A couple of weeks ago, I posted here a very funny "challenge" of sorts that John Oliver made on Last Week Tonight to help make the Puteketeke the "Bird of the Century" in a contest held in New Zealand by the organization Forest & Bird. It was a stunt that even by Oliver's own admission was "alarmingly aggressive”.
On Sunday, he dealt with the results. And not surprisingly, it was a treat.
Unfortunately, the show only makes its Main Story available online. However -- good news -- I recorded the Bird of the Century story off my TV using my mobile phone. The sound is a bit tinny, but it's perfectly clear. I thought of recording again, but...well, no matter how small it is, holding a mobile phone reasonably steady for eight minutes just one time is more than enough for this.
(How much is that? The video was too large to embed on this site. It was 1.3 gigabyte, and the limit is 1 GB. However, I was able to compress it a little, and I think the quality is still just about as good. But it took a long time and then to encode for the site. But I digress. And compress...)
By the way, just to reiterate -- as I noted in the earlier article, before putting this effort into operation, the Last Week Tonight people contacted Bird & Forest to let them know they wanted to do something (they didn't say what...) and asked if the organization was okay with that. They were, so they were aware that the show was going to do something. And it's important to know, too, that Forest & Bird particularly appreciated the worldwide attention that they got from the stunt, and also that they raise money off of this event. And...well, let's just say that they did fine this year.
Of course, it's also worth making clear (which it likely is to most people) that this isn't an official national contest with any actual, substantive meaning. And further, that any bird organization in New Zealand or anywhere in the world can have their own Bird of the Century contest if the way.
And in the end, the Puteketeke is an impressive-looking bird. With, as John Oliver notes, a name that's so much fun to say.
Yesterday, we posted the Main Story here from this past Sunday's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a serious look at Abortion Rights, with the show's usual comic perspective. This is not that again. It's just something else the show did that was too much fun not to include.
Generally, the show has a standard order. They open with a few headlines, then go to "And now this..." which is an amusing few minutes on a specific theme, and then end with the Main Story. On occasion, they'll have a funny final story.
On Sunday, however, they went directly from the headlines to the Main Story, which was surprising. There were still almost 35 minutes to go, which would have been a very long time for a Main Story. It turned out, however, that there was a good reason for all this.
That's because after the Main Story they did another story for 12 minutes. And for reasons that will be clear, it had to come after the Main Story -- not before -- because it was one of those things for which the phrase, "I wouldn't want to follow that," was coined.
It was a story about a "Bird of the Year" contest in New Zealand. Or this year, a "Bird of the Century" contest. The report was a lot of fun and very funny. And then got funnier as it went out, building to wonderful hilarity in a way that only Last Week Tonight does. And then...it topped even that.
You couldn't have gone from that to a Main Story on Abortion Rights. In fact, you wouldn't have wanted anything to go after it. For reasons that will be clear.
The problem is that while Last Week Tonight always posts the Main Story, that's usually all they make available. And such was the case with this report on the bird contest in New Zealand. But I search for it, to see if somewhere what got posted, somehow. I found a few short clips, but that was it.
And then finally, I found someone who seems to have recorded the report on the phone, and then posted it on Tik-Tok. The audio quality isn't great, a bit tinny, and the image is much smaller than ideal -- but a) the audio and image are fine, and b) this is too funny not to use it and be grateful it exists. But do click on the "diagonal arrows" in the lower-right corner of the video to make the image it a bit larger.
I'll just say to keep an ear open for a two-word phrase that begins with the word "alarmingly."
This cuts off right before the end, but I'll post the final line below. However, for those who want the full, brilliant experience, I found a video of the final minute -- with the last line intact. So, when he starts to get up from his desk, stop the video here and then scroll down. (However, if you just want to watch this Tik-Tok video alone, fine, I'll post the cut-off line under the second video. I trust this is all clear...)
And fun, too, I'll have a brief follow-up on some of the reaction to this, which I'll post underneath the video, as well. We are a full, information service, after all.
But it's best to watch this first with unsuspecting eyes...
As I said, if you want to see the final line that gets cut off here -- and also see the final minute in glorious full screen -- here's the video of it. And as before, just click on the "diagonal arrows" in the lower right corner once the video starts to fill the screen. It's worth it...
(But if you've already watched most of that final minute and only want to know the last line, I'll post it directly below.)
Okay, for those who only want to know the final line, it's when Oliver says, "This is what democracy is all about – America interfering in foreign elections!!"
I also want to reiterate that I think the phrase "alarmingly aggressive” is one of the funniest that the show has used. And the show may have blown its promotion budget for the year.
Finally, while there has been some criticism of the show getting involved with, basically, hijacking the contest, I'm happy to note that the organization running it was not only fine with it, but they appreciated it. And surprisingly, as you'll see, it turns out that the show responsibly gave the organization an idea ahead of time that they would be getting involved. So, the organization was not caught totally unawares. And...was fine with it.
From two articles I found --
"Quoting Forest and Bird’s response at the time, he said: “'We’re not mad, just impressed that someone cares enough about New Zealand’s native birds to rig the competition. This all speaks to how much the people of New Zealand justifiably love this competition.'”
"Forest & Bird CEO Nicola Toki told Morning Report she was unperturbed by Oliver's attempt at fixing the vote, and their website had held up.
"'It's fair to say that a fair amount of weight was applied to work on it. My team working on it has had very little sleep. We're pretty impressed that the website held up, given the thousands and thousands of votes that came in.'
"The vote-rigging was not unexpected, as the team behind Oliver's show had been in touch earlier this year.
"'They were keen to be involved and we said, 'Go for it!'"
"All votes would need to be verified, but the bar to entry was low, she added.
"'You need to be a bird lover and someone with a valid email address. As John Oliver figured out, it doesn't matter where in the world you are.'
"The controversy around this latest flurry of votes did not bother Toki.
"'We rise to a challenge here in New Zealand - let's treat this as our new Everest, to show we can punch above our weight.'"
In fact, the organization even happily promoted their contest on social media with a nod to Last Week Tonight's efforts.
Three weeks back, I wrote here about the devastating Lahaina fire on Maui and having traveled there several decades ago with deeply fond memories. The town, I said, "had a sense of the past and world culture that seemed to be living all around you." I particularly singled out the Pioneer Inn, where I stayed and remembered with great affection, all the more so since it was destroyed in the fire.
"But most of all, I loved staying at the Pioneer Inn. It permeated the Old World with simplicity and warmth, and I soaked it all up, reveling in knowing not only how it fit into the whaling past, but that people like Mark Twain had stayed there. Its wood structure painted white, with wonderful wood slats in the windows, and a Polynesian sensibility crossed with New England sturdiness."
I had such fondness for the Pioneer Inn that I'd kept matchbook keepsake from my time there, and embedded photos of it. I had wanted to post a photo of the place itself, but didn't think I had access to a photo I'd taken of the Pioneer Inn -- but happily I was able to find it.
I've added it in the originally article. And as an homage, since I figure most people here aren't going to be going back to read it, I include it below
This summer, we have seen a massive increase in the ravages of Climate Change – from non-stop days of 100-degree heat, cities hitting record temperature highs, vast wildfires in Canada so immense that they brought sky-blocking clouds of dust down into the United States, a crushing wildfire in Lahaina that wiped out much of the town, an unprecedented hurricane in Southern California and more.
I’ve figured out who is responsible for all the Climate Change problems.
Yes, yes, I know that Al Gore is considered one of the fathers who brought the “inconvenient truth” about Climate Change to the attention of the American public. But despite that, he is the person who I think it is to blame for the ongoing problem.
Actually, no, not “despite that,” but rather the cause of it.
For reasons unknown to their small minds, Republicans hate Al Gore. Viscerally hate Al Gore. Still. It comes from the period when Republicans were really beginning to hate individual Democrats with an overwhelming, red-hot passion for the main reason being that they were individual Democrats. (Reasons, like "he's too slick" and "she doesn't like to make cookies," were always just a convenient peg to hang the hate on.) It may have started with Bill and Hillary Clinton, but it built to Al Gore and since then they’ve turned it into an art form, where Barack Obama was apparently an agent of the devil, and they now want to impeach President Biden without exactly being able to give you an impeachable reason why.
Al Gore was always generally considered a bit bland and wooden, so he seems a weird choice to hate so virulently. Perhaps daring to run for president and getting more national votes than George W. Bush and most-probably winning the election was a starting point for hating him so much. Then his receiving the Nobel Prize. And then having his documentary film An Inconvenient Truth win the Oscar only served as a strong foundation on which to keep building their hate.
(I had reason to work with Al Gore on a project in 2008, a proposed radio series for Westwood One, in which he’d discuss environmental stories daily, each episode about 90 seconds. I was to be the writer, and we recorded about half a dozen episodes. It got about 200 stations to sign up and raised around $2 million, but that wasn’t enough to justify going forward – it was to me! But I wasn’t asked…– and so the project ended there. I’ll just add that Al Gore was anything but bland and wooden. He was an incredibly smart guy, who was thoughtful, occasionally funny, very interesting and came across personably.)
And so, whatever their small-minded, early-fascist reasons, Republicans hated Al Gore and ridiculed him. Ridiculed him for most anything he did and said. And when he became the leading voice in the U.S. – and one of the leading voices around the world – about the existential dangers of Climate Change, Republicans had a knee-jerk reaction that We Must Dismiss This as a Hoax and Insist it Does Not, Not, Not Exist Because and Specifically Because It is from Al Gore.
And ever since then, Republicans have buried their collective heads in the mud about Climate Change. It not only was a threat to the Almighty God of Oil which Republicans seem to believe they must protect at all costs, but it was a threat to Life as We Know It because the warning came from Al Gore.
Any time subsequent proposals or laws came up to address Climate Change, Republicans have risen to do their best to block them.
When there was a massive, unprecedented hurricane, flood or fire, it was never because of Climate Change to Republicans. Rather, at least according to Pat Robertson, it was God punishing the liberals who live there. (Never mind all the conservatives who lived there to. God, apparently, in Pat Robertson World, couldn’t differentiate.)
When Trump took office, he actually pulled the United States out of the Paris Accord, becoming one of only three nations in the entire world that weren’t involved with trying to find solutions to the dangers of Climate Change that every other nation in the world (none of which turn out to have Al Gore as a citizen) accepted. The other countries two were Nicaragua and Syria – impressive company to be in. (The U.S. rejoined under President Biden.)
When there were monumental wildfires burning throughout liberal California and the Pacific Northwest in 2018, Republicans didn’t see them as being caused by Climate Change. Instead, their leader Trump blamed them (quite literally) on not sweeping the forests well enough.
When Ron DeSantis was a congressman, and Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Northeast, he voted against federal aid to the liberals of New York and New Jersey. (Never mind all the conservatives who lived there...) Though now that he’s governor of Florida, and a tree crashed at his residence, he did accept federal emergency funding for the devastation caused by Hurricane Idalia. Though, in fairness, he did refuse to meet with the liberal President Biden.
The new, empty poster boy of the GOP, Vivek Ramasawmy, said at the recent Republican debate that he believed Climate Change was a hoax. And more than that, he bizarrely, reprehensibly and dangerously claimed that more people have died from Climate Change policies than from Climate Change itself. Tell that to the 1,000 people alone who just perished in Lahaina. And all those who have died from hurricanes, wildfires and floods over the recent years. And probably the none who have died from policies. And never mind the many billions of dollars spent repairing the destroyed infrastructure and results of all the devastation. And not one Republican on the presidential debate stage told him he was bizarre, reprehensible and dangerous – and wrong. And nuts.
This Republican ignoring of Climate Change been ongoing, and the specter of Al Gore permeates every bit of it. After all, if Republicans accept Climate Change, then it means that crazy, awful Al Gore has been right from the first.
Republicans simply don’t believe in Climate Change. Not grasping that science is not a belief system. And they close their eyes to the realities of it around them.
And so temperatures rise, ice caps melt, winter storms increase, record low temperatures hit, wildfires increase, unrelenting 100-degree days follow one another, record high temperatures hit, the strength and frequency of hurricanes increase, tornados increase, floods increase and on and on and on… As people die. And homes and structures and communities are destroyed.
But Republicans don’t believe in Climate Change. It’s just all part of a “cycle.” It’s natural, all this devasting heat, freezing, hurricanes, floods, wildfires and tornados around the world. Just ignore it, this too will pass -- along with lakes, reservoirs, towns and crops.
The odd thing about all this refusal is that (other than acknowledging that Al Gore has been right), there’s almost no downside to accepting the reality of Climate Change. Only that oil company profits eventually will go down -- in several decades. But even if it magically turned out that Climate Change was really just a fantasy and temporary, and all the efforts to address it weren’t necessary, society would still have built up new industries to make Mankind self-reliant and created hundreds of thousands new jobs and brought down the costs of energy and made the United States energy independent. And that’s if everyone was wrong about Climate Change! Now, instead, imagine – and understand – that science and scientists are right, and with it all the benefits to helping save humanity.
But Republicans don’t, won’t, can’t, will not let themselves “believe” in Climate Change.
I blame Al Gore. I think it’s all his fault why Republicans are scared to admit that he was right and are willing to let civilization burn and then freeze and be destroyed. It’s so on-brand for them.
At the moment, things are actually beautiful here in Los Angeles, where I've made the decision to tough it out. No hurricane will keep me from standing strong with all the people here!! As proof, this is a photo I took from my balcony. As you can see, it's sunny and calm. We're all in this together!
I don’t have much to add about the excruciating disaster in Lahaina that even touches close to the reporting and video footage, and I can’t put my reaction anywhere in the universe of those whose lives are part of the community. This is not intended to. But that I feel as heart-sick as I do from just two trips to Hawaii, with one visit to Lahaina, speaks to how overwhelming and almost indescribable this conflagration is.
I’ve mentioned in the past that my friend Peter Carlisle was Chief Prosecuting Attorney of Honolulu for about 17 years, and served as Mayor there. And I have good friends from Hawaii. So, my appreciation of their deep love of the state and its history from all our talks over the decades has them as its foundation.
On one of the trips, I went to Maui and drove to Lahaina to spend a couple days. I didn’t know much about the town, but read up on it, and loved his whaling history. Lahaina has a wonderful, sweet charm that was different from the grace of the rest of the state. It had a sense of the past and world culture that seemed to be living all around you. But most of all, I loved staying at the Pioneer Inn. It permeated the Old World with simplicity and warmth, and I soaked it all up, reveling in knowing not only how it fit into the whaling past, but that people like Mark Twain had stayed there. Its wood structure painted white, with wonderful wood slats in the windows, and a Polynesian sensibility crossed with New England sturdiness.
(When I initially posted this article, I didn't think I had a photo I'd taken of the Pioneer Inn, but happily I was able to find it.)
In fact, although the trip to Lahaina may have been 35-40 years ago, I had such a strong appreciation of the Pioneer Inn that even after all those years I have still kept a souvenir of the hotel to maintain a connection.
Though a small souvenir, but it's brought great memories, a match book.
In the back of my mind, I had thoughts of returning to the Pioneer Inn. But the moment I heard there was a fire crushing Lahaina, I know the hotel was gone. And likely the town. When I’ve thought of the Pioneer Inn over the years, I thought of “wood.” And the town had that feel, as well. It wasn’t going to stand against roaring flames. Lahaina would be a place for memory.
And that’s what Lahaina is now. Heart-sickening is the only word for me to describe it, and that doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.
It’s not just that everything has disappeared, and that emergency relief will be so difficult for people there to access. But once they do, once they get their FEMA support, once they get their government assistance, once they get their insurance – there’s no Lahaina there to go back to. It’s gone.
(There is also one other sickening aspect to this disaster. It’s all the delusional, empty people who point to this soul-crushing loss and try desperately to say “Wait, this wasn’t a natural disaster at all. Look at this photo and that shaft of light. This was from aliens.” Lahaina was a community about the natural world. Nature was at its core. And the winds and heat and flames that tragically came together in the changed climate world we live in today sadly become a part of that history. Those who try to make it about something conspiratorially phantasmagoric not only demean themselves, but spit on the lives of all those who have lived in Lahaina over the centuries. Happily, they missed by a lot.)
People will return. Lahaina will be rebuilt. Chicago burned down in flames, and returned to become one of the great cities of the world. And there will be a thriving Lahaina. At some point. But Lahaina is different, Lahaina was about history. And those structures are no more. Those museums are no more. But at least the thing about history is that it’s always there where it was. So, while the Lahaina that returns will be new and different, there will be in its spirit the Lahaina that always was and will always be. That may not be enough in many ways. But it’s something. And it’s important.
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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