It's been a quiet week. Families open up their cabins for the summer, the town celebrates Memorial Day with a parade,
I'm on the Souplanation mailing list. (It's quite exclusive, but I know someone.) Among many privileges I get for my membership, they send out periodic coupons, and the following one arrived the other day.
At first glance, I thought, "Gee, that's an extremely good deal." A family meal for just $15.99. Good for my close pals and fellow-members at Souplantation. Then I took a closer look, always a fine thing to do. And either this is a poignant commentary of today's society, or Souplantation and I have completely different definitions of "family."
Apparently, to Souplanation they think that a "family" is made up of 1 parent and 1 child. While I know that the divorce rate has been growing in recent years, I'm told that there still are families that actually have two parents, many of separate sexes, though in reading the paper that's not necessarily the case anymore. And many of those very same families have more than a single child. Maybe this offer is intended as a sort of participatory tag-team event, where parents and children trade off on any given night over who gets to go out to eat at Souplanation.
I do know that if there are two real parents they can each a coupon (if they're lucky enough to be approved as members). Though that would still limit them to two children. Perhaps Souplantation is just being socially conscious in promoting protection against overpopulation.
Then again, taking an even closer look still (continuing to be a good thing to do), and reading even further down, it turns out that children are defined as "12 and under." So, if you're a family of two parents three teenaged children, you are not actually a "family" per se in the eyes of Souplantation. Only one of the parents counts.
In which case, they have other coupons for you that are much better deals.
Talking Points Memo writes that Rand Paul said he's "not sure" if the Obamacare exchange in Kentucky, called Kynect, should be dismantled.
Interestingly, that's just about exactly how I feel about Rand Paul.
I received an email today from my very longtime friend Jack Moline today. Many people know Jack as the rabbi at Temple Agudas Achim in Alexandria, VA, just outside Washington, D.C. In 2008, Newsweek named him the #3 pulpit rabbi in America (I want to know who the two suck-ups were ahead of him). And last year he was named the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. But I think most people know of Jack Moline as the Sr. VP of Telecommunications for Elisberg Industries. (You can check him out under "About Elisberg Industries" and then Our Corporate Board.
Jack sent me a link to an article called "The Science of Laughter", which you can read here. But what was notable to him was the opening of the article. It begins --
"Denver journalist Joel Warner and his co-author Peter McGraw, a marketing and psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, trekked across the world in search of the answer to a seemingly simple question: What makes people laugh?
"Their book, 'The Humor Code,' is at once a lighthearted collection of adventures in the world of humor and a serious-minded inquiry into the mysterious mechanisms of what makes things funny across cultural barriers. Across nine chapters, the duo bothers Louis C.K. in a green room, hangs out with scientists who tickle rats in Tanzania and flies into the Amazon rainforest on a cargo plane full of clowns."
His note was the link and a single sentence: "We were so far ahead of the curve no one would believe it."
And he's right. He's a rabbi, you can believe him.
What Jack was referring to is that when we were at New Trier High School, and doing a comedy radio show together on the school station, WNTH, we decided to do a project one weekend and went into Chicago with our tape recorders and, as a couple of intrepid journalists went around interviewing people on the subject..."What makes people laugh?"
I don't remember much about what we came up with, though I do remember we stumbled on the National Association of Broadcasters convention that was in town that weekend, and actually got two celebrities to participate -- Joan Rivers, and a comedian and TV game show host of the day, Woody Woodbury. (Also, the TV critic for the Chicago Daily News, Dean Geysel.)
(By the way, I'd totally forgotten this, but in tracking down those autographs -- which obviously, and bizarrely, I've saved for all these years, Note to Celebrities who think they sign things that are soon thrown away... -- I noticed that the cover of the NAB program the autographs were in was dated April 1. Not a bad day to do a documentary on "What makes people laugh." April Fool's Day!)
It's worth mentioning too that not only were Jack and I intrigued by this at such a young age and decades ahead of the curve, but when we later were both at Northwestern University and even in the same communications class, taught be a fellow named Irv Rein, who amazingly is still there, we teamed up on a class project and pulled out the golden oldie -- "What makes people laugh." (And no, we didn't just recycle the old material. Remember, I was working with a future rabbi. Honor was at our core.)
What I remember about that college project, which had to be presented in front of the class, is that the big finish of it was when Rabbi Moline hit me with a pie in the face. (Okay, he wasn't quite "Rabbi Moline" yet, but admit it -- it sounds better that way.) The point of the pie-hitting was Jack giving a long explanation, based on sociology and psychology -- most of it actually real, though some of it pseduo -- about why audiences today would no longer laugh at slapstick, being much too sophisticated in the modern world. As he lectured about this with great seriousness, I stood silently next to him, simply looking out at the class...all the while he was slowly filling up a pie tin with shaving cream. (Rule #1 about pie throwing. Use whipped cream, It tastes much better and doesn't sting the eyes. Rule #2 -- use breakaway pie crusts, not metal.)
As Jack was carefully explaining why people today simply will not laugh anymore at slapstick, the titters in the large classroom started to build, no one quite believing that he'd hit someone with a pie in class. As as the foam filled the tin more and more, and he kept proving with scientific certitude why no one would laugh, and I stood there impassive, seemingly uncaring, the tension and uncertain chuckles and disbelief grew until Jack sensed the perfect peak. And at just that moment he finally finished his speech and at last said, "And that is why no one today will laugh at slapstick." Pause. And then longer pause. Disbelieving titters. Still waiting. Will he do it? Won't he do it? Okay, no, he's not go -- And then... WHAM!! He pummeled me with the pie, and the room exploded with laughter.
Timing and set-up. It's everything. And while Jack Moline might be just the #3 pulpit rabbi in the United States, I would bet cash money that he's the #1 rabbi with comic timing.
(It helps that his hero in life is George Burns, and that he wrote a hilarious book for Viking Press, Growing Up Jewish, and that he was the headwriter for our high school music-variety show, Lagniappe. This is what you want in your rabbi. Yes, okay, all that religious knowledge is a good thing, too, and caring and compassion and smart, but if you're going to have to sit through a conservative Yom Kippur service and sermon -- the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day of fasting -- you want a rabbi who will reach under his pulpit (as Jack did one year) and bring out a MacDonalds Big Mac with cheese and bacon (!) and ask his congregation, "What would you people do if I ate this right now?"
And now you know why Rabbi Jack Moline is the Sr. VP of Telecommunications for Elisberg Industry. He and I are just way ahead of the curve. And also, if I ever need a good word put in for me, it never hurts to know a guy...
Besides, he too knows Nell Minow, so between the two of them, I'm covered.
For those who are fans of the original The Office -- the British version that starred series creator Ricky Gervais as 'David Brent' -- you might have withdrawal pains from there being no more. And no more for the past far too many years.
Well...fret not. David Brent lives!
It turns out (and some of you may know this, but I didn't...), but Ricky Gervais has gone out on the road from time to time and performed as David Brent...in concert.
As you may recall from the series, Brent was a deeply insecure office manager who always felt he'd been wrongly overlooked as a great rock star, and would periodically take out his guitar and perform songs at the most inappropriate time.
Well, apparently, as far as I can tell from interview snippets I've seen from Gervais on British TV, in the years after The Office Brent has become a rock music manager, who still dreams of becoming a rock star. And he will still inappropriately take out his guitar and, rather than manage his clients, perform himself on stage. (This during Gervais's concerts in England.)
It goes further. On Gervais' YouTube channel, he's made a series of videos with David Brent, teaching how to play guitar online. And it goes further still -- if I understood him correctly on a British morning TV show interview for season 2 of his Derek series -- it sounded as if he was saying that there was more to come from David Brent in the form of a special bringing us up to date on him. I can't swear to that, but that's how it came across.
In the meantime, here's a guitar lesson from the fellow, along with a song he wrote about his hometown, Slough.
Assuming that the sale goes through, I just came up with the nickname for the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers -- "BasketBallmer."
As you may have noticed even if you just pay moderate attention here, I write about a mythical person named "Nell Minow" from time to time to time to time. I do this for many reasons. One is that I just freaking like her. Another is that I always like to have really, really smart people on my side. Another reason is that when I write about her and the smart, good, wise things she has to say, if they're not paying close attention it makes people think I'm smart, good and wise. Lots of other reasons, too. But those are at the top of the list.
There's a reason I mention all this, but I'll get to that in a moment.
First though, it's important to know that one of the pieces of advice I tend to give people is that -- "If Nell Minow gives you advice about something (whether about business, politics, what movies to see, how to pick a good restaurant, the economy, general etiquette, parenting, or pretty much anything), it will serve you well to at the very least consider what she says before taking your next step."
I'm not saying you have to follow every piece of advice Nell Minow gives you. Me, I disagree with her a good six percent of the time. We may agree about almost every movie, down to our favorite scenes, but even I refused to go see Speed Racer. (Side Note: Knowing that Nell Minow is a sci-fi fangirl geek is a good sign post to keep in mind.)
But it's also good to keep in mind that this is a person who in her two main jobs in life -- as a world expert on corporate governance and as the Movie Mom film critic -- she's paid to give her opinion and tell you what to do, and she is really successful at it.
I suspect that at times it must have been hellish growing up as her children. It's one thing to have to always listen to your mother telling you what to do, and telling telling telling you, but to know that she's usually going to be right, and right about pretty much everything, is enough to drive the strongest kid to drinking too many Ovaltines. In the end, though, enough seeped through, because they've turned out seriously well.
(Nell Minow in her natural habitat. Being asked to tell people what to do.)
I bring all this up because that mythical "Nell Minow" wrote a brilliant article here on the Huffington Post, that comes complete with a pure Minowesque title -- "10 Easy Tips to Take You from College to Success in Jobs, Love and Life." And like Most Things Minow, it's blunt, polite, entertaining, and gives actual reasons and stories behind her advice which is what keeps it from becoming inflexible and Know-It-All. A tip that Ms. Minow herself seems to have learned comes from who I assume is her guru, Mary Poppins, that a spoonful of sugar does indeed help the medicine go down (with an assist by the Sherman Brothers).
In the article, she tells you not just to send thank you notes, but explains why -- and what you stand to lose if you don't. She explains why you can learn a lot from that Chinese finger-pulling toy and also from improv theater class and even the Boy Scouts. She tells you why "on time" means something else entirely than what you think. And one of my favorite of its wise thoughts is that "No one is getting paid to teach you any more. You have to seek it out" -- and she goes into how to do just that by understanding the value of being criticized.
There are two things I especially love about this article. One is that, happily, I find that I'm following a bunch of these already and even regularly pass along some of the advice to others (though admittedly "a bunch" and "some" are the operative words, and I clearly have a ways to go). And the other thing I love about it is that, having advised people for years to pay attention to what Nell Minow tells you, this article makes me seem really smart, good and wise for advising that.
So, again -- read her article. Just stop what you're doing so that you don't forget about it, and read it now. Just read it, and again, here is where you can find it, so you have no excuse.
"The president needs to take responsibility for his failures,"
-- Mitt Romney (R-MA) on "Fox News"
God love Mitt. Sometimes you just want to take the self-delusional and give them a nurturing hug. I don't know what it is about losing candidates for president, but there's something whimsical about them thinking that the public thinks they are wise and prescient, despite having voted against them. It's sort of the Bob and Ray Syndrome. (They have a sketch where a losing candidate, who spent a "fortoone" of his own money, is giving a concession speech and goes All-Bitter, noting how one day the public is going to say, "We should have voted for you. The other guy's a bum. He stinks. We should have voted for you." He then goes on to add that, "You know what I'll say to them? I'll say, 'NUTS! You had your chance. You could have voted for me, but you blew it. Nuts. I an't never gonna run again.")
I just love Mitt Romney saying saying that the winning candidate has to take responsibility for his failures, yet he himself couldn't even take responsibility for his 47% comments that were recorded on video, coming up with a wide range of regularly-changing explanations to suggest that he didn't say what was there on the screen for all to see. For that matter, Mr. Romney has acknowledged he was unable to take responsibility for losing, so certain was he that he was going to win on Election Night, yet being crushed the Electoral College vote in a landslide.
The president should take responsibility for his failures?? Mitt Romney couldn't even take responsibility for his successes. He ran away as far as possible from his "Romneycare" health laws in Massachusetts that you needed the Hubble Telescope to find him. He refused to take responsibility for his own actual positions, flip-flopping on most every one that even had a taint of being seen as moderate, let alone liberal. Which is ultimately not taking responsibility for who you are.
Actually, though, his interview on Fox wasn't limited to this one gobsmacker, but filled with great quotes, any one of which could have been the Quote of the Day. Like him saying of the Obama presidency that there has "not been a level of competency." This from a guy who ran against an incumbent president during a recession and high unemployment, and couldn't win. The incompetence of losing under such conditions was near unprecedented. Especially against a black man who your party spent four years painting as a a Nazi, anti-American, foreign-born socialist who hates white people and it was their #1 job to defeat.
Yet he had even another quote eligible for Quote of the Day. Speaking about VA Director Eric Shinseki and Congressional hearings, Mr. Romney said it "would be nice to grill him over the coming weeks and months." This from a man who refused to release his tax returns, something that presidential candidates have done dating back half a century to his own father who may have been the first to start the practice. Perhaps Mr. Romney has grilling on the mind because it's summer and the Fourth of July is around the corner, but Mitt Romney is so averse to the concept of hard questions that "How are you doing?" might get his press secretary to step in and say that "Mr. Romney answered that yesterday and believes the issue is an old one and has been addressed."
Mitt: a glove heavily padded to protect the body from feeling any discomfort.
The other day, I wrote an extravagantly laudatory post about a father and daughter from New Zealand who were posting some of the funniest observational one-liners I'd read. An intrepid reader here, Ed, wrote to tell me that pretty much all (or all, period) of the daughter's postings were written by others. One by comic Emo Phillips, for instance, another by ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. I checked out a bunch myself, and that was the case. I even checked a couple by the father, and it was the same.
I've deleted the post. Telling an "old joke" is one thing. Telling other people's jokes as if they were your own is something else entirely -- as is solely telling previously-written jokes all the time as your voice and giving no indication that they aren't yours. As a professional writer I take these things seriously. To professional writers, it's among the most-serious thing. At best it's foolishly thoughtless. At worst it's plagiarism.
Sorry for the raves. They've been taken down, here and on Facebook. And thanks to Ed.
So, what do you do when you leave your job at Microsoft and have a lot of time to spare -- not to mention $20 billion to spare.
This just in.
ESPN reports that an agreement has been reached for former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to buy the Los Angeles Clippers. Making this all the more odd is that just yesterday current beleaguered owner Donald Sterling filed a 30+ page legal challenge that he wouldn't selling. Perhaps changing his mind is that the reported selling price is $2 billion. The next highest sale of an NBA team was just months ago when the Milwaukee Bucks sold for $550 million. One might consider this overpaying by a tad, but...well, if you have deep pockets and big plans, oh, who knows.
One reason why this has been able to move so fast is that the offer is coming from Ballmer only, with no problematic issues of partners. And there would be no problem with the NBA having to do a lengthy due diligence on whether Steve Ballmer has the money.
To be very clear, there's no report of Donald Sterling signing off on the deal. But most analysts suspect he'll take MONEY MONEY and HUGE AMOUNT OF MONEY and run. But then, this is Donald Sterling, so who knows.
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, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. 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.