This is an absolutely wonderful, even joyous segment from the TV show Penn & Teller: Fool Us, where magicians try to fool Penn & Teller with a trick, and if they do, they get an appearance at a Penn & Teller show. What makes this so special is that the surprise magician is Penn’s daughter, Moxie Jillette. And not only did he have no idea that she’d be performing, but he thought she was in Scotland with her mother, and she’d been fooling him as she prepared for her appearance.
But it’s even better than that because he’s clearly shocked by her being there and being fooled that she’s not in Scotland – and further, it’s so clear how proud he is of her and adores her – and she him. And equally clear how nervous she is – in fact, at one point you can see her hands shaking, which is never a good thing for a magician. And lovely too is how clear it is how close Teller is to the family and to her. And everything all together here is just absolutely wonderful.
Whether she actually fool them, well, of course that’s a separate matter – but secondary to the joy of the piece. But it’s nonetheless important, since it’s the point of the show and handled well by everyone.
I should add that I found another, longer video of this, but it's now private, and I can't embed it. But this below is still the bulk of the appearance and wonderful. (Though the other version was longer, that extra length was mostly before she appeared on stage, and viewers got a bit of background on her efforts to make sure her dad didn't know what she was up to.)
Two things to add -- the first is that a brief passage in this shorter version is edited out after the trick when Penn & Teller go back to their chairs, Moxie is interviewed on stage and mentions that, as part of her preparation to convince her dad that she was not in town, she lied to him about her video camera being broken -- at which point, he looks up from his consultation with Teller and shouts, "Wait, your camera isn't broken?!!" And the second is that, near the end, in order to promote another video, the person posting this superimposed that promotion over the middle of the screen, so you annoyingly miss a lot of the final reaction between father and daughter. But use your imagination and know that you'll likely be right.
But all that aside, this is almost entirely the full appearance. And it's a joy.
Yesterday, there was a horrible story of three U.S. college students – all born in Palestine, though two are American citizens, and the third is here on a student visa – being shot while on holiday visiting family in Vermont. Fortunately, two are apparently recovering well, though the third young man is in more critical condition.
But all I could think of was an item that crossed my feed on social media over the weekend. It was about a Breitbart story posted that was so telling in how blisteringly ignorant that extreme-right publication assumes their readers are.
The headline was – “SHOCK REPORT: New Analysis Reveals Over 23 Million Naturalized US Citizens, Formerly Immigrants now Eligible to Vote in the Upcoming 2024 Presidential Election..” Yes, really. Most of the Twitter responses were utterly scathing in their ridicule, faux-“outraged” that actual legal citizens were allowed to vote – like (as I pointed out) pretty much every American’s ancestors has done since it was codified as in the U.S. Constitution -- but it was head-shaking and sickening to see some far-right respondents so gallingly upset by the story that they asked – and I swear this is true -- if there was anything that could be done and if this could be appealed to the Supreme Court could do.
But that’s what the GOP today has become. So ignorant and so upset at the mere mention of “immigrants,” thinking it must mean they’re illegal. From the Breitbart article: “As more immigrants naturalize and become eligible to vote, they continue to gain political power. The number of immigrant voters is only projected to rise in the next decade, and in some states, foreign-born voters are already capable of deciding elections.”
Whenever a Republican official rails about “illegal immigrants,” they always try (well, okay, not every official tries…) to let you know they have nothing against legal immigrants, who came into the country legally and are legally legal, they’re only talking about “illegal immigrants.” And y’know, maybe even some of them really do feel that way. But when you’re an elected representative of what is today a fascist political party – and when one of the main tenets of fascism is xenophobia and hatred of people who are different – there’s a pretty good chance that if your soapbox ranting about “illegal immigrants” bleeds over to be perceived as immigrants, period, that a fascist party whose base has a foundation of racism and white supremacy isn’t going to lose a whole lot of sleep about it, especially since it’s likely their assumption is that those people aren’t going to vote for you anyway.
On top of that, the difficulty of looking at a person who isn’t white and trying to determine if they’re an illegal immigrant or just a garden variety legal immigrant is a high bar to get over. And when someone is racist and hates minorities to begin with, there’s a really good chance that they’re not going to take the time and effort to find out. In large part, because they probably don’t care all that much. And so, the immigrant is as good a target for the outlet of releasing your hate. They're just one and the same. Legal, illegal, whatever. They're immigrants.
Never mind, of course, that somewhere in your own past, unless you’re an American Indian, you absolutely, 100% had an ancestor who was an immigrant. And for all you know, they may have gotten in illegally.
Which brings us back to that Breitbart story. Because they knew the story was ludicrous and meaningless, but they also knew that they could inflame the racist, unthinking base by pointing out a “SHOCKING” news item about “immigrants.” Never mind that it was not only legal, but it was everyday, basic Standard Operating Procedure for how the United Sates actually works. And is supposed to work. Actually.
Which brings us back to today’s Republican Party and Trump leading the way with his plans for interment camps, lists of Muslims, and religious travel bans. Because no matter how much he and they insist all they are against are “illegal immigrants,” it’s hugging distance for their hatred of immigrants, which they’re more than happy to inflame if it comes to that.
Never mind that they are the heirs of immigrants.
Including Trump whose grandfather Friedrich immigrated to the United States from Germany, where the family name was Drumpf.
There's a point to this. Not a significant point, mind you, but a point, nonetheless. So, bear with me.
I've always liked the TV series Mission: Impossible. Since a kid and even now, when reruns are shown on cable. (I’m selective – there are some episodes I didn’t care for, so I pass those by. The ones I like the most are when they do a "simulation" to trick their target. My favorite is an episode where they make a guy think he’s on a submarine in order to get him to give up key information, when in fact they’ve just recreated it all in a warehouse.)
That said, I hate the movies. In fairness, I’ve only seen the first one, but I hated it so much, ripping the guts out of the point and core of the TV series, out of pure hubris, that I was so offended I haven’t had wanted to watch the others. But the TV series was and remains a joy.
My love for the show even helped on a PR job I had. I was the unit publicist on an awful, violent movie, The Hitcher, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh was the female lead. We got along well, but she was very shy and quiet. When I was interviewing her for her bio in the presskit, she mentioned her step-father being Reza Badiyi. “Oh,” I said, “Didn’t he direct a lot of episodes of Mission: Impossible?” Jennifer stopped and just stared at me – “How did you know that????” she almost sputtered. Well, I’d watched the show all the time as a kid, I explained, and he directed a lot of episodes (18, it turned out) and he had a name that caught the attention of a kid and was hard to forget. I think she may have said that I was the first person she’d met on a movie who actually knew of him. (Their loss, by the way -- Reza Badiyi had a long, 40-year career directing, up to 2006 when he directed the feature film, The Way Back Home with Julie Harris and Ruby Dee.) Anyway, it was a nice, added movie-set connection to make, which is particularly important for a unit publicist, since they’re usually very low on a movie’s totem pole of stature. All thanks to loving the Mission: Impossible series.
(Side Note: I tell some other tales about working on The Hitcher, including a couple of nice, amusing ones about Jennifer in this article here. But I digress…
All of this aside, the point here is about one thing that has always struck me as weird and totally unbelievable about Mission: Impossible. And that’s saying a ton, given the premise of the show and that each week they pull off a mission that is…impossible. However, viewers always accepted those weekly, monumentally-convoluted tricks that often stretched credibility (to the point, every once in a while, that brought about eye-rolling), but because they were pulled off with clever writing and great Impossible Mission Force skill, they landed on the good side of acceptable.
But not this one thing.
At the beginning of every show – at least in the earlier years – the team leader (first Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill who later was the first D.A. on Law & Order, and then Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves) would go through his IMF portfolio, decided which agents he wanted to join him on that week’s specific mission. And the ones he wanted, he’d toss their photo in a pile.
There was character actor Rollin Hand (“Man of a Million Faces,” his 8x10 actor’s glossy photo said, “World’s Greatest Impersonator”), electronics whiz Barney Collier and strong man Willy Armitage. (I’m guessing not many people know Barney and Willy’s last name. But them up there alongside Reza Badiyi.) And then also, there was Cinnamon Carter, played by Barbara Bain. Her photo was a magazine cover for a glamour magazine that said “Model of the Year.”
And that’s where I always got stumped.
Here was this attractive woman – who not only was a cover model, and not only a famous cover model, but one so famous that she was the Model of the Year!!! And…and…and No One in the Entire World Ever Recognized Her!!! (The team often had missions in Europe and South America.) Forget that no one ever knew her name, the Model of the Year – forget even that on that “Model of the Year” cover it had her name -- but no one in the series ever stopped her and said, “Hey, you look familiar. How do I know you?? Are you famous?” No one – and I don’t even mean the targets that she was thrown into close confines to trick each week, but I mean even people on the street or in restaurants or store who would regularly pass by her and say, “Wait, I know you!! You’re that lady on the magazines!” No one even ever did a double-take when seeing the Model of the Year right in front of them.
It's like, for that era, being the target of a spy mission, and the woman trying to con you is Twiggy or Cheryl Tiegs or Lauren Hutton or Jean Shrimpton or Grace Jones. Or today, Christie Brinkley, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Gigi Hadid or Gisele Bündchen -- and no one in the entire world for four years even recognizes that she might look familiar...!!!
I’m sorry, that was just a bridge too far for me. I never have been able to believe it that Cinnamon Carter, Model of the Year was never recognized. On occasion, sure, I could accept it like when on a mission in a small far-Eastern European country or a South American country that generally had a name like San Cristobal, or when she was made up to look like an old woman, but not recognized over the 78 episodes she was in – not once.
I almost, sort of have the same issue with Martin Landau as Rollin Hand, who was an actor and apparently a successful one. But because he was a character actor who could sublimate himself into secondary roles – and of course because often he’d create a perfect mask so that he could look like someone else, generally played by someone else -- that, at least, had an aspect of the "willing suspension of disbelief,” where you could accept, “Okay, his career is looking like other people, he’s the Man of a Million Faces, after all. The World’s Greatest Impersonator.” But not the Model of the Year the point of whose career was the exact opposite – making herself as attractive as possible and ensuring that you see her, stare at her, are enthralled by her jammed in your face on magazine covers.
Okay, yes, it’s a small thing in the great scheme of things. But in the world of famous TV series that one loves and has watched for decades, it’s worthy of being bugged by. And for all the absolutely unbelievable things on a show about “the impossible,” it’s the one thing I just don’t and have never bought.
The other day, I was having an email exchange with a good friend who's very liberal, but is insistent that President Biden would lose a match-up against Trump. ("It's a big if he can win," is how he put it.) I should add that my friend is a very bright guy, and also inherently deeply cynical. I asked on what basis he held his belief, and (without going into full detail) he replied along the lines that the perception of Biden is that he's much older than Trump, that young voters wouldn't want to vote for someone that old, and minorities are unhappy with Biden.
It was a well-written, thoughtful answer, as I told him, but added that I don’t think almost any of it addressed the issue fully, but rather just skimmed the landscape, took the quick, easy view and was almost totally surface. Which I think is often the case for TV analysis when you're only given a few minutes to comment. For important, complex things especially, however, you usually have to look under the hood.
As I had said to him earlier in our exchange, even I think Biden is too old -- the biggest issue against him -- …and yet will unquestioningly vote for him against Trump without even a blink of hesitancy. Furthermore, I told my friend that I was 100% sure he will, too. And no, he didn't contradict me.
What I added was that he much too-conveniently dismissed Trump's own age as an issue by saying that even though, yes, he's almost as old as Biden, it isn’t a problem merely because Trump doesn’t “seem” as old. I disagree hugely. After all, just the other week, Trump was ranting (yet again) about running about Barack Obama, and about Joe Biden at risk of causing "WWII." And screwing up world leaders and countries. That’s not just Trump losing it, but losing it specifically because he is too old. And it shows. Also, at the moment, because Joe Biden is President and Trump is not even a nominee yet, is avoiding debates and giving speeches only to his base, we see far more of Biden than Trump -- but once they’re both the official candidates, we’ll see them side-by-side, and “Biden’s age” will be offset by Trump’s own, significant age issues, including what appears to an untrained eye as growing mania. (I would also suggest that for a presidential candidate, regularly forgetting major, crucial details and crazed, old-man ranting is much more a problem than is walking smoothly.)
Further, I have a strongly held belief about polls now. Right now, it’s SO early before the election that people are responding only by individual “approval.” And Republicans adore Trump, so his approval isn’t in the toilet. But once both are the official party nominees, and the question is no longer “Do you approve of…”, but rather “One of these two men WILL be the next president, who do you want?”, that’s a totally different question.
Moreover, I believe the debates will be crucial. Seeing them side-by-side. And two questions that I’m sure will get asked (or Biden will bring them up) will be -- I think -- devastating for Trump. The first is -- “Mr. Trump, who do you think won the 2020 election?” He will say he did, and then go on a wild rant about how it was stolen from him -- with the actual president standing calmly next to him. And Trump will look insane, as he rants about his efforts to overthrow democracy. And the other question will be -- “Mr. Trump, would do you say to people who don’t believe we should elect someone who was found liable of, as the judge wrote, the equivalence of rape?” And again, he’ll go on a wild rant about how “I never knew that women, I never met her, the trial was rigged” -- and he’ll look nuts.
I think a third devastating, debate question can now be added to the list. "Mr. Trump -- in your online posts, you have used language that echoes Hitler, with plans for interment camps and deportation based on religion. How do you convince people to vote for someone with those views?"
(I know some people wonder if Trump will participate in presidential debate. But I think it deeply unlikely that he won't. However, if he doesn't, that alone will be seen as cowardly and problematic, especially for Independents trying to decide.)
As for young people, they are likely to come out and vote Democratic in big numbers because there are three huge issues they care deeply about – abortion, the environment and gun control. Those are all big Biden/Democratic issues. (Not to mention college debt relief.) Women -- as we’ve seen in special elections -- are outraged over abortion and voting Democratic in huge numbers. And while Latino, Black and Arab-American groups have shown disappointment with President Biden, I firmly believe that when side-to-side against Trump as the alternative, who wants to build internment camps and deport people based on their religion, I suspect that much of that disappointment will be balanced by horror at what's ghoulishly worse.
In fact, to support this belief, NBC just had a poll that, for what it was asking, I think is more significant than early “horse race” approval polls. One-issue voters were asked what the one issue is that was so important to them it would determine their vote.
The first two issues were democracy and abortion. And fourth was guns. Together, those were 46% of respondents. All told, 50% of one-issue voters named exclusively Democratic issues that would determine their vote. But importantly, this wasn’t out of 100%, since 21% of those polled said “None of the above.” What this means is by a massive margin of 50%-29%, one-issue respondents said a Democratic issue would determine their vote. But also, keep in mind, these results were “just” for one-issue voters. It's only fair to think they are also high among the main issues, let alone the main issues, that drives all voters.
(The reason why I think this poll is far more significant than "approval" polls a full year before the election is because it's asking people what they stand for, something so important it isn’t likely to change. Also worth noting: these results don’t relate only to the presidential race, but -- for a one-issue voter -- to any candidate in any race.)
Now add the dysfunction we’re seeing of the GOP in the House. Unable to pass a bill of any significance. Perhaps shutting down the government, and even just bringing up “impeachment hearings” with zero evidence -- both of which are issues the public has always shown they hate. (Bill Clinton’s approval skyrocketed to 81% when he got impeached -- and there were reasons for it. Not good ones, but reasons.) And finally voting a full-blown religious zealot as their House Speaker, who says his world view is based on the Bible and calls abortion an evil.
Then add that Trump is under four indictments, been found liable to rape, been found guilty of fraud, and there will be actual trials between now and the election – and the Georgia trial might be televised.
And include all the GOP extremist candidates, which we saw in 2020 get pummeled. Republicans would supposed to win 60 seats in the House in an off-year election. They got a five-seat majority. And lost control of the Senate. The public hated the extremism – and the GOP didn’t get any less extremist.
I don’t know who will win. I don’t think it’s an easy win for Biden in the slightest. It will be a close election in the Electoral College. But -- I think Trump and Republicans have massively bigger problems that many give them. Democrats understandably concerned about the election tend to only look at the negatives that Biden and the party have (and those negatives are very real), but downplay -- to the degree, it seems, of ignoring -- how huge GOP and Trump negatives are. Far, far great then Biden’s and Democrats’, I think.
To be very clear, I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses and being wildly optimistic that, oh, gee, of course, Democrats will win easily, based on no reasons, but just cheery positivity. I’m saying it will be close, but here are the many reasons Democrats have in their favor and the many horrific things Republicans have against them. (Like, y'know, echoing Hitler, calling for interment camps, having four indictments, wanting a national abortion ban, banning books, and extremist fascist candidates...for a starter. As opposed to "Biden is three years older than Trump.") Yes, President Biden's poll numbers are low -- but so are Trump's. So, while the election will be close, I don’t think it’s a “big if” that Biden will win, and do think he’s more likely to.
The one factor I don’t know is how the Electoral College will break down, which is another reason general polls don’t matter. And why horse-race approval polls right now don't either.
I wish President Biden was younger. And I wish he had better poll numbers. But mostly, I'm thrilled he doesn't come even remotely close to having the truly dystopian problems Trump and Republicans do.
From the archives. The contestant today is Claire Nalven from Waltham, Massachusetts. This is a very florid piece, and the song is extremely well-hidden – and to my shock, I got it. And while I came close on the composer style, it was two people I find similar, and I guessed the wrong one.
The guest on this week’s Al Franken podcast is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Fahrenthold. He currently writes for the New York Times, though he won his Pulitzer cover Trump’s finances when working for the Washington Post. He talks with Al about, as Al writes, “the Trump Organization’s long history of corruption” and “puts the current trial into perspective.”
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