If you missed it, here is John Oliver's main story for Sunday. It's a good, entertaining one on Public Shaming, mainly as an Internet phenomenon, but in general with all its nooks and crannies, even admirably taking a look at how his own show handles it. That then leads into a long interview with someone who famously went through it on a high level -- and I'll just say I have mixed feelings about the interview from a wide scope of perspectives, and ranging from absolutely wonderful to quite a bit less-so,
Well, I made it back. Still decompressing a bit, and lots of CES work to catch up on -- in particular, I now have to dive in to all my notes to start writing my annual Really Long overview article about the show. I always enjoy writing it...but always dread starting -- going through my notes, structuring the piece and tracking down graphics and such. And knowing how long it will take. But once I start, it's fairly enjoyable. At the moment, I'm in the "dread" state.
I did do my laundry though already. This may not seem like much of a big deal, but after decades having to use laundromats or my building's one machine when others weren't using it, it's really special to have an actual washing machine now in my new home and being able to dump everything in the machine, push Start and ignore it all as I get back to work. Huzzah.
I also came back to an email scam. It was a semi-concerning one because of the threat it made and because it used my real email address to send me the threat, saying my email and computer have been hacked, so send money and we'll give you the special code to clear it.
What made it less concerning are a few things. First, it was address to "Dear Stranger: You don't know me but I've hacked into..." and if they had all the personal information they had, they'd likely address me by name. Second, I got two of these, and one was from an account I set up by never send out new email from or log into accounts with. So, they couldn't have gotten the information about me the way they said they said, while watching a video online. And third, the video I supposedly was watching was from an adult site, so this was a form of blackmail, too, saying they'd release it to my friends -- but happily I felt thoroughly comfortable knowing I've never visited an adult site or watched one of their video. Still, it's disconcerting.
I was assuaged by three reasons. One, what I noted above. Two, from an article I found online describing this same in detail. And three, checking with my computer Big Guru Ed Bott, who quashed it and said he got these things all the time.
If you're interested in the scam and the letter, if only to be prepared in case you get such a scam email (forewarned being forearmed, and all that), click here to read more about it.
And now, I got back to decompressing...
This requires a bit of background to make sense, somewhat convoluted, but I think it’s worth it.
Last night, I posted a tweet about a White House legal matter, after an article in the New Yorker quoted Rudy Giuliani suggesting that Trump might try to declare some of the Mueller unconstitutional to block it. I noted that it probably wouldn't hold up in court, but even if it did it would be a public disaster for him and the GOP.
Someone referenced my note and hoped a lawyer would chime in. Another person responded bluntly to put to first person down that “Robert IS a lawyer.” They had a bit of back and forth, and the first person did a mea culpa, explaining that since my Twitter profile didn’t say I was a lawyer, that had been unclear.
At that point I chimed in to explain that the reason my profile didn’t say I was a lawyer was because…I wasn’t a lawyer. Adding how I wanted to clarify that so there was no confusion.
Which is the background and brings us to the tweet in question from the first person. Initially I was a bit thrown off by it. The comment seemed like such a total non sequitur, and for a moment I tried to figure out if it was referring to another conversation entirely. But then I realized. No, the reply was indeed meant for me, and it turns out...well, you'll see. What the note said was --
“Thank you for being clear because my sister can be incredibly condescending (to me). Thank you, sir.”
I burst out laughing the moment I figured out what was going on. I have no idea if the two correspondents are brother and sister, or two sisters. And at first I didn’t know if they were adults and still have a chiding relationship that had been going on for years or what, especially since it was 1:30 AM, long past when most sane people (I include myself in that) were asleep, particularly if they lived anywhere east of the West Coast. The only other option was Hawaii or Alaska, though the odds lower with that. Anyway, I wrote back to tell this first person that the good news is they now have something to hold over the sister at Thanksgiving dinner, and got a clue as to their relationship when I received another reply. It said --
“She’s across the hall, if you can believe that drama. Ridiculous. Anyway, thank you. And I’M the baby!”
I’m still laughing. So, clearly they still live at home, and it seems most-likely are teenagers or perhaps in college. I suspect that this person’s sister must have a fun time tormenting her younger sibling on a regular basis since childhood. Hilarious.
Back in September, 2016, I raved here about a new show on NBC called The Good Place. I didn't expect it to last, since it was so wildly clever and unique. But it did catch on, and has made it through two limited-episode seasons,
Last year, they had a huge and hilarious twist. And to deal with it they did an episode in which the world had to be "rebooted" countless times, somewhat like Groundhog Day, but on steroids. The world of the show had to be different each time, and that meant (now famously) they needed different names for the restaurants there, all of which were food puns. It turned out that all the puns -- which were all a hoot -- came from the writer of that episode, Megan Amram. Like "The Pesto's Yet to Come," "Lasanga Come Out Tomorrow," "Cake Canaveral," "Beignet and the Jets" and MUCH more. The series' creator Michael Schur talked about that in an interview --
"I actually think, no joke, her brain is like the computer in Lost where if you didn’t enter the code and press enter every like 100 minutes or whatever else, the world would end. That’s Megan’s brain with puns. If Megan doesn’t make a pun every 37 minutes, her brain will overheat and her head will explode and she’ll die. That’s the only possible explanation for how many puns Megan makes out loud and on Twitter every day."
But it was more bizarre than just that. Because it wasn't that she came up with the 20-30 food puns needed for all the restaurants in the episode. Oh, no, that would have been much too easy. Especially if your brain is like the computer in Lost with puns. Schur explained what happened --
"This is not an exaggeration: Megan, in that section of the script, included a giant paragraph full of puns for different kind of names of different kinds of ethnic restaurants. I think it went on for six or seven pages. It just went on and on and on. Partially she was doing it to lean into her stereotype as a person who loves puns. But also, it was just straight-up impressive."
As proof, here's a mere partial list that Megan Amram posted on her Twitter feed. I can't help but mention two at the very top, "Penne for Your Thoughts" and "Pasta Expiration Date". This is a bizarre and incredibly clever writer, folks. I mean, who comes up with "We Ciabatta Zoo"?? And this is just the freaking abbreviated list!!!! --
All of which is just a very long lead-in to a six-episode webseries that the inveterate Chris Dunn told me about. It's titled, An Emmy for Megan, that Megan Amram wrote, directed and stars in. The point behind it is that Ms. Amram learned that there is an Emmy Award presented for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy and Drama Series -- and she wants to win one. And the rules to qualify are really easy -- basically there have to be six episodes, and it has to be submitted by April 27. And so, we have six, short episodes of An Emmy for Megan -- in which she shamelessly does everything possible that she can to win over Emmy voters.
It's short, about 28 minutes in all, very low budget (though well-done), with some Emmy winners and recognizable actors (including a couple from The Good Place) along for the ride.
To get you started, here's the first episode, that largely sets up the whole thing.
And if you're interested in watching the remaining five episodes, about another whopping 22 minutes, you can catch them all here, at An Emmy for Megan.
You may recall that three months ago, I posted a wonderful 3-minute video here that Burger King produced about bullying. If you haven't seen it, check it out, it's terrific.
They're back with another terrific video shot again in one of their restaurants on a topical story, this one a bit more surprising because it's not only taking a stand on a political issue, but one against the government. It explains Net Neutrality in the context of buying burgers, and makes their position strongly in favor of it.
What I don't know if these videos is how much is "real" and how much set up. My sense with both is that there's a mixture -- some things seem like they might be set up (and therefore more controllable), and some things appear to be real that they let play out. And then edit it all together. That's a little bit moot, since the point of what they're doing is what's important, more than how it's done. Though how it's done is still fascinating.
The bottomline is that I have HUGE admiration for Burger King for this video, as well as for their anti-bullying video. I don't know who at Burger King has decided to do this, but they deserve a raise. And customers.
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.
Even though a weekend has passed (and more) since the news stories came out about Facebook created algorithms for advertisers seeking to focus their sales efforts to anti-Semitic news feeds, I'm still trying to figure out why on earth Facebook would direct advertisers to topics like “Jew hater,” “How to burn Jews,” or, “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world.’”
To be clear, I'm not so much bewildered that Facebook would try to connect advertisers to anti-Semitic feeds -- though that's pretty high on the Reprehensible Meter all on its own -- but more to the point, why in the world would they create algorithms for “Jew hater,” “How to burn Jews,” or, “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world'" in the first place??!!
And we haven't even touched the concept of Facebook accepting Russian ads for the U.S. presidential election. On the one hand, sure, anyone can let a couple mistakes slide through unnoticed -- after all, if your “History of ‘why Jews ruin the world'" algorithm slipped past Quality Control, any glitch is possible -- and let's bend over backwards and even accept a world where $100,000 in ad buys might slip through the cracks when you are a $500 billion-dollar business, after all that's pocket change. But...but...not when it's paid for in RUBLES!! Surely if you've got an algorithm for "Jew hater," you have a red flag -- literally -- for that.
And this doesn't get us around to how Facebook closed down 30,000 fake accounts in France during its election -- but in the United States, which has 323 million people compared to 67 million in France, only around 470 fake accounts were shut down.
But, sorry, I still can't wrap my head around that whole "How to burn Jews" algorithm thing...
For all these stories, though, my initial thought when I heard them all was not outrage at Facebook. That was only #2. No, my first thought was --
Well, there goes Mark Zuckerberg's plans to run for president.
Even if you watch John Oliver's show on HBO, you might have missed this, which they released as a web-only exclusive.
A few week's ago, Oliver did a segment on Net Neutrality, which included suggesting that his viewers send emails to the FCC about it. As a result of that, an update on the status of things was needed because of how hilariously things began to play out --
I'd left a note critical of Trump and got a stream of nasty, ugly replies back from some woman who accused me (among other things) of wanting "national socialism." And to go back home. I wrote back a polite note explaining that I assume she meant "socialism," but didn't seem to know what she was talking about since national socialism was actually Nazis -- which appeared to be more what *she* wanted...
(I never got around to asking where my home was supposed to be. What with Twitter's 140-character limitation, it didn't seem important enough to write a Part 2 note, especially since I was already at home.)
I assume she was unhappy since she sent another string of Tweets, though I didn't read them. And then said she qualified for the "Life is too short" designation and blocked her.
It's been quite a while since I've posted one of the "Mean Tweets" segment from the Jimmy Kimmel show. So, to correct that passage of time, here's an entertaining one.
While watching it though, you do nonetheless have to wonder about some people in the world, hiding under the safety of anonymity...
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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