On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is author and actress Justine Bateman who talks about making her screenwriting and directing feature debut with her new film Violet, which opened this past Friday. The movie explores the difference between a person’s private thoughts and public face.
On a personal note, I’m very pleased to know about his for an odd reason. Back in 2007, when I was writing two or three articles a week for my column on the Huffington Post, I devoted one of them to the Writers Guild strike. In the midst of all that, the Writers Guild magazine Written By was publishes articles as well from other voices on the strike, and a few of them were written by Justine Bateman. (I’m near-certain they were in Written By, but can’t swear to it under oath.) And they were excellent – smart, serious and insightful. I believe that I wrote to the editor of the magazine, who I knew pretty well, and asked him to pass along how impressed I was by her writing. She ended up writing back, and our brief exchange was terrific – she’d been reading my own articles, and was looking forward so much to one day getting into the Writers Guild, and so she was pleased to have some validation from a Guild member. While I understand her reaction, the reality was that her writing was really smart and terrific, period. She said she was going back to college at UCLA to get some further education to expand her work opportunities. That was the extent of our communication, but she ended up graduating with a degree in computer science and digital management. She kept writing, though, completing a couple of books and also making short films. That she’s gotten to this point both writing and directing a feature film – and getting into the Writers Guild – is just wonderful to know, and I hope it only builds from there.
The Problem with Jon Stewart keeps finding its feet each new show – which Apple TV+ posts every other week. Some of that is figuring out what works, though I think some is picking the right topics. In any event, this week’s new show was particularly good. It’s listed as “The Economy,” though really dealt with income inequality.
The opening section, which is basically like an extended version of his old opening on The Daily Show remains my favorite and was particularly good this week. Here’s a small segment of it –
But Stewart also did a wonderful interview with Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellin. It stood out on its own as a smart, interesting conversation – but even after all his years doing this it’s impossible to be impressed with the quality given the reality that Jon Stewart is, at heart, a comedian.
The show also has comic sketches that serve as their version of “commercial breaks” to break up each segment. This one wasn’t all that different from similar sketches that comedy shows have been doing the past few weeks, but it was very elaborate, well-done and fun.
Because it's probably R-rated, I can't embed it, but it's available on YouTube by clicking here.
And finally, there is a companion podcast to go with each new episode. It’s totally different from The Mothership, but has the same theme and often includes some of the same panelists (though not always). In this case, I don’t believe any of the guests were on the TV version. But for those interested, here 'tis --
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Rep. Adam Schiff who talks about (as Al puts it) “The Curious Case of Donald Trump and His Goons.” And goes on to explain that the two talk about “Ripping yarns of collusion, mendacity, and treason” from Chairman Schiff’s new bestseller of non-fiction: Midnight in Washington.
I’m the member of a small social club, along with the inveterate Chris Dunn who is the only other member. It’s the Frank’s Place Appreciation Society. Mind you, I’m sure there are others who highly-appreciate the 1987 series, but they probably have their own groups. The reason there are so few aficionados, though, is because not only was the series on for only one season, but it’s never been released on DVD or streaming, or rerun. So, if you didn’t watch it 34 years ago, you’re out of luck. As for our small fellowship, Chris the president, recording secretary and first member elected into our Hall of Fame. (And for years had a copy of all episodes -- and for all I know he still does. I'll have to ask at our next meeting.) He also is our regular guest speaker. In fairness, most of his speeches are, “Man, wasn’t that series great.” But then, not much more needs to be said. I sit in the back and shout, “Yes, sir!!”
By the way, lest you think our judgement might be skewed in our love of this show, in 2013 TV Guide ranked 60 shows that were “Cancelled Too Soon” – and Frank’s Place was ranked #3. Also, Rolling Stone put together their own list of the best sitcoms of all time, and Frank’s Place was #99. Now, that might not seem terribly high, but you have to remember a) there have probably been thousands of sitcoms, and b) it was only on for one year. Not bad.
Frank’s Place was created by Hugh Wilson, who has a long list of credits, including creating WKRP in Cincinnati, but had his biggest success with the Police Academy series movies – something he joked about in another of his short-lived TV series, The Famous Teddy Z about a Hollywood agent. (As best I can remember it, basically the snarky agent played by the always-edgy Alex Rocco – ‘Mo Green’ in The Godfather – is complaining about one of his clients who only writes really smart, classy material that he can’t sell at all which annoys him to no end, but then adds that the reason he keeps the guy as a client is “Because one day he might surprise you and write something really great like Police Academy.”)
The show starred Tim Reid (who worked with Wilson on WKRP) playing a Boston professor who inherits his father’s restaurant in New Orleans, and against his better judgement keeps it. The supporting cast didn’t have any big names in it, though they were tremendous, and featured Daphne Maxwell Reid (his real-life wife) as a woman he desperately wants to date, and the great Virginia Capers as sort of the matriarch of them all.
On the lower end was Don Yasso, who plays the only white person working at the restaurant. Wilson met him on an airplane and was so taken by his New Orleans personality, he hired him for a small role, despite the fact that he’d never acted before and had an accent so thick that the first few shows hilariously used subtitles for him. (To my shock, I saw his name on a rerun of Murder She Wrote, and checked hid listing on the iMDB – it turns out he decided to stick with acting and has 61 credits, including a recurring role on both My Two Dads and the soap opera Days of Our Lives. I say “has” because he’s still acting – as a recurring character on the current show Queen Sugar on the OWN Network.)
What made Frank’s Place stand out was that it was smart, charming, low-key, deeply affectionate, had jokes that came from the situation and character more than one-liners, didn’t use a laugh track, and – most notably – blended drama with its comedy, and was often very serious. And also, any show whose theme song is Louis Armstrong singing, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” is going to be high on my list.
(One of my all-time favorite jokes in a TV show was an episode of Frank’s Place where a film crew takes over the restaurant. A shlubby guy keeps trying to get in, but the security guards keep stopping him. At the very end, after getting turned away one more time, Frank – I think it was Frank – asks him who he is. “I’m the writer,” he says.)
So, Frank’s Place doesn’t exist on DVD or streaming, for some reason. Maybe some day. Happily, two episodes have been posted. And this is one of them. It’s not necessarily one of the best (though since only 22 were made, it’s in the top 22…) – but it’s an enjoyable one that gives a fairly good sense of the show. Even if you don’t know the characters and relationships, they should be reasonably clear.
The quality is a little faded, but I’m just grateful it exists. The other episode online has a subplot that has to do with a Yom Kippur seder (not your typical sitcom fare), so I’m going to hold posting that one until the holiday next comes around.
This is a charming story out of Texas by way of Philadelphia to Rome.
During the winter freeze this past February in Texas when the power grid failed, 91-year-old Ezell Holley had to move out of his home temporarily. His granddaughter Alex, who cohosts the TV show, Good Day Philadelphia, get him an available room (they were hard to come by, as you can imagine) that the family jokingly called the Waldorf Astoria. She and her grandfather posted a series of sweet video about him taking his stay at the Waldorf all in stride.
And the story came to the attention of a real Waldorf Astoria, the Rome Cavalieri. And they invited him and a guest to be their guest. Conditions improved enough that few weeks ago, Ezell and his granddaughter finally went – as did the whole family, paying the additional way themselves. When they arrived, they all got another surprise – the hotel put them up in the penthouse.
Alex Holley documented it all, and this is the story they showed on Good Day Philadelphia. (My favorite moment may be with the desk clerk when they check out. I don’t want to say why.)
By the way, I'm going to take a bit of a digression here for a moment. But as I was reading the story, I oddly and surprisingly had an extremely tiny but personal connection with the story, all because of one word. When I read that the hotel was the Rome Cavalieri, I flashed back to a hotel with a similar name that my family stayed in on my very first trip to Europe when I was a young kid. It was called the Cavalieri Hilton. (“Cavalieri” is Italian for…well, cavalier, or knight.) But then a thought hit me – wait, was this not just a similar name but, in fact, the very same hotel?? Did Hilton buy the Waldorf Astoria properties and then upgrade this to that luxury level?? I dove in and did some searching. And…and...
…and, yes!! I found one website that refers to the now-Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria as “The former Rome Hilton” and another that says, “Inaugurated in 1963 by Conrad N. Hilton himself, the opening of the Rome Cavalieri coincided with a period of unprecedented economic development and the heyday of the so-called 'Dolce Vita.'” Our trip was 1966, in its very earliest days, just three years after it opening. The hotel was very nice, but…NO, not at the Waldorf Astoria level of "very nice" it is now, and most definitely nothing like the utterly spectacular penthouse.
Further, I actually still have the stylish ashtray that I, er…took from the room, which I thought (even as a kidling) that it looked very nice. And not only do I still have it, but still use in on my desk, about 18 inches from me as I type this. So, it wasn’t merely a souvenir that a little kid took and soon threw away, or something buried in boxes. It’s done its duty for a very long time. I’ve taken out all the paraphernalia usually sitting in it so that you can see the Conrad Hilton “CH” logo.
And as a bonus, this is a photo I took of my older brother John. The hotel (as the news report notes) overlooks the Vatican, which historically has long been protected by the Swiss Guard. So, John put on a little hat and took one of the long pillows from the sofa and did his bit to join the Swiss Guard and help defend the place from high.
Anyway, back to Ezell Holley and Family being treated like royalty and having the time of their – and most notably, his – lives.
I probably should have titled this "Incredibly Well-Worth Reading," but since we have our regular title for such things, we'll stick with tradition. But first, a little housekeeping to know where all this comes from --
Delthia Ricks is an award-winning science writer who was the health and science writer for Newsday for 22 years. She’s written four books in the field, was a Summer Fellow in molecular biology computer research at the Farber Cancer Institute, and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among many other accomplishments.
Laurie Garrett is one of the leading reporters on medical science. To give just some of her credentials, she has received the Pulitzer Prize, two Polk Awards and the Peabody Award. (Yeah, I know, not bad.) Among her books are The Coming Plague, Ebola, and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Public Health, as well as Epidemic! The World of Infectious Disease. So, she not only really knows her stuff, but as you can see, she doesn’t sugar coat anything, but is very blunt and extremely pointed. She was a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show in the very early days of the COVID-19 outbreak and spoke warningly of what was ahead.
I mention both their credentials, because it was notable a couple days ago when I saw tweets from them (especially the always deeply-blunt Laurie Garrett) that were actually about something encouraging in the pandemic. I didn’t want to make note of this as just Something I Saw on the Internet. Rather, this is something I saw from Laurie Garrett and Delthia Ricks.
It began with a tweet from Ricks about an article from the National Institute of Health on research into COVID antibodies. She wrote --
“The map: Researchers have mapped where various antibodies bind to SARSCoV2's spike protein. Results could help in the design of new antibody therapies for Covid. Map includes 370 antibodies that target the spike protein.”
This brought a response from Laurie Garrett, never one to be upbeat encouraging unless it is absolutely warranted. Her reply was –
“There are many targets on #SARSCoV2 for antibodies -- some more effectively neutralize the virus than others. Future, better #vaccines and treatments should hit multiple targets, perhaps stopping variants from emerging.”
The point of all this is that research is beginning to show some very positive advances in COVID vaccines. The COVID virus has many protein spikes, each which are “targets” for antibodies. And it seems that some antibodies are able to neutralize these spikes especially well which, if successful, could mean the ability to block variant mutations of the coronavirus from forming.
That’s my very simplistic layman’s sort-hand explanation. For those interested in the NIH article which will be actually detailed and fully correct, you can find it here.
A CNN reporter posted the following question on Twitter yesterday --
I offered the following suggestions --
The New Facebook
The Cracker Barrel
Ye Olde Facebooke
The Social Network
It turns out that, alas, I was wrong in all my guesses. Facebook has just announced that they changed the parent company name to...
Wait, so Facebook isn't even changing the name of Facebook at all??! They're just changing the name of the company! Facebook will still be...Facebook. Yes, that's quite the major change to signal the big changes that all its bad news has seemingly demanded. Cool.
By the way, the new name of the parent company will be Meta.
On the one hand, this is a perfectly good name for a huge tech company. On the other hand -- "metadata" is the phenomenally valuable asset of user information that Facebook mines and sells to other companies. (Maybe 15 years ago, I was interviewing someone at the Consumer Electronics Show and wrote about him describing that most people were missing the big picture about the company, that it was all the "metadata" of private information that was the most valuable thing to Facebook by far. So -- well, one would think that merely changing the name of your parent company to one of the main issues that's pushed some people in Congress to say Facebook should be broken up because it controls too much information for one private company might not be the wisest tactic to take...
Once again, we add to my list of Things I Don’t Understand. This time, the Thing I Don't Understand is the concept that there are elected officials who are against the Billionaire’s Tax – though more specifically what I Don’t Understand is why any Democrat in Congress would have a problem with the bill, especially enough to be an issue that blocks the party’s Build Back Better plan that the vast majority of the country supports and which will help their party succeed with voters.
I will go into my bewilderment in more detail in a moment (not to worry, the detail will hopefully by “Fun with Numbers”), but to put it in its simplest form, I can explain my general bewilderment this way –
First, there are only 714 billionaires in the United States. Which work out to about 14 billionaires per state. (Yes, I know that it doesn’t break down that easily, but cut me some slack – I’m trying to make this easy and fun.) So, it’s not like they’re a big voting black.
(Yes, they do have a lot of money to donate, but there are still limits on what an individual can give to a candidate. And even if there are ways to get around these legal limits, it’s still limited.)
So, again, first thing – there are just 714 billionaires in the country, about 14 per state.
And second, most billionaires aren’t in the rarefied billionaire range of $50 billion up to the $271 billion that Elon Musk makes. Most are in the $2-3 billion range. Which means, and let’s have a weird fantasy here, if the Billionaire Tax was “If you are a billionaire, we will take away half your money” – and for those who haven’t read up on the bill, no, of course that’s not in the same galaxy of what the tax is, but let’s pretend – then after having half their assets taken away in taxes…almost every one of the 714 billionaires in American would still be a billionaire! (And any who now weren’t, the tax would stop.)
So, y’know, this doesn’t strike me as a big issue to hold up Democracy over. And that’s looking at the Billionaire Tax from the fantasy perspective of the Unimaginably Worst Possible Case Scenario.
But as I said, that was the general fantasy look, and I said I’d get a bit more specific with (hopefully fun) details.
That said, I’m not going to get specific on the upper reaches of billionaires, since that’s ethereal and any complaints from that vantage point are near-indefensible. What I mean by ethereal is that Elon Musk – perhaps the most-vocal of the critics (despite having benefitted from massive government bailouts that helped build is wealth) is worth, as I said, $271 billion. And most recently, his wealth increased by $41 billion according to Forbes. Wait, sorry, just to be clear, that wasn't “His wealth increased by $41 billion last year,” no, what I meant was – his wealth increased by $41 billion…yesterday!! No, really. So, if the government said, “Hey, Elon, you have to give us all the $41 billion you made yesterday,” he still would have his $271 billion. And could make the same $41 billion back by next week, if things are slow.
So, we’ll leave such folks aside. They’re not just fine, they transcend “fine.”
But let’s take those billionaires in the lower half of the billionaires list. Let’s just deal with those whose worth is around $2 billion. I can't find the full list of names, but the Forbes 400 ends at around $3 billion. So, $2 billion does seem a reasonable demarcation point for our journey into the Lower Reaches. Here then is how the Billionaire’s Tax works (in simple form, as best as I can cobble together).
With the Billionaire’s tax, none of that $2 billion would be taxed. None, as in zero. Put it all aside for a rainy day. The $2 billion is only the red line that denotes who qualifies for the tax. Only the amount that their wealth went up – over the $2 billion they already have -- during the previous year will be taxed.
I’ve read different percentages for the tax, it’s not clear (maybe it hasn’t been determined exactly yet). But most say it’s in the range of 30% -- so, for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with that.
Okay, now let’s say you’re that $2 Billionaire. And let’s say you had a good year financially this past year, and your wealth went up a strong 10%. That’s an additional $200 million your wealth increased. Well-done, you can buy that island you always wanted.
Except first, that pesky Billionaire’s Tax will kick in, and you have to pay 30% on your $200 billion gain. So, that takes out a whopping $60 million you have to pay to the government. At least, though, that leaves you with $140 million more than you had the year before. Now, most people would be able to live incredibly comfortably on that $140 million for the rest of their lives, and their children and grandchildren’s lives, even while giving very generously to charities, and they no doubt would do. I mean, seriously, you have $140 million!!
Actually, no, you have a whole lot more, but that’s just what you made this year, after taxes. You still have that $2 billion you haven’t even touched.
And that’s just if you’re one of the billionaires on the lower end of the billionaires list. Not one of those with $10 billion. Or $50-100 billion. Or Elon Muskian $271 billion (as of this writing, who knows what it will be when I post this).
Now, to be clear, this isn’t exactly how the Billionaire’s Tax will work. But it’s generally sort of close, kind of. Give or take a few billion. The point is, the basic principle is correct.
And again, there are only 714 billionaires in the United States. And this Billionaires Tax only affects them. All of whom will still keep all their billions.
And analysts say it could bring $200-250 billion each year to the U.S. treasury -- enough to completely pay the approximately $175 billion each year for the Reconciliation Bill benefitting all Americans.
That why I said I don’t understand the opposition of any elected official to the Billionaire’s Tax on 741 people paying a minimum tax on their increased wealth, pretty much like all Americans do on their income tax. Yes, yes, I do basically get why Republicans against it – “Because they’re fascists” is the general explanation to anything Republican these days – but even at that, it’s still sort of bewildering, since supporting it would likely be highly approved by voters in their state, other than the 14 billionaires.
But why there is even the slightest hesitancy by any Democrat in Congress to support it – enthusiastically – is something I Don’t Understand.
Happily, almost all Democrats do support it, enthusiastically. And happily the few holdouts seem to be okay with it in theory, but want to finetune it. But…but…democracy is at stake here, and quibbling over vapor fumes left by 714 people who are doing spectacularly for the rest of their great-grandchilden’s lives and beyond is just…bewildering.
It will get done. And very soon. I’m sure.
It should have been done long ago. Instantly.
From the fine folks at The Dodo, this is a really wonderful video, beautifully done. It’s about ospreys who have been visiting a family for a decade. Then, one day, a bald eagle attacked the mother – and what the family did and how it transpired over time was all captured on video.
Every once in a while, a person has a “tell” so pronounced that they give their culpability away. Like someone insisting, “No, I didn’t do that” – and then they suddenly start blinking rapidly and twitching their body. Both Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) had their “Okay, yes, I’m really very guilty” twitches the other day.
In the case of Brooks, he was talking with CNN reporter Melanie Zanona and insisted that he had “no involvement” in planning the rally in Washington on January 6. However, his lips kept moving and then added, “I don’t know if my staff did, but if they did I’d be proud of them for helping to put together a rally lawful under the First Amendment at the ellipse to protest voter fraud and election theft."
Ah, the Sgt. Schultz Defense from Hogan’s Heroes, "I know nothing, noothhhing." While blaming it all on his staff. I’m sure they’ll love that, as he fritters away his Staff Loyalty Points that dwindle away before your very eyes.
So, let’s see...Brooks is saying – between blinks and twitches – that he, a United States Congressman, has a staff so out of control that they helped plan the January 6 rally that lead to in insurrection under his very nose and he was totally unaware of their actions. And…and then, after 11 months, Brooks STILL "doesn't know" if his staff helped plan the Jan. 6 rally??! Amid all the news stories ever day for almost a full year, as the House of Representatives have been holding hearings on the rally and its subsequent insurrection, while the Department of Justice has been arrested people who participated – many of whom have been convicted and jailed – Rep. Mo Brooks never has yet found out if his staff helped plan that rally, where a hangman’s noose was put up, cries to kill Vice President Mike Pence and which lead to the storming of the Capital.
AND, while supposedly not knowing if his own staff was involved, Mo Brooks still threw them under the bus by suggesting that they might have helped plan it!!
And to add even more perspective to Mo Brooks using pantomime to tell the world he was involved, keep in mind that Brooks has previously acknowledged that he knew that things could get so violent on Jan. 6 at the rally that he put on body armor under his jacket before he himself got up before the crowd and spoke to him.
But no, he had no involvement planning the “lawful” rally that lead to the insurrection. And doesn’t know if maybe his staff did – but suggests that maybe, possibly, conceivably they did. Meanwhile, he just happened to be strolling down the avenue on January 6, wearing his body armor, saw a crowd of tourists, and being a Congressman decided he couldn’t pass up talking to a crowd – which he admits he knew could be violent.
“I don’t know if my staff did,” says Mo Brooks, “but if they did…” Man, just reading his words you can see the eyes blinking and body convulsing.
“I don’t know if my staff did.”
Well…okay, fine, then, if Mo Brooks isn’t up to finding out, happily there a House Select Committee already in place who would be happy to take on the responsibility. And so, they should just subpoena his ace staff and ask them, under oath, about their planning the January 6 rally without approval from their boss, since he now has said they may have done so – and kept it hidden from him. Though he did at least concede that he knew later, somehow, that it could become violent.
Cue the eyes blinking – violently.
In the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene, her “tell” was less performance art and much more literal. Actually, “much more literal” doesn’t do it justice. As far as “tells” go, she actually told.
Talking with CNN’s Melanie Zanona, as well, the reporter say that Greene also denied (of course…) that she was involved at all in any planning of the rally, saying that the "only thing" she was "very involved in" was objecting to the election results on Jan. 6. (Greene then tried to deflect attention from the Rolling Stone article which provided evidence of her involvement and added: "Shouldn’t they cover music?"
Her denial would be such a definitive statement...if only there wasn't video of Marjorie Taylor Greene leaving the White House in late December and saying to reporters that she just had a "great planning session for our January 6th objection." That, in the world of “tells” is telling it bluntly.
By the way, how do we know of this video of her telling us about her planning? Greene herself posted it on her Twitter feed at the time.
Oh, and just to fill things out properly -- P.S. Rolling Stone has covered politics for 54 years. To paraphrase Marjorie Taylor Greene -- Shouldn't she know that?
And as the expression goes – cue the video.
Yes, there is Marjorie Taylor Greene herself telling us all right to the camera proudly that she and the White House planned their “January 6th objection.” Before her now saying, oh, er, no, um, no, she wasn’t involved with planning it at all.
At least she didn’t try to fob it off on her staff. But then that would have been tricky, since she already told her it was her.
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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