On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Atlantic Monthly’s Adam Serwer. They discuss his book about the Trump Administration: The Cruelty is the Point. As Al writes, “Separating kids from their parents at the border? Mocking a disabled journalist? Cutting food stamps? The Cruelty is the Point!”
Apparently there are two different versions of the audiobooks for the Harry Potter series. I was aware of Jim Dale reading the books, but apparently that's just for the American market. But it seems that Stephen Fry does the audiobooks for the series in England. The only thing I can figure is that Fry has a more low-key style that they figure fits young British readers better. Or not. (If you don't know his work, for years the very erudite Fry was partnered with Hugh Laurie as a comedy team -- not doing standup bits, but sketch comedy and a series about Jeeves and Bertie Wooster based on the P.G. Wodehouse Jeeves books.)
This is simply a funny story that Fry tells (wonderfully) about doing the audio books for Harry Potter. I came across it by accident over the weekend. It’s all great fun, but there’s a point to it that’s a hoot, which you will love. I don’t want to give it away.
We're going to head over to Turkey this morning. Nothing particular to write since the video tells the story pretty well. And stick to the end since there's a nice sort-of addendum.
It's just a really nice story and deserves to be passed along. Especially without
Apparently, this seems to be from 2017, but it's worth the wait. And it seems the total is now around 6,000. That will make more sense after you watch the video.
Just so that you know it's not only me, the Washington Post had a positive review yesterday of the memoir that my friend Steve Fiffer co-wrote with civil rights legend C.T. Vivian. Among other things it said, which were mostly about Rev. Vivian's career, were its opening two paragraphs --
"There is good news and bad news about 'It’s in the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior,' the memoir of civil rights icon C.T. Vivian, whom the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the greatest preacher ever to live.”
"The good news is that future scholars of history and the civil rights movement, and readers who admire the contributions of those who led nonviolent change, can learn about Vivian’s works and life through his own thoughts and words. The bad news is that Vivian, who died last year, waited until a very mature age to begin writing this memoir, so he is no longer able to receive well-deserved accolades for the work he documented in this important new book."
The review by Wanda S. Lloyd later added -- "There is no disputing that Vivian waited a long time to begin 'It’s in the Action,' a concise yet well-documented volume of his work as an activist, civil rights worker, writer and preacher. Vivian’s friend, writer Steve Fiffer, who collaborated with the author and completed the book after Vivian’s death, writes admiringly in the preface that Vivian “could tell a story or tell off a racist antagonist with equal poetry.”"
So, I just want it know that while I'm biased, that doesn't mean I'm wrong...
A few months back, I wrote about an upcoming book co-written by my friend Steve Fifer back in Chicago, It's In the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior, an autobiography of Civil Rights legend C.T. Vivian, who collaborated with Steve. Vivian sadly died this past July at age 96, although happily his memorial service got a great deal of national attention, including having Barack Obama as one of the speakers
I'm above three-quarters through the book and am enjoying it -- especially because so much of it concerns voter suppression and the fight through the 1950s and early '60s for the Voting Rights Act. Talk about timely. (Vivian, who helped lead many of the non-violent protests during that time, also briefly addresses when the Supreme Court reprehensibly rolled back the Voting Rights Act, basically saying it wasn't needed in full anymore since basically All is Well. The reason I bring it up today is because of a passage I read yesterday.
In that section, Rev. Vivian talks about a confrontation he had in 1965 with the infamous racist Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma on the courthouse steps. The event was noteworthy enough that the book quotes Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and U.N. Ambassador as saying that without that moment, which was caught on film and played extensively on television, that "We would not have had the Voting Rights Act." Reporter Ernie Suggs of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is quoted that because it was on television, historians have called the exchange on the steps "one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement."
The book even explains how to find the important moment online -- which I suspect was a Fiffer inclusion. I won't say why the confrontation was so important, since it will stand out all the more if you see it as if new, and I tracked down the video to post here.
Vivan says about Sheriff Clark that he "was a bully, but he was hardly unique. His society, his cultute allowed bullies. Look at the values that the churches they went to taught. You can't be good under those circumstances. Understanding this, you won't be surprised to learn that Clark not only denied our contingent of would-be registrants entry to the courthouse, but his manner was, shall we say, less than friendly polite."
And not only is that him saying this half-a-century later, but watching the video, and from want C.T. Vivian says in the book, it seems pretty clear that he knew this at the time about Sheriff Clark, and went out of his way to push things to their fullest on the courthouse steps. Clark, of course, could have stepped back and handled the situation as a sheriff should. Rev. Vivian appears pretty certain he wouldn't. In fact, as Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights historian Taylor Branch said about the exchange that Vivian "knew it was gonna advance the movement the moment it happened."
Here's that famous confrontation on the Selma courthouse steps.
Almost two years ago to the day, I wrote here about a truly wonderful memoir of her renowned parents by my friend Vicki Riskin. Vicki, I must note, is very accomplished on her own -- a former president of the Writers Guild of America, whose own credits include writing the TV movie My Antonia, producing Member of the Wedding, and is also a former practicing psychologist, an international board member for 12 years of Human Rights Watch -- at one point, its president -- and recipient of the WGA's Valentine Davies Award for "bringing honor to writers everywhere." .
But how renowned were her parents?
Her father was screenwriter Robert Riskin, one of the founders of what is now the Writers Guild of America, as well as the long-time partner of director Frank Capra, and the Oscar-winning screenwriter for It Happened One Night (the first film to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress). Robert Riskin was also the writer of Mr. Deeds Comes to Town, Meet John Doe, You Can't Take It With You, Lost Horizon, Lady for a Day (which was later remade by Capra, as well, as Pocketful of Miracles), and many, many more. Moreover, he headed the U.S. government's Bureau of Motion Pictures during WWII. (I wrote about him in greater detail here.) And her mother was even more famous -- honest -- the actress Fay Wray, best-known, of course, for starring in King Kong, but also with a half-century-long career of making more than 100 films, and even wrote Broadway plays and books. And an autobiography of her fascinating life that has one of the best titles ever -- On the Other Hand.
I mention all this because her book, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir, has just been released in paperback, and you can find it here. (For that matter, it's also available in a Kindle edition, for thems who read books that way.)
There are several reasons the book is so terrific. For starters, most memoirs of their parents aren't written by children who are professional writers, and Vicki writes with grace and charm. Also, most children who write memoirs of their parents aren't trained psychologists who can bring such deep insight into their work. And also, what I love about any biography or autobiography is that it isn't just about the person, but as much about the times, and serves as a history book, as well as memoir. And Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir is not just a rich, lovely tale of two fascinating people, but the story of Hollywood from the silent movies through its Golden Age and into WWII.
By the way, lest anyone think my high praise of the book is biased, here are just some of the reviews which show that I'm not alone.
"Graceful and loving. . . . There is so much to admire about both subjects that it’s a pleasure to engage with them in this warm and edifying biography. It earns my highest recommendation."—Leonard Maltin
"One of the great real-life Hollywood love stories; a warm, evocative, and deeply moving tale."—Kenneth Turan, former Los Angeles Times film critic
"Victoria Riskin remembers her parents with warmth and a perceptible touch of melancholy....Wray's diary entries, along with the adoring love letters Riskin wrote her when he was engaged in his war work, constitute the raw, mournful heart of their daughter's touching memoir."—Scott Eyman, Wall Street Journal
"In this engrossing tribute to her parents, the author provides a thoughtfully documented portrait of early Hollywood. A must-read for fans of this era of film history." -- Kirkus Reviews
So, no, it isn't just me. It's really good.
Anyway, the book is now available in paperback. And I just wanted people to know. It deserves its praise and success, and I hope now that it gets even more.
Every year around this time, there are articles about which recorded version of A Christmas Carol is "the best." Usually it comes down to the films that starred either Alistair Sim or Reginald Owen.
But for me, it's this one. It's not a movie, though, or a TV production. It's, of all things, an audio version that was done in 1960 for, I believe, the BBC. It's quite wonderful and as good an adaptation of the story as I've come across. It stars Sir Ralph Richardson as Scrooge, and Oscar-winner Paul Scofield as Dickens, the narrator. Casts don't get much better than that.
I first heard this on radio station WFMT in Chicago which has been playing this every Christmas Eve for many decades. Eventually, I found it on audio tape. I've listened to it annually since I was a kidling. Some years I think I won't listen to it this year, but put it on for a few minutes for tradition's sake -- but after the first sentence it sucks me in.
There are four reasons why, for me, this is far and away the best version. But one reason leaps out.
First, the acting is as good as it gets. Scofield is crisp and emphatic as the narrator, and almost every creak of his voice draws you in to the world, and Richardson as Scrooge is a Christmas pudding joy. Second, being radio, you aren't limited by budgets to create the Dickensian world. Your imagination fills in every lush and poverty-stricken, nook and cranny -- and ghostly spirit, aided by moody sound effects and violins. Third, the adaptation sticks closely to the Dickens tale, and Scrooge comes across more a realistic, rounded-person than as a Mythic Icon.
And fourth, and most of all by far, unlike any of the other version, this includes...Dickens. While the story of A Christmas Carol is beloved, it's Dickens' writing that makes it even more vibrant than the story alone is. And that's all lost in the movie versions, even down even to the legendary opening line, "Marley was dead, to begin with." Or any of the other classic narrative lines. (Like my favorite, when Scrooge first comes in contact with a ghost and was "as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.") Or the richness of Dickens setting the mood and tone and description of the gritty and ephemeral and emotional world. All that's gone in movies, good as the productions may be. But all of that is here in this radio adaptation, and Scofield's reading of it is joyously wonderful and memorable. For many, this will be A Christmas Carol unlike any other you're aware of, giving it a meaning and richness you didn't realize was there. The ending of the tale is so much more moving and joyful here, as we listen to Dickens' own words, that begin with "Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more," and it soars from there, to perhaps my favorite extended passage about the new Scrooge and how good he is in the "good old world. Or any other good old world."
If you have the time or inclination, do give it a listen. If only for five minutes to at least get the flavor. You might find yourself sticking around. Let it play in the background, if you have other things to do. It runs about 55 minutes.
(Side note: speaking of Dickens, if you know the original cast album of Oliver!, the actor here who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, Willoughby Goddard, was Mr. Bumble on Broadway and also in the original London production.)
Normally I would post this later in the evening -- but given the various time zones across the country, I thought that I'd get it embedded earlier to give as many listeners as possible the chance to hear it on Christmas Eve.
This might not play immediately, since it's a large file and may have to buffer first. But be patient, it's worth it.
My friend Steve Fiffer back in Chicago (okay, Evanston...) is a wonderful writer, with many non-fiction books to his credit -- including three books written with Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Jimmy Lee and James, about two lives and their deaths which lead to the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act.
All of Steve's books are not about the Civil Rights movement -- some are on politics, he's got a fun book on watching baseball, an excellent autobiography of his own inspiring journey overcoming a debilitating disability -- in which, okay I'm biased -- he mentions my dad, who was a doctor, twice...), and perhaps my favorite of his books is So You've Got a Great Idea, which is full of profiles of successful entrepreneurs and how they made it, along with a "case study" of Steve and his wife Sharon -- also a fine writer of the "Jane Wheel" mystery series -- coming up with an idea and seeing if they could use the lessons learned from the others to pull it off. However, his new book is not only again about Civil Rights, but one of its major figures.
His upcoming collaboration, It's In the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior, is an autobiography of Civil Rights legend C.T. Vivian, which he wrote with Steve. Vivian sadly died this past July at age 96, although happily the book had been completed. You may have seen the memorial ceremony that was carried in full on C-SPAN (which you can watch here, with video tributes by Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Hank Aaron, and others), Among many things, Vivian helped organize the Freedom Rides with Rev. Martin Luther King and in 2013 was awarded the appropriately-named Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
I mention all this because, though the book won't be published until March 9 next year, Amazon has it listed for pre-order -- and I know that publishers look at pre-orders in determining their marketing and promotion plans. This is not a push for people to order it. To each their own. Mainly, I was pleased to know about Steve co-writing such a prestigious book and wanted to bring it up. But also, given the subject matter, I thought that if anyone does, in fact, have interest in the Civil Rights Movement and C.T. Vivian's autobiography and might be considering getting it anyway, I just wanted to at least note the pre-order option here. (Know that if the price lowers, Amazon lowers it for those who have pre-ordered it, as well.)
At the very least, I'm very happy for Steve.
I was very sorry to find out about the passing of Rafer Johnson at the age of 86, one of the country's great athletes, who won the Decathlon at the 1960 Olympics and was a great ambassador for the U.S. since.
How great? It would be too long to go into detail, but I'll just note that when the United States hosted the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, the person chosen to light the Olympic flame was Rafer Johnson.
I was very sorry to find out about the passing of Rafer Johnson at the age of 86, one of the country's great athletes, who won the Decathlon at the 1960 Olympics and was a great ambassador for the U.S. since.
This is a good, 4-minute video of Johnson's Gold Medal victory, in what's considered one of greatest decathlon competitions in Olympic history. Not just because it was between the two top athletes in the world at the time, but they also were not only close friends...but teammates at UCLA, even though they were representing different countries.
I don't really have much of a personal story to pass along about Rafer Johnson, but he has a very nice autobiography, The Best That I Can Be, which was written with the talented Philip Goldberg, who I was friends with but alas haven't seen for years since moved out of state too long ago. The only time I cross paths with Rafer Johnson was when I went to a book-signing event. We didn't talk long -- there was a long line -- but he was gracious and spoke wonderfully about Phil, who over the years always spoke even far-higher of Rafer.
On his Facebook page, Phil wrote this --
"I just got the sad news that one of the finest people I've ever known, Rafer Johnson, has passed away at 86. In the 90s I had the profound honor of working with Rafer on his autobiography, "The Best That I Can Be." It was a joy and an inspiration from start to finish, and we remained friends ever since. For those who don't know, or remember, Rafer was one of the greatest athletes in American history, and to my mind an even greater human being and citizen."
If you're interested in the book, you can find it here.
Honestly, I don't have a clue what the worst story of the day was. Was the worst story saying on tape that you knew in early February that the coronavirus was worse than the deadly flu, something he later said publicly otherwise? Was the worst story saying on tape that you knew the coronavirus infected people by airborne transmission, something he later said publicly otherwise, that face masks weren't necessary? Was the worst today of the days saying on tape that you knew young people could get infected, something he later said publicly otherwise as recently as 2-3 weeks ago that you thought young people were immune of the coronavirus and that you want communities to open up schools for them?
Was the worst story saying on tape that we had a secret new nuclear weapons system? Giving away confidential nuclear information is pretty bad. Former CIA DIrector John Brennan said what most concerned him was that if Trump was telling a reporter top secret information, what might he be telling foreign leaders? Telling our adversaries? Telling...anyone?
Was the worst story laughing at a question about white privilege and then ridiculing the reporter by telling him he'd drunk the Kool-Aid?
I don't know, they're all pretty awful. But then, it's possible that the worst story of the day might not have even been any of the revelations from Bob Woodward's book. It might have been the story of whistleblower Brian Murphy, former acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence branch, He told investigators that Trump had intelligence changed about Russian threats against U.S. elections and threats by white supremacist groups and kept from law enforcement. So, police and other agencies were kept in the dark and unable to act on those threats. Is that story worse than the others? It’s pretty darn bad.
And that’s just from today. We aren’t even talking about all the terrible revelations from Michael Cohen yesterday on the release of his book.
And no, we haven’t forgotten the article from The Atlantic about Trump demeaning the military and calling the wounded and dead “losers” and “suckers.”
And keep in mind that “all” these revelations from Bob Woodward’s book are only from about four or five brief excerpts that got released, since the full book isn’t due to be published until next week. Are these “the worst” stories from the book? They’re all obviously very bad, and some may be among the worst, but any good marketing campaign will hold back other major newsworthy stories to keep making headlines between now and the book’s release.
And, of course, the worst story is still the pandemic – regardless of what Trump says he knew and whether he know when he knew what he knows -- and that we passed 195,000 deaths in the country, so far.
Among my personal favorite stories of yesterday, though, was his attempt at explaining his silence by saying he wanted to downplay the pandemic because he didn’t want people to panic.
First of all, as we have seen for the past 3-1/2 years, Trump seems to wake up every morning wondering how many ways he can panic people. And going back further, we come to his cries of birtherism. Or we can even go back to when he took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to call for the execution of the innocent Central Park Five.
Second, if you don’t want people to panic, you have a plan and are honest with people to keep them informed. If a hurricane is about to hit the coast, you don’t downplay it to those living there and ignore telling them how dangerous it is, you set up shelters and explain the evacuation system.
Third, to this day, seven months later, Trump is still downplaying the pandemic. He holds rallies without social distancing, he doesn’t wear a face mask or require others around him to wear one, he just ridiculed a reporter for wearing a mask, he still doesn’t have a national testing program, he says he wants testing cut back, he wants students to go back to school, he wants students and professionals to play football – where people huddle, line up inches from each other, and wrap their arms around their opponents to tackle them. He’s ridiculed Joe Biden sheltering and wearing a face mask. He still says the coronavirus will disappear like a miracle. And on and on and on and on.
“Panic” has nothing to do with it, We’re well past panic, 195,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, and Trump has never stopped downplaying it. Concern over “panic” is not an issue, and never was to Trump. He downplayed the coronavirus in February because he didn’t want the stock market to collapse and didn’t want the public to know about it since it would hurt his election chances. And he continues to downplay it because he’s stuck believing his lies.
We’re going to turn the rest of today’s platform over the former Senator Claire McCaskill, who was on fire yesterday on MSNBC. She appeared on a segment with host Nicolle Wallace and John Heileman, and as thoughtful and pointed as they were, she was absolutely red-hot furious at what Trump has done to America.
But Ms. McCaskill was just getting warmed up. Later in the segment, the tropic of Trump simply doing the interviews with Trump came up -- not just the interviews, but 18 of them. And she became near-operatic, almost Shakespearean in her bewilderment. The treat here is not just watching her, but also Heileman and Wallace, who know better than most anyone how what she is saying is SO true. Him, because he wrote one of the definitive books on a presidential campaign, Game Change, and her from the other perspective, as a communications director working to keep journalists away from the candidate at the end of a campaign. I only wish the video didn’t end the clip so early, as soon as she finishes, because you only see them start to break out laughing.
And since I can't top that, I won't try.
In the words of Edward R. Murrow -- good night, and good luck.
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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