Robert J. Elisberg is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter, novelist, Huffington Post columnist and tech writer. Elisberg Industries provides thoughtul and often humorous insights into news, entertainment and much else in between.
Last week, I mentioned that I have a cousin who lives in Venice, Jim Kaplan. He grew up in an area known as Miller Beach on the shores of Lake MIchigan, near the Indiana Dunes. It's the outskirts of Gary, but was a very nice area, just a few blocks from where my beloved grandmother (and his aunt) Rose lived, as well as several other relatives. He's always loved boats, and for the past few decades even works in the boating industry -- at first on the commercial end, though later for a company that dealt with more technical, business and Navy-related matters.
Several decades back, during our younger, more carefree and idiotic days, when he was working for the commercial shop, he did a favor for a client and was paid to take an old, small boat from Los Angeles down to San Diego, which would have been a long and overnight trip. He needed a few friend to help crew , and I joined in. We started out very early, and the first day was enjoyable, and late in the day we even came across a school of dolphins. (Sorry that they are mostly underwater here, I did my best...)
As for the second day --
Well, did I mentioned that during that by the end of second day we had re-christened the bought "Kaplan's Folly"? During the night, the creaky vessel sprung a leak, though we were able to contain it well enough. But the early morning, however, that became more problematic. And bailing out the boat because less-occasional, and more of our daily routine.
By noon, we figured that we had done our duty, because the alternative was sinking. I think we had as far as San Pedro (which is near Long Beach) not quite half-way to our destination. We pulled into the marina, called the boat's owner to explain the situation and say that we would be leaving the boat there, and it was now up to him to get it and figure out what to do with the dinghy. And then we called one of the wives to drove down and get us back home. It has remained a fond memory from afar, and something we still joke about from time to time.
This is the most-memorable Kaplan's Folly at a time when it was still afloat...
Anyway, a few months ago Jim decided to act on his love for the lure of the seas, and bought a boat (not a big one, but nice, a sailboat/motorboat), and he goes out one afternoon a week like clockwork from Marina del Rey. (Also at other times, including at night, but those are random.) I join him from time to time.
This is me joining him about a month ago on board the good ship Flying Fish III.
As I said, he always goes out at least one afternoon a week, and that day was yesterday -- and once again, I joined him.
It was quite nice when we took off – that’s a couple of pelicans sunbathing. (I wanted to get a photo of the large clan of seals we always pass by in the channel, but I always remember too late to have my camera ready, and by the time the boat has passed them the photo looks like you took a picture of a lot of duffel bags. I had my camera ready this time -- but there were only two seals on the dock, perhaps the others were out fishing, so I let it pass. But I was at the ready for the pelicans, at least --
As we headed out, there were also a lot of ominous, billowing, dark clouds in the distance, but from how the wind was blowing (which admittedly was strong...) it appeared like we would likely miss them, seemingly being blown in another direction. As his wife later said in a bit of wonderment, “Didn’t you hear the storm warnings? It was on the radio.” Short answer – no.
The good news is that Los Angeles meterologists do a pretty fine job at predicting storm warnings.. Or at least did yesterday. We were out in the channel for about an hour, most of the time it being in a windy squall with a few patches of lightning. Fortunately we’d put in a sot of tent cover two weeks ago, so we were somewhat protected. With emphasis on the “somewhat.” Basically, as we said to one another, hey, we’re on the ocean surrounded by water – if it’s coming down from the sky, too, so be it.
This photo below doesn’t come even remotely close to doing it justice. It just looks like an overcast day. In fact, it was torrential at the time. The camera just doesn’t pick up pouring rain, wind whipping, periodic thunder and distant lightning. But if one looks close, you can see the left bench glistening (which is actually a pool of water) and the spread-out towel on the right, trying to soak up water to make sitting habitable. And what should be a calm, blue, clear ocean not totally covered by pockmarks of rain -- isn’t. And what you can also see is that no one else was devoid of sense to go out at the time. (That’s Ship Captain Jim explaining that All’s Well.)
To be clear, It wasn’t even marginally dangerous in the slightest. Just very wet. And actually reasonably fun. Just…well, very wet. It was fairly calm, never got much waves, and the lightning was rare and far away. (Maybe just three bolts in the hour at sea.) And most-happily, if we hadn’t put up the tent cover two weeks ago – which whimsically enough was not for protection from the rain, but rather to keep the sun from beating down… -- it would have been far more uncomfortable (In fairness, too, I could have gone underneath in the small hold, but chose not to – if my fellow shipmate had to be out there steering, I would not forsake my captain! And on the plus side we did prove that the makeshift Kaplan Ship Co. tent cover is Storm-Worthy. As are we. It's the evening now, and I'm all dry.
A few months back, I posted a few articles about the wonderful musical, Come From Away, the show based on the true story of all of the airplanes that where forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland -- known as The Rock -- on 9/11. (The initial, most-detailed article was this one here.) At the time, I couldn't find a good video to post from the show -- most numbers that are online are the opening song, "Welcome to the Rock," but they didn't have it done in full. Well, it turns out the the show is currently playing in London's West End and was nominated for an Olivier Award, which is the British version of the Tony Awards. And so, on the broadcast, the cast performed a number, and they choice that opening song, "Welcome to the Rock" -- and did the full thing. And so, happily, I have it to post.
Also happily, the show won the Olivier Award for Best Musical. (Hey, I tries nots to steer ya wrong...)
I've now embedded the song in the original post, but so you don't have to go track it down, I'll post it here, as well. As I wrote in the original article, a video version of the song doesn't do it or the show justice, not getting across the power of the number and it's impact from the rise of the curtain. But still, it gives a good sense of it.
One oddity: having by now seen show and watched a ton of videos of the musical and stories about the history, only a few of the actors in this British version get the Gander accent right -- notably the first performer you'll see -- many of the others sliding a bit into Scottish or Irish, but still it's a joy.
Come From Away performance at the Olivier Awards 2019 with Mastercard - YouTube
The state of New York is at it again. First they shut down the Trump Foundation for illegal activities. Then, they passed a state law to make a president's state income taxes public. And now, they just ratcheted things up once more.
This didn't get much attention yesterday -- close to none of television -- amid all the other grander news, but it's critically important nonetheless.
One of the concerns of many is that Trump would pardon his associates of crimes they either are convicted of or might be charged with, thereby obstructing justice by giving them in essence a "Get out of jail free card." Because a presidential pardon only covers federal crimes, though, some saw a safety net in state prosecutions, most particularly in New York where Trump has long been based, along with his associates, and where many of the alleged crimes may have been committed -- notably those in Trump Tower. Alas, there is a state law in New York that didn't allow for such a thing, called the "double jeopardy loophole." Basically, if someone is convicted of a federal crime and pardoned by the president, the person can't be charged in New York with the same state crimes.
The New York Assembly, by a vote of 90-52 closed that loophole yesterday. The state senate had previously passed the measure earlier in the week. And Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the bill.
When State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, introduced his bill, he said -- "Every day it seems there is more and more evidence that the President and his underlings intend to corruptly use the pardon power to undermine the rule of law. We must move quickly to close the double jeopardy loophole so those who broke New York laws may be held accountable. If we do not close this loophole, and close it soon, New Yorkers may never realize the justice they deserve.”
When signed by Gov. Cuomo signs the bill, state prosecutors -- including the Attorney General -- will then be allowed to charge anyone pardoned by a president for state crimes committed in the State of New York against its citizens.
And a presidential pardon can't get them out of jail if convicted.
A Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Lentol said --.“Since there’s inaction in Washington to stop any of this power of the pardon being abused, or in any other way stopping the president from doing whatever he wants, it’s kind of ironic that the state has to step in and enforce the state’s rights to change the law so that we can check the power of the president,”
And we'll add another wrinkle in the mix. Remember way back when (as I wrote in this article here last August) when it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was coordinating with that Attorney General of New York? Well, I think it's a safe bet that the state has held onto all the documents.
Clearly this new bill can work both ways. If a Democratic president ever pardons someone of federal crimes that were committed in New York State and broke state laws, they too can now be charged in New York -- as well they should. And the New York governor will have the opportunity to pardon the person there.
But for now, Trump associates who may have committed crimes in the state of New York (and by the term "Trump associates" this should be read to include Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Among other associates.)
Start spreading the news. Apparently, it really is up to you -- New York, New York.
On this week's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the main story was death. And somehow, Oliver was able to make it funny. And, of course, infuriating. The focus, though, wasn't on those who pass away, but the people who look into why -- coroners and medical examiners. And it's all quite interesting, too.
Death Investigations: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) - YouTube
“I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump.” -- Attorney General Bill Barr explaining to the Wall Street Journal why he isn't protecting Trump, but the presidency.
Well, la-dee-fricking-dah. How telling -- in his "explanation" that he is not protecting Trump, Attorney General Barr by his own words explains that he felt "Trump" was being hurt (specifically Trump, not "the presidency") and wanted to help him!!
A year ago, I wrote here about attending one of my favorite events in Southern California, the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest, which I first went to about 30 years ago when they took over the athletic field at UCLA. They've relocated to other venues over the years, and I haven't gone on an annual basis, but they seemed to have finally settled into what is known as the Paramount Ranch, in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, about 30-40 minutes to the north and west of Los Angeles. It was an inspired spot for the event, not just for locale's natural beauty but also that it was filled with structures making up a Western town that was used for filming movie and TV Westerns over the years, perhaps most notably on the long-running series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Rather than putting everything on the Main Stage, the structures throughout the Ranch (slightly more substantial that just the fronts or "shells" found on most movie lots, since filming would take place inside them) let the musical performances and various competitions branch out, and arts & crafts booths filled the "streets." Since they've settled there, I've made the drive out a bit more often. It's a wonderful place for it all.
Sadly, last November, when the California Wildfires broke out, the Paramount Ranch was almost directly in the center of the Woolsey Fire, and the area was wiped out. I wrote about that here. But the show (or in this case, festival) must go on, and event organizers worked with the Park Service (which emphatically wanted them back), and the 2019 Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest -- the 59th annual -- took place this past Sunday. And I made sure to go, not only to offer my support, but see how the place handled the changes forced upon them. I took a bunch of photos as I explored the area. Below on the left, you can see the Western town last year with the buildings in the background and vendor booths lining the streets. To the right, that's the scene today, with much of the area fenced off, the tree denuded, and rubble surrounding it.
This is a closer look at the damage, along with the remains of those burned-down structures which haven't yet been cleared away.
Remarkably, though, two of the buildings survived. I don't have a clue how. And happily, one was the most iconic structure on the Ranch, the "church" on the outskirts of the Western town. And there's no sign of damage, though perhaps it got repaired and painted over.
By the way, though a lot of people brought pets to the festival, that's not a dog in the center-right (aligned in front of the door). That's the animal which belonged to fellow seated -- his pet goat. It was well-behaved and seemed to be enjoying the music and having a fine old time.
And this below was the other building that survived the massive fire -- the Railroad Stage. Again, how on earth it's still standing I don't begin to know how. And it too looks pristine, and in fact was in such good condition that they held one of the competitions there, for cowboy singing.
As I wandered through the grounds, I made a few observations. The first was obvious, how burned out so much of the area was, like this eucalyptus tree -- though as you can see, it not only wasn't killed of, but the leaves have started to come back.
The other observation was that if you hadn't been to the Paramount Ranch before (and didn't notice the blocked-off remnants of the destroyed buildings), you might not know how badly it had been destroyed. While you can of course see in the picture below the burned-out shrubbery in the foreground and off to the left, the surrounding area in only four months has already started to come in green and almost lush.
And though longtime visitors could see and feel what was missing, a lot of crafts booths returned (though not as many yet as before), and the main park itself is surrounded again by forest land -- some of the lower vegetation has grown back, and a good part of the surrounding forest was spared. So, for all that was no longer there, there was still the sensibility of being in a festive bowl of beautiful nature.
The festival wasn't as crowded as in the past, and while a bit of that may have been because some people weren't sure if it would be going on this year, I suspect most was because it was raining in Los Angeles that morning and drizzling and chilly out on the Paramount Ranch grounds -- though by about 11:30 in the morning it turned into a pretty nice day.
And the show did indeed go on. Which was a joy to see. The crafts booths, food trucks, and main stage, but also -- even though they had makeshift stages and not the buildings as in the past -- areas for the side competitions, performances, and jamming. Here are a few, brief videos of all that, about 30-seconds each, starting with the Main stage.
(Fun note: near the end, you'll see two young girls walk in front of the camera. They had just performed in competition right before this current musician, so I thought it was very thoughtful of the one girl to clap for the fiddler during his performance.)
Though it may have been more than a bit barren compared to the past ("a bit more" being the polite term), this side stage was set up for bands to put on secondary performances, and in some ways the makeshift, vagabond quality of the tent added a great deal of charm.
They even still had their Dance Stage back. It's not anything as part of the competition but more for entertainment and demonstration. You should be able to make out the woman clog dancing off to the left onstage.
Finally, one of my favorite parts of the festivities is always the Jamming area -- where musicians just gather randomly and begin playing together. This video is a little longer than the others above, about 2-1/2 minutes, but you get a sense of how one is encircled by so much music all around you, jamming anywhere you look, and there was a lot more off in the distance, as well. And as the video moves about, taking it all in, it ends up right back where things started -- which is when I thought of the legendary folk song, "Will the Circle be Unbroken?"
It was wonderful to see the Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest back -- and for all that's missing, the circle went on.
A common sight in Los Angeles during "Awards Season" (basically for the Oscars or Emmys) are billboards all over town for movies or shows -- or sometimes actors -- that say "For Your Consideration," directed at voters from the organization in question Or to be more subtle, some just say FYC, since at this point everyone in town knows what it means. And the trade papers of Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter tend to be filled with full-page ads for this, as well, and are more often where you'll see "For Your Consideration" ads for individual achievements, including the technical crafts. (Less so in this days of online content, but it's still prevalent.)
A couple days ago, I saw a rare and absolutely refreshing twist on this, killing two birds with one amusing but also admirable stone. It was a billboard promoting the TBS show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
The New York Times broke a major story on Sunday about the relationship of Trump to Deutsche Bank and money laundering.
One of the more notable passages is -- “The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.”
As the Times reported, Deutsche Bank higher-ups bank rejected the recommendation. Oddly, it does not appear that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was able to get this information. As a result, it seems likely that this could bring about another investigation, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on taxes, David Cay Johnston (whose work I love, not that that adds any credibility here -- but still...). As Johnston explains in pointed terms how reality lines up, “We know for a fact that Donald Trump has been involved in money laundering in the past, fined for it. We know that Deutsche Bank is fined over $600 million just for laundering money for Russian oligarchs..." and what we've now also found out is that Deutsche Bank's own computer system alerted them to "illicit activity" in Trump's foundation -- which we know for a fact was just shut down by the New York state Attorney General.
So much for "full exoneration." So much for, "The Mueller Report is in, so it's all over."
Just for the heck of it, lets end with one of my favorite songs by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, though it's from their least-successful show, Tenderloin, a musical that dealt with the underbelly of New York City. Here's the song about graft, "How the Money Changes Hands."
The guest contestant on the 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is Steve Ballmer, the first business manager of Microsoft, later president of the company, and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball team. As a basketball team owner, Ballmer is known for his wild enthusiasm, almost at the level of maniacal. His interview with host Peter Sagal never gets to the point of maniacally enthusiastic, but you can hear his profoundly-upbeat nature through every sentence.