The "Mystery Guest" on this edition of What's My Line? is the wonderful actor Charles Laughton. The guessing doesn't last all that long, but what makes the segment particular fun is that he stays there a while talking with host John Daley and the panelists. And fun, too, is hearing him go on and on at the end about how much he loves watching the show every week.
This is the full episode, so you can jump to the appearance at the 12:30 mark.
I think Trump's comments to the press yesterday were among the more bizarre I've seen from him -- which is saying a lot. But his going on and on, insisting that he suspects the courts would not allow there to be an impeachment show an understanding of the Constitution at a level around that of a child in the fifth grade who had been set back a year. And his saying that he found the word "impeachment" to be :"dirty, filthy and disgusting" came a surprise only because based on his standards, one would think that he believed that A Good Thing.
But his tweet earlier in the day stood out -- on so many levels.
Russia has...disappeared? This is apparently Trump attempt trying to bedazzle the American public that "Russia" was nowhere to be found in the Mueller Report. No, it has miraculously "disappeared."
Well...yeah, except for perhaps the single-most important statement that Robert Mueller made only the day before when he said -- "There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Yes, that Russia. The Russia that Mueller and his team wrote about through their Report, detailing numerous instances of improper meetings and collusion. And an appendix of something like 140 names of Russian contacts..
By the way, just for clarity's sake -- "Every American" does include Trump. Unless we've gotten to the point of bitter irony and he's required to show everyone his birth certificate. And no, being a Russian dupe is NOT an exclusion.
But if "There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election": were the most important words in Robert Mueller's statement, perhaps the most important sentence in Trump's tweet was -- "I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected."
Well, of course he did, the Report enumerates those improper contacts, but more important, FINALLY Trump has admitted -- and in print -- that Russia attacked the United States during the 2016 election. AND it means that Trump is acknowledging that Vladimir Putin lied to him. After all, Trump told the world that Putin said to him that Russia wasn't involved in anyway with attacking (er, sorry "meddling") in the U.S. election. Yet there is Trump admitting, at last, that it did.
All of which raises the bottomline, critical question -- so...what will Trump and the Republicans in Congress do about Russia attacking us, which Trump has just finally acknowledged?
Alas, the answer at the moment is -- nothing, because all we heard afterwards was silence. Crickets. We were attacked, Trump acknowledged were attacked, and yet he and the GOP said nothing.
It wasn't until later that Trump offered something. Paper ballots. Yes, that'll do the trick. That'll stop fake Russian bots, Russian trolls, Russian manipulating of political events, Russia infiltrating political organizations (like the NRA), Russian money laundering of political donations. Paper ballots!! O huzzah. Paper.
Mind you, it might work, as long as Russia comes back fighting with only scissors, but if they bring rocks, we're in big trouble...
But by now you know the drill. This is not about Trump. We know who he is. This is about the elected members of the Republican who enable Trump and his fascist agenda as, at best, a Russian dupe. Or as they call it in the KGB -- a useful idiot.
For all the attention on Robert Mueller's comments yesterday -- and on Trump's weird, contradictory tweets in response (most notably changing his cry of "No collusion" into "insufficient evidence," which, for the record, is quite a strikingly-different thing...), what most stood out for me is one particular sentence. It was when Mr. Mueller said, or actually,, made a point of"reiterating" that --
"There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Not only was this the core focus of his investigation -- something lost over time -- but it's a conclusion that supports all the reports from every U.S. intelligence service. And which Trump has repeatedly denied, taking instead the word of Vladimir Putin, the despotic leader of America's major adversary.
But making it all the more weird (although of course, given that this is Trump we're talking about, it's also understandable) is that on the one hand he's tried to claim that the Special Counsel report exonerates and so he insists it's the final word on matters, "Case closed. Thank you," as he puts it. On the other hand, though, he completely ignores this blunt and specific finding by Mueller. Which was the whole point of the Special Counsel's investigation.
Making this all the more important is that this isn't the finding of a crime in the past, but an ongoing activity by Russia, one that we can be absolutely certain will be ratcheted up again in even higher gear for the 2020 election. And despite this strong statement from the intensive Mueller Report -- and let's repeat it for its importance: "There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American" -- we have silence from Trump. Silence. Crickets chirping. Which bizarrely is almost a good thing, since he's usual comment is denial and believing Russia's side.
But, as has been the case all along, this is not about Trump. We know who he is. This is about the elected officials of the Republican Party. Because they are just as silent about Robert Mueller's statement yesterday. No fire alarms going off. No cries of taking action. Just more enabling of Trump and ultimately of Russia's systematic efforts to interfere in our election.
The allegation does indeed deserve the attention of every American. It sadly raises the question of how concerned today's Republican Party is with that concept.
Maybe 30 years ago or so, I was covering the American Booksellers Association convention. Among the treats of the crowded zoo were the Uncorrected Publishers Editions of books that they gave away. I picked up a few. One was a gem, of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend. I’d never heard of them, and it was SO funny and insightful I ended up reading several others – the tales of an awkward, shy British kid who has dreams of being the poet laureate of the BBC.
Another than intrigued me as a fantasy novel, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It looked interesting. Both men were successful novelists on their own. Neil Gaiman wrote the books that the animated film Coraline and Starz series American Gods were based on, and also the TV series Lucifer is based on his characters. Terry Pratchett wrote the novel Going Postal – the 33rd book in his Discworld series -- that was the basis of the 2-part British mini-series – one of the most wildly-imaginative and fun TV films I’ve ever seen. (You can find it here on Netflix here.) But that Uncorrected Publishers Edition of Good Omens sat on my To Read shelf for around 20 years! (Hey, at least I kept it...)
About 10 years ago I finally had enough of procrastination and got around to reading Good Omens, and it was well-worth the wait, and I should have read it years earlier. It’s a very funny story, clever, pointed, rich and often hilarious. It tells the story of the birth of the Antichrist getting screwed up in the hospital, with the child being raised unknowingly by a nice, middle-class British couple, and 11 years later with Armageddon on the horizon, as demon, angel and counter-culture, occultist witch team up to stave it off.
And now, after many years of trying (Terry Gilliam wanted to make a film of it) and Neil Gaiman turning down offers after Terry Pratchett passed away, a six-part mini-series has been made of the book for Amazon Prime, premiering this Friday.
I have no idea how good it will be but – a) the book was wonderful, b) it’s getting good reviews, c) it’s a tough story to pull off, and d) boy, howdy does it ever have a great cast.
The wistful, flighty angel is played by Michael Sheen, with the demon who wants to save Earth because he's having too good a time is played by David Tennant, one of the more popular actors to be 'Dr. Who.'
That's a really terrific start. But the supporting cast also includes -- Benedict Cumberbatch as Satan, Frances McDormand as God, Brian Cox as Death, and Jon Hamm as a somewhat dim Archangel Gabriel, along with Derek Jacobi, Michael McKean, Nick Offerman, Miranda Richardson, and Jack Whitehall (a British comedian/actor I like very much, playing Newton Pulsifer, a sort of bewildered private witchfinder).
Great cast. Wonderful novel. And here's hoping a joyous series.
Here's the official trailer, followed immediately by the subsequent trailer that was put out, to make -- as it notes below -- a longer, extended trailer. (Two comments: the trailer makes it look like the young Antichrist is leading the way to Armageddon, though in fact -- because of how he was raised as a good kid in a middle-class British household -- he really has never had a clue who he is, although as the End of Times nears, some changes take place. And also, though there is definitely some humor and whimsy in the trailer, they focus more on the coming destruction. Though it's possible that's also the focus of the series, with humor in the background, since it has to compress the novel, my sense is that it's more a case of making the trailer as devilishly dramatic as as they can, and the series, while still most-definitely a drama about the end of the world, will have as much fun as the book.
Not shockingly, I've been discussing the Democratic candidates with a friend for the past couple months. And as I wrote here a few weeks back, I feel (based on quite a few very specific reasons, not just a sense of whimsy) that most of these candidates could beat Trump in the general election -- assuming that conditions stay reasonably close to what they are now, and Democrats take absolutely nothing for granted but continue working as aggressively as they have for issue-oriented rallies and marches to get out the vote.
One of the candidates we've talked quite a bit about is California Senator Kamala Harris, because my friend is a big fan. To be clear, I like her, too. I thought she was an excellent Attorney General here, and has been a very good senator. My concern has been that I've found her very no-nonsense, all business -- which is an incredibly important and highly-praised thing, though I haven't been sure how it would come across in a presidential election, where I think people make "relatabilty" ("Would I like to have a beer with him or her?") more important than in other elections, in part because a large part of the job is to inspire the nation from the Bully Pulpit. (I also would personally like any presidential candidate to have more representational elective experience, but as we've seen with Trump that clearly doesn't appear important to most voters at this point. Though we've also seen the result of that. But also, she has been an elected official for a long while, even if not represented a district.)
Last night, she had an hour-long Town Hall on MSNBC, hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell. And I was bowled over by how good she was. She was as whip-smart as I knew she was, and had a command of facts that was impressive. But what was most-different for me was how she dealt with the public -- warmly and directly. When people asked questions, she not only thanked them all, but explained in detail why she appreciated them but also why their question was important. When a young woman explained that it would be her 18th birthday the next day and wanted to know what Harris would say to her friends about why voting was important, she not only gave an interesting, good answer -- but when she was done wished the girl a happy birthday. It's a very small matter, but it shows she was listening, remembered, and that she didn't think it was all about her. And most important, I think voters notice that. And she did things like that to everyone. I don't mean most of the people asking questions, I mean "everyone" who asked a question.
One thing was clear to me throughout the evening. On the one hand, I have no idea how a Harris campaign would go against Trump, if she was the nominee, There are so many variables to that. But -- I feel very confident in saying that in the debates she would wipe the floor with him. She is no nonsense. She has all her facts down meticulous, though doesn't present them as lists but presents them in context.. She recognizes the people she is talking to and relates her responses to what they asked. And as we have seen from her questioning important people in Judiciary Committee hearings, she is not awed or flustered by anyone. She does not back down, and I sense that if Trump kept interrupting her, or stalked her from behind, she'd cut him to his knees. She's a professional prosecutor at a very high level. And if someone tries to flim-flam her, she is trained to know and and shut them down to make her case.
All that said, I still don't know who my favorite candidate is. I like many of them. Some, a lot. And all those I like I think can beat Trump solidly. With the caveats noted above. Nothing is taken for granted. And as good as Kamala Harris came across yesterday, I don't want it to come across like I think she's a Perfect Candidate. But then, I don't think anyone's a Perfect Candidate. And importantly, I don't expect any candidate to be perfect, nor any person. I loved Barack Obama, but I still disagreed with many of his positions. So, I don't have a favorite yet. Which is A Good Thing, liking so many of the people running.
What I do think, though (which is largely the point of writing all this here) is that unless another woman gets the Democratic nomination, my feeling is that Kamala Harris will be on the ticket -- either as the nominee or, if she wants it, the Vice Presidential running mate. And I think she'd want it.
Who knows? We're still a very loooong way off. But I think Kamala Harris did herself a great deal of good last night.
Randy Rainbow has a new song parody that was released today. I don't find the lyrics as much at the level of some of his best -- for the record, it's based on the song "Breathin'" from Ariana Grande -- but mostly I like the production.
As the waystation depot for All Things Trains (well, okay, not "all" things, or even most, but at least many), it was a treat to discover today that a couple weeks ago the U.S. Postal Service released some terrific commemorative stamps honoring the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad.
There are three stamps in the series (and six sets of them on a sheet), Two of the stamps each feature the locomotives for the trains -- the Jupiter and the 119 -- that brought officers and guests of the Union and Pacific train companies to the “Golden Spike Ceremony” joining the two lines at Promontory Point, Utah. In between them the stamps is a third of the famous golden spike.
As the USPS describes the background --
Building the transcontinental railroad during the 1860s was one of the great achievements of the era. The completion was marked by the “Golden Spike Ceremony,” held on May 10, 1869, when rail lines built by the Central Pacific from the west and the Union Pacific from the east were joined at Promontory Summit in Utah.
So, rush out to your local post office and get a sheet or two while supplies last. I picked up three sheets and might pick up some more when I next pass by the post office on my morning constitutional...
For a long while now, I've been writing that as repulsive and dangerous as Trump's actions have been, this is no longer about Trump. We know who he is at this point. It's about the elected members of the Republican Party. They enabling him -- they enable pretty much everything he does and say. Just the other day, Trump tweeted from Japan that North Korea only exploded a few small missiles that weren't dangerous despite what U.S. intelligence services report, and that country's murderous dictator Kim Jong-Un said he agrees that Joe "Bidan" is a Low-IQ person. And not even a sound from Republicans in Congress about that. In fact, there wasn't a hiccup the next day when Trump contradicted himself and said, now, that North Korea hasn't even exploded any missiles
Silence from the Republican Party.
This is about the elected officials of the GOP. They knowingly enable.Trump, and if they had any courage, respectability or sense of living up to their sworn oath to protect, preserve and defend the United States and its Constitution, they could stop Trump cold. They could have stopped him a year ago. Longer.
Sunday afternoon, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) left the following tweet. It explains today's Republican Party in Congress as well as pretty much anything.
My sense is that Chuck Grassley shouldn't use big words like "honor" whose meaning he pretty clearly has long-since forgotten.
The thing is, most Americans can read. The Mueller Report said no such thing that Mr. Grassley tries to claim. (And I use "Mr." carefully and out of politeness and deference to his position as a U.S. Senator who has sworn an oath to protect the United States.). In fact, the Mueller Report actually noted numerous instances. It just didn't indict the president -- which is another matter entirely. And further, it suggested that the only reason it didn't indict the president was because it was against Justice Department policy. This is something Chuck Grassley should know since he sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (He even had been chairman.) In addition, left out of his dishonorable comments is that the Mueller Report noted many instances of obstruction of justice..
And on top of all this, Grassley then goes on the make the gut-galling claim that we "Need to reestablish confidence in FBI/CIA.
Hey, here's a thought! A really huge way to "reestablish confidence in FBI/CIA" is to tell his party leader to stop saying that he believes Putin & not U.S. intel services. And to stop saying he believes the murderous dictator Kim Jong-Un and not U.S. intelligence services. That would be a incredibly great start! And as a cool follow-up, he Grassley could tell Trump to stop firing agents of the FBI who have given their life's service to defending the U.S. from foreign and domestic enemies, but who Trump wants to discredit because they are legally investigating his administration. And also stop stripping former CIA directors of their security clearance, simply because they have been critical of him.
Of course, this is a really easy matter to get to the foundation of. And that's to have Chuck Grassley answer a really simple question -- does he believe Putin and Kim and not U.S. intel services?? If he doesn't believe them over our own country's intelligence departments, then that means he knows the truth. And yet sends out hypocritical, shameful tweets like the one above. (I won't even suggest the alternative, the Grassley does believe Putin and Kim over American intel, because I don't believe that for a single second.)
Chuck Grassley knows the truth. And he acts to divide the country and enable Trump. The GOP in Congress know the truth. And act to divide the country and enable Trump.
And unless they change, which seems profoundly unlikely, it is their legacy.
I wasn't planning on seeing the new live-action version of Aladdin, and figured I'd just wait for it to release on DVD. I enjoyed the original animated film, but wasn't bowled over it enough to make the trip. Mainly, it was Robin Williams' performance and accompanying, flamboyant character-animation, along with the score that most-appealed to me. However, when I noticed at the last minute that the WGA had a 3-D screening, I decided it was worth the trip and jumped in the car.
I thought they did a respectable job. Some things were even better in the new version -- most notably strengthening the character of Princess Jasmine, now fighting to be heard and made the next Sultan rather than just deciding who to marry (though that's still in the story) -- and some worse. The plot, for instance, seems a little unfocused, and I thought the third act was a bit of a jumble, including one important plot point as the story comes to a head that for the life of me I can't figure out. My best guess is that a scene got cut. (I won't give it away.) Yes, it's weird to see Will Smith as blue, but it's okay, he's a genie, after all, and they wisely figured out a way for that to be kept to a minimum, as he now helps out Aladdin by acting as his "valet" and looks like a normal Will Smith. To his credit Smith didn't try to do Robin Williams, and does a perfectly fine, more restrained job. On the other hand, he's not Robin Williams. And it turned out a good decision to see it in 3-D, since the film is a vibrant production helped by the added depth to give it a richness. My biggest quibble on the technical end is that I thought the sound mix on the songs was awful, with the music much too loud, overpowering the lyrics.
I also thought that Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine was the break-out star here, almost to the film's detriment, since as a result we almost lose the title character's story. (Her success will likely be enhanced when next seen co-starring in the upcoming remake of Charlie's Angels.) Scott also gets a new song for the film, written by the original movie's composer Alan Menken, with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who did the score for La La Land and The Greatest Showman). The song, "Speechless," concerns the Princess finally breaking out and refusing to be kept silent anymore. It's a power ballad, needless-to-say, and very good -- more than a bit reminiscent perhaps of "Let It Go" from Frozen -- and not only does Scott soar with it, but I suspect the number will get an Oscar nomination for best song, and be a frontrunner.
They've released a music video of it. Two issues -- the clips they use from the movie don't compliment the song as well as idea (though they're understandably trying to sell the movie). Also, they have that same sound mix issue as in the film. But it's done well, and the song is centerpiece.
You may have read the story last week about the New Hampshire school cafeteria worker, Bonnie Kimball, who gave a free lunch to a student who didn't have the money to pay for a meal. And for that she was fired by the school's vendor, Fresh Picks.
When interviewed about why she gave the free lunch, Ms. Kimball explained, "His family is very well known in this town and I can guarantee that if I called his mother, she would have come right in and paid the bill. But I didn't want to get her out of work. I know they would have brought the money the next day. The bill was going to get paid."
After intense outrage when the story became public, the vendor offered her back her job -- but she turned it down and said she'd find work elsewhere.
A momentary sidetrack, but don't worry, it's all to a point.
Readers of these pages may recall a piece I wrote here a few weeks back about Jose Andres. If not, Mr. Andres is a world-renowned chef who is aggressive in his actions and unafraid to speak his mind when he sees a wrong. He pulled his restaurant out of Trump International Hotel in protest of racist comments Trump made about Mexicans. After the Trump administration showed a lack of proper assistance to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Chef Andres organized the World Central Kitchen to prepare meals there for those in need -- and has continued the charity organization ever since. And he has been an outspoken critic of Trump, putting teeth to his actions.
I mention this all because after the initial story broke about the school cafeteria worker broke, it just came to light that Chef Andres called Ms. Kimball a "hero" offered her a job with his company.
No word yet on whether she has accepted.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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