I haven't posted anything from Richard Wiseman for a while with his wonderful "Quirkology" videos. Wiseman is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, and his videos (and books and lectures) for how he deals with magic are what's got him the most attention -- what he talks about is really closer to parlor bets and optical illusions Among his many offbeat videos, I particularly like his "Bets you can always win series." Here's another --
Over the past couple of months, whenever I get into a political discussion with a friend of mine, he’d go into a rant about Joe Manchin. And every time he did, I’d stop him and say that the issue is not Joe Manchin, but Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. He’d dismiss that and say that whenever Manchin settles, so will she, that she’ll follow his lead. I’d reply that I didn’t think he had any basis on which to think that.
And I felt the same whenever I saw news stories during the past months about Joe Manchin holding things up. And people posting on social media. It was always, only Joe Manchin. That Joe Manchin was holding things up. When is Joe Manchin going to come around? And every time, I’d wonder why on earth are people letting Kyrsten Sinema off the hook, because her vote was 100% as necessary as Manchin’s – and he seemed a more understandable and reasonable voice, especially given that he’s a Democrat in the state that voted more heavily from Trump than any other. She, however, kept saying silly things and having press conferences with Sen. Jon Cornyn, the very conservative Republican from Texas.
At least, when I wrote about it, I made sure to always mention her prominently, like here (where I put both in the title) and here, where I singled her out alone.
At least now, within the past couple weeks, the news media has finally come around and realized that Kyrsten Sinema is as big an issue as Joe Manchin, and almost more of a loose cannon. And also, sort of irresponsible, which came to a head yesterday, when NBC News reporter Frank Thorp posted an excerpt from his exchange with her, where she though it would be cute to be flippant over issues that are essential to President Joe Biden’s agenda and critical in many ways to democracy --
Q: What do you say to progressives who are frustrated they don’t know where you are?
SINEMA: “I’m in the Senate.”
Q: There are progressives in the Senate that are also frustrated they don’t know where your are either.
SINEMA: “I’m clearly right in front of the elevator.”
Obviously, I have no idea where things stand, or what she wants (and the same with Joe Manchin) and if an agreement is possible with them, I think one is, because they’re still both Democrats, even if moderate-to-conservative, and likely (I assume…) know their own political futures are at stake. But what I think doesn’t matter. We’ll see.
Still, though, frustrated and deeply annoyed as I do get with them, there’s one thing I always acknowledge and pass along when anger is directed their way. And it’s not even that they do vote with President Biden on most other issues (and voted with him on the massive jobs bill early in his presidency.) It’s that because they’re both Democrats, however one feels about them, however they voted, be grateful that that they are Democrats – because their being Democrats, however they vote, is why Chuck Schumer is Majority Leader and not Mitch McConnell, and why Democrats are in charge of every committee in the Senate.
And in the end, I’m glad that people are now, at last, focusing attention on Krysten Sinema as much as Joe Manchin.
I've posted a lot of versions of Steve Goodman's great song "City of New Orleans," including several from Arlo Guthrie. I like this particular version by Arlo because he precedes it by telling the story about how the song came to him. And from all the tales I've read about this, it seems to be pretty close how it happened, with only a little embellishment -- even as he turns some of the story into jokes. This was recorded in 2017.
This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, covering works from screenplays to novels to non-fiction books to stageplays to songs and all manner of things in between. It is also one of the oddest, which I have to admit is a large part of the reason I have such affection for it. Maybe 15-20 years ago, on a newsgroup BBS for Writers Guild members, someone posted the following challenge --
Okay, here's the deal. A well known and very good eye doctor (MD) -- needs a little help. So I suggested a contest. The winner get a great lunch or an eye exam. Here's the contest: write a poem or song with the following words:
Always up for an offbeat challenge like that, I wrote the following in a couple hours, hoping to get in first and perhaps put off any other comers. After I posted it, all the other WGA writers posted messages that they were waving the white flag and would not even try to top it. While I know that's a bit much to say about one's work, keep in mind that this was a stupid contest with a very small prize on a topic of idiotic meaning -- so others not wanting to jump in is as high a bar to reach as might seem otherwise.
That said, I'm also pleased that my own eye doctor aske for a copy and has it up in his office. Here it is --
What compels the organelles
To be the way they are?
The mighty mitochondria
Are happier by far.
And to cite the cytoplasm,
They never do complain.
So why in hell do organelles
Just drive themselves insane?
You can tell that every cell
Is happy as a clam.
And endoplasmic reticulum
Is thrilled the way it am.
A cell membrane would never deign
To scream or cry or pout.
So someone tell the organelles
To kindly cut it out.
A vesicle's a messicle
But accepts its weary lot.
And the cheery nucleolus smiles
Though it's clearly gone to pot.
The golgi apparatus works
Just one time in a thousand.
Yet the whining shell of organelles
Will kvetch until the cows come.
They're RNA, they're your NA;
They accept that they'll have strife.
And chromosomes feel right at home
With DNA and life.
A nucleus is centered,
With its feet firm on the ground.
But toll the bell for the organelle,
That insists it's lost and frowned.
We haven't gone Out and About with Jiminy Glick for far, far too long -- inexcusably long, almost -- so, let's rectify that. Here he is in La La Wood interviewing Steve Martin. Two things stand out -- the first, how low-key and almost straight Steve Martin plays it, almost wanting to see where Martin Short is going to run with it, something that likely comes from their friendship. And the other, once again, how wildly fast Martin Short is.
By the way, a few weeks ago -- when promoting their new limited series on Hulu, Only Murders in the Building -- Steve Martin and Martin Short were on Stephen Colbert's show and talked about the first time the two had met. It was before making The Three Amigos, and Martin Short had come over to Steve Martin's home to get together and also pick up the script.
Short said that when he walked in, he looked around and the first thing he said was, "How did you get such a nice house? I've seen your act." To which Steve Martin walked over, handed him the script and said, "Please get this to Martin Short."
And so it came to pass that yesterday the Republican Party in the U.S. Senate voted not to raise the debt limit.
Whenever the Republicans threaten to do this – which they have been doing in recent years, but only when Democrats hold the White House, not when the GOP does – it seems pretty clear that much, if not most of the country (leaning heavily on the Republican side) has no idea what “raising the debt limit” means. The sense seems to be that so many people (leaning heavily on the Republican side) thinks it has to do with spending and creating a bigger debt.
It doesn’t at all – though oddly, Republicans never seem to mind actually creating a bigger debt, since they tend to do so when holding the White House (Trump, for instance, raised the national debt to $7.8 trillion and increased the federal deficit to around $3 trillion), but say you want to raise the debt limit (rather than actually raising the debt)…well, oh my, Republicans wheel out the barrels of outrage. The reality, though, is that raising the debt limit merely means that Congress authorizes the additional money to be spent to pay for the debts that the United States already owes. It’s agreeing to pay for what we’ve already spent. It’s like getting your credit card bill, seeing you don’t have enough money in your checkbook and so transferring money over into it from your savings account, so that you…can…pay…your…credit card…bill… for…the…money…you’ve…already…spent…and…therefore…owe.
Imagine getting your credit card bill – or any bill – looking at it, and then saying, “Oh, ptish, I’m not paying that” and throwing it in the trash. Imagine what your creditors would say. Imagine what they’d say, too, the next time you want to charge something or borrow money.
As Sen. Chris Murphy wrote yesterday, "One of America’s greatest assets is the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency. If Republicans refuse to let the government pay its bills, it jeopardizes this status, and the impact on the U.S. could be catastrophic. Gamesmanship over the debt limit is so irresponsible."
For several decades now, the Republican Party has disdainfully called Democrats the “Tax and spend" Party. I’ve never quite followed the logic of why this is a bad thing, since the alternative is being the “Don’t tax and spend” Party – and that’s precisely what keeps raising America’s debts higher and higher whenever Republicans are in the White House.
The government always spends, and it always will because it must. Republicans may want to spend less than Democrats (or not), or spend on different things, but they do spend. A great deal. They just like to cut taxes at the same time. That's why, as I noted, I’ve referred to the GOP as the "Don't tax but spend" Party. The thing is, though, now that may have to change. Because with the GOP voting against raising the debt ceiling, they've become the "Don't tax but spend and then don't even pay for what you spent" Party.
I’m not quite sure of their “thinking” on this, but my guess is twofold. First, that it likely has something to do with assuming that their base not only doesn’t know what raising the debit limit is, but also incorrectly thinks that they do. And second, that the country will blame any problems that come from all this, whether a government shutdown or the country’s credit rating dropping which will cause some prices to rise, on the Democrats in power.
There are two problems with this “thinking.”
The first is that the country probably will have a really good idea who is at fault here, when it’s only the Republican Party that voted unanimously against it. The Democrats may get some blame, too, since the party in generally does – but the party in power generally gets all the blame. Not here. The Republicans kindly jumped in to claim their massive part of the credit.
And the second problem with this “thinking” is that it’s reprehensible and only serves to harm the country.
But that’s today’s Republican Party. “Only serves to harm the country” seems to be their brand and what they’re selling. Enabling Trump, voting down funding for computer security measures against foreign attacks, placating white supremacist groups, supporting the January 6 insurrection, claiming non-existent voter fraud to create mistrust of election, passing voter suppression bills, ignoring health safety measures to keep from spreading the coronavirus which has so far killed 706,338 Americans, becoming quite literally more fascist by the day, and more and more and more. So, voting down raising the debt ceiling just seems a natural progression.
And this can’t be blamed on Trump. This is about the Republican Party, which enables it all and is complicit.
If you didn't see it, here is Sunday night's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The Main Story was on the attack against voting rights. And though most of the material will be well-known to most people here, it's presented will in a substantive, compact story -- and done is a serious and often very funny way.
I had one quibble -- and unfortunately it's something that the show has done a couple other times recently. In criticizing President Biden for being lackluster in his efforts to change the filibuster, they do so with comments he made at what appears to be a town hall from many months ago, I believe early in his presidency. His more recent comments have been significantly more pointed on the subject, and the need to address the filibuster. If his current position isn't going as far as the show would like -- fair enough, though for all I know it is. But to use such old footage when they have to be aware that his position has changed (since Last Week Tonight has excellent, up-to-date researchers) is, to me -- again -- irresponsible.
That aside, if they're going to err, I'm glad it's in this direction to shine a light on the issue. And it's a wonderful report. I just wish they didn't "err."
I don’t have all that much to add to the coverage of Arizona’s Cyber Ninja “fraudit.” Whatever they found, good or bad, was utterly meaningless, since this was an official, professional audit much the same way a can of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-Os are the official food of Italy.
Still, considering that this fraudit was almost fully bought and paid for not only by those on the right wing, but specifically by the far-right OANN TV network, and the results didn’t just come back as “Trump won 100% of the votes,” but actually gave about 300 more votes to Joe Biden is a stunning result. That was a surprise twist ending that made the finale to The Sixth Sense seem obvious.
It is not especially surprising that Trump looked at the results of losing by 300 additional votes to be a vindication and victory. After all, if you’re not going to accept the results of an actually-regulated and officially certified federal election and instead claim victory that you lost, why on earth should we think he would accept losing in a state’s fake audit for which not only can nothing be verified, but was so screwed up that the state decommissioned all its voting machine since they were breached? Of course, he could claim victory – he’s a delusional, fascist con man whose only interest is to sew disorder and confusion.
It’s also not terribly that most of his far-right supporters, including most elected Republicans in Arizona, claim to believe the results vindicate them somehow. They’ve already shown their willingness to not accept reality, so why start now.
Because the Cyber Ninja guy was so totally inexperienced, there were issues he didn’t understand about voting, and so raised what he considered unanswered anomalies. And that’s good enough for Trump and Trump supporters. Never mind that just because you don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean there’s not actual answers to your bewilderment. It’s sort of like a third-grader not understanding why eight times seven equals 56 and therefore questions the validity of math. But the Arizona election officials were expected befuddlement by the Cyber Ninja (after all, his fraudit which was supposed to take three weeks took five months) and fact-check these supposed “anomalies” in real-time online as he presented them in public.
Of course, the easy answer to every claim of faux-uncertainty by Trump and his minions which they claim vindicated them was – “The results from the guy who Republicans themselves paid were that Joe Biden won by about 300 more votes over Trump than before.”
And when they bring up some other “anomaly,” the simple answer to that, once again, was –
“The results from the guy who Republicans themselves paid were that Joe Biden won by about 300 more votes over Trump than before.”
And again and again, each time -- “The results from the guy who Republicans themselves paid were that Joe Biden won by about 300 more votes over Trump than before.”
There’s no point in refuting their “uncertainties.” Not only did the Arizona election officials do that already, but these are people who clearly and repeatedly have shown they don’t care about facts and reality. And when you can make up uncertainties, then you’ll keep making them up and no facts or reality will ever satisfy you, ever. Ever.
And so the only real answer to anything brought up is the very basic, very simple outcome –
“The results from the guy who Republicans themselves paid were that Joe Biden won by about 300 more votes over Trump than before.”
The road to how the Cyber Ninja guy got there doesn’t matter. It’s all made up anything. But the destination was clear, because we all know the destination. Joe Biden won Arizona, and Trump lost.
Yes, other red states will try this, too. And it’s horrible and divisive and brings about a lack of trust. But it seems unlikely that other red states aren’t going to hire someone less competent than the Cyber Ninja – because there aren’t many people in this field less competent. And if he couldn’t turn the results of the election in the state – because we know the results, they were recounted and certified – then whoever else these red states higher aren’t going to get different results. Because we know the results in all these close states, they were recounted and certified.
And in the end, as much divisiveness as this sews, it will also keep reinforcing that Trump lost, over and over and over again. And it will reinforce how empty, reprehensible, foolish and fascist the Republicans pushing these fraudits are. Which in the end, should come back to haunt them.
Happy Halloween, a few weeks early.
From the archives, the contestants on today's Piano Puzzler are Beau Smith and Sylvia Pacheco from Attleboro, Massachusetts. For the longest time, I had a hard time picking out the hidden song, though I thought I heard a couple possibilities. But a long ways in, it finally became absolutely clear, and I knew I had it right. As for the composer style, it danced between several possibilities...all of which were wrong. But the composer is very popular -- and one of my favorites. I just didn't think he wrote anything like this.
One quibble -- not about the contest, but the discussion afterwards. The contestants didn't know the hidden song at all, though it's famous with several reasons why its pedigree should have helped -- yet for unimaginable reasons, neither host Fred Child or pianist Bruce Adolphe explained any of them. They only gave the name of the song. Not its larger context where it's very famously from, or even perhaps noting the incredibly famous group who made a cover-recording of it. (Sorry, I don't want to say more to give it away for those playing along. But when you hear it, you’ll know what I mean.) At which point, if they had given any of these clues, let alone all of them, the contestants might have said, "Ooohhhhh! Okay!! NOW I know what it is."
On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Ethan Hawke, a 2021 Writers Guild Award nominee. His writing credits include Before Sunset, Before Sunset, and The Hottest State) He talks about co-creating, starring in and co-writing several episodes of the limited series, The Good Bird Lord about abolitionist John Brown.
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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