S1: The show may contain my tips for making money on Bitcoin. It won’t. It also may contain explicit language and it really might.
S2: It’s Monday, December 9th, 2019 from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike PESCA.
S3: Just to revisit that moment of Joe Biden threatening to punch an 83 year old retired farmer who asked him a disjointed, confusing question.
S2: As you know, last week on The Gist, I weighed in with some analysis. I thought it was fairly anodyne. I almost said to myself, is this even worth getting into?
S4: How can any reasonable person disagree? Basically, all I said was something like it’s bad for presidential candidates to threaten anyone attending their question and answer session with physical violence. If you want that just to be the top line takeaway, I can live with that. If that was my message to you and the message sunk in, do I really need to go beyond that? If so, I will. And the next level analysis was maybe something like Joe Biden probably wasted an opportunity to counter ignorance, ignorance that goes beyond this one person. And maybe Biden should have laid some erudition on the fellow. Or as Biden called him, Jack. Or maybe also fat. Well, I guess I’m just not seeing things how even mainstream moderate Democrats are seeing things. I was on MSNBC over the weekend with Atlanta Mayor Keesha Lands Bottoms, who said, quote, We saw fighting Joe and we loved it. And she also told us on the panel that one of her staffers who was supporting Warren saw that now supports Biden, that that’s what pushed him over the edge. Now, Lance Bottoms is a Biden surrogate. She goes out on the trail to campaign for Biden. So maybe she can’t be counted on to be sober minded, to be even and fair in her. What I would think would be should be obvious analysis. You know, don’t go threatening the voters. But on CNN, they ask Linda Chavez, the director of the Becoming American Initiative. What she thought about and here’s what she said.
S5: I actually like that. I mean, I thought that it really made Biden seem like he’s alive and he’s in there and he’s fighting.
S4: Even Jen Psaki, former White House Obama White House spokesman and State Department spokesperson, said this.
S6: There are moments when people haven’t seen that in the Democratic electorate lately. This showed he had that he was defending his son. I actually think for many people, it was pretty upset.
S4: She was the State Department communications director. The State Department are the diplomats. She’s cheering on punching, ignoring farmers. Now, I’m not mr. Imagine if Obama did it and I rarely waive that. It’s all white male privilege card. But can you join me in this thought experiment? Imagine that was Corey Booker threatening to take an 83 year old white farmer to the woodshed. Sir, I play tight end at Stanford and I will end you. Yeah, that’d go well. Imagine a female candidate doing this. I literally have never seen a female candidate threatening a voter with bodily harm. It could happen. It might actually were down to that candidate’s benefit one day. I think Kirsten cinema is going to challenge someone not to an IQ test in jumping jacks or push ups or whatever Hiawatha squats that Biden challenged this guy to. But Kirsten Cinema is going to say, hey, join me at a 5 a.m. CrossFit. We’ll see who walks out of that gym afterwards. I could see Tulsi Gabbard threatening to make this guy yee dust. I could see that happening. In fact, would probably work for her. She should try to orchestrate that. So, again, to be clear in my I thought, unbelievably uncontroversial analysis that it is weird and wrong for Joe Biden to have issued a vague, inarticulate threat that hinged on IQ testing and push contests. I don’t know. Maybe that was his answer on selective college admissions and he screwed that one up. It does bear mentioning that it is an obvious wrong thing to do, and citing it as a right or feisty thing to do makes you obviously wrong. There it is. I said it if you don’t like it. Fight me with words, please. With words, especially Representative Gabbert, because she would probably be able to take me physically on the show today. I shpiel about a sober and productive hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. What is the object of that sentence hearing? Judiciary Committee. Wrong? The object is. I object. I object.
S3: But first, one of the great sportswriters of our day writes a book about Eric White’s weight, the middle infielder from the Oakland A’s. No. That was Walt Weiss. Eric Weiss, who know who? Dean? Yes. Joe Posnanski has written a biography about Houdini. The idea of Houdini and the Houdini who was left behind after the actual Houdini. Actually, Eric Weiss actually died.
S7: We’ll get into the death of Houdini as well. Joe Posnanski, author of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini.
S1: So when we talk about icons, when we talk about performers, when we talk about quintessential Americans, Harry Houdini is a great example of all of those things. And one of the great things about him being a quintessential American is he claimed to be an American born in America, but he wasn’t. And these self-made mythos is essential to who Harry Houdini was and was is also the operative word in Joe Posnanski new book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. If you know anything about Houdini, you know that he was interested in mystics and exposing mystics and the afterlife. But in this case, the afterlife means his explorations into life after death. But also what he has come to mean to us as a society since he shuffled off this mortal coil. Joe Posnanski, one of the great sportswriters in America when Houdini on this one. Hello, Joe. How do you do it? It’s doing it’s great to be here. So this disc occupies a lot of the book. But briefly, tell us how who D-NE became Houdini and then we’ll get to what it meant to be Houdini.
S8: Yeah. Well, he grew up very poor. You know, he was born in Budapest, moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, when he was 4 years old. Father was a rabbi there and lost his job when Houdini was 8. Never really had another job, a full time job after that. Sudanese childhood is very rough, moving from place to place. No money ran away from home when he was twelve and he was in New York and he was 16 years old. And he his father had just died and he fell in love with the idea of becoming a magician. Any. He fell love when he read the autobiography of Robert Rudolph, who is who is the father of magic. The it’s the book that probably inspired more young people to become magicians. And he so loved this book that he wanted his name. And he took the last name Head-On, which he thought was pronounced houdin, added an eye to the end and became Houdini. And with a friend who is the other Houdini. So they were the Houdini brothers. He went on the road and tried to become a magician. And the thing that’s crazy is for nine years he was a complete bust. You know, he tried everything and he got married during that time. His wife best they worked together. They tried magic, they tried comedy, they tried music, they tried acting, anything to stay on the stage. And he was a complete Boston was absolutely look like it was going to be he was going to have to quit. And he tried at one point to sell all of his secrets and nobody was buying.
S9: So he had a complete and utter meltdown and was ready to give it up and felt like he had to. And at that exact moment, he was performing and one of his last performances and a guy named Beck came to the to his show. Martin Back, who at the time was one of the big names in vaudeville. Martin Beck saw the show, liked what he saw, called Houdini over at dinner with him and Bass and told him, listen, you’re a terrible magician. You’re gonna level with you’re gonna level with you. You’re a terrible magician. But the handcuffs thing is really good getting out of those handcuffs. That’s really interesting. Drop all the magic and become, you know, he didn’t have the word escape artist that had never happened but concentrate on getting out of jails and handcuffs.
S8: And Houdini took him at his word. And it was instant, you know, of course, it was instant in large part because Martin Beck was a big vaudeville guy. So he was able to book him in the universe. But by the end of that year, Levin, you know, after nine years of nothing, by the end of that year, he was already one of the most famous performers in America.
S1: I like the idea of the guy who tries to sell his secrets and there is no market for him. I think we call that Carter Page today. So it was escape artistry, which didn’t have a name. Was that a small portion of the magic shows of the day? And it was Houdini doing a little of it, but back really recognizing that that was his advantage, his competitive advantage in the field.
S8: Yeah. I mean, it’s not without precedent. I mean, even his act, he sort of bought from somebody else. So there were others who had done various things with escape. But there’s no question after Martin Beck told him, listen, this is where your future is, your future, if you’re gonna be onstage, it’s gonna be doing these kinds of escapes. He took it to a level that that had never been seen before. He went from town to town, challenged people to bring handcuffs with them. Later that became challenge him to come up with any kind of trap, a chain box, anything that they can come up with to try to keep him trapped. And, you know, his famous slogan was Nobody, nobody in the world can keep Houdini a prisoner. And he would go everywhere just and do this. And it was new. And he created the word escape ologist. That’s what he called himself. And it was new. And he took this to a whole different market. You know, because he was he was somebody who, like, kept thinking of new ways to amaze people with his escapes. And let’s say this upfront. The kinds of escapes he was doing. Men would not necessarily impress people today. I mean, he was getting, you know, people were bringing handcuffs and he’d say, OK, I will get out these handcuffs. And then he’d go into a little box with a curtain so nobody could see him. And then he would come out and people would be staring at the box for as long as it took. There’d be like a little orchestra playing and then you’d even come out like, hey, I got out. And anybody would cheer. They would think it was the greatest thing ever. You know what was in that box? You had no idea what. Like, there’s like a number of handcuff keys.
S10: Maybe it could have been anything but. Yeah. He just. Oh, how about this? A twin. A twin with the same clothes. That’s how you do it. I mean, I saw me. I just figured out so. Yeah.
S8: So he just kept doing it and he kept coming up with new sort of bizarre things. You know, he started doing these escapes from jails and he would do them naked. Like the whole idea was, hey, I don’t have a pic, I don’t have a key, I’ll strip down naked. And you know, of course, that was you know, in addition to being very weird was a little bit scandalous, a little bit a little bit crazy. So, yeah, he kept finding new ways to turn escape into something. And I wouldn’t say before him that that was an act. I mean, you know, once he started becoming successful, lots and lots of people copy the act, imitated him, even imitated his name, all of these other things. But the one thing you’d have to say for Houdini, because he was not you know, most magicians would tell you he was not a great magician. He was not somebody who invented his own tricks. He was not somebody who thought that way very much. But the idea of escape as a performance, that’s all. Houdini, really?
S1: What’s he? It’s very hard to know. We can’t compare him to Ruth. There are no records. He never out escaped the league, for instance. But would people who see him who you maybe someone who saw him, he died in his 50s. So maybe someone who saw him in 1920. Some sure live to the 80s. And they were great escape artists. And, you know, Ricky Jay or someone could then talk to him and the stories are passed down. What I’m trying to get at. Was he actually good at escaping as a technical thing? He was a great showman, but was that particularly impressive?
S8: I guess it was really impressive. I mean, even people who were not particularly fans of Houdini or didn’t think that what he was doing was magic, because that was a big thought at the time, was that this is not really magic. This is like, you know, he’s like a daredevil, right? He’s like some some other kind of thing. But really, on down the line, they said actually seeing him perform was extraordinary. And there were people that were that that saw him and and lived on for years and years. Orson Welles saw him when he was very young and, you know, wasn’t always super impressed with Houdini’s style. You know, of the way he carried himself in that kind of thing, but said the shows were remarkable. And his is it’s hard to imagine being a better showman than Houdini was. I mean, he had this masterful set of timing, you know, just the E! He knew exactly when to come out. Exactly. Went to like, you know, do something that would make the crowd go crazy. He did have this sense of an audience and sense of of showmanship and, of course, unmatched sense of publicity. So he put this whole thing together. And I think when you see it all in one you know, in one package, I think it was unlike anything else out there.
S1: So it’s the life and afterlife of Houdini. But before I get to the afterlife and what all that means, let’s get to his death, because it’s taken on a mythology. And he was a person who courted mythology. How much of the mythology is real?
S8: Well, it depends. It depends on which version of did he die on Halloween? He did die at Halloween. That is not mythology. He did die after getting hit in the stomach. That’s not mythology. He did not die in the water torture cell, which is mythology. So it depends on which version of Houdini’s death you’ve heard about. The quick version of his death is that he was already sick. At least that’s the best guess. He was doing an interview with some college kids in Montreal and they were noticing how tired he looked him his skin. He looked very pale. He was in pain. He had to lean back into a couch. He was very he was exhausted and he probably. All right. So this is where mythology begins and ends.
S9: He probably at that point already had appendicitis and simply was refusing to go to the doctor. Then a guy comes in, you know, who’s also a college student, and he says, Houdini. I’ve always heard that you could withstand a punch in the stomach from anyone, that you challenged people to punch you in the stomach. There is no evidence to the ever challenge anybody to punch him in the stomach. But Houdini, probably either one was too prideful to say anything about it or two had forgotten because he had a challenge. Everybody. Everything all of his life sees a guy probably challenged. At some point. I approach out people to me in the stomach and who daily try to talk his way out of it. And he was like, you know, I don’t want to worry about that. Wanted to be like flexed his muscles. I feel how strong I am and tried to use that, I guess, as a diversion. And. Now, the guy said died. I’ve heard that you do that. And so Houdini said, OK. And he started to get up and the guy punched him in the stomach. As many as 10 times he punched him three times in the stomach and then started wailing away on him, according to the witnesses that were there. And until who did, he raised his hand and said, OK, that will do. And that’s where it stopped. And Houdini, you know, would always say that he had not flexed. He had not gotten himself ready for the punch of the stomach. Regardless if he really had appendicitis at the time and the guy punched in the stomach 10 times, I don’t think it would’ve mattered what he would have done. But after he gets punch in the stomach, he’s in agony, absolute agony. And so there are those who believe that the punches themselves caused the appendicitis. And that’s actually how the doctors ruled went after he died. But regardless, he had a terrible fever and the chills. And he kept refusing to go to the doctor. And the train, you know, left Montreal, went to Detroit for him to perform. He went out on stage to perform. Even though doctors were pleading with him to go to the hospital, he went out, performed at intermission. He collapsed, went back on stage even after collapsing, and then collapsed on the stage, finally went to the hospital and they removed his appendix. But it was too late. And he died five days later on Halloween. So that story is as weird and convoluted as it is. That is the actual true story of how Harry Houdini died.
S3: That said, for all the embracing of myths, do you think you found out, disinterred or discovered any bonafide new information that has never been reported before?
S8: There is. There are a couple of things that it’s kind of cool because, you know, when you write a book like this, you’re writing it, of course, for a big audience and people who hopefully. Yeah. That’s the idea. Right. So because of that, because, you know, you’re trying to do that. You know, you’re writing stuff that that people in the Houdini community have heard a million times. Right. They’re like they call themselves something like Trekkies. I call them Houdini world. Nobody seem to argue in that. So I thought that was fine. But yeah, I didn’t. So I you know, I knew that. But I also wanted people who are the Houdini community to to kind of get something like all you have. I want my own discovery on this thing. And I found a couple. And the big one, I think, is how Houdini got his act, how he got his first act. You know, it’s something that was sort of reported before and I sort of fed off of that. It was able to do quite a bit of research on it, was able to flesh it out. And and it’s pretty cool because he really ended up buying his act from a washed up magician who was doing a lot of the things that Houdini became famous for later. He was doing them, you know, in very, very small, like what they used to call dive museums and in little tiny towns, you know, dotting the northeast. And then at some point, Houdini bought his act. And, you know, it took at that point, it still took another 10 years before he was able to to become Harry Houdini. But when he did, he he really used this guy’s act in great detail. So that was a fun new addition to the Houdini folders, I guess.
S1: Joe Posnanski is a multiple times sports writer of the year award winner.
S7: He hosts a great podcast, along with Michael Shermer, the creator of The Good Place called the podcast. His new book is The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. Thanks a lot. Thank you.
S3: And now the schpiel in our great pizzazz lis- reckoning of the unconscionable yet really exciting enough misdeeds of our shamefully incompetent, but that’s kind of priced in, wasn’t it? President We had quite a spectacle today, but was it really worth watching? Well, watch, I did. One side tried to take us through the facts while the other side tried to drag us through the mud. Let me ask you this. Let’s go back in time. Unless you are a college student, but think back to a classroom might have taken in college. And it was one of these classes where you learned something you’d like. You maybe remember it as an epiphany. And the teacher was trying to carefully explain to you a complex phenomenon. I don’t know, whatever it was, the Hundred Years War, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, how a black hole works. I mean, it was hard to follow at first, but you gave an effort and he or she gave an effort and you were edified and it was worth it. And you probably would look back on that, professor, as a good professor who was good at explaining things, using vivid examples and interesting language and relevant facts, and maybe anticipating your questions. And you’ll look back on that, professor fondly. But what if during class there were a group of disruptive, sneering students who were allowed to behave just as pure ruffians, not just allowed, but pretty much mandated by the school to have about 40 percent of all the allotted class time and allowed to cite as their sources books on how black holes are really just optical illusions or how the Hundred Years War. Last week we can to half it best if you look at it the right way, or how Sacco and Vanzetti weren’t even good fish merchants. And if they were such good fish merchants, what doesn’t your professor let us interview the fish? I think those fish might disagree. What are you scared of, Professor? Well, of course. Of course, I’ll be unbelievably annoying. And it would get in the way of learning. But you know what else? You might also come to the conclusion that the professor was not a good professor, was not providing the necessary lessons to properly teach. And yes, part of you might think, okay, it was kind of unfair how they set that up to allow these forces of ignorance to throw dust in eyes that were open and eager to perceive. But you wouldn’t look at the professor fondly. You probably wouldn’t look at college fondly. You might not even like learning pretty much the dynamic with the impeachment hearings. The Democrats. You might hear they’re doing a poor job or are having circles run around them by the Republicans or not doing enough to win over the American people. But when the other side is allowed to pursue ridiculous distraction tactics, how much ground could possibly be gained? It’s easier to tear down a house than to build one up. And when half the committee is acting as termites, that’s got to be a harder construction job. Still, some examples of Republican distraction tactics were to prattle on about how Adam Schiff won’t come as a witness because he didn’t, you know, witness anything or to compare the rules of impeachment, which is not a criminal trial to the rules of a criminal trial. And even if it were a criminal trial, this would be the grand jury phase, which means the prosecutor runs it. There are no guarantees of cross-examination, etc. But the main thing the Republicans did was object over everything for any reason and no reason. Here was Mike Johnson of Louisiana after hearing the committee’s lawyer, Barry Berke, lay out the case that President Trump did indeed pressure a foreign government for personal political gain.
S11: Thank you, Mr. Burke. Mr. Castro, you’re chairman. You were recognized for 30 minutes. Mr. Chairman, point of order. Mr. Castro is Regie. Mr. Castro is recognized for 30 minutes, Mr. Chairman. Point of order. Castro is recognized for 30 minutes and as chairman. The witness would violate the rule 17. And my point of order should be heard. Have ordered the witnesses use language which impugns the motives of the president and suggest he’s disloyal to his country. And those words should be stricken from the record and taken down.
S3: Now, after some back and forth, it was noted by Chairman Jerrold Nadler that this was not a legitimate point of order for a few reasons. One is that this is an inquiry to determine presidential culpability. And if a witness indeed finds culpability, that witness can very well avoid testifying to culpability. There’d be no point in actually calling an expert if his expert opinion violates this so-called rule. A couple of other reasons why this point of order couldn’t stand is that it’s not witnesses, it’s members of Congress that are governed by that rule cited and aren’t allowed to denigrate the president. Furthermore, this isn’t a point of order. That’s not what points of order are. Also, this from Pennsylvania’s guy, Russian faller. Not a point of order.
S12: Mr. Chairman, if this were a court of law, you’d be facing sanctions right now by the bar association. Gentlemen of state is point of order, not Mr. Chairman. How are we supposed to process over eight thousand pages of documents that came from various committees?
S13: Gentlemen, that is not a point pointed out. It is not a point of order.
S4: Not a point of order. Nor was this.
S14: Mr. Chairman, if either and you can ask the chairman. I’m not here to ask her. January you can ask her. And she came to both. Generally, it is not making the chairman. As chairman, I may have ordered that his bad during the witness badgering the witness.
S3: That idea advanced by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. The Badger State was ruled out of order because it’s not a point of order. Point of order. Are things like recognizing a speaker out of order or screwing up the timing? Usually something procedural. There are rules about which legislation can and can’t be considered when there’s no badgering. The witness, you still get on a Davidi Kelly show.
S15: That’s not for here, Mr. Chairman. Can you rule on my point of order that he’s badgering the witness because he’s doing that?
S4: Well, he can and he did. And it was out of order, which represents him. Brenner took in good stride. No, he didn’t order.
S15: That committee is not an order. And the chairman is not an order.
S13: That is not a point of order. The committee is in order. Well, would you rule on my original point of order? The original point of order was not cognizable. It does not necessitate a ruling. So.
S3: You’re following along his point of order wasn’t a point of order in his point of order, that it was a point of order was wrong and also not an order, as was his follow up point, that that point of order over the point of order being not an order wasn’t a point of order. I think I need some water. Ironically, this grand discussion over order was pretty much an exercise in chaos.
S13: That is not a point of order. It is a point of order. There is no not a point of order. Gentlemen, continue.
S3: I also enjoyed when Representative Andy Biggs said that while the first point might not have been in order if it were in order, you know what that means? That the chair is out of order. My point of order is that you were out of order. And you’re ruling that, by the way, in case you’re playing along at home.
S16: Also, not a proper point of order. That was just an argument. No, it isn’t. Yes, it did. Thank you.
S3: Thank you, Congress. I will not referee this. It was not a match. It was not a contest. It was one side showing up in uniform, kicking off from the thirty five yard line or assembling at center court for a jump ball. And the other team running around waving their arms, claiming this isn’t a sport. We never saw the rules. The draft wasn’t fair. We weren’t told ahead of time about this game. What’s the name of the referee? What are the referees motivations? Who is this so-called whistleblower? There was one fun moment, so fun for me because it got my mind, considering some things besides this sorry slam dunk case in which the defense is to claim Rehm’s points and the ball don’t exist. I would like to thank Representative Doug Collins for this moment.
S17: And you are not in the window. I don’t play cute here. Somebody took the four records that you asked for, at least for those numbers, and then said, hey, let’s play a match.
S4: Game. All right, let’s do it. You’re ready to match the stars. And here’s the star of Match. Game. Jerry Nadler. Thanks, Johnny. Dimwitted Devin is so dim.
S18: How is he?
S4: He said, I couldn’t have conducted a phone call with an indicted Ukrainian because I can’t even blank. And we will see if you match our stars, Charles Nelson, Riley, Nipsey Russell and Brett Sommer after their credits. Stay tuned. Unless you object.
S19: That’s it for today’s show. Daniel Shrader, just producer, used to tour the country where his bit was challenging any able bodied man to punch him directly in the stomach. And when they did, he would sue. It was quite lucrative. Christina de jozo also just producer, wonders if Joe Biden was one of those guys from Daniels Carny days. The just so dimwitted Devin is so damn. How damn easy, he said I couldn’t have conducted a phone call with an indictee Ukrainian because I can’t even blink. Let’s check in with our stars.
S20: The smartphone conduct can even play an instrument.
S21: Nipsey Russell. At this rate, Trump’s approval rating will soon be subterranean, but dimwitted. Devin didn’t talk to that man because he can’t even speak Ukrainian to protect her to Peru.
S3: And thanks for listening.