We're going to head back to The Ed Sullivan Show for another rare and classic performance. To be clear, not all the performers in this menagerie are especially rare, but it's still a treat to see them in this context. And we'll start with one of my favorites, Louis Armstrong. He sings "Blueberry Hill" here, and I have a particular affection for this song. He'd recorded it years earlier in 1949 (seven years before Fats Domino had his huge hit with it), but re-recorded the song for his famous Hello, Dolly! album. I'd never heard his version before, but it came on the radio in the late afternoon one summer day when I was a kid. And this stood out for me because I had tickets that night to go to the Ravinia Music Festival with my older brother and see Satchmo live in concert, at the height of the title song's massive popularity. Where he sang "Blueberry Hill" -- and of course "Hello, Dolly!," for which he did six encores -- and lots more, and it was all a joy.
The album was released in 1964, so this appearance came before he had re-recorded the song. So, clearly it held a place of affection for him, as well...
John Fugelsang is a very funny, insightful political commentator and comedian. He posted this "sequel" to Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War a few days ago, and as deeply low-end as the production values are, it's really good.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is Andre de Shields, who has three Tony nominations and won as Best Featured Actor in a musical for Hadestown. His conversation with host Peter Sagal is pretty straightforward about his long career on Broadway (and one known for “cool”) but it’s nonetheless entertaining and he even throws in some singing.
On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is screenwriter-director Ben Falcone. He discusses his variety of work, including the creative collaboration with his wife/star Melissa McCarthy on such films as Life of the Party, The Boss and Tammy, as well as their latest film, Thunder Force.
From the archives. This week's contestant is Joe Sorenson, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Happily, I was able to get the hidden composer -- in fact, the hidden song had so much in common at the start with one of the composer's most famous pieces that at first I thought that that was the hidden song. It wasn't, just the composer style. (And in fact, the hidden song turns out to quote a different piece by the composer. Ah, well, at least I got the composer right, whatever the reasoning.) As for the hidden song, it's nicely-hidden, but as I listened on, I felt comfortable with my guess. And was right about that, too. So, a full victory all around! Huzzah.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guests are election lawyer Marc Elias, who oversaw the defense against GOP 2020 election challenges, and Mother Jones Voting Rights reporter Ari Berman. Today, as Al puts it, they “stoke Al’s worst fears about Republican legislatures in Georgia and worse.”
The other day I was watching a rerun of Major Crimes that a friend of mine, Adam Belanoff, had written. And what I'd forgotten was that it had a very small, funny cameo performance in it by Paula Poundstone playing herself. (Though it was unsurprising since Adam is that rarity of TV writers, with a career that not only covered being on the staff of procedural dramas, but also such sitcoms as Murphy Brown. But I digress...
The good episode aside, It was a treat because I'm a big fan of Paula Poundstone, who these days, among other things, is a fairly regular panelist on the PBS quiz show I post a segment from each week, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!
For all the things in her work I love, two stand out for me.
The first occurred one year at the Consumer Electronics Show, I was wandering the show floor – and noticed that some vendor had hired her to bring attention to their booth. This is a periodic occurrence at CES, though usually the celebrity stands that the booth and signs autographs. But this was different -- here, she was wandering the area around the booth with a microphone and interacting with show visitors, basically doing a totally ad-libbed comedy act. I had lots of places to go, but couldn’t leave. After all, I had a “free Paula Poundstone show” only 20 feet away – and she was incredibly funny. No script, nothing planned, just talking with all the people who had gathered (and a lot of people had gathered). And it was so funny and consistently so, no lulls. Eventually I did have to leave and actually do my job, but I stayed for about 15-20 minutes. And if I ever needed proof at how good she was, that occasion just wandering around would have done it.
The other was one of the funniest things I’ve seen, an HBO special that Paula Poundstone did at a college. At one point, she was talking with a girl in the audience, and the conversation got around to the girl’s roommate. At which point, Paula got the phone number for her dorm room and called the girl's roommate on a cell phone she bowered from another audience member. And for five minutes, all we heard was her side of the conversation, and the auditorium was in hysterics. What made the phone call so special and a total joy was because it showed her rare craft – after all, it’s one thing to carry on a funny ad-libbed conversation with someone…that's good enough... but to only hear her side of a totally random conversation and be that funny is remarkable. It's as well-structured and paced that it could be a Bob Newhart monologue. But it's just her ad-libbing on the phone.
Over the years, I’ve tried to find it on YouTube to post it here, but I don’t have enough unique information to track it down. I do still look periodically, though.
And after trading emails with Adam about his show and about Paula Poundstone and getting her on the show, it prompted me to try again to find that HBO special – and I found it!!!! It’s takes place at Harvard. And it’s as funny as I remember it.
The passage with her calling is a total joy. But the whole segment is a treat when she first begins talking with the girl in the audience, who is the roommate that leads into the call. Just wonderful. (The girl has the most wonderful laugh, and is clearly having the time of her life chatting. In fact, I suspect that Poundstone saw her laughing so happily the whole show which might be why she called on her.) And I've edited the concert and embedded this 10-minute segment below.
(During the segment, Poundstone periodically turns to a guy in the audience who she'd had an exchange with earlier. They're very funny -- and the audience loves it -- but out of context, the point of the quips will be lost. To make her asides in clear segment clear, and what her jokes relate to is that the fellow designs furniture for correctional facilities)
The whole show is wonderful, and if you want to watch the full thing, you can find it here. And this full segment is a treat. But it's that five minutes on the phone with the roommate that is quintessential Poundstone.
Mainly, though, I’m thrilled to have finally found it. With a thanks for the prompting assist from Adam Belandoff.for having Paula Poundstone in his episode…
As I prepare to turn out the lights on Thursday as we near midnight, the Senate has not yet voted on the bill to create a January 6 Commission. But it certainly seems likely that there won't be 10 Republican senators willing to support an investigation into the insurrection which attempted to overthrow the U.S. government in which all senators present that day had their lives at risk, as well.
So, yeah, hey, why would they want to support such an investigation...?
(Yes, it's possible that between now and then that 20 percent of Republicans will find their soul and patriotism and vote "Yes." But possible and probable are two different fish.)
The thing that's weird about this -- other than the whole, y'know, "soul and patriotism and their own lives at risk thing" -- is that voting "Yes" seems to be the best option for them.
And, yes, I do understand why their voting "No." They think it's in their party's best interest not to have an investigation because of what it might uncover. The thing is, that's not too hard to figure out. After all, it's the basic, "No, please, don't open that door and look inside, I beg of you, no, there's nothing in there, really, nothing to see, just please -- please! -- don't look inside" concept that everyone pretty much gets. So, when it comes around to the mid-term elections...and the 2024 election...it's incredibly likely that every Democrat running will remind voters of this. And it's going to be a very bad look for Republicans.
But that's not the main reason this is weird. That's just a basic given.
The weird thing is that the Commission would be totally bipartisan. No one in Congress would be on it, and Republicans would have an equal say in how it was put together and run. And they're saying "No" to that. Because...well, we know.
But the thing is, by voting "No," that won't likely put an end to an investigation. It seems probable that if there is no January 6 Commission, then Nancy Pelosi will put together a Special House Committee to look into the January 6 insurrection. And if she does that, Democrats will control the rules for it. Republicans will participate, to be clear, but they will participate as the minority party. The set up and organization will be done by Democrats. And this Special Committee will look into the same events and put out their own findings, just as the Commission would have done. The only difference is that Democrats will control it all. And that's a huge difference, as far as differences go.
Now, it's possible that Speaker Pelosi won't call for a Special House Committee. And if she does, it's likely that Republicans would try to disrupt it -- which would be very bad look, since the whole point is to investigate the insurrection which most everyone saw and was horrified by. And whatever findings the Special Committee comes up with, Republicans will cry that it's just political.
The problem is that if they find anything damning -- and given that this was an insurrection, it seems pretty likely that they'll find something damning... -- it will be...well, damning. No matter how much Republicans scream and cry "Politics!!", the findings may well be horrible for them. And horrible on a matter of insurrection to overthrown the government. Which, if you're crying "Politics!!" is probably the wrong thing to cry when you were on the side of a political insurrection.
So, that's what's weird.
The best I can guess is that Republicans and their fellow elected QAnon associates are hedging their bets that if they do block the bipartisan January 6 Commission, whatever comes -- whether a House Special Committee run by Democrats...or no Special Committee and it all just fades away, except for the unending reminder that they blocked an investigation in to the insurrection to overthrow the government-- will be better.
And maybe it will be. Though "better" is the wrong way to look at it. "Less horrible" is more accurate.
And maybe it will actually be worse. Or, to phrase it properly, more horrible.
Because in the end, whatever happened with the January 6 insurrection to overthrow the government, the elected members of the Republican Party enabled it all, supported it in their subsequent votes and continue to in their actions, and are complicit.
You won’t believe this play by Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs today. It is a must-watch for baseball fans, and a should-watch for sports fans. But even if you don't watch sports, I think you'll still find this fun. Definitely weird.
Baez has the nickname "El Mago" -- The Magician, for the unique, ethereal way he makes plays in ways that no one else does. Anyone who questions his nickname has to watch this video. There’s so much to comment on, but I don’t want to give anything away, it's too fun discovering it.
I’ll only set up the play. Here's the situation: the Cubs are at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s the top of the third inning, two outs, a runner on second base -- and Javy Baez is at the plate.
Cubs color analyst Jim DeShaies has good commentary when they get to the replay, noting some valid and funny points, so for now I’ll leave the comments to him because, as I said, I don’t want to give anything away.
Okay, now that you've seen the play, here are a few observations on it. But watch the video first before you read this.
As remarkable as Baez's play is -- the first baseman Will Craig absolutely screwed up. There are two outs. All he had to do was simply turn around, go back to first base and tag the base. And Baez would be out. In fact, here's the amazing thing: if Craig tagged first base at any time -- even after the runner, Willson Contreras, slid in safe -- then the run would have been negated (in essence, considered a force out), and it wouldn't count.
Also, the Pittsburgh second baseman Adam Frazier screwed up, not covering first base, in case Craig threw the ball to him. Again, if he had been the one to get the ball and tag first base before Baez got there, the inning would have been over and the run wouldn't haven't counted, even though Contreras slid in first. In fairness, who would think of covering first base there??! But still, he should have.
But above all this, no matter how much the first baseman screwed up -- and he did screw up, big time -- it was the quick-thinking of Baez to try something so weird that it would be confusing and get the first baseman to focus on the wrong thing. And what Baez was trying to do was delay the play long enough for the runner on second base to come around and score. And what's so remarkable about that is -- again -- the runner, Willson Contreras, was on second base!! Who thinks of delaying a play so much, let alone under such strong conditions, to allow his teammate to score, not from third base, but all the way from second??! The list is pretty much "Javy Baez."
By the way, it was pretty heads-up of Contreras to recognize what Baez was doing and try to score. And know that he had nothing to lose. If he was tagged out, big deal, Baez was going to be the third out of the inning the moment Pittsburgh realized all that had to do was touch first base and the inning would be over! So, if Contreras had stayed safely on third base, it would have been meaningless. He realized that was no reason not to try to score.
Also hilarious in this video is that if you look close enough, you see the first base coach for the Cubs waving Baez to first base. Now, coaches do a lot of things, waving runners along. Whether to try to score, or to take an extra base, or to go back to the previous base, or to hold their position. But I am sure that the Cubs first base coach has never waved a runner to come to first base. After all, that's the whole point of the only place a batter can run. Unless you're Javier Baez.
And to top it all, the Cubs not only scored a run with Contreras sliding in, and Baez not only made it to first base...but he ended up on second base! And for a moment, it looked like he almost made it to third. And now standing on second base, Baez himself later scored, as well, on a base hit by Ian Happ, and it was those two runs that gave Cubs the margin they ultimately needed, as they won the game 5-3.
El Mago, indeed.
It will not come as a shock that tech conventions have had a lull the past year. ("Had a lull" shall be used herein as meaning "fallen off the face of the earth.") However, the Pepcom group (whose events I've attended at the Consumer Electronics Show for years) has periodically been holding "virtual exhibitions" online that have been pretty well organized. And they just did one for health-related products, which they called WellNow.
Healthcare isn’t an area that I tend to cover much in my Writers Workbench column that I do for the Writers Guild of America website. However, over the years I’ve periodically found some interesting health products that stood out in some way. So, I figured that this would be a good way to attend a tech event during a time of paucity, and write a column on it. The result isn't necessarily a collection of products most people will rush out to get, but there a few products in the health field that were at at least interesting for their inventiveness. Or just perhaps odd. And I think -- or at least hope -- would be interesting to read about.
As I noted in the past, putting a column together takes a bit of coding, so since the folks at the Writers Guild kindly do it for me, I figure why go through it all again for these pages. And so instead I've linked to it here.
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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