of the more anticipated entertainment events this season.



At the time of the announcement of this changing of the guard, CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler, indicated that the exact format for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” was still being worked out. And that “He’s aware that he’s introducing audiences to his real self.” And that regarding the show, “Parts will be traditional and there are other parts he will do differently.”


It will be interesting —an understatement for network executives who live and die by the ratings— to see how he fares in a different approach to the late night genre. Interesting especially, vis-à-vis, the excessively desk slapping, hand clapping, Jimmy Fallon. She went on to say, “He is still deciding whether to open the show with a monologue.”


One man who won’t be opening his show here with a monologue, is Pope Francis. Although with this pope, you never know. (Pope to Pop More Surprise in 2014? JANUARY, 2014 MUSE-LETTER). All clown noses aside, his trip to the U.S. this month with stop offs in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, might not be without some controversy along the way.


He will be the first pope to ever address a joint meeting of Congress (September 24th). And as he has taken on some hot-button issues that clash with the views of most Republicans, it will be interesting to see their eactions if he reiterates his disdain for Trickle-down economics, “racist and xenophobic attitudes" regarding undocumented immigrants, and climate change naysayers.


On the other side of the aisle, how will they react to a pro-life message? Assuming he sends one. And what will it say if he doesn’t?


This pope is cut from a different cloth; not one to offer a simple blessing and let it be. And his July encyclical on climate change was particularly eye catching, in that he was coming from a place that was science based and sociologically driven, and not one steeped in theology or Christian doctrine:


"A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. ... A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity."


"The idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology ... is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth's goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit."


Some might wonder, whatever happened to a cherished tenet of separation of church and state? Others might question whether an “outsider” has the right to come into our house and lecture us. (Assuming that’s what he winds up doing.). Which is what many also wondered not long ago when Netanyahu was invited to address Congress without their first consulting the president. (An unprecedented action which some called unconstitutional.). And of course, one can’t help but wonder what Trump might have to say about all of this? (“Pope’s a losuh!”?). In any case, according to Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell, “We have more requests for this appearance than anything anybody can ever recall around here.”


Beyond their shared Catholicism (and Liberal bent?), what Colbert and Francis suggest through their divergent callings, is a still a further sense of the blurring of lines that once seemed clearly delineated between politics and entertainment, news and entertainment, politics and religion, religion and entertainment…between so on and so forth.


It has been posited, that on the night of April 19, 1994 when Bill Clinton, a sitting president, was asked at a town hall meeting aired on MTV whether he wore boxers or briefs, and he answered laughingly (“Usually briefs”), that the line between politics and entertainment was not only forever blurred but totally erased. (Imagine asking that question of Eisenhower?). And in this vein, I found it telling that so many heavyweight politicians of both parties lined up on camera to kiss up to Jon Stewart on his farewell show. Some even joshing in a way to show they were hip and got the joke that for the last sixteen years was on them.


As to the blurring, erasing or crossing over lines between religion and entertainment, or religion and politics? What were Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and all those TV evangelists doing if not that very thing? Which supports the argument that maybe nothing here is new, just never much thought about or discussed before.


So good luck to the pope at his secular podium, and to Stephen Colbert, out of character and behind a desk of a different color. And dare they be mentioned in the same breath? In an odd and offbeat way, yes. Both this September are “Must-See” TV. Along with the aforementioned Trump.





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