From the archives. The contestant here is Matthew Johnson from Chattanooga, Tennessee. This Puzzler is a bit of an oddity -- since I got the composer style, but not the song, and it's usually the other way around. And I felt annoyed at that, because it was clear where the hidden song was and sensed I should know it. I did at least guess it when played the second time around, though I'm not sure if composer Bruce Adolphe might have highlighted things a bit. It's definitely a well-known song, but not a wildly-known one.
The guests on today's 3rd & Fairfax podcast from the Writers Guild are the team of Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor. Together they wrote (and Payne directed) such films as Sideways (for which they won the Oscar for screenwriting), Election, About Schmidt and the current Downsizing. Separately, Taylor co-wrote Jurassic Park III and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, and Payne co-wrote and directed The Descendants (for which he won the Oscar for screenwriting) and directed Nebraska. (Okay, do you have that straight? There will be a test later.) To make it all the more clear and entertaining, they discuss their writing career, collaboration, and their process.
It's been much too long since we had one of those "America First" videos from countries around the world vying to be second. Holland made the first video response (and for my taste, still the best), but others have been awfully good. And with the world having just gathered in Davos, Switzerland, I figured it was time to post another.
I've already embedded Switzerland, and thought Norway would be appropriate, given that we're apparently welcoming them to immigrate here, but alas they haven't made a video, trying to be second. Perhaps because so many Norwegians plan to emigrate to the U.S., they feel it's not necessary to be second since they'll be Americans themselves soon enough. Regardless, the next closet to that seemed to be Denmark. So, here is the Danes' pitch for consideration.
It will be an intriguing post-State of the Union this year.
First, the Democrats did something pretty smart, I think. The response will be given by a Congressman whose been described as a "rising star" in the party -- Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), the great-nephew of the former president.
Not only does he obviously have the sheen of the Kennedy name, and a good, growing reputation in Congress, but at 37 he'll show a contrast with the 71-year-old Trump who's been having questions raised about his mental competence.
And then, after that's over, came this tweet today from Jimmy Kimmel --
Somehow, I think that all the attention a president usually gets after the State of the Union address -- and we know how Trump most-especially needs, demands, requires attention -- that may be at least a little bit divided this year with other commentary.
Last night, I was talking with a friend who was bemoaning how little public traction Trump's "shit hole" comment got, pretty much disappearing after a week or two. He said that White House spokespeople merely described it as nothing more than kitchen table-talk, and it was gone.
No, I said, that's not why it went away. It's because days later Trump had an even bigger outrage. And then another bigger outrage. And another one. And people moved on to those.
And my friend started wearily laughing, and said, "You're right."
I mean, seriously. In any other Real World, when there's a story that the President of the United States has had a year-long affair with a porn star while his wife is pregnant and then pays $130,000 in hush money, that story is not going anywhere else but the front page banner headlines until the president is impeached and gone. In Trump Land, though, that's 4 to 5 days tops.
And I know I'm not saying anything new here that most people haven't long-since figured out.
That's why the 10-bell, stop the presses headline story last night about Trump having ordered Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired last June -- major news as it is -- will be gone in the public eye sometime next week. It'll be really old news by then. Besides, it's about something that happened last June, after all. So, it's literally "old news."
To be clear, though, there are a lot of stories that disappear from public attention that actually remain major stories, because -- even if the public has moved on from them to something even worse -- the Special Counsel's office has not moved on from them, and added the news to their "To Do" list. Worse for Trumpin this case, the Special Counsel is far ahead of reporters and the public and knew about it long ago. So, even when we've all moved on, and Trump Folks think they weathered yet another storm, ha ha, this will still be the gift that keeps on giving.
Not that anything inherently illegal was done, ordering Mueller fired. It's all about intent. And that's the big problem for Trump with this, because the story now marks the third time Trump has done something like this that isn't inherently illegal but shows a pattern of trying to obstruct justice -- when he fired FBI Director James Comey, when he tried to get Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fired, and now ordering Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired. Together, those all show state of mind. And worse for Trump, they also remove the defense that he is a neophyte who doesn't always understand the implications of his actions. You can maybe, possibly use that gambit once, at best. But no, not three times.
Anyway, I wanted to be sure to write about this today because...well, honestly I wasn't sure if it would be old news in a few days...
You may recall that three months ago, I posted a wonderful 3-minute video here that Burger King produced about bullying. If you haven't seen it, check it out, it's terrific.
They're back with another terrific video shot again in one of their restaurants on a topical story, this one a bit more surprising because it's not only taking a stand on a political issue, but one against the government. It explains Net Neutrality in the context of buying burgers, and makes their position strongly in favor of it.
What I don't know if these videos is how much is "real" and how much set up. My sense with both is that there's a mixture -- some things seem like they might be set up (and therefore more controllable), and some things appear to be real that they let play out. And then edit it all together. That's a little bit moot, since the point of what they're doing is what's important, more than how it's done. Though how it's done is still fascinating.
The bottomline is that I have HUGE admiration for Burger King for this video, as well as for their anti-bullying video. I don't know who at Burger King has decided to do this, but they deserve a raise. And customers.
So, you're recall my piece this morning about the text message between FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok where I said it was clear that they they were joking about a "secret society" when she wrote --
"Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society.”
It turns out that the "calendar" reference that started the tweet was indeed a joke. A source who knew about the exchange has said that the calendars were a gag gift that Strzok had bought which every month featured different “beefcake” photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And yes, this is the grand conspiracy that Republicans are trying to use to discredit the FBI. With each step, they make themselves look pathetic. In fact, even the political editor of "Fox News" Chris Stirewalt -- really -- has seemingly had enough and ridiculed Republicans official, saying on the air:
“Republicans in Congress, especially on the Intelligence Committee are throwing up chaff. They’re trying to throw up anything that they can right now to try to occlude the matter.” He then went on ridicule Republicans -- and again, remember, this is the news director of "Fox News" -- by drawing a reference to the conspiratorial antagonist in The X-Files. "They turned Peter Strzok from an FBI agent to the Smoking Man who has been part of everything in human history, and it’s his fault and he did it, They’re looking for ways to create cover and create distraction, and I understand why.”
And so, now comes the word from the White House that Trump will consider a DACA extension if he can get funding for his wall. The pesky thing is that Chuck Schumer made that very offer to Trump, who turned it down. And Schumer has since said that since Trump turned it down, it's off the table.
But here's the bigger thing.
The Trump Wall is a terrible idea whoever pays for it. And even more, it's a racist idea, as well, given that we have a FAR, FAR longer unprotected border with Canada, and Trump has yet to call for the Canadian border to be protected. And not only can Canadians easily enter the U.S. from the north and stay illegally, but once they've entered the country it's really incredibly easy for Canadians to assimilate in the U.S. and then take jobs from American citizen. And don't fool yourself into thinking they haven't.
But beyond all that -- it can't be repeated enough:
"Mexico will pay for the wall. 100%. Believe me, folks, believe me. Mexico will pay for the wall."
If Trump and Republicans actually, really, truly want a wall along the Mexican border, then Democrats should insist the president keeps to his campaign promise. And the GOP should come up with a bill for building a wall that requires the administration to get funding from Mexico.
And while they're at it, they should do the same for Canada.
So, while I was away, did I miss anything?
Yes, okay, I did check in with the news a bit on my trip, and caught some of circus -- it would have been near-impossible to miss the three-day shutdown -- but a lot of the rest glided by, under the wire of headlines only.
For instance, I only caught the slightest news about the intelligence services warning Jared Kusher that he might be at risk of China trying to use and develop him as an asset because it was believed his wife's close friend was a Chinese spy. And that he seemed unconcerned because he knew better than the intelligence services. (Yes, and how is that working out?) But I didn't see much more about it.
But the story I find most noteworthy is one I'm only starting to catch up with, and that's the Republican's Really Big Devin Nunes Memo that they're trying to use to undermine the FBI. That's reprehensible enough, and dangerous, and I'm quite sure meaningless and idiotic -- which I say without admittedly having seen anything, but base my opinion on a) the fact that they refuse to show the memo to any Democrats, and b) my grasp of reality. But almost more pathetic than the memo in general (which is saying a lot) is the part of it that Republicans are picking up on and attempting to claim that there's a "secret society" in the FBI.
I mean, there was an actual United States senator, Ron Johnson (R-WI), going on television and almost having his head explode with horror about this "secret society" of FBI agents meeting, like it was as big and important as pizzagate. And then the next day, he had to go back on TV on walk all that back a bit because some sane people likely cornered him and explained reality that he was coming across like a buffoon. And so we got, no, he wasn't really saying what he said the other day just that maybe there could possibly have been FBI agents doing something that potentially was otherwise because I heard that maybe some agents might have met after work. And this doesn't even take into consideration all the GOP congressman who are in a mad dervish trying to reveal this double-probation, decoder ring "secret society." Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Matt Gaetz (R- FL) leading the pack. Along with Devin Nunes (R-CA), of course.
Mind you, have you seen the text message in question? And yes, this is all about ONE TEXT MESSAGE that two FBI agents (who were dating and so were personally close) sent to one another. That text has come to light. Written by Lisa Page (and this is real), it reads --
"Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society."
Yes, that's it. In its entirety. That's the Republican Party's evidence of a "secret society"!! Because when you're in an actual secret society (especially one in the FBI, known for its covert activities), that's what you do -- you text about your "secret society," which apparently has less stringent rules keeping it secret than Fight Club. On the other hand, more rational people would read the text message as evidence that two close FBI agents have a sense of sardonic humor. Or an invitation to get beers after work.
The story is funny on the surface. But it's desperate at heart in its effort to trash those investigating corruption in the White House -- and sick, pathetic and disturbingly dangerous what elected Republican officials are trying to do to rip apart critical foundations of American society, all to protect a racist, narcissistic, misogynistic, egomaniacal con man.
It's great to be back.
Back from Chicago, and happy to see that the elves left the homestead (West Coast edition) in respectable shape, though the refrigerator has been emptied.
A little oddity on the taxi ride from Evanston to O'Hare. The cab driver got a call from a lady at the airport wanting a pickup. She gave her location, and he said fine -- but made clear to let her know that he was in Evanston at that moment, which is about 40 minutes away. In fact, he told her this twice. And she said "Okay." After the call, the driver and I thought this was quite odd -- why on earth would she wait 40 minutes (at least) for a taxi. Well, it turned out to indeed be odd, because she called back five minutes later, wondering where he is -- and he repeated that he was in Evanston. Finally, she got a little perturbed and started asking him about sending another cab instead. He said that he couldn't, that he was just a driver who she'd called. After she hung up, saying she'll have to figure something out, I asked the driver, "Why doesn't she just call the cab company and order a cab??" He had no idea either.
The flight back was fine, though the American plane wasn't nearly as nice as the one outbound. Among other things, that had a high-end entertainment center with a huge selection of movies, TV shows and music to choose from on the personal video screen at each seat. (I watched "American Made" with Tom Cruise, which was very well made, and I enjoyed it. It's based on a true story which is fascinating, though a bit tough to get behind the main character who's a sort of rough cowboy pilot, doing a lot of work on behalf of the CIA, but on the side realized he can make A LOT of money running cocaine.) The return flight was a more basic plane, with small, distant screens showing some movie with Legos. I chose not to watch. Got a lot of reading done and also had used Amazon Prime to download one of their series to view.
I thought the flight would turn out to be dismal, since there was a crying baby (well, more a whining baby) two rows ahead for the first 20 minutes or so. That's a lot of "mamamamamamama mamm mammm mamamamama's" But for whatever reason, all went well after that, and all was quiet.
Anyway, I'm back, unpacked -- I'm one of those who like to unpack right away, and am a little beat, so I'll recharge, catch up on some paperwork, a few of the TV programs I recorded, and will be up and running tomorrow.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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