It's been a few weeks since we visited the ferns, so let's head back to the very funny Between Two Ferns as Zack Galifianakos interviews Natalie Portman.
I have a disagreement with Rachel Maddow. Last night on her show she said the blockbuster story of the day was that of David Holmes, the official at the American embassy in Ukraine who overheard the phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland. My disagreement with her is not that the story wasn't a Really Big Deal. It was. But massive a story as that is -- and make no mistake, it's a massive one, perhaps the biggest on most days -- I think there was an even bigger story that she reported later in the broadcast, a breaking scoop from the Associated Press.
That story was about how Ukraine's president-elect Zelensky not only did feel pressured by Trump, despite him publicly stating otherwise, but even had a secret meeting with advisers on May 7, almost three weeks before the second Trump phone call. Moreover, this was also just one day after U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was recalled. Among those at the meeting with two top Ukranian officials and Amos Hochstein, a former American diplomat and Ukraine expert who advised Joe Biden on the country during the Obama administration.
Yes, the overheard Trump-Sondland phone call story is huge because it confirms details and gives lie to other testimony, making the Trump plan with Rudy Giuliani wider than previously thought. The Ukraine pressure story, however, is directly at the heart of the extortion-bribery charge of impeachment. The one and only serious defense Trump supporters have been trying to push is that Trump's call to Zelensky was fine because the Ukranian did not feel he was being pressured and said so publicly. This story breaks that one, final, weak defense. And further, it gives lie to the Republican contention that Zelensky couldn't have felt extorted since he supposedly didn't even know of the demand before the phone call. (Not that it matters if he was aware what was going on. If someone is trying to extort you -- they are trying to extort you. They don't get a pass because they covered their tracks so well.)
One thing of which I'm pretty certain of is that after the story broke and the show ended, someone from the House Intelligence Committee instantly began looking into contacting former diplomat Amos Hochstein about whether it's worth their while having him come in to give a deposition on the meeting with Ukraine president-elect Zelensky.
You can read the full story here, written by Desmond Butler and Michael Biesecker.
In fairness, yes, both stories of the day are huge. It’s really almost a toss of the coin which is bigger. I just fall on the side of the pressuring.
But let's put it this way: if one thinks that this story about Zelensky feeling pressured to the extent that he held meetings about it.is only the second biggest story of the day, then the day was even far-more horrifically worse for Trump than before...
A perfect call, indeed.
This week's episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was the year's finale for 2019. I was extremely pleased to see that the show's main story was about the census, which is critically important, and the Trump administration has been trying to manipulate it, which has gotten little coverage. While I found the humor a bit more forced than usual, the reporting itself was excellent and there was plenty of good fun with it.
By the way, at one point they show an old TV add promoting an earlier census -- given certain logistics I'm going to guess it's for 1970. The singer in the middle of the crowd who begins the number is Glenn Yarbrough, a member of The Limeliters who left for a solo career, and about who readers here might recall I posted a video not long ago singing the title song of an animated version of The Hobbit, "The Greatest Adventure."
You may recall Elise Stefanik, by action if not by name. She's the Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee who kept interrupting the proceedings by breaking the agreed-upon rules and then when she wasn't allowed to speak out of turn, snarkily kept whining that it was all Chairman Adam Schiff's fault.
(For the record, if you couldn't follow what the foundation of the issue was, it's this -- Before the hearings began, certain rules were set up on how the proceedings would be run, and they were agreed to. Among those rules it was determined that the first 45 minutes for each side would be restricted specifically and solely to either the party leader or the party's attorney -- and no one else. So, when Devin Nunes, the Ranking Member for the Republican Party tried to defer some of his opening time to Ms. Stefanik, that was against the agreed-upon rules. Neither he nor Adam Schiff could do that. Either Mr. Nunes or the Republican lawyer could speak during that first 45 minutes of GOP time -- but no one else.)
Anyway, after the hearing, Rep. Stefanik (R-NY 21) took to Twitter and began crowing about...well, something, but it seemed to be sort of that she had ostensibly, somehow exposed Adam Schiff to the world for apparently his supposed partisan unfairness -- and she was roundly trashed for it by those who understood that she was lying.
But what stood out most to me is that, in her social media complaints, she included a fundraising plea, asking people to donate to her campaign in order to allow her to keep speaking out against all this supposed Democratic unfairness. At which point it all became clear to me. After all, her interruptions and petulance during the hearing seemed so weird. But it seemed less weird (though no less reprehensible) when you saw it was a fundraising stunt to get people to donate money.
There's good news and bad news to this.
The good news is that it turns out the public took Elise Stefanik's words to heart, and they did indeed donate money to the race. The bad news is that people donated their money to her Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb instead. And in a really big way.
How big? By the end of the weekend, Tedra Cobb had received over one million dollars!
Two things to keep in mind: first, the above is time-stamped at 5:25 PM , so 15 hours later I have no idea how much more money has come pouring in since then and what the total is up to now. And second, this is for a congressional race. One million dollars is a huge amount of money. And that's not how much Ms. Cobb has to spend, but only how much she's raised in four days.
To be clear, the New York 21st district is solidly Republican. So, Elise Stefanik is in comfortable position. But when she ran year ago against the same Tedra Cobb, her margin of victory was safe, but not insurmountable. It was 14 points. And we've see a lot of swings of 15-20 points in local elections during the past year. And that's before Ms. Stefanik drew so much attention to herself whining and lying to defend Trump. Will that and the million dollars and whatever else Tedra Cobb raises be enough to overcome last year's 14-point difference? Who knows, we'll find out.
But when you ask people to donate to your race, be careful what you wish for -- you just might get it.
Today's guest contestant on the 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR game quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is actor Leslie Odom Jr. who came to particular fame winning a Tony Award starring in the musical Hamilton as Aaron Burr. Not shockingly he and host Peter Sagal don't talk all that much about his career but spend all the time interestingly talking behind-the-scenes stories about Hamilton.
This week, the guest on Al Franken's podcast is journalist Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker magazine. The two fellows discuss how what's known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact will guarantee that the winner of the popular vote will become president.
You may have heard of The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. If so, it is agreement to award member states’ electors to the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide The compact will only take effect when the states that have adopted it have a total of at least 270 electors -- that's the number a candidate needs to win the Electoral College . At this point, 14 states and the District of Columbia have voted to be a part of the compact. This brings the total to 187 electors -- still 83 short of becoming operational. Most recently, Colorado’s legislature and governor have approved it (which would add nine more electors) and -- as Franken puts it -- "nervous Conservatives have put it on the ballot as a Referendum in 2020." He ads that Hertzberg explains it all and why it’s good for every American except Donald Trump.
From the archives, this week's contestant is Alex Strong from Bloomington, Indiana. This is one of the more unlikely songs I've heard Bruce Adolphe hide in a classical style. Somewhat as a result of that it's a pretty easy song to guess, I think, but that nonetheless makes it quite fun to listen to. The composer style is definitely gettable, too, although it's from a period that most people probably have a difficult time differentiating between several of the better known composers of the era.
On this episode of 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guests are screenwriting partners Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster who have written two feature films this season, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Needless to say, the subject matter of these two movies seem to have absolutely nothing in common, which shows a wide range of versatility...
Three months ago, I wrote an article here about perhaps the worst series finale I've seen on television, the one for one of my favorite shows, Mad About You. It was so horrible that it pretty much killed off reruns of the highly-popular show for the past 20 years since it went off the air. The short version is that they took two characters who were deeply, crazy in mad love with one another -- mad about you -- and then got them divorced. Yes, they brought them back together many years later, but still, c'mon, seriously guys. It was awful.
The reason for writing the article was because it had just been announced that a new, 12-episode limited series of Mad About You would be brought to television in November. This coming Wednesday, if fact, on Spectrum.
In that article I wrote about not having the slightest idea how they will deal with the finale in relation to the new series.
Will they ignore the earlier finale, like Will and Grace did and just say, "Forget it, folks, It didn't really happen, it was just a misguided TV episode that didn't work right. Here's the real way it all went on." Or will that still be part of the show's story? Because it can be. The divorce in the finale took place 22 years later. This new series picks up 20 years after the first series ended. So, are they going to show us the final two years of a marriage as it breaks down?? That sounds fun! Or will they show these two years of an "empty nester" marriage (which is how the press releases describe it) as happy, fun and charming -- and ignore that right after this limited series ends the couple that's Mad About You will be getting divorced. Which would be artistically dishonest.
I wrote that I hoped it would be the former, that they'd just say, "Hey, we screwed up, forget it, that didn't happen, we were just riffing and filmed the first draft by mistake." Though I doubted they'd do that.
It turns out -- they're doing that!
In an interview with variety, showrunner and executive producer Peter Tolan says, "The things that you saw in that [the original finale] might happen in the future, but some of it won't, so we're not strictly being held to that finale. I'm pretending it didn't happen." He also quipped that he hoped "that not many people remember the finale,"
The way Tolan explains it is that, somewhat like Will & Grace which totally ignored its own finale that was deeply unsatisfying to fans and wouldn't have even allowed for its "reboot, he thought that most of the shows fan wouldn't care if he changes the world of the finale -- let alone simply ignores all of those events that took place in the finale's future. The way he put it is that all those events could simply be explained away as Paul and Jamie imagining what could lay ahead for their daughter. And that perhaps some of the details -- like Mabel making a movie at film school -- could still happen, just on a different timeline.
As for that daughter, by the way, the new series begins with Mabel going off to college. But that doesn't fit the timeline with when she was born -- in 1997. And Tolan explains that inconsistency away, too. As he puts it, "We're futzing with time a little bit."
So, instead of that original "imagined" version of what the couple were thinking maybe could possibly happen, the revival is what really, truly, honestly happened. Tolan says they actually did think of keeping the finale intact, but that idea didn't last long. Instead, he said -- wisely -- that "most of the viewers are just waiting to see those people again and there's some comfort level that has to be there."
And thus they are being really smart and simply ignoring the idiotic, dismal finale as It Didn't Happen. For years, when a rare rerun of the show would pop up on TV, I'd either watch for a few minutes and then turn off or just not watch at all, since the finale had taken the heart and soul out of believing anything that had gone on. Knowing now that the show is ignoring the finale in full, I've watched a bunch of episodes of the series which Spectrum has On Demand in its entirety -- and they're joyously wonderful.
So, I now look forward to the upcoming revival. And big points to the show's producers for being so wise in doing what should have been done. But it just points up to how incredibly nuts that they did that original finale in the first place. What on earth were they thinking??? Other than trying to be artsy without reason. But today, 22 years later, even they don't want to try to defend it.
So, I'm not Mad About Them at this point. Annoyed at what they initially did and the lost time? Sure. It's deserved. But I always admire people who can step back and acknowledge a mistake. Good for them.
And here's the trailer.
At the moment, I'm reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's excellent book Leadership: Lessons from the Presidents for Turbulent Times. Published last September, it's a look at the presidencies of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and LBJ from their beginnings to overcoming personal trials and how they become leaders in the White House during difficult periods in the nation's history. (If you're interested, you can find it here.)
I read a passage yesterday, and it was near-impossible not to overlap with it current events. It's a part of the section leading up to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and deals with how Lincoln was able to keep his cabinet together despite them being divided on what he was doing.
This is the Father of the Republican Party. Times change. I don't think any following comment after the passage is necessary.
"Time and again, Welles marveled, Lincoln 'declared that he, and not his Cabinet, was in fault for errors imputed to them.' His refusal to let a subordinate take the blame for his decisions was never better illustrated than by his public defense after McClellan attributed the Peninsula disaster to the War Department's failure to send sufficient troops. A vicious public assault upon Stanton ensued, with subsequent calls for his resignation. To create a dramatic backdrop that would garner extensive newspaper coverage, Lincoln issued an order to close down all the government departments at one o'clock so everyone might attend a massive Union rally on the Capitol steps. There, after the firing of cannon and patriotic music from the Marine Band, Lincoln directly countered McClellan's charge. He insisted that every possible soldier available had been sent to reinforce the general. 'The Secretary of War is not to blame for giving what he had none to give.' Then, as the applause mounted, Lincoln continued: 'I believe [Stanton] is a brave and able man, and I stand here, as justice requires me to do, to take upon myself what has been charged on the Secretary of War.' Lincoln's spirited defense of his beleaguered secretary skillfully extinguished the campaign against Stanton.
"In the end, it was Lincoln's character -- his consistent sensitivity, patience, prudence, and empathy -- that inspired and transformed every member of his official family. In this paradigm of team leadership, greatness was grounded in goodness."
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, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. 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.
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