I was very sorry to read about Alan Arkin's passing today, but what a career he left behind. Here's a good piece on him in the Chicago Tribune. My own first memory of Arkin had nothing to do with film, which is where most people likely came across him, I suspect, but came at a very young age.
Though radio station WFMT in Chicago was broadcast classical music, once a week they had a show on Saturday night (which was actually created years before by one of their staff announcers, Mike Nichols) called The Midnight Special -- which is still on the air after almost 60 years -- that played folk music, Broadway, comedy and offbeat things. And the station had the rights to record all Second City performances. And so, they would regularly broadcast sketches from the giants of that early company, people like my favorite Severn Darden, Barbara Harris (who went to win a Tony Award and having a big movie career), Richard Libertini, Paul Sand -- and Alan Arkin. He was hilarious, and his future success was not a surprise.
(One of my favorite sketches with him was playing a beatnik trying to teach a reticent, withdrawn suburban housewife played by Barbara Harris how to be cool.)
I also have a recollection of WFMT playing a recording he made of Shel Silverstein's wonderful song, "Daddy, What If...?" that he performed with one of his then very-young sons -- I thought perhaps it might be Adam. But I haven't been able to ever find it. My friend Adam Belanoff is friends and worked with Adam Arkin, and he asked on my behalf -- but the answer I got back was that Adam had no memory of it. But my own memory (right or wrong) still nags, and I'll keep checking.
There is a weird experience I had that concerns perhaps his most famous screen moment -- when he shocks the audience leaping across the dark room at a moment of high tension in the thriller Wait Until Dark, in which he played a vicious drug dealer killer. It was showing at Northwestern University on "movie night," and the auditorium for packed. And as the incredible tension grew and grew, the person behind me began kicking my chair. And kicking and kicking it, until I couldn't take it any more and turned around to ask him to please stop. And it was at that very moment that I heard the entire auditorium SCREAM, because it was when Arkin made his leap! And...I missed it. I had to wait years until it was on television and I specifically watched so that I could finally see the leap. And I did. O huzzah!
I do have a few things from Second City on audio, some of which I've transferred to digital, but only one sketch with Alan Arkin. But the even better thing is that I found a video of the sketch. I've posted it here before, only only part of the sketch was available. But I've now found the whole thing -- Second City's famous famous 1961 sketch, "Football Comes to the University of Chicago." It's a look at an attempt to bring football back to the college by first offering a class that teaches the sport, in hopes of recruiting players.
Here then are Andrew Duncan as the professor, and his few students -- a very young Alan Arkin, Eugene Troobnick, and coming in last, perhaps my favorite performer from Second City the great Severn Darden, the fellow with the beard.
I also found another very early Second City sketch which isn't overly funny, though it has some good laughs -- most from Arkin. But what stands out is that it shows how Second City worked, in part, in those early days because it's clearly all ad-libbed. The premise is that Alan Arkin is 'Noah,' and all the other actors who show up are animals who Noah is interviewing to see if they can get a spot on the ark.
Fun, too, are some of the other cast members involved. The first pair who come on stage are Eugene Troobnick -- and Barbara Harris. (She later won her Tony Award for a musical, The Apple Tree, so it's nice to see her sing a bit here.) And next is Severn Darden (not at his best here, but it's always a joy to see him -- and that's him below, with Arkin.) And then finally, there's Paul Sand. But it's Alan Arkin who's in control and is pretty funny.
Finally, this is from an appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. It begins with a pretty funny bit that appears at first to be an homage to the cool of Frank Sinatra, but then takes an Arkin twisted-turn. But what I particularly like about it is that things move to a duet with Carol Burnett, and he sings two offbeat song, both of which he wrote. (He began his career as a folk singer in the group The Tarriers, who had some success, notably with "The Banana Boat Song" and "Yellow Bird" -- I even remember that our house had a 45 of their "Banana Boat".) And the first song he does here with Burnett, "I Like You," is one I first heard many decades ago as a little kid on WFMT's The Midnight Special.
Y'know, I think this all deserves a bonus.
When I mentioned The Tarriers and how they actually had some success, I figured it was worth checking out to see if I could find a video of them. I was sure I would -- at least, one of their recordings. But I lucked out and not only found footage of them, but a big production of "The Banana Boat Song" and "Yellow Bird"! It appears to be two clips from a movie (or movies...) edited together. And while you'll be able to pick out Alan Arkin in the first one, he is front-and-center singing lead in the second.
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Throughout American history, Constitutional amendments have been passed to benefit the public and move the country forward. But the Roberts Supreme Court has once again removed Constitutional rights that have been accepted as established law for 50 years and turned the country backwards half a century.
Just some various thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling yesterday overturning Affirmative Action, because…hey, why not? If you can be cruel to others and take the country backwards half a century, it seems a pretty basic Republican Party thing to do these days and really a waste of your GOP birthright not to do so when you have the authority.
Trump yesterday proudly took credit for appointing three of the Justices who helped overturn Affirmative Action. What he forgot to mention and left out was that he also appointed those three Justices who helped overturn Roe. Which helped the GOP get pummeled in the 2020 election that Republicans thought would bring them a Red Wave – and the anger against which has only been growing as Republicans have been tripling down. It seems very likely that Trump’s “bravado” here may have a similar and compounding effect, most especially on young voters impacted by the ruling who are the hardest constituency to get to the polls. Usually,
As has been known for a while, Justices who swore under oath during their confirmation hearings that, oh, my, yes, they absolutely really believed in settled law and precedent didn't actually mean it. It's one thing to overturn existing law when something in society has changed conditions, it's another thing entirely to do so when nothing has changed but you overturn the law just because you can.
The one good thing in all this, overturning Constitutional Rights like Roe and Affirmative Action. is that at least we now know for absolute certain that conservatives are not against activist judges at all. They just don't like activist judges they disagree with.
A lot of right-wing analysts have been pointing to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing in her majority opinion 20 years ago sustaining Affirmative Action that it should only be in place for 25 years. Except that’s not even remotely what she wrote. It was just her assumption that in 25 years society would have changed enough that Affirmative Action would probably not be needed anymore. What she actually wrote was -- “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest [in student body diversity] approved.” That's her making a personal guess, not a legal deadline. Sadly, her expectation was much too optimistic and has not yet come to pass.
When asked his reaction to the Court decision, Mike Pence said that Affirmative Action was needed 50 years ago, but not today. However, if that was actually true, it would be because Affirmative Action keeps making that "needed" difference. By the way, if the Supreme Court had decided yesterday’s ruling 50 years ago, it would have made Affirmative Action illegal when Pence says it was, in fact, "needed."
I love that Mike Pence (former governor of the state which was the home to the Ku Klux Klan and former vice-president of the United States and poster boy for the color white) pointed specifically to him being the father of three college-graduate children as evidence that the need for Affirmative Action is over. Sometimes, the level of cluelessness mixes with self-delusion in a way that’s almost magical.
Most of the attention of yesterday SCOTUS decision was understandably on race. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that Affirmative Action also covers gender -- and even more to the point, statistics show that white women have actually benefitted the most. And now, that protection is gone. (You can read about that here.) So, for all the young voters – and parents of prospective college students – who now have been given yet another reason to be outraged at Republicans and Trump (with his bravado on helping make this ruling possible), that energized base has been increased.
It's a noble goal for society to be colorblind, which was one of the stated aims of the majority in making this decision. However, it's only notable if, in making that your goal, you work towards making it a reality. However, what this Roberts Court has been doing -- perhaps starting with dismantling the Voting Rights Act -- is to undermine efforts to block prejudice. And that makes the Court's majority opinion empty and meaningless.
The Court's majority also made itself something of a disingenuous joke, referencing Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Justice on the Supreme Court, as a hallmark behind supporting its decision. But Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonja Sotomayor would not have it, and wrote a blistering response, pointing out -- among other things -- that when Thurgood Marshall was an attorney, he was actually the person who litigated Brown v. the Board of Education, the landmark decision that made racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
I saw a social media post yesterday that embedded a right-wing podcast where the guest was explaining what getting rid of Affirmative Action was a good thing, because “Being too tolerant hurt America.” I thought of arguing this, but then realized it started from a double-false premise, which I pointed out. One, that being tolerant is a bad thing. As opposed to intolerant. And two, that America is "too" tolerant. Full prisons, gun massacres and shootings, racial & gender prejudice, and more would argue otherwise.
Just a quick note to Clarence Thomas, for when he next gets around to reading this website -- Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the Harvard decision because she had a conflict of interest. See! The concept of recusing oneself actually can be done!! Cool, hunh?
And finally, as I noted yesterday –
It is not shocking that a party that doesn't want to teach Black history or Critical Race Theory and wants to ban books on race if it makes even one kid uncomfortable thinks it's a good thing for equality to get rid of Affirmative Action because racism is no longer a problem.
'Tis the season -- for watermelon, that is. And because I love watermelon, we're going to have an extravaganza of three videos on cutting the suckers.
(None of these are exactly the way I cut them, since I tend to buy the smaller, round, seedless "personal" watermelons. But the last two videos are pretty close.)
First though, we'll start with one of the those "50 People Try to..." videos from Epicurious.com. Not shockingly, what these people are flailingly trying to do is cut a watermelon. The fun of the video aside, this is the best instruction at the end for how to cut a watermelon in wedges.
This next video is short, only about a minute, and comes from The Racheal Ray Show. It's close to how I've been cutting my watermelons, though with a couple of slight differences.
The first is that they're using a bigger watermelon that I use, but it's still basically round, like mine. The other is that her Senior Culinary Producer is showing how to cut spears, and I like cubes. So, I just easily slice the rinds off the ends and then easily cut the spears in to cubes.
Finally, this third video is a new way I've learned, and definitely weird on the surface, but I've been trying lately with reasonable success. I'm not sure if it's faster or better than my "lattice" version above, but it may be, and it's fun. It comes from Alton Brown. This is for a regular watermelon, but works just as well with one of my round fellows. And it uses...a cheese slicer! (Hey, I told you it was weird.)
And then I turn each wheel into cubes by making cross-lattice cuts. I haven't mastered a smooth move with the cheese slicer, but I'm getting better. And if I leave too much watermelon on the rind -- that's fine, I just snack on it while continuing with the cutting.
By the way, if you want to try the last method, but don't have a cheese slicer, this is the one I got here from Amazon. It's currently being sold for $12, which is 40% its regular price. It has 4.3 stars out of 5, and I like it because the screws on the side make it easy to remove the guide (which is necessary to take off, in order to use for slicing off the watermelon rinds.)
Yesterday, I wrote about how Trump is getting himself into a lot of unnecessary added trouble, by talking when he should be following his Constitutional right to remain silent. I should have added a codicil – y’know, you really don’t have to sue everyone whenever you feel slighted. Because sometimes, you can get yourself into a lot of unnecessary added trouble.
I have an periodic exchange with people whenever I say “I don’t know what they’re thinking...” when describing some insanity that the Republican Party has just done – or that Trump did. Often, the other person comes back to explain what they believe Trump or the Republicans meant, even if (they often note) the explanation doesn’t make much sense.
What I then have to always come back with is that, yes, I know all that, but when I said, "I don’t know what they’re thinking," I meant in a sane world. I also add that I have long-since given up trying to figure out what Trump is thinking. So, for anyone trying is an effort in futility.
Which bring us to Trump yesterday suing E. Jean Carroll for defamation because she’s still saying he raped her, and the court said he didn’t, just that he was liable for “sexually abusing” her and had to pay $5 million.
I don’t know what he’s thinking. Especially since he has supposedly-real attorneys who know how insane this is. And when I say that I don’t know what he’s thinking, I may actually include “in an insane” world, as well. Because I think people who try to be Trump Whisperer’s and explain his lunatic actions might be stumped here.
Okay, yes, you can explain most anything. “I think he wants to be in the news no matter what.” “I think he just wants to get back at her.” “I think he believes that because he has the legal right to sue her, he should. “I think he thinks he’s right and sees this as a way to get his $5 million back.”
But all that is nuts. And I’m still hard-pressed to figure out what he – and his lawyers, who risk being sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit – are seriously thinking. After all, the issue isn’t just that Trump has to prove he was “defamed” by someone saying he raped her, when a jury found him liable for sexually assaulting E. Jean Carroll and awarded her $5 million (with the added hurdle that his first wife claimed he maritally raped her, and he didn’t sue her), but more importantly, he has to show damages. Given that Trump’s poll numbers have gone up in the Republican Party after the Carroll verdict and since her subsequent claims, that doesn’t suggest he has been hurt much at all.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the jury didn’t determine that Trump did not rape E. Jean Carroll, it said that her lawyer was unable to prove their charge that he did – though the jury did vote that he sexually assaulted her, and awarded her $5 million.
Here’s why this lawsuit is so insane for Trump, which makes it all the more difficult to figure out what he is thinking, even if you wander over to Insane World and bend so far over backwards that you can touch your nose to the ground.
There are four outcomes that I think are the only legitimate ones that will happen. And all are terrible for Trump.
In order of least problematic for Trump to the worst –
1. The suit gets thrown out of court and isn’t even heard, totally embarrassing Trump by having the court say “You have absolutely no basis to sue because you weren’t defamed or hurt by E. Jean Carroll saying you raped her.” (Imagine not being defamed or hurt because someone said you raped her!!”)
2. The suit gets thrown out of court and isn’t heard – and Trump’s lawyers get sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit, embarrassing Trump even more, because the court not only says he wasn’t defamed by being called a rapist, but his even trying to sue for this is considered frivolous. (Imagine your being upset at having been called a rapist referred to as frivolous!!)
3. The case is heard in court, and Trump wins, and is awarded $1,000 – or even less, perhaps just $1, which shows the world how very little he was defamed. That’s a victory of semantics. And a massive loss of stature. (Imagine a court ruling you weren’t hurt very much at all by someone saying you raped her.)
4. The case is heard in court, and Trump loses. Which is a jury saying, “No, you weren’t defamed when she keeps saying you raped her.” And he must pay her court costs on top of all that.
(Yes, there’s a fifth possibility that he could win and be awarded as much as $1 million or even up to $5 million, but not only does that not count because, no, that’s not going to happen realistically – and anything less doesn’t come close to compensating him for his existing penalty of $5 million -- but it’s the fevered dream thinking that this might happen which is causing the other four almost-certain outcomes to raise their ugly heads and devour Trump.
And worse, on top of all this, whatever happens: just what a presidential candidate wants – to be back in court arguing rape, for a case where he was already found liable for sexual assault… while he’s on trial for espionage and indicted for fraud, and is likely facing two additional indictments for obstruction of a federal election and inciting an Insurrection to overthrow the government.
And what does Trump do? He sues.
You have the right to remain silent works here, too, y’know...
I guess this is a day for "Silence."
And I know most everyone heard this song. Countless times. But I'd never seen this performance, and it's a very special and fairly recent one, making it all the more special.
This is Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reuniting at the 25th anniversary Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame Concert at Madison Square Garden just a little over 13 years ago, in late 2009, singing "The Sound of Silence."
Their performance and the harmonies -- almost half a century after the song was originally released -- is impeccable, and the large audience wildly enthusiastic.
So, from "Silence is Golden" this morning, to "The Sound of Silence" tonight.
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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