I'm in the mood for some Muppets from The Muppet Show. Most especially when their guest is John Cleese and somehow they're actually able to get him to sing the big finale Or...well, okay, at least try to get him to join in as he fights off every attempt in pure disgust at the concept until at last, he caves in and...well...
On Monday, in his speech accepting the Liberty Medal, Sen. John McCain delivered an especially-withering criticism of "half-baked, spurious nationalism," alluding to Trump and his former top-adviser Steve Bannon, though never referencing either by name. But it was thoroughly clear. As you might imagine, Trump didn't take to this well and got all petulant about it, which appears to be his natural state. And so, going on a local Washington radio talk show, he responded.
Hey, honestly, it's pretty hard not to love Trump on the radio warning John McCain, "At some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.” I mean, seriously, does the man even remember that McCain was imprisoned for five years while fighting in a war and TORTURED?!
And that he's dying of brain cancer!
And for some posturing reason Trump thinks that him "fighting back" will send shivers down to McCain's knees because it won't be "pretty"?? As Howard Cosell once said, you are throwing spitballs at a battleship.
"Fight back"?? Trump had five deferments from fighting in Vietnam for heel spurs, when John McCain was a POW and being tortured. Trump's fighting experience was in a military academy as a school kid. McCain's was in the U.S. Navy.
It won't be "pretty"?! I suspect that most of the time John McCain was in prison being tortured he dreamed of the joy and honor of having a president of the United States upset at him, or even knowing who he was. I suspect right now with brain cancer, McCain would gladly take another decade or two of having a president upset at him daily. Not pretty? That would likely be ethereally beautiful.
The thing is, though, the Trump radio appearance was even more bizarre. That's because he preceded his threat by saying, “You know, I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice"
For the record, when you don't piss on someone, that is not "being nice." It's normal. Furthermore, when you're a sociopathic thug, and you don't swing an iron crowbar to bash in someone's head because you know you're under 24/7 surveillance, that is not "being nice" either. Let alone even "very, very nice." The concept of any kind of "nice" doesn't enter into it. What it is is well-advised self-control of your basic, sick instincts. Or, if you're normal to begin with, sane.
By the way, after writing this but before posting, John McCain released a statement about Trump's "threats" to him. It was pithy. And not unexpected. "I have faced tougher adversaries."
I posted a few videos and audios of the legendary basketball coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs who is known for being taciturn in interviews, but has been scathing of Trump. Alas, there is no audio of this new commentary from "Coach Pop," but the words are perhaps more outraged than any.
What happened is that Popovich called up longtime basketball writer Dave Zirin of The Nation. As Zirin writes here, the coach had heard Trump's comments trying to explain why he still hadn't yet even mentioned the four Green Berets killed in an ambush in Niger, nor yet contacted the soldier's families, and attempted to brush it off by contending that most others presidents didn't make such calls -- which was an out-and-out lie. And Popovich was incensed by this. Perhaps, Zirin speculates, it was because of it being a bald-faced lie. Or perhaps because of Popovich being an Air Force veteran -- and head coach Team USA for the Olympics. But whatever the resent, Zirin said that the coach clearly had to vent and explained, "I want to say something, and please just let me talk, and please make sure this is on the record.”
What Gregg Popovich said was --
“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness. But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”
(At this point, Zirin writes that Popovich paused, and the sportswriter thought that maybe Popovich actually meant it, that he didn't actually have the words. But then he took a breath and continued -- )
“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”
And with that, Popovich just said, "Bye, Dave." And the phone call was over.
So, let's accept that Trump was just "joking" on Mike Pence wanting to "hang all the gays." Fine, it was a "joke." OK, so what kind of joke is that??! I'd love to hear the punch line explained. I hope the press won't let Sarah Huckabee Sanders get away with dismissing it as "He didn't say it," since there are clearly witnesses. Or that "The president was just joking." Make her actually explain the point of the joke. Make her explain *why* the president said it. And thought it was "funny."
"And I’m not going to blame myself."
-- Trump today, speaking about legislative failures.
How totally cool of him, and actually thanks! After all, it is incredibly nice to avoid the honor and kindly let everyone else blame him! And so then it's my turn. I blame you!
In a hastily arranged "press gaggle" in the Rose Garden, Trump demeaned past presidents saying that they didn't call the families of fallen soldiers, when in reality they DID. And spokespeople for Presidents Obama and George W. Bush have already pushed back on Trump's slam, angrily denouncing it. When pressed at the press event that his charge wasn't true, the best Trump could come up with was that "someone told me that." Okay, then -- who?
And not only has Trump still not had one single tweet about the FOUR dead Green Berets killed in Niger - today in the Rose Garden, he said he hasn't yet even contacted the families! But he'd get to it soon, when enough time has passed. No, really, he said that.
Moving on from Trump but staying in his administration, Commerce Secretary Wilbur hid $2 BILLION in personal assets on federal disclosure form, moving them to his family (which also saved hundreds of millions in taxes), according to Forbes magazine article, "The Mystery of Ross' Missing Billions.". That's some nifty commerce. And par for the course (golf allusion unintended...) for the Trump administration. It should be noted that Ross was a senior official of a bank in Greece under suspicion of money laundering in regards to Russia and Trump.
Here are MSNBC's Velshi & Ruhle on the Forbes article --
Last December, I wrote here about a new musical, Bright Star, that had book, music and lyrics written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It got some very positive reviews, but though generally favorable, overall the notices were mixed and it only ran for 109 performances. It did get nominated for Best Musical, though, and its star Carmen Cusack was nominated as Best Actress. There was a lot of affection for the show, and the cast reunited to put on a concert reading of the musical -- which I posted here -- but that seemed to be the end of the line.
However, it's turned out not to be. Bright Star was not only remounted, but with half a dozen members of the Broadway production, including its star Tony-nominated Carmen Cusack and all the main leads, and a tour was set up for the show which began here in Los Angeles, at the Ahamanson Theatre. This is pretty uncommon for a show that was unsuccessful on Broadway. But I'm guessing there was a sense that it not only should, but importantly could have an afterlife around the country.
I went to see the show yesterday. And that sense is well-earned. Though not without some flaws, I thought the musical was quite wonderful. And so did the sold-out audience which was enthusiastic throughout. I have to admit, I am partial to "folk musicals" which this is -- along the lines of The Robber Bridegroom, Quilters, The Old Man and the Old Moon and (though it's a larger-scale show) Big River. It has what is best-described as a bluegrass score, though that's not completely accurate. What's a treat, as well, is the flowing staging which is almost part-choreography, including a frame house that glides around the stage as needed, and simple settings that roll in and around.
Carmen Cusack is a complete joy, and worth seeing her repeat her starring role. And all the cast (especially those coming from the Broadway production) are terrific. The story is based on a true event that Edie Brickell found in a newspaper which she and Martin fashioned a story around, imagining what might have come before -- and after. The show is touching, romantic, funny, sad, tragic in parts, and ultimately endearing. Being mostly in a bluegrass style (though not all), there's somewhat a bit of sameness to the music, but it's so affectionate and evocative and correct for fitting its moments -- and ranges from joyful to tender to heart-break -- that it's never static. It's also a style of music I happen to like a lot (and in fact, sort of play the banjo...or did, not for years), so it was all the more appealing to me. The lyrics aren't especially rich, though there's an involving directness and charm to them that tells the story so well. Overall, the score adds to the sense of flow that permeates the show, with a full 20 songs interwoven throughout.
One criticism I remember from the reviews is that the story jumps around in time, mostly between 1943 and 20 years earlier, though also with a more distant framing, and some critics had difficulty with that. It thoroughly surprises me because, after the first couple of jumps, once you get what's going on I found the shifts completely easy to follow. In fact, the moving back-and-forth in time (one handled, for example, when the tightly-prim main character begins to sing about how she used to be a carefree young girl and moves across the stage, changing her clothes and hair style with each step until we're 20 years earlier at a dance) is one of the aspects of the show that keeps it so fluid.
If you live in Los Angeles, consider seeing it while it's still here -- not just for the show (which is quite good) -- but because you get this cast, so many of the originals. And since it will be touring, if it comes to your city, keep an eye out for it.
The show began life at the Old Globe in San Diego. I had no idea, so I missed it there. Based on videos of that production, it's clear that they changed the structure of the show slightly, so I'm okay with having waited to see it in its final form. But here's a very good eight-minute montage of several songs from that production. My one quibble is there isn't a great deal of Carmen Cusack in the video, though she's featured somewhat in the first two numbers -- and while not an ensemble show, it's close to that and many of the leads get their moments here. Also, the actor who sings the title song in this world premiere production, A.J. Shively, playing an aspiring writer, stayed with the show to Broadway and is still with it here in Los Angeles.
And here's a bonus.
Not included in the above montage is the standout, "11 o'clock" show-stopping number sung by Carmen Cusack, "At Long Last." But here it is from that concert reading I mentioned. It helps to put it in slight perspective, though not wanting to give too much away in case you do see the show. The character, 'Alice Murphy,' has lived with a hole in her heart for much of her life. Yet near the end of the story, she finally gets a powerfully-emotional sense of closure and a deep release from a pain she's long been living with inside her. It's an absolutely terrific number. And as you'll hear, not a moment of bluegrass, for those of you concerned about such things...
(One thing to note: when she breaks into a little dance during the wild applause -- which lasts almost a full minute -- that's not her being hammy for the audience, that's actually part of the staging for her character in the show.)
The guest contestant on the "Not My Job" segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is Andy Richter. There's some fun, lively conversation about dealing with his series of flops after leaving as sidekick to Conan O'Brien, before returning to the show, a job he's done now for about 20 years.
I want to head back to one more video from the Wasn't That a Time documentary on The Weavers reuntion. As I mentioned, the film is more than just a concert film and one of the treats is watching the rehearsals that leads up to the show at Carnegie Hall, and this is one of the highlights from the movie.
It begins with singer/songwriter Holly Near talking about what the Weavers and in particular Ronnie Gilbert meant to her as an inspiration to her career, and then we see some of the behind-the-scenes work of Gilbert taking the lead on a soaring song. It's a really nice moment, but what it all leads to is special -- when Near and Gilbert sit down to talk and by chance eventually begin an impromptu duet of one of Near's moving songs, which takes them both by surprise
This week's contestant is Mike Ryan in Americus, Georgia. The hidden song is very easy -- I got it in about five notes. But I really didn't have an idea with the composer style. Towards the end, only one thought came to mind, though it didn't seem to fit with the first part, but it was the only guess I could make. And was right! Huzzah.
You may have read about this a few months ago. The show tried to keep it secret until the episode erred, but I believe that it was Larry David who spilled the beans.
This is the season opening episode of the series, Finding Your Roots, hosted by Professor Louis Henry Gates, Jr. If you haven't seen the show, it's sort of like the NBC series, Who Do You Think You Are?, though done on a more scholarly level. But I don't mean to suggest it's at all pedantic because it's not, and actually quite fun and interesting. With his staff of researchers, Gates tracks down the family trees of whoever his guests are that week, and also uses DNA as part of the study. Where the show is more "scholarly" is that, in discovering the ancestors, the show puts them in somewhat more historical perspective. And it's all done in a library with photos and documents, along the lines of a Ken Burns documentary, rather than the guest traveling around the world, as is the case of the NBC show.
The two guests they put together for this particular episode are a couple of gentleman whose lives overlapped for a humorous reason, Larry David and the man he famously impersonate on Saturday Night Live, Bernie Sanders. The show thought it would be a fun juxtaposition. And it is.
The episode if full of some utterly fascinating revelations, and it's interesting to see Larry David -- who is usually cynical about most things, including his own life -- continually be flabbergasted and interested in it all. And the taciturn Bernie Sanders gets boggled a few times, and does a particularly good job putting a lot of the discoveries into perspective.
I can't embed the show, but you can watch it online at the PBS website by clicking here.
The show (which airs on PBS Tuesdays) runs about 52 minutes. It's all well-done, often very funny, and at times angrily heart-wrenching when dealing with parts of Eastern Europe during WWII -- and as I said, full of surprises, but if you don't want to watch the whole thing, you can jump to around the 15-minute mark and skip the individual backgrounds of David and Sanders. And even if you don't want to watch all of the remaining 37 minutes, at least jump to 48:30 and watch the last four minutes. It's the finale. And...trust me.
I was reading through the Raw Story website this afternoon when I notice a piece there that there that linked to an article in Vanity Fair that dealt with a report about how Trump has claimed to own an original Renoir painting. In the story, which you can read here, author Tim O'Brien was with Trump years back when the writer noticed artwork on the wall which he recognized, Renoir's Two Sisters on the Terrace, and asked the builder if it was an original, to which Trump replied that it was.
Now, mind you, I hadn't gotten that far in the full Vanity Fair piece. Thus far, I had only seen the initial Raw Story background about Trump claiming to have an original painting.that was, in reality, a fake. And it had this picture above -- which was all I needed. "Hey! That can't be the original," I immediately said to myself. "I've seen the original. It's a Renoir in the Impressionist collection of the Chicago Art Institute!" And boy howdy, if I know that, someone who has a grasp on Fine Art Masterpieces about as tentative as holding a mound of cooked spaghetti, then what on earth is Trump doing lying about this being the original??!! And yes, not to worry, I figured out the answer to that about half-a-second later. And yes, it had something to do with insecurity, con men and congenitally lying.
And so it was hilarious when I read the full article from Vanity Fair and got to this passage.. To put it in context, the piece notes that after O'Brien spotted the painting he was curious how Trump would respond to a question which, it turns out, he himself knew the answer.
Curious, O’Brien asked Trump about the painting: was it an original Renoir? Trump replied in the affirmative. It was, he said. “No, it’s not Donald,” O’Brien responded. But, once again, Trump protested that it was.
Actually, the story gets funnier, in a head-shaking way. The next day, the two men were together again. flying back on the Trump airplane, and came upon the same painting. (Yes, the painting had been on the wall inside the aircraft. Because that's, of course, where everyone displays their art masterworks., And Trump brought up this "original painting" on the wall as if they hadn't even had the discussion the day before. O'Brien says he chose not to engage in debate and let it drop.
That's bad enough, but then years passed. And Trump was elected president. And 60 Minutes did a story on Trump, in which the president-elect proudly stage-managed his home to be as hopefully-impressive as possible. And there, O'Brien says he noticed yet again, on the wall was that same fake Renoir!
By the way, readers of these pages will recall that when I go back home to Chicago I often tend to re-post photos I've taken of paintings I particularly like there. And I especially like their world-renown collection of French Impressionist artwork. And in one corner of a room that has several Monets, works by Rodin and a famous Caillbotte and more, there are several Renoirs.
Including Two Sisters on the Terrace.
"A Day at the Museum"
From the private photographic collection of Robert J. Elisberg
on loan from the Elisberg Family Foundation
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, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. 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.
Feedspot Badge of Honor