This is a bit of personal folderol, but so offbeat, unexpected and weird, and ultimately funny, that it’s worth retelling.
It begins by helping to know who Clint Watts is. I suspect that most people who watch MSNBC do know, since he’s on often as a former FBI agent who’s testified before Congress and serves as the network’s analyst. He’s straight-forward, objective and no nonsense. Here’s some video footage in case you need a reminder or introduction.
On Tuesday, Mr. Watts was again on MSNBC, talking from home about something critical – I believe it was the January 6th insurrection – and he did it in his as-always serious manner. Except there was one minor thing very different which leaped out, and was so surprisingly funny that I thought it deserved to be mentioned, and so I sent out a tweet about it. I wrote –
“I just love that the always serious, profoundly objective, deeply staid former FBI agent Clint Watts is now on MSNBC with a ‘GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY’ whiteboard behind him.”
It was hard to miss. As he spoke in his low-key, but blunt and forceful way about the critical topic, he’d put up a large whiteboard behind him and handwrote his message about this weekend’s big Army-Navy football game in very big letters.
To make it even more surprising, a few minutes after I posted my note, I saw that it had gotten “Liked” by – Clint Watts. And then it was immediately followed by another public tweet from him to me that simply read, “#Go Army #BEAT navy.”
Not what I expected from Clint Watts.
Nor did I expect the adventure that was to follow from my benign, complimentary tweet.
What happened was that shortly after, there was a responding tweet to me and Clint Watts from somebody chiding me, saying that the last thing they would ever describe Clint Watts as was “dull.”
Okay, yes, it missed the point of my good-natured observation, but – c’mon, I didn’t call Clint Watts dull. I said he was always serious and profoundly objective. In these days of recommending to drink bleach and believing JFK is coming back from the dead, that's almost as high praise as I can give someone. Yes, I also said he was “deeply staid,” but the very definition of...
Well, as I was pondering this, another similar note came in reply to me and Clint Watts, taking me to task for my description of him. And then, even Clint Watts jumped in, saying to my burgeoning dismay something like how that was his thought, too. Which struck me as a bit odd since he’d “Liked” my initial tweet.
No one seemed actually upset, it was still at the kidding-around level, but kidding about something I not only hadn't said, but wouldn't dream of saying and opposite of the point I had made. I felt I had to do something, not wanting a single misunderstood word to insult someone whose career protecting the United States was truly estimable I was praising, so I responded individually to everyone who’d replied by writing
“To clarify, ‘dull’ is only the *second* definition in my dictionary of ‘staid’ But the FIRST definition is – ‘Characterized by dignity and propriety.’ That's what I was going for -- the FIRST definition.”
I thought that would resolve things at last. But the way Twitter works, people can see the first tweet alone, and not necessarily your replies and clarification that scroll by later. And a few more did come in. And the other previous respondents kept commenting on it to themselves.
At last, I felt that I had to make another effort to stop the bleeding. (Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but my initial benign little note was getting out of hand, especially towards someone I admired. So, I wrote directly to Clint Watts --
And I also decided to take preventative action so that this all didn’t spread further out of control. So, I deleted my initial tweet and instead wrote a new note that said “Since one adjective in an earlier tweet has been misinterpreted by some, I replaced it” – and then reposted what I'd originally written...but instead of the word “staid,” I used “dignified.”
And that seemed to do the trick to end the barrage, though not for the "Ohhh, okay, I get it" reason I thought. Rather, and most importantly, these other folks seemed to realize my moderate distress and so, it also brought about explanations about what had been going on.
It turned out that all these people I thought had been chastising me were, in fact, longtime friends of Clint Watts, and they were really ridiculing him.
As one of the correspondents wrote --
Well, that was certainly a relief. I had not insulted someone, even mildly, who was pretty heroic. I wrote back, "Thanks much, I appreciate it. And I completely understand private jokes with good friends. (And I'm glad to have been able to start it off, even if unknowingly...) I'm sure you can understand why, as an unawares recipient, I wanted to clarify I was trying to be complimentary."
Which got a "Like" in return from him. And pretty much the same in exchanges with others.
But the best came from the Mothership himself, since he had been following along with all the others.
It was indeed a "Phew!" moment. All the more so when he also noted, "No worries. I love being staid!” In fairness, I knew I hadn't written anything incorrect or remotely insulting -- but I also knew that it had been misinterpreted by others just a bit, including by the subject of it all himself who (even though he had "Liked" the comment) deserved a great deal of respect. Most especially because I'm sure he has been vilified relentlessly over the past few years for his harsh, public criticism of the lawlessness by the Trump administration -- not to mention what he's dealt without throughout his career.
And so, I wrote back that, "As you can imagine, I'm pleased no faux pas was committed, & that I was able to be the catalyst of the exchange between good friends...even if I had no idea what on earth I was doing. I suspect these days, any public figure being called a "wonderful" adjective is a rare relief."
Which, happily, he "Liked."
Which I liked.
And yes, as I said, the whole thing was so offbeat, unexpected and weird. And ultimately funny.
And Shakespearean -- since all's well that ends well.
Yesterday while watching Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC, they did a brief piece on the meltdown by Ted Cruz and other Republicans over Big Bird from Sesame Street sending out a tweet about kids getting vaccinated. But Mitchell's story left out one important point, which I tweeted. I wrote --
"Note to @mitchellreports -- if you do another story about Republicans "outraged" at the beloved fictional Muppet Big Bird for advocating the COVID vaccine, I hope you mention that Big Bird has been supporting that kids gets vaccinated since 1972!!! Almost half a century!"
This brought about an angry response -- not about me, but about Andrea Mitchell who tends to get criticism from both the right and the left when she does something they don't like. The person wrote --
"She sucks, and how her and Chuck Todd still have jobs, is beyond shocking"
Well, I thought that was a tad harsh, especially given her long and distinguished career. And normally I'd have let it slide, but since it was addressed to me, I didn't want my silence to suggest agreement. So, I wrote back --
"I don't agree. She doesn't always do stories the way I wish, & it bugs me but I don't expect her to report to my standards. However, in the Big Bird story she did jab Cruz & others for attacking a fictional character. And showed Big Bird's tweet saying he'd been vaxxed for years."
And that brought about a note from my correspondent, who replied --
"That's a fair assessment."
I could only just roll my eyes. I mean, yes, I did add a little bit of information, but it was pretty minor. Especially since it was written to someone who wasn't just complaining about this one small report, but stating bluntly overall that Andrea Mitchell "sucks" and how it's "beyond shocking" that she even has a job.
Mind you, I'm not complaining. I was explaining the person to begin slamming me as a right-wing apologist and something. So, I was actually quite pleased by the reply. But the eye-rolling for such a 180-degree switch from the outrage (!!) was too much.
Yes, hyperbolic angst is alive and well on social media, even when people don't exactly mean it.
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...
Yesterday on Twitter and Facebook, I posted the following. I thought nothing of it, I've linked to such stories regularly. And usually on Twitter I get somewhere between 5 and 50 "Likes" or retweets. (Facebook is much different, since responses there are limited to people who follow me. On Twitter, things can get retweeted endlessly and bounced around all over the place.)
While pointed, I thought it was pretty benign.
For reasons totally unexpected by me, this one made some people very angry on Twitter. I responded to a few, though not many. In part because I didn't care enough and had no interest in debating anyone so venal or snarky, but in part too because there were too many responses, and I just had zero interest reading through them all.
On the other side of the coin, however many angry replies I got, they were paltry, overwhelmed by the tsunami of people who were pleased by the story. As I write this in the morning, about 12 hours after having posted that above-tweet, I have also now gotten more "Likes"...than there were expected attendees! So far, and the number keeps rising, there have been over 12,000 (!!) "Likes," and it has clogged up my Twitter feed. [UPDATE: Four hours later, it's now over 17,000, which is officially the most responses I've gotten to a tweet.]
For what it's worth, I also (not surprisingly) have not responded to many of the notes where people have written positive comments. Just too many to read, of course. At first, I did reply to people who said that there's no way that's even 1,000 people. I explained that I was just quoting the newspaper article, and noted that there might be people in the balcony (if there was one), or behind the camera, or in the lobby -- and also that it's a two-day event, so maybe the 1,000 includes both days. But after a handful of writing those answers, I gave up with that, too.
(Okay, a side note: I did see one snarky tweet scroll by this morning from a Trumper, and just had to respond to it. It was too perfect a set-up not to. What he wrote was, "Joe cant count to a thousand..let's go brandon." I wrote back -- "It's spelled 'can't.' And Brandon is capitalized. And there should be a comma after 'go.' You're welcome. Goodbye!" Seriously, there was no way I could let that slide...)
By the way, for those keeping a record of such things, the previous biggest response I'd had to a tweet -- one that was near-unanimously positive -- was when I wrote about a young boy who had just spoken eloquently at last year's "virtual" Democratic Convention and reminded people he was the same kid who Joe Biden had met at a campaign event and offered to stay in touch with him to help with his stuttering. That tweet got over 16,000 "Likes" (and still gets some from time to time).
As a related note, anyone replying to me on Twitter during the next day or so shouldn't expect a response since it will be buried in the avalanche...
SECOND UPDATE: As of 11 PM tonight, the number of "Likes" now as gone up to 24,000.
If you didn’t see Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story was about misinformation on the Internet – but from a different perspective than what otherwise might be usual. This was about misinformation directed online at the communities of people from foreign-speaking countries, which is far less policed than material in English. It’s very interesting and often quite funny, though his suggested solutions are pretty thin.
On a separate note, I loved that in the show’s opening news-section, they did a long piece of the part that AT&T plays in OANN – a story I wrote about here last week which has gotten much less attention than it deserves.
I'm surprised and pleased that Facebook upheld Trump's ban. Yes, it's just for six more months and then they'll have to address it again. But maybe they'll continue it, given his ongoing Big Lie rants -- but even if not, six more months is a lifetime in politics as the pandemic hopefully fades, business grows, and President Biden solidify his position..
When the Facebook decision was announced, Trump raged that it was an attack on free speech, which was taken away from him - except that, of course, he's not only free to talk all he wants, but he has more outlets to talk than most anyone in the country, if not the world.
Actually, to be fully accurate, he wrote that, "Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States." Except that Joe Biden is the President of the United States. And no speech was taken away from him. Trump has apparently forgotten that he is a former president.
What he also said was that "the Country won't stand for it" -- except the Country has stood for it just fine since the initial ban. There are some on the far right who are upset that he was banned, but there are no outraged protests and not lawsuits. Life has gone on.
And to be clear, Trump was banned because he broke the Facebook rules that he had agreed to, and broke them many times.
To be clear, as well, lest anyone try to make this a First Amendment issue -- it's not. The First Amendment is only about government not being allowed to make a law abridging speech. This is a business setting its own rules and standards, and that's perfectly legal. Oddly, if anyone is truly concerned with the First Amendment and government making laws that block speech, they might want to look at the new law passed by the Florida legislature that Gov. DeSantis has said he'll said that fines any social media outlet which bans a public official. That seems about as blatant an actual First Amendment issue as any. And it's hard to imagine it would withstand a Supreme Court challenge.
But back to Facebook's decision, as much as I like that they continued the ban for some, I think some of their reasoning about readdressing the issue in six months is very misguided.
It's not that a president, or politicians, or public officials should have more protections than the rules the general public has to follow, but at the very least exactly the same. The reality is that the gravity of a president, politician or public official breaking an outlet's rules and spreading misinformation and a Big Lie is far more massive than someone in the general public. And so the responsibility for a president, politician or public official is overwhelmingly greater. And a permanent ban for such people is far more important when considering how they should be treated in the end.
On this past Sunday, the Doonesbury strip didn't have a story like usual, but was just a collection of drawings of supposed "tweets" from the cartoon's longtime reporter, Roland B. Hedley Jr. They were very funny, like the one which read, "Can confirm that POTUS 'barely knew' John Bolton. Official list of people he knows well is down to three of his five children."
Each tweet said it was sent from "@realRBHJr." And a thought eventually occurred to me -- I wondered if Garry Trudeau had registered that name as a Twitter handle and was using the Sunday strip as a way to promote it. So, I decided to check it out and --
Sure enough, there is a very real Twitter page for the very fictitious "Roland B. Hedley, Jr."!!
As you can see above, the account has been active for a while. But this is a prominent way to bring attention to it. At first glance, it's certainly a bit but. But then, since Trudeau only does a new Doonesbury cartoon once a week on Sunday, this clearly is a way that lets him comment on the news of the day immediately, and also in as easy a way as possible. You can Follow it here.
I've read through a bunch of "Roland B. Hedley Jr.'s" tweets,, and they're very funny, such as one that dealt with professional football players taking a knee during the National Anthem. In his tweet, Hedley reported that an emergency meeting of NFL officials to address the crisis from Trump's "Idiot Second Son" saying that football was dead to him -- "won't be happening anytime soon."
And this is Roland's pinned tweet at the top of the page.
Much as there's SO much political news to deal with, I nonetheless thought I'd go with something different this morning instead. A tech warning.
I did something very stupid yesterday. Fortunately, it didn't go any farther than that, and there was no problem. I could have done something disastrous. But happily had the presence of mind to double-check before it was too late, and all's well. But that's why the warning. And a warning with an added asterisk that I've been writing a tech column for over 20 years and should be fooled like like, making it all the more stupid, but also making it all the more clear how vigilant one has to be.
Yesterday, I got a pop-up message that my Flash software might be out-of-date, and would I like it to download the update. (Flash software is what allows graphics to be animated, among other things, mostly for games but also some online applications.) Now, the notice seemed a bit odd, since I didn't recall ever getting a pop-warning notice before, but I have had to update my Flash software, though usually manually. And I didn't exactly remember what prompted me to update it -- just a random, periodic manual check, perhaps? Or a graphic animation wasn't working, maybe. Or a notice that it was out-of-date when a Flash animation came on screen? Or...a pop-up like this, possibly.
I didn't recall. I did know, though, that I have auto-updates set on much of my software, and I also have software that checks for when updates are available. (I manually run one of those checkers every Sunday, in fact, and had done so that very morning.) So, I was surprised, but though it reasonable enough to download the update which looked absolutely real with the Flash logo and everything.
That said, I'll admit to further being surprised that it automatically downloaded the Flash update before I even had a chance to click "Download." And that did make me wary -- but not as wary as I should have been, since I figured it was just related to my various auto-check programs about updates.
What also struck me was weird was that I thought I'd read that Flash was going to be discontinued, though I figured I might have been confusing it with another similar type of software known as Java. In fact, Java was discontinued.in 2018, I believe. So, I thought that that was probably what I was thinking of.
Important note: When you have a lot of yellow caution warning lights, they're there for a reason. So, stop. And I usually do stop at that point, since I was wary about a lot of things. But there were enough answers to my wariness that I movie forward foolishly.
Foolishly, yes, but for all this above, I still hadn't taken a direct action that was actually stupid. All this I've just described was automatic on its own. What was stupid is that I went to the downloaded file and double-clicked on it to run. What on earth I was thinking, I don't know. I could have opened the door to disaster.
Fortunately, like all software, another pop-up box then appeared telling me about the file and asking me to confirm the download. And that's when I fortunately looked closer and took a step back.
It actually all looked fine. But there was one line that looked off. It showed the location where the server was located that would be installing the file. Fortunately. It was something like "Netvork Tekhnolodzhiz - Tov." Now, of course, lot of techies have senses of humor of come up with funny names for their servers. Just that morning, I've updated one of my pieces of software using the popular Major Geeks. (Another reason I was in the "updating software" frame of mind, probably...) And I do know that some servers are overseas. And I could have just missed the spelling if I wasn't at least (happily) wary enough to look. And that didn't look right. At all. So -- fortunately and joyously -- I held up clicking on the "Install" button and went back to my web browser and did a search for "Netvork Tekhnolodzhiz - Tov."
I still don't know what it is. But that's because there were a lot of listings, some for that, some for other things different, with lots of various explanations -- but one word that showed up in the first few listings was..."Ukraine."
I didn't look any further. I didn't care if it was legitimate. If my Flash player was going to be out-of-date, so be it. I could always check into it later on. And if worse comes to worse, ask my tech guru Ed Bott, who would probably say, "Are you nuts???!!!" -- and who is probably shaking his head in agony while laughing at the same time (since I did say I was safe...) while he's reading this.
I mean, seriously -- "Ukraine"!! Why not put a skull-and-crossbones on it with "666" superimposed underneath and have ominous organ music blast out of my speakers? Ukraine. Thank goodness it wasn't something even slightly less blatant, like...oh, Moldova. Perhaps the only time I was actually thrilled to see "Ukraine" appear during this election cycle.
So, after seeing "Ukraine" -- and I mean instantly after -- I immediately went back to the pop-up screen, immediately clicked "Cancel" and not only immediately deleted the file, but permanently deleted it, immediately. And immediately closed all the pop-up screens where it was asking me about the file. (Which I hadn't seen before, but is another dead giveaway that someone is trying to get you to do something you shouldn't.)
And by the way, I later did a search and it turns out I was right -- Flash is being discontinued in December, 2020 -- only four months away.
So, other than feeling like a total idiot for not stopping immediately when I had all those "yellow caution warning lights" in my gut -- and mind -- and then actually clicking on the file, all is well. No problem was caused, because I did finally hold off and looked into what finally was enough to seem wrong.
How did I get that download? I'm not sure, but I think it came as a result of a search I was doing for a question I had. I was clicking on sites that seemed like they might have an answer -- all of which were ones that I either recognized or appeared reasonably legitimate -- except for one that had an odd name. But it was an odd question, and it was only information I was looking forward, I wasn't planning on clicking on anything. But I'm sure it was that website, and when I simply accessed, it sent that download. Which I idiotically clicked on. And then stopped, fortunately researched it and then happily canceled out.
So, that's the warning.
You probably know it. And probably follow it. But it's still good to be reminded of things being especially clever and catching you off-guard even when you're fairly wary. I mean, as I said at the beginning I've been writing a tech column for over 20 years, and I just did something incredibly stupid and naive (though "naive" is too kind a word. It' was mind-numblingly idiotic.) But if there are just enough reasons to move forward, that's what sometimes gets done. Which is a good reason to repeat the "Important note" yet again --
When you have a lot of yellow caution warning lights, they're there for a reason. So, stop.
It's sort of the way I feel about people who foolishly are thinking of voting for Trump and anyone in the Republican Party.
Ah, great! I knew I'd be able to get around to some political opinion this morning. Phew!!!
MEDIA ALERT #1
There is something new from the Broadway’s Best Shows YouTube Channel that they're calling "Spotlight on Plays.". They’ve gotten casts together to read plays that will be streamed live one time, and one-time only, on Thursdays – and today is the first one. They stream live in New York at 8 PM and in Los Angeles at 5 PM. (That time is not ideal on the West Coast, but there are far-worse things “not ideal” in the world at the moment. The play today is a notable one -- David Mamet’s political satire November with John Malkovitch, Patti LupPne and Dylan Baker. The play opened on Broadway in 2007 and is about a fictional U.S. president in the days leading up to his second election. When the live-stream ends, the show will not be repeated or be available.
Here’s more about the series which benefits the Actors Fund --
Next up in the series will be Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other on May 14, directed by Trip Cullman and reuniting the play's Broadway original cast of Gideon Glick, John Behlman, Sas Goldberg, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Lindsay Mendez, Luke Smith and Barbara Barrie.
And then A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, directed by Jerry Zaks, with Bryan Cranston and Sally Field on May 21. The play follows the 50-year correspondence between of two soul mates.
Additional productions will be announced shortly.
MEDIA ALERT #2
And the other Media Alert for today is a reminder that the new National Theatre Live production begins today and will stream for a week. The play today is It’s Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo. This is the online link, though as I said, it can be watched on a Smart TV via the YouTube app or browswer app.
By the way, so that you can plan ahead, related to this the National Theatre Live productions were only scheduled through today. But they just announced it will continue with four more, for the time being -- all premiering on a Thursday and streaming for a week.. Not all are Must Sees for me, though they all look interesting –
I've been mentioning that the wonderful National Theatre Live has been streaming productions from their archives for free every Thursday that will stay active for a week.
I thought it worth mentioning the new one that is streaming now, as of 2 PM ET. I've actually written about this in the past. It's their adaptation of Frankenstein that stars good friends Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (who like Cumberbatch also played 'Sherlock Holmes' in the CBS series Elementary). And it's directed by Danny Boyle who directed Slumdog Millionaire, Yesterday, and Trainspotting, among others. But what stood out most about this production is that every other night Cumberbatch and Miller switched playing the roles of the Doctor and the Creature.
What they will be doing for this streaming is that the version with Cumberbatch as the Creature (and Miller as the Doctor) begins streaming today for a week -- and the version that features Miller as the Creature (and Cumberbatch as the Doctor) will start streaming tomorrow (Friday) for a week, so you can see both, if you're so inclined.
I saw the production with Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as the Doctor. It's wonderfully done, vibrant and very interesting. But -- the adaptation takes a few liberties with the original story I didn't care for.
Anyway, here's the link to the NT Live streaming page, where you can find both versions. Know that while you can watch this online, if you have a Smart TV you can watch the production that way through a YouTube app or via the NT Live YouTube page in a browser.
And this is the trailer for the original production itself. You'll notice that it edits both actors back-and-forth in the two roles.
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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