On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guests are Desus and Mero, who have a talk show on Showtime, which began life as a podcast. The conversation with host Peter Sagal is as energetic as they are on the TV show. There is much to be said for being natural, loquacious and ebullient with no posing, and they come across just like they do on their show, and it’s fun. There is also something to be said for subtlety to add complexity and texture, which does not appear to be part of the package.
As I’m sure you know, one of the things that’s become prominent on TV interviews during the pandemic is people choosing their backgrounds to say something about themselves or to promote something.
I don’t know if this woman being interviewed by Ali Melshi on MSNBC last night had planned this background, or it was just accident – but man, I hope she has friends who let her know to change things. It make her look like she had devil horns, which was bad enough, but also like a big stick was coming out of her head. I quickly got my phone and took a picture for posterity
Maybe the bigger question is why the director didn't say anything, since they set these up in advance. While it’s possible the director was just laser-focused on the lighting and dealing with two guests, and didn’t notice, that seems unlikely. Although there’s the evidence. But maybe he did notice, said something, but it was too late for her to find another location – though you only had to shift the laptop camera six inches in either direction, and that would have helped.
As I watched, I couldn’t believe it. Surely she would shift her body just as a matter of course. And I kept waiting and waiting – but no. In fact I had enough time to sit amazed at it, then realize I should take a picture, see that my phone was in another room, run to get it and fortunately the TV was on it that room, too, and take the picture. So, it was this way for about 3-5 minutes.
Yesterday, 60 Minutes did a show on Boston Dynamics, a research laboratory that develops robotics which the TV show has been trying to get behind-the-scene for years. It was worth the wait. The story is absolutely fascinating, thanks to the remarkable developments by the company. My only two quibbles with the otherwise very good report are are that though the company does a good job explaining away myths about robotics, they don't get into how artificial intelligence works into all this, and also that while the heads of Boston Dynamics are aware of the problem related to job loss, their explanation about it all creating new industries -- while true -- is much to surface to serve as a proper answer.
Still, the story is really worth watching and even fun. But most especially stick with it until you get to the part about the newest discipline they're developing. It's remarkable.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, is Swati Mohan, lead engineer of NASA who narrated the Mars landing. Her conversation with host Peter Sagal is pretty straight forward about the Mars project and her work on it, including the famous Seven Minutes of Terror – but it’s fascinating. Including that Mission Control was actually 11 minutes behind the real landing as they were guiding the movement of the craft. Interesting, too, is how many of the panelists jump in with questions. One oddity, given her job, is that the audio quality comes across somewhat like her head is in a wooden bucket.
I've wanted to post this for a while, but what with the pandemic, the election, the insurrection, the American Rescue Plan and all manner of other stories filling in the cracks, it's gotten push back -- and back and back. Enough already. Besides which, I also want to get beyond just writing about politics every morning. Especially when so much of it coming from the fascist Republican Party pushing sedition makes my head hurt too much on far too many days.
So, at last we get to Mary Schmich.
When coming across Famous Quotes on social media, I always try to do research to see if it’s actually attributed correctly. I'm not sure what the percentage of accuracy is -- not as horrible as its reputation, but definitely bad enough that you should always check if you don't know for sure. Mark Twain would probably be pleased to know how much is attributed to him that he never said.
However, for all that, I think the most famous of the mis-attributions came from the early days of the Internet, in the late-‘90s, I believe. And it involved the Chicago Tribune. You may even know the quote -- actually the very long quote, since it was part of a speech. It’s what became known as Kurt Vonnegut’s famous “Wear sunscreen” commencement speech, where the list of life-lessons that he supposedly explained at the very end of the speech were passed around and around the globe.
Eventually though – it took about a year later – word finally, slowly started to get out that it wasn't actually written by Kurt Vonnegut at all, or for that matter, even from a commencement speech. Rather the "list" was a 1997 article by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, written as if she was giving a commencement address..
Mary Schmich is very good, and still writes a column for the paper. (For many years, she even used to have a special section on her official Tribune webpage specifically about “The Sunscreen Columns” – it included the original column, along with a couple of follow-ups she wrote about the reaction, but I don’t see that there anymore. I guess after 25 years, enough time has passed. Though if you go to the Chicago Tribune site and go to the Search box and start typing in “Mary Schmich” – the drop-down menu starts listing all the options and “Mary Schmich Wear Sunscreen” pops up as one.)
If you haven't ever read the column -- or only read the piece as if supposedly by Kurt Vonnegut, or haven't read it in years -- it's well-worth it. The "commencement address" column was famous for a reason. It's smart and a lot of fun. And it's real title is, "Advice, like youth, probably wasted on the young." You can find it here.
All the better, one of those other "Sunscreen Columns" concerned how, to her utter surprise in 1999, she was contacted by acclaimed filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (who, among his long list of movies, made The Great Gatsby, Strictly Ballroom and the film musical Moulin Rouge!). It turns out that Luhrmann, who's from Australia, read her "Wear Sunscreen" column all the way Down Under and actually wanted to make a music video using her column. This is an article by Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro who interviewed his fellow Trib writer Mary Schmich and wrote about how it all came to pass.
For years, I’d never been able to find the music video, but finally tracked it down. Here it is –
And if you want to reach more from Mary Schmich -- as I said, she's still writing for the Tribune -- you can find her work here.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest contestant is Abby Phillip, host of Inside Politics on CNN. She and host Peter Sagal have a interesting, lively conversation about how she got started being interested in politics, helped by her enthusiasm. She also offers tips on how to answer questions on a TV panel when there’s really nothing new to add.
In some ways, this is as much a treasure find as the video I posted the other day here of Boris Karloff performing the song, "It Was a Very Good Year" on The Jonathan Winters Show. Not quite, but close. But it's a huge treat enough to include it as a way to wrap-up our Boris Karloff Trilogy. (I use "wrap up" in a flexible way, since I'm sure there will be some others down the line.
As it happened, in 1967, the year before Karloff appeared on The Jonathan Winters Show -- and a year after he narrated How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- he appeared on an episode of the TV series I Spy. And the episode was SO wonderful that it’s the only one I remember. He played a brilliant scientist in Spain who was a great aficionado of the novel Don Quixote. They have to have to protect him from being kidnapped – and as the story goes on, he becomes more and more befuddled and ultimately delusional and begins to think he is Don Quixote, which makes their efforts keeping track of him more difficult. It's just great, and Karloff is superb.
And good news! The full episode is available on YouTube. And I'm embedding it below.
Here’s a tip about it though for anyone who is not interested in watching the show because one of the two stars was Bill Cosby. I'll just mention that the opening scene is between Karloff and the other star, Robert Culp only, which then leads into the opening credits. So, you can safely watch the first couple minutes without any fear of “spillover.” And Karloff is charming in it.
When I posted that treasure yesterday of Boris Karloff reciting the song "It Was a Very Good Year" -- which I've quite-literally been trying to find for over 50 years since seeing it on TV when a kid -- I intended for that to be it with Boris Karloff for now. But when having tracked it down, I came across another video with him that was a treat -- and that got me to thinking and I went searching for yet another treasure...and happily, I found it, as well. So, I'm going to make it a bit of a Boris Karloff fest, yet with nothing even scary about it, nor with a monster anywhere in sight.
This video today is one that I came across by accident. It's from The Red Skelton Show, when Karloff appeared with another horror-movie legend, Vincent Price, and the two men sing a song, “The Two of Us.”
Fun, odd fact: Both fellow actually appeared in Broadway musicals! Karloff played Capt. Hook in an earlier version of Peter Pan before the Mary Martin musical It starred Jean Arthur as Peter -- a wonderful actress most people will likely know from her role opposite Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And even more interestingly, that musical of Peter Pan had both music and words written by Leonard Bernstein. And Vincent Price was in a showed called Darling of the Day, based on a novel and movie, Holy Matrimony. It has a great score -- by Jule Styne (who wrote the music to Gypsy and many others) and E.Y. Harburg (who wrote the lyrics to The Wizard of Oz and Finian's Rainbow), but it flopped. (I actually saw a local production of the show in Chicago with my dad.)
This is from 1968, the same year as Karloff's appearance on the video yesterday on The Jonathan Winters Show. I suspect he never figured he'd turned into a musical-comedy variety performer. Or, since he made How the Grinch Stole Christmas just two years earlier in 1966, a beloved children's TV star.
My tech maven friend Ed Bott has a bunch of phrases about stupidity which he uses to describe tech problems and attempts to explain and resolve them, though he doesn't limit their use to just tech. That's just their foundation where the phrases sprang from. But they fit pretty much everywhere you roam in life. Two that he uses a lot are “There’s still a lot of stupid left.” And “Never bet against stupid as the cause.” But perhaps his most all-encompassing may be "Peak Stupid is an illusion. There's always more stupid just around the bend."
On a long list of really stupid things that the far-right has tried to make issues of, near the top of the list is their trying to make an issue of Dr. Seuss (who, unlike Dr. Jill Biden, did not even earn his degree, but made it up, the same as Theodore Geisel made up the name "Seuss"...), Mr. Potato Head, the Muppets and Pepe Le Pew. Apparently these are part of "Cancel Culture" -- the far right's latest phrase du jour, never mind that it was the right-wing that tried to cancel French Fries and call them Patriot Fries instead -- and the work of "The Left."
Of course, none of these things are actually "cancelled," they're all still widely available. And "The Left" had nothing to do with the decisions on how to handle them. They were all corporate decision, in one case the decision of the family that oversees the Dr. Seuss legacy. With Mr. Potato Head (I can't believe I'm typing this in the middle of a pandemic...), the toy wasn't even gotten rid of at all, but just repackaged under a single "Potato Head" brand, so that the accessories for Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head could be included in the same box. In two cases, with Dr. Seuss and Pepe Le Pew, the companies took out of circulation material that really hadn't sold for many years -- in some cases, many decades -- the same as any company does when a product doesn't sell. Although the books and films, in fact, are still available to read and see! And the Muppet shows are all available to watch -- it's just that Disney+ streaming channel put a disclaimer in front of them, so that a parent has to give permission to their child to get access. And this is only for The Muppet Show that Disney+ has the rights to. Not "The Muppets," not anything else to do with The Muppets -- toys, clothes, vitamins, movies, Sesame Street, and all manner of every other kind of merchandise.
And again, "The Left" has nothing to do with these corporate decisions. They were business decisions. All for perfectly understandable reasons, whether one agrees with them or not. And who knows, maybe one day those decisions will be reversed. And Disney may sell the rights for those TV shows to someone else.
But as stupid as trying to make an issue of Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, the Muppets and Pepe Le Pew, that doesn't come close to comparing to how insanely stupid it is to make an issue of them during a pandemic when over half-a-million Americans have died.
And what makes it so utterly foolish is that it shows that the far-right has nothing else to talk about. Because you'd think that during a pandemic and economic disorder and political insurrection and a $1.9 trillion COVID emergency relief bill, there would be something in there to talk about...rather than Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, the Muppets and Pepe Le Pew.
But when that emergency relief bill has a 76% approval among all Americans -- and 60% approval among Republicans -- and every Republican official in the Congress voted unanimously against it, then it seems likely that the GOP actually doesn't have anything serious to talk about. Which is why all they can talk about is Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, the Muppets and Pepe Le Pew.
Bottom line: when all you can talk about during a pandemic and economic breakdown is Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, the Muppets and Pepe Le Pew...then you are telling the world you have nothing to talk about.
Seth Meyers did a wonderful "A Closer Look" segment on his show about this the other day. Here it is.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor