From the archives. Hey, make it a party game to play on New Year's Eve. This week's contestant is Beatrice "Bee" Newman from Kapa'a, Hawaii. The short version is that it was a washout for me. Though I did come close on the composer. My guess was the same as the contestant, composer Bruce Adolphe said "You couldn't have been closer, and it could have been that person, it's that close," but it wasn't. As for the song, it's hugely known, very famous, but wonderfully hidden, so I didn't get it. There's one passage that might make it clear to some, but I just wasn't focusing enough to get it.
This is a charming and exceedingly low-key video that Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made, singing "What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?" Not-shockingly, I figured that it was reasonably appropriate tonight. How low-key are the production values? At the end, Ms. Deschanel leans over to click off the camera.
On the site, she also posts the following explanation --
"I have known Joe Gordon-Levitt for going on 12 years. We first met in the summer of 2000 while doing a tiny movie called Manic, where we bonded over a mutual appreciation for Harry Nilsson and Nina Simone and I have been lucky enough to call him one of my dearest friends ever since. When we did 500 Days of Summer 8 years later, we spent every lunch hour dancing to Marvin Gaye in the hair and make up trailer; we had loads of fun. I hope to do a thousand more movies with him because he's simply the best. But in the meantime, we made a little New Year's duet for all of you! The original by Nancy Wilson. ENJOY!"
For the sake of accuracy, she's wrong about a couple of things. For starters, it is not "by" Nancy Wilson. Yes, I know she (like many singers) is referring to who recorded it, but who a song is "by" is personal bugaboo of mine. And it's especially notable here because this particular song was written by the great Broadway composer Frank Loesser (who wrote Guys & Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, among others), though it wasn't for any show or movie, just a standalone song.
She's also wrong that the original was recorded by Nancy Wilson, missing by almost two decades. The original recording was performed by Margaret Whiting in 1947. (Wilson didn't record it until 1965, though she had a big hit with it, reaching #17 on the Billboard charts.)
But those are details. The performance itself is the lovely point of it all --
I saw this program listed this afternoon minutes before it started and recorded it, but haven't had a chance to watch yet. But happily if you're in the Los Angeles area, it's being repeated tonight at midnight (Saturday night/Sunday morning) on KOCE. Check your local listing if you live elsewhere, and hopefully PBS stations be airing it nationally.
It's called JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala. The special is footage of the pre-inaugural entertainment for John Kennedy in January, 1961. The description says that the performers include (are you ready?) Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Ethel Merman, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Durante and Metropolitan Opera star Helen Traubel (who later in her career starred in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Pipe Dream.)
Yowza. Quite the historical document.
I've noticed that the two times I've dared to politely criticize a TV host on Twitter, his fans have come out of the woodwork to relentlessly SLAM me for daring to say anything negative about their beloved hero. But the even more whimsical thing is that BOTH TIMES the hosts themselves actually replied politely in basic apology for the gaffe.
The first time was Ali Velshi, which I wrote about here. The most recent was last night, when I sent a note about ESPN's SportCenter with Scott Van Pelt, since oddly the show didn't cover the Northwestern bowl game win -- a game that ESPN thought noteworthy enough to actually broadcast. He very thoughtfully wrote back to say that they'd intended to cover it, but the show got cut back by 30 minutes. Perfectly good and gracious explanation. Yet the slams poured on...
It's sort of a tribal pack mentality (or perhaps a wolf pack mentality...), yet it transcends that because it's SO funny and bizarre when the Beloved Hero himself has actually responded and acknowledged the gaffe. Yet there are the LOYAL AND MOST DEVOTED ACOLYTES defending their Beloved Hero to the ends of the earth and trying to shred any enemy who dare criticize him about anything. I always want to write back to such people, "Hey, y'know, we ALL make gaffes. Even Shakespeare wrote Troilus and Cressida. Even Dickens wrote Barnaby Rudge. Even Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, Me and Juliet. It happens. Deal with it."
It reminds me of when I got into a bit of a kerfuffle with Alec Baldwin on the Huffington Post a few years back in which we traded a couple of articles during the WGA strike. (Long story, but it began when he defended the tactics of directors when it came to strikes, schooling the Writers Guild, and I explained why this was historically wrong-headed. He didn't take well to that, and a further exchange followed. I was chomping at the bit to reply after he snarked at me directly, but instead I followed the Nell Minow Rule: "Someone has to be the adult here" and instead just walked away.) Yet even after stopping, I still kept getting slammed in the Comment Section of my articles by his adoring fans, prostrating themselves to the Beloved Hero. I tended not to respond, but think that I did at one point write back to someone, "No matter how hard you try, he isn't going to invite you over for dinner.")
The inveterate Chris Dunn has described this syndrome well. They way he put it is "If the Beloved Hero isn't looped in [the the Twitter exchange] to begin with, the Defender of the Faith will be sure to @ them into the conversation so as to ensure getting credit for standing up for them. I see it ALL. THE. TIME."
Someone on Twitter commiserated with me and said that this is precisely why the "Block" option exists. That's true, except that, alas, I have yet mastered the skill to Block someone in advance and expectation... That said, after-the-fact, I did choose the Mute option here. Generally, I prefer to utilize blocking for things like racism and crudity, rather than inordinate foolishness...
And speaking of "inordinate foolishness," I might possibly be willing to include the concept of going on Twitter to dare criticize a TV host. Foolish, perhaps, but when deserved at least one is now forewarned. And as such can be ready to duck.
Twitter: It's Not Just for Twits Anymore.
Just a quick word to say Huzzah for the beloved Northwestern winning the Music City Bowl game yesterday, beating Kentucky in a squeaker 24-23.
No, the Music City Bowl is not quite the most significant bowl game around, but hey, when up until recently your team had the worst record in the history of college football, you take every bowl win -- let alone every bowl appearance -- with joy. Moreover, this was the first time in school history that Northwestern has won two bowl games in back-to-back seasons. Mind you, that's not unexpected considering that they had a 45-year stretch when they didn't even play in a bowl game.
It was a bizarre game, filled with oddities, but...hey, it's a win. So, again...Huzzah!
The guest on this week's 3rd & Fairfax podcast from the Writers Guild of America is screenwriter Stephen Chbosky, whose most recent work is the upcoming film, Wonder, which he co-wrote and also directed. Among his other movie credits are the live-action Beauty and the Best, Rent and Perks of a Teenage Wallflower, which is based on his novel and he also directed.
I love the series on CNBC, The Profit, with entrepreneur businessman Marcus Lemonis. Normally, the show consists of him investing in some company in trouble and trying to help it turnaround. This week’s special episode was totally different – nothing to do with the usual.
Instead, the show was a documentary of his three trips to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, traveling the island to look at the aftermath. And it was absolutely wonderful. The Profit in Puerto Rico: An American Crisis. In fact, it’s probably the best “news” coverage of the devastation there of anything I’ve seen, even long pieces done by news organizations. Not only did it cover the disaster there better than anything, but it was done in a human and “entertaining” way. (Not “entertaining” as in fun, but as in watchable.) All of which made the show eminently watchable.
I wish every member of Congress would watch it. I don't say that I wish Trump would watch it because I doubt anything would make a difference there. But the crushing reality of what has pummeled the island and the massive hurdles still left to deal with is profound. And the undercurrent running through everything is that this is an American territory and that the people living there are all American citizens. It would hard for most elected officials with even half an open mind to think that All is Well there and well on the road to recovery after watching this broadcast, which appears to have been completed only within the past month.
Marcus Lemonis is not a journalist. He's a businessman. But his conversations with rescue workers, local residents, emergency doctors, elected officials, FEMA aides, local business owners, people moving from the island, those stranded and more, as he joins workers heading into the most at-risk areas, is as pointed and involving as any reporter. Many sequences stand out, like the woman cut off from the rest of the island because a bridge was destroyed, and she's too afraid of heights to climb down the long make-shift ladder and then cross cross the river. Or a passage when Lemonis, in his understated but compassionate way discusses the limited reconstruction efforts of just a few trucks ("If this was on the mainland, you know this road would be filled with trucks...") with a FEMA worker doing his best to put on his positive face with few resources given him.
The worker explains what they're doing. Lemonis politely replies, "But they need more." The worker notes the improvements that have been made. Lemonis responds politely, "But they need more." The worker talks about what they expect. Lemonis quietly says, "But they need more."
At one point, being a businessman, he makes an intriguing business observation. Visiting a moving company for people leaving the island, he notes that all the cars are high-end, which means the people leaving are the highest wage earners, creating an even bigger problem for Puerto Rico's recovery and future.
If you were unaware of the show, or missed the broadcast or didn’t record it, it’s probably available On Demand, or you can get it online here. (The CNBC online viewer requires that your system have Adobe Flash installed, but if it's not, they offer links to do so.
Here's the promo --
The quite-wonderful folks at Bad Lip Reading have a new video out, and it's just in time for the holidays before the New Year kicks in, their seasonal gift to everyone. As always, it's a hoot -- though this one is quite a bit different from all the others. (Indeed, it doesn't rely on direct lip reading as some of the others, I shall say no more...) And that makes it all the more loopy.
Happy Holidays. From their house to our house to yours...
I got a note yesterday from my friend Eric Boardman who sent me the unfortunate news that Dick Orkin passed away the other day, at the age of 84.
Many of you may know of Dick Orkin without knowing it, but he was wildly popular in Chicago for decades. It began in the late-60s/early-70s when he created (and did most of the voices for) the often-hilarious parody Chickenman for WCFL radio. The radio series, with 3-4 minute episodes, later branched out on its own and was syndicated on 326 radio stations in six countries. It told the misadventures of an oddball shoe salesman named Benton Harbor who lived with his mother, but freelanced when it was convenient as the Wonderful White-Winged Warrior to help Midland City, but usually screwed things up.
Later, Orkin and his partner Bert Berdis created wildly successful and wonderfully radio ads that were heard through the country, but Chicago was their centerpiece. They were so fun (sort of in the Stan Freberg mode, but with their own unique twists) that my folks -- especially my mother -- who were generally annoyed at having to listen to ads would actually hope to hear one of their commercials, notable for Orkin's recognizable voice, when listening to the WBBM All News station, and would often tell me about the latest one. My mother's favorites were for the First American Bank, but she loved them all. (Eventually Orkin and Berdis went their separate ways, but Orkin had his own ad agency that continues to work today. His daughter Lisa is carrying the company on, and Orkin was still working having recorded a new one only a couple weeks ago.) Side note: Eric Boardman worked with Orkin and Berdis for several years.
Here's a nice obituary on Dick Orkin in the Chicago Tribune.
In case you've never heard the show, here's an episode of Chickenman. No explanation is necessary, it should all be pretty clear. The only thing to note is that the Commissioner's secretary was this world-weary the whole time. She was voiced by Jane Roberts (later Runyon), and the show's narrator was her subsequent husband, Jim Runyon, both who worked at WCFL.
(Trivia note: their daughter Jennifer has had a fairly successful career as an actress, mainly on television, such as the soap opera Another World for a few years, but also some film work, including a small role in Ghostbusters. In fact, has a film credit as recently as last year.)
And though I couldn't find a radio spot for First American Bank (yet -- I'll keep looking), this is a typical Orkin-Berdis radio ad for K-Mart. Orkin plays the manager.
As the Trump administration, and its surrogates the election officials of the Republican, continue on their parade to try and smear anyone on the opposite side, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has become their latest (or, more accurately, I suppose, one of their latest) target. And in doing so, I was intrigued by two particular claims against him about impartiality.
The first is that McCabe has a supposed conflict-of-interest and can't investigate fairly because his wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, had been a candidate for the Virginia state senate when she received a large contribution from a political action committee that was associated with then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe who (sorry, don't stop yet, we have to connect all the dots...) is friends and a one-time associate of Hillary Clinton.
There are many arguments that one could make to address this twisted tale, not the least of which is that it's not not against FBI rules, nor even inappropriate for FBI agents to have outside political interests, let alone that their spouses have outside interest and personal lives, and that the requirement of their FBI job is that they do their professional work fairly and objectively. And there is zero evidence presented or even intimated that Andrew McCabe has been anything but exemplary and impeccable. But that isn't the argument that leaped out to me, but something else entirely. It was the memory of when it came to light in 20111 that the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Virginia Thomas, was the founder and chief lobbyist of a conservative Tea Party firm, Liberty Consulting. And Republicans in Congress found absolutely no conflict-of-interest problem with this. Never mind that Mrs. Thomas was, in fact, directly earning current, active income for the Thomas household from lobbying issues that her Supreme Court Justice husband was directly deciding the Law of the Land on. No, no, that was absolutely fine to Republicans. Not a problem. No conflict. Nothing to see here, move along, sonny.
I was going to say that it seems like Republicans should make up their mind -- except it's clear they already have. They made up their mind six years ago when they said that there was zero conflict of interest for a Supreme Court Justice whose wife earns income for the family household when lobbying on issues he's actively deciding. So, since by any standard that's overwhelmingly more a potential conflict than "a friend of an associate who's connected to an organization that once helped the wife of an investigator two years earlier," it seems pretty clear that Republicans are not-shockingly being abundantly hypocritical and should shut up about their whining already.
The other Republican claim about Andrew McCabe's supposed-inability to do his job is that the Deputy Director is himself such a deep partisan for Democrats that he is much too impartial to do his job fairly. Again, never mind that there's been absolutely no evidence presented to show that Andrew McCabe is in the slightest impartial in his FBI work, but what leaps out to me is again something else. It's that all the Republican officials who are making this particular charge (one of the most vocal being Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX) are themselves so deeply outraged in their profound, stomach-churning hatred of Democrats -- not just about Andrew McCabe, or Robert Mueller (who is a Republican, but never mind, don't muddy the water with reality), but virtually All Things Democratic, for years, Mr. Gohmert especially being a professional partisan of such intensity that he famously got so worked up when questioning then-Attorney General Eric Holder at a House committee hearing that he couldn't speak straight and spewed out his hatred that the Attorney General "was casting aspersions at my asparagus" -- that by their own argument every one of these Republicans should be required to recuse themselves on deciding anything in Congress, including any possible, upcoming impeachment vote, that has to do with Democrats or Republicans because of their clear, overwhelming partisanship.
Hey, it's their standard. And unlike with Andrew McCabe, there actually is evidence -- years of evidence, on the record, on video -- of their ongoing partisanship and visceral hatred of Democrats, most notably Barack Obama, So, well, maybe they should just shut up about that, too.
And by the way, just to close -- lest anyone think that I was being hyperbolic about Louie Gohmert being flummoxed by his anger at Eric Holder and that he really only said something that sort of, maybe, kind of sounded like "casting aspersions on my asparagus," no, that's exactly what he said. Let's go to the tape.
To which Attorney General Eric Holder -- given a chance to respond with time having run out -- famously replied simply, "Good luck to your asparagus."
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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