As I’ve written here in the past, I’m a big fan of the ongoing, limited-series Miracle Workers, created by Simon Rich. The comedy stars Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi, with a wonderful supporting cast, most notably (for my taste) Geraldine Viswanathan, an Australian with a down-to-earth, sardonic, bone-dry comedy style and impeccable American accent. The first season was so successful that they’ve since done two more years – totally different stories and genres, but the same cast.
(The first year was about a hapless angel played by Radcliffe who tries to enlist the help of other angels to save Earth from a bored, annoyed, somewhat infantile God, played by Buscemi, who instead wants to move on to his next project for the universe, building a floating restaurant. The second season took place during Medieval times, and the third year was in pioneer days along the Oregon Trail.)
While I thought the first season was the best – smart, goofy, very funny and offbeat – I’ve enjoyed all three years greatly. And they’ve all been based on short stories by Rich. He was a long-time writer for Saturday Night Live, and among other things created the series Man Seeking Woman based on his book; wrote an HBO Max movie starring Seth Rogen, An American Pickle, based on his short story; and upcoming wrote the screenplay for the just-completed Wonka, about a young Willy Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet. He’s written two novels and six collections of short stories.
I mention his literary works as the jumping off point for this posting today. Last year, my friend Treva Silverman (two-time Emmy-winning writer for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to give credit where it’s due…) sent me the link to a short story that Simon Rich had just written for the New Yorker magazine. I don’t think she even knew how much I loved the Miracle Workers series, she just found the story wonderful and really funny and thought I would like it. She was right all around. It’s a hoot. I never sat down to write about it here – and it slipped my mind for a while, but I came across my notes about it, and with the holiday weekend upon us, now seemed a good time.
The piece is a detective story, written in the vein of a Raymond Chandler hard-boiled, 1940s investigator, although (being Simon Rich) with an odd twist: the detective is a two-year old infant. And his client is an even-younger girl who mysteriously showed up at the house a year earlier and wants him to find her missing stuffed toy. It’s titled, “The Big Nap.”
Just to give you a sense of it, here’s some of the opening chapter from near the beginning –
He wasn’t sure about a lot of things. The only thing he knew was he was tired. Tired of this down-and-dirty life. Tired of trying to make sense of a world gone mad.
The client was waiting for him in his nursery. He’d seen her around before. She’d come onto the scene about a year ago, moving into the white bassinet down the hall. Some people called her Sweetheart. Others called her Pumpkin. But most people knew her by her full name: Baby Anna. She looked innocent enough, with her big, wide eyes and Princess Elsa onesie. But her past was murky. The detective had heard that she came from the hospital. But there was also a rumor that she’d once lived inside Mommy’s tummy. It didn’t add up. Still, a job was a job.
“So, what brings you here?” the detective asked.
“It’s Moomoo,” Baby Anna said. “She’s missing.”
The detective rolled his eyes. Moomoo went missing all the time. That was just the kind of unicorn she was. “Maybe she’s under your bassinet,” he said.
“I checked,” she said. “She’s not.”
Her eyes filled with tears. He handed her a tissue, but she didn’t know what a tissue was, so she put it in her mouth and tried to eat it.
“Please,” she said. “Moomoo’s all I have in the whole world.”
“Lost toys are small-time,” the detective said. “Why should I bust my ass to find some unicorn who’ll probably just turn up under the radiator?”
“Because I can pay you up front.”
It’s really a joy, wildly clever, and holds up as the mystery develops. I can’t swear that the charm, wit and quirkiness will be to everyone’s taste, but it sure was to mine. Links to the final two parts are at the top of the first chapter, but to make things easier for you, here are all three episodes.
Chapter 1 is here.
Chapter 2 is here.
Chapter 3 is here.
The other day, when posting here the medley of Jim Henson's favorite songs, which were sung by Muppet performers at Henson's memorial, I mentioned two songs included that were based on poems by A.A. Milne. Both of them were put to music by Harold Fraser-Simson, and originally recorded on an album sung by Frank Luther. I mentioned that it had a long life as a very successful children’s album, and we had an old copy in our house.
I remember the album (and even these two songs, "Cottleston Pie" and "Halfway Down") with huge affection. For that matter, while I no longer have the album, I still do have well-read copies of both When We Were Very Young (from which "Halfway Down" comes) and also Milne’s other poetry collection, Now We are Six, as well as the two Pooh books, of which "Cottleston Pie" is in the original. But though I no longer have the record, happily many of the selections from it have been posted online.
The album is Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin: Children Stories and Songs, performed by Frank Luther back in 1948. It's possible that my parents got it several years later for my older brother when he was old enough to appreciate such things, and so was still in the house when I came around later, though my sense is it may have been bought new in a subsequent re-release. In any regard, here is a medley of several songs from it, the first two of which I remember with great fondness.
The other day, there was a fascinating news story that got little attention, though I think it deserved a lot more.
A group of historians have been doing a series of books on recent presidents. They were preparing the one on Trump, when he found out about it and offered to talk to them all (by Zoom). And the story that The Atlantic wrote about (with a summary on Raw Story) included the nugget that Trump acknowledged losing the election!
No disclaimer, no instance that he really won, just – “…but when I didn’t win the election…”. Later in the hour-long interview he does mention the election being rigged and losing, but earlier, about 10 minutes in, there is nothing about it being rigged. Just flat out, “but when I didn’t win the election,” seemingly forgetting to throw in his lie and letting the truth slip out by mistake.
And it’s on video.
As some legal experts have noted, this admission could come back to hurt Trump badly in court, acknowledging that he knows he lost. What’s important, too, is the timing of it all. As a news story, the implication is that this is breaking news that just happened – so the past year of saying otherwise, that he really supposedly won might offset his admission in court, and not have any impact on those around him repeating the story. And the Raw Story article supports this by not saying anything about the date of the interview.
But when reading the original, detailed article in The Atlantic, they say that the interview was done…last summer! So, perhaps nine months ago Trump was admitting that “I didn’t win the election.” Committing fraud, lying to his followers. But it’s actually worse than even that.
The article in The Atlantic refers to an article that the New York Times wrote about the interview when it took place. And I clicked on the link to check out when that story was published. And…it was in March, 2021 -- a year ago! Which means for the past full year Trump has known and said – on tape – that he lost. And has been lying about what he knows ever since, trying rile up his crowds and minions and lawyers and Republican state houses with what he knew was a lie.
(It also means that this interview with the historians was not a secret, hidden away until now. It didn’t cover all that was said in the interview, including this quote, but the interview was very public.)
You can read The Atlantic article by clicking here -- but better still…they’ve posted the entire video of the interview. Which includes, of course, Trump admitting on camera that “I didn’t win the election.”
I didn’t watch much of the hour, it’s very painful, but clicked to various parts – and almost every time, Trump is just continually trying to “correct” the record and rewrite history about how everything he did was great and everyone was working against him. It’s a psychiatrist’s dream. The article itself largely addresses this – it’s written by the editor of the book, John Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton, who points out (among many other things) that Trump clearly had no idea of historians work.
I can’t embed the interview video, but will provide a link below and highly recommend checking it out. Not just for Trump’s admission or for seeing how much a victim he paints himself, but for how great the technology is embedding it, making it so easy to access almost whatever you want.
(You won’t see these benefits if you just click on the video embedded within the article. You have to open it full-screen, which is why I’m providing the link to that.)
The full-screen version has a wonderful sidebar with links to topics being discussed – but “topics” doesn’t do it justice. It’s incredibly detailed, with markers listed literally for every few seconds, so you can either scroll through the list or do a search for whatever subjects you’re interested in, rather than listening to the whole thing. That’s how I found Trump talking about losing the election – I just did a search for “election” and it found every reference. (The passage in question comes at the 41:40 mark.)
Just be sure to click on “Captions” and then “Show” (as opposed to “Hide”) in the sidebar. The captions are really great – not only are they every few seconds, as I said, (in fact, sometimes only one second apart!), but as you watch the video, the captions automatically scroll through and keep up with where you are. It’s very impressive.
Here’s the video.
Y'know, the one where Trump admits, “I lost the election.”
Thanks to Ted Cruz promoting it, "Antiracist Baby" is now the # Best-Selling children's book on Amazon. AND the #2...*and* #3 Best-Selling books!! (In different formats)
For those interested, you can get the book here.
A couple of days ago, the inveterate Chris Dunn sent me a note on Twitter about how opportune my article was that day. Timing is everything, I replied, and repeated an old joke.
A guy says, “Ask me what the secret of comedy is.“
His friend responds, “Okay. What's the secret of co…“
Yes, indeed, timing is everything.
Man, if only William Barr had come to me first.
The former Attorney General has a new book set to be released about his time in office with Trump. It’s long been assumed that one of the reasons Barr left his job only a few months before it officially ended, and him publicly saying that the election was not stolen, is that he had been planning for a long time to rehabilitate his reputation. Well, yes, this was a fool’s errand on his part because that ship had sailed years earlier, but a guy can dream, I suppose. Unfortunately, with this book, that dream will now be a nightmare, because not only has the ship sailed, it tuns out to be the Titanic, just hit a massive iceberg and has sunk to the bottom of the deep-briny.
When writing a book, an author has to turn his manuscript into the publisher far in advance of publication for editing, proofreading the galleys, printing time to market it and much more. This, alas, has caused a wee bit of a problem for Barr. That’s because the Daily Beast got an advance copy and -- well, it’s not going to go well for him. You see, it's not that Barr digs an even deeper hole for himself about his transgressions blocking investigations and abusing the Justice Department, while virtually acting as Trump's personal lawyer, but bizarrely, he goes into a long passage defending Trump and slamming Democrats for – okay, wait for it… -- “demonizing” the Russian murderous despot Vladimir Putin.
Yes, really. And "demonizing" isn't my word to make his book seem worse (because, believe me, it gets even worse than that...), but it's William Barr's. I'm sure that he felt oh-so sanctimonious when he first typed the chapter -- which was reprehensible even without current events -- and was chuckling his William Barr chuckle. Unfortunately for former Attorney General Barr, defender of fascism, current events have a way of catching up to us. It's just a shame for him that reality couldn't have been at least delayed a couple of months until after publication and he could have gotten more of his 30 pieces of silver for betraying the United States and democracy.
Timing is everything.
Pull up a comfy chair and make some popcorn. This isn’t a one-sentence “Ooops” gaff about the word "demonizing" that reads poorly after the fact. No, no, this is an “Oh, my dear God!!” treatise in which Barr picks up the biggest shovel he can find and goes on and on and on.
“Unfortunately,” Barr writes (and “unfortunately” takes on a whole new meaning here that the former Attorney General surely did not intend). “Unfortunately, with the media ready to pounce on President Trump as a Russian stooge—if not a Manchurian candidate—at the slightest sign of détente, the President’s hands were severely tied, particularly during an election year. This is not the way grown-ups should think."
First of all, “This is not the way grown-ups should think” should never be a sentence used against others when trying to defend the petulant, ever-whining, infantile Trump who goes into rants at even the slightest criticism. But worse, to slam others for characterizing Trump as a “Russian stooge" -- only to have Trump himself call Putin a "genius” for invading Ukraine is, and then adding how “wonderful” that thinking was, and “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy” and full of “charm” -- is a mistake of monumental proportions for a prosecuting attorney, most especially when he knows his client is, in fact, a Russian stooge. In fact, “Russian stooge” doesn’t even go far enough when defining Trump. Though Barr’s next words (which, again, he should have kept to himself) might come closer, “…if not a Manchurian candidate.”
That’s pretty much like a “slap yourself in the forehead,” what on earth was I thinking??, face-plant moment.
But here's the thing -- Barr is still just warming up.
As you read this, remember something: though he was in the Trump cabinet, William Barr is not a foreign policy expert. That was never, ever his field. He’s a lawyer. That’s not to say he can’t have an opinion about foreign affairs. Of course he can. The pesky problem is when you present your opinion in the guise of expertise. And again, to be clear, the issue here isn’t whether his opinion is based on expertise or not -- it’s that (non-expert or Rhodes scholar) he’s about to dive into the deep end defending the murderous Russian despot Vladimir Putin. And since Barr is not a foreign policy expert, perhaps he’d have been better served sitting on his typing hands for a while. And remembering the words of his party's founder, Abraham Lincoln: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than speak and remove all doubt."
As Putin threatens the world now with nuclear attack, and Russia soldiers started a fight at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe – where a fire broke out – and Russian invaders have seized control of nuclear power plants in Ukraine, attorney William Barr gives his analysis of foreign policy today.
A heads-up – it doesn’t age well.
“The threat posed by Russia has changed dramatically since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation of today has roughly half the population the old Soviet Union had, and less than half the U.S. population. The larger Warsaw Pact countries—Poland, the former East Germany—are now part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The combined defense budgets of the three big Western European countries—Britain, France, and Germany—are comparable to Russia’s. While Russia still has a potent nuclear arsenal, the prospect of Russian tanks rolling to the English Channel—a realistic scenario during the Cold War—is just not plausible now. Further, while some Russian foreign policy goals are in tension with our own, Russia’s leaders no longer promote a revolutionary ideology that foreordains general antagonism with the West. For them, foreign policy is now more purely a matter of Realpolitik.”
And that’s not all. Barr goes on against Democrats’ position and President’s Biden strong stance on supporting NATO (something Trump spent four years demeaning and trying to break apart – and whose Biden-led unity is now a major reason why crushing sanctions have been put on Russa, undermining their economy and creating widespread protest across their country, leading to most of the world supporting the U.S. position and NATO, and making Russia a pariah of the world), and how it fits into national security, along with protecting the power grid. And Barr’s words come after the past five years of Republican supporting Putin as a strong leader, stronger they kept saying than President Obama, enabling Trump as he stood in Helsinki next to Putin and said how he trusted the word of Putin and did not trust all the U.S. intelligence services.
Barr writes snarkly that he’s afraid of how President Biden, being so befuddled he's only “wavering, intermittently alert," may give Putin the room and confidence to "pursue Russian strategic goals more assertively." Actually, it’s Biden’s expertise on foreign policy and his relationships which helped unite NATO as a powerful force against Putin. And Barr’s words also ignore that it was Trump who allowed (and helped) Putin divide the U.S. with Republican Party support which likely is what allowed the Russian despot the most confidence to pursue those goals. And also, as the world has seen very clearly, while Putin might be pursuing his goals assertively, “strategic” is nowhere to be found. It’s a mess, almost rushed, virtually inexplicable to military experts. With no comprehensible end game in sight.
And then, for good measure, former Attorney General William Barr decides to throw in just a little more snark. “Given Biden’s manifest weakness, Putin is likely to feel he’s better off making no concessions at all.” This from a man who threw away a lifetime of semi-credibility to act as consigliere for an incompetent, painfully-insecure, con man fascist who undermined democracy, even to to point of pushing an insurrection to overthrow the government. A man so criminally weak he laid down for a murderous Russian despot who was leader of America's oldest adversary, telling the world he believed him and not the Americans who swore an oath dedicating their lives (some risking them) to protect and defend the United States. And that's why Vladimir Putin didn't have to make any concessions about anything, because he know Trump would give him whatever he wanted. And he got his way with everything -- until President Joe Biden united NATO and much of the world to sanction and block him.
Pro Tip: If you're going to try to be snarky, it's best not to do so on behalf of a murderous despot enemy of America, because he's going to come back and bite you on the snark every single time. And so is the fascist you knowingly enabled.
And all the more so and all the more literally knowingly when you know you knowingly lied as Attorney General about Robert Mueller's report on Trump colluding with Russia -- which you read unredacted -- and then redacted as much in it as you could about Trump being a Russian stooge. If not a Manchurian candidate.
But even for all that, it’s how former Attorney General William Barr wraps up his Christmas present to Democrats that puts it into full perspective, attacking them for daring to "demonize" Putin (ah, there's that word) as a threat to America -- and now, as we've seen, the world). And then buries himself even deeper. Trust me, yes, it's possible.
“Demonizing Putin is not a foreign policy,” he writes with regrettably-poor foresight, and then returns to his default style of snark -- with even worse effect. “If the world is still in one piece after Biden’s term, the United States needs to explore the feasibility of putting our relations with Russia on a more positive footing.”
Yes, William Barr really wrote that. Showing in flying colors why he is not a foreign policy expert. And that when wandering into a dark forest, where you don't belong, without a map (or a clue), you risk getting eaten by goblins.
Just a guess on my part – “putting our relations with Russian on a more positive footing” is not going to be happening any time soon.
And the worst thing for Barr in his effort to rehabilitate his reputation -- beyond further tarnishing himself, and putting executives at his publisher into hell for deciding to do this book in the first place -- is that this is just one more document (in full book form, no less) to join with Trump’s “genius” comments on Putin, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “very shrewd, very capable" and "I have enormous respect for him” praise of Putin, and Tucker Carlson’s loving defense of Putin that all together provide Democrats the blatant reminders they will use to make sure voters remember in the mid-terms that as “outraged” as so many Republicans say they are by Putin now, the reality is that Trump, Pompeo, Barr, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, MT Greene, almost all Republicans in Congress, and the right-wing media have spent four years enabling the murderous Russian despot as a great, genius leader who they have enormous respect for. And until they state how profoundly, monumentally and dangersously wrong they were before and repudiate their own previous words -- like those William Barr writes so bluntly in his book that live in print -- those exist as their true feelings, not just a sudden "outrage" that Vladimir Putin has disappointed them by acting differently from who they long-believed he was, giving Putin the confidence about a divided U.S.
With great clarity, William Barr has helped define the political world we live in: where one party did indeed "demonize" Vladimir Putin rightly and fought to defend democracy, and the other party -- led by a white supremacist, pathologically lying autocrat -- enabled support of a murderous Russian despot and defended him as a genius leader, right up until the time he attacked a democracy, threatened nuclear war and got the world united against him.
Oh, by the way, the name of William Barr's book is One Damn Thing After Another.
Tell me about it.
Timing is everything.
The article notes that linguistic "Machine learning revealed that J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, had written the 2013 mystery “Cuckoo’s Calling” under another pen name. The F.B.I. used a form of stylometry to show that Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomber. In recent years, such techniques have helped detectives in the United States and Britain solve murder cases involving a forged suicide note and faked text messages."
You can read the full, fascinating article here.
(Completely tangential side note: Though I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, I have read all four of Rowling's 'Cameron Strike' mystery novels that began with Cuckoo's Calling, and they've been excellent. A little weak on the convoluted resolutions, but other than that, they're terrific. Very well-done British TV movies have been made of them all. They occasionally show up on premium cable, but I also think they've available on Hulu.)
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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