Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hurricaned Out

This weekend, my wife and I went to a terrific production of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" at the St. Louis Rep.  At the end, after the curtain calls, veteran Rep performer Joneal Joplin stepped up and announced to the crowd that, since the play is set in the Mississippi delta, and playwright Tennessee Williams spent several years in New Orleans, the theater was using this an opportunity to raise some money for hurricane relief.  Each member of the cast then went to the lobby with a basket, into which we could deposit cash or checks which they would relay to the Red Cross.

Monday afternoon, I called The Rep to see how their fundraising was going.  They said they've raised about $28,000 during the run of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," which works out to about $1,200 per performance.  That's nice, and it's for a good cause, but it's not a lot of money when you consider that The Rep seats eight or nine hundred people, and they fill the theater on a regular basis.  It comes out to a buck and a half per audience member per show -- or, more likely, they're getting about a third of the crowd to donate $5 and the rest give nothing.

My wife and I didn't make a contribution, although we did stop and compliment the actors who did such a good job as Maggie and Big Daddy.  On our way out, I noticed that most of the crowd wasn't dropping anything in the baskets, either.

That doesn't mean that we were a bunch of unfeeling jerks lacking in compassion for those whose lives had been uprooted by Mother Nature.  This is also by no means a slam at The Rep, or the Red Cross, or any other charitable effort or organization.  They're doing good and heartfelt work, and the American public has already responded privately by contributing over a billion dollars for the relief effort.

It's just that this was almost four weeks after Katrina hit, so anyone who was going to contribute to the cause probably has already done so.  I can't imagine someone who hadn't given any money after all the broadcast appeals and benefit concerts and neighborhood lemonade stands, but finally decided to do so at this point.

My feeling is that many people, including us, have reached a saturation point with hurricane coverage.  It has dominated the news completely for almost a month, and we've seen the images and heard the political arguing and felt sorry for the victims and evacuees and understand the long-term need and the years of rebuilding that are still to come, but we can't do it anymore.

We either need something new to focus on (preferably not involving Mother Nature), or have to get back to our own non-battered-and-soaked lives, or maybe just sit down and watch a football game or the new fall TV shows.

Call it American Attention Deficit Disorder if you will, but anything that burns itself into our consciousness with that kind of white-hot intensity runs the risk of fizzling out, and my sense is that's where we are right now -- we need some relief from the relief efforts.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lynndie England's Defense

Peggy Phillips e-mails:

I notice in the news today that Lynndie England has been convicted of most of the accounts brought against her.  I thought her line of defense was interesting.  As quoted from Yahoo's website today:

"Capt. Jonathan Crisp, England's lawyer, countered that England was only trying to please her soldier boyfriend, then-Cpl. Charles Graner Jr., labeled the abuse ringleader by prosecutors.  'She was a follower, she was an individual who was smitten with Graner,' Crisp said.  'She just did whatever he wanted her to do.'  England has said that Graner, now serving a 10-year sentence, fathered her young son.  The defense argued that England suffered from depression and that she has an overly compliant personality, making her a heedless participant in the abuse."

It's a confirmation to me that her peers found that she should be held responsible for her actions.  It's my opinion that our growth as humans is based largely on our ability to accept the responsibility for our actions.  By nature, all actions have consequences, and I believe that we become better people when we accept the consequences of our choices.  I feel Lynndie made her choice, and that being "smitten" by someone is other than an appropriate defense.  Where that defense might be appropriate for someone who has been physically and/or mentally tortured, being a "compliant personality" is pushing the envelope for this type of defense argument.  When do we all grow up?  When do we become participants who heed our actions?
Peggy's absolutely right to be mad about this, and every other woman should be, too.  In effect, England's defense was "I don't know any better, so I just did what my boyfriend told me to."  No one would accept that as the reason she became pregnant with Graner's child (surely she had something to do with the conception, carrying, and birth of the kid), so it's heartening that the jury rejected her "overly compliant" argument when it came to the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Seeing Galveston in the news in the possible path of Hurricane Rita -- our best wishes to everyone there -- reminds me of a story from 1984 which has nothing to do with natural disasters.

My wife and I were visiting my brother in Houston for a few days and decided to make a road trip to Galveston.  Once there, we were driving along and saw a sign advertising horseback riding on the beach.  It sounded like a fun idea, so we pulled in and up a dirt road until we got to some stables.  The guy in charge explained the cost, brought out a couple of horses, and pointed to a trail.  He explained that we could just take the horses -- by ourselves, none of his staff with us -- up the path about 100 yards to the beach, where we were free to ride around for an hour or so before we'd have to return the horses to the stables.

It sounded as odd to us as it does to you, but we were happy to have the chance to ride at our own pace without any other customers, so we climbed into the saddles and started up the trail.  When we got to the beach, we turned the horses to the left and rode along while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the gulf.

After a couple of minutes and about 50 yards, my horse stopped.  I thought it was because my wife had stopped her horse first.  She's done a lot more riding than I have (in other words, she's been on a horse more than four times), so I always defer to her horse knowledge, but she said that she hadn't done anything.  In fact, she was now trying to get her horse going again, but no matter how much she urged and kicked it, the animal wouldn't move.  So, she climbed down with the reins in her hand and walked around to the front of the horse, where she attempted to pull the beast forward.

That's when life became a cartoon.  There was my wife, pulling on those reins with all her might, while her feet were running in the sand, going absolutely nowhere.  I had to laugh -- until she suggested I get down and try to help.  I did, but with the same result: the horse standing still, my feet digging a hole in the sand.  That's when she started laughing, too, at the absurdity of the situation.

We now understood why the owner had trusted us with his horses -- they had done this trip so many times that they knew exactly how far they were supposed to go, and simply would not go any further.

We climbed back into our saddles and turned the horses around.  They were happy to go the other way, until we got to the path leading up to the stables, at which point, they made the turn and walked right back to where we started.  Our hour-long romantic ride on the beach had lasted all of fifteen minutes.

I can't help but wonder if the owner has been able to get those horses to evacuate Galveston, or if they're stubbornly refusing to budge another inch.

Phil Dusenberry, Ad Exec Extraordinaire

Legendary advertising executive Phil Dusenberry was on my show today to talk about his book, "Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents from a Hall of Fame Career in Advertising."  The title refers to the Pepsi commercial shoot where Michael Jackson's hair went up in flames -- but there's a better story about what happened backstage just moments before that accident, involving Jackson's $10,000 jeweled glove and the men's room.

We also discussed whether he would have fired Kate Moss for admitting she uses cocaine, why some Super Bowl commercials are worth the expense and others aren't, why so much advertising is targeted towards younger demographics when it's older Americans who have more money to spend, why Pepsi may have better commercials but it's still #2 behind Coke, how much of a role research plays in an advertising campaign, and about the commercial he produced to promote New York City after the 9/11 attacks.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

FEMA: Waste & Politics

Here's my conversation with Megan O'Matz, one of the Sun-Sentinel reporters whose investigation has uncovered hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted by FEMA over the last few years through abuse and fraud.  For example, there's the Florida county that got $31 million in aid even though it was a hundred miles away from Hurricane Frances, and the section of Los Angeles that got $5 million in aid even though it was 25 miles away from -- and unaffected by -- the 2003 California wildfires.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Part of the problem, of course, is politics, which is where Russell Sobel comes in.  He's an economics professor at West Virginia University who, two years ago, wrote a paper on The Economics of FEMA, which showed how politics get in the way of getting the money to the people who need it and instead diverting it to places where it can effect the most political gain.  Sobel suggests getting rid of FEMA, with all of its political quicksand, and letting the private sector (both business and charitable organizations) take the lead in US disaster relief without the government red tape.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Both of these stories make me nauseous, because there's no oversight, no accountability, no responsibility -- just a bottomless well of tax dollars earmarked for relief that is instead thrown away.

Moon Walk, Moon Talk

Should we go back to the moon?  It's been 33 years since humans planted footprints in the lunar surface, and now NASA has proposed spending $104 billion to get back there.

My guest Gregg Maryniak voted an enthusiastic "yes," and explained why.  Gregg -- one of the founders of the X Prize (the $10,000,000 check that went to Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne team last year) -- is VP of Aerospace for the St. Louis Science Center, which is why he can explain in easy-to-understand terms why another moon mission would not only be a cool adventure, but also a financially beneficial trip, helping to launch a new era of space science.  As a longtime fan of our space industry, I love the idea of a new generation of kids getting excited about manned space travel.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

As for those lunatics who still insist that we never went to the moon in the first place, check out Phil Plait's BadAstronomy.com, where he debunks all of that nonsense (I had Phil do this on my show a few years ago, the day after Fox wasted airtime with a moon hoax special).  This was the greatest scientific achievement in human history -- to deny it is the worst kind of conspiracy-driven anti-scientific garbage, and we already have too much of that.

Marion Ross

Marion Ross is arguably the most famous mom in TV history.

On my radio show, I talked with her about some of the roles she's played on more than 700+ TV episodes, from Mrs. Cunningham on "Happy Days" to Sophie on "Brooklyn Bridge" to Beulah on "The Drew Carey Show."  She told stories about working with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis on the movie "Operation Petticoat," explained the genesis of "Happy Days" and her relationship with Henry Winkler, reminisced about appearing on "Politically Incorrect" with Bill Maher, and defined the difference in acting for movies and television.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Astaire & Rodgers

Until recently, I had never seen a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers movie, except for excerpts in compilations like "That's Entertainment" or those AFI Top 100 shows.  When some of them were released on DVD last week, I figured it was time to fill this hole in my movie knowledge.  After checking around to find out which one was best, I put the consensus pick, "Swing Time," on my Netflix queue.  When it came a few days ago, I sat down with my wife and daughter to view what we expected to be movie magic.

What a disappointment.

Though the dancing was fine (I was reminded of Rodgers' classic line about having done everything Astaire did, but backwards in high heels), there wasn't nearly enough of it.  However, between those numbers, there was a gaping chasm where a plot should be.  I know it was only 1936, still early in the history of moviemaking, but that doesn't excuse the incredibly lame "Swing Time" story, nor the lack of any attempt to have the characters act remotely like real people.

To make matters worse, about 40 minutes into the movie, Fred Astaire suddenly launched into a song-and-dance number in blackface!  Supposedly meant as a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, it still came off as demeaning, so that's when I hit the "off" button and ended our misery.  My daughter wanted to know why his face was painted black, so I explained the racist history of that tradition and she was appalled.  Not only was the experience an eye-opener for all of us, but what a waste of talent and film stock.

If this is the best work they did, give me a compilation of Astaire and Rodgers singing and dancing anytime over this pap.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

That's The Way We've Always Done It

Mark Cuban and I share an intense dislike for anyone who defends a corporate policy by saying, "That's the way we've always done it."  He blogs,

"Could there ever be a worse reason for doing something.  Do it because it's the right thing. Do it because it's the only thing.  Do it because it's all you know how to do or because it's all you can afford.  But please, don't do it because it's the way you have always done it."
He uses this as a launch point for some on-the-money remarks about reporting box office numbers, sports attendance figures, and celebrity salaries.

The latter is another pet peeve of mine.  Whenever I've signed a nice new contract at a radio station and the local media writer has deemed it important enough to mention in the newspaper, they always want to know how much money I'll be making under my new deal.  I never tell them -- in fact, I insist on a clause in my contract that forbids either me or the radio station from revealing that information publicly -- because it's none of their business.  More than once, when the reporter has pressed me on this matter, I offered to allow them to print my salary on the condition that they also print their own salary plus those of their editors.  This seems to bring the point home, so none has taken me up on this offer thus far.

Similarly, I don't care how much a celebrity makes for starring in a movie, or how much an athlete makes for throwing/catching/hitting a ball, anymore than I care how much the chef at my favorite steakhouse takes home in a year.  In all of our cases, it has no relation to our consumers, and anyone who makes their entertainment decisions based on that information is way off base.  It's the product that matters, not the finances -- unless you're the one signing the checks, in which case both are a factor.

So why do reporters and entertainment media insist on pursuing this line of questioning?  Because that's the way they've always done it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Victor Adams, Katrina Emergency Worker/Evacuee

Victor Adams lived in the New Orleans area and worked for Jefferson Parish.  When Hurricane Katrina hit, after getting his family out of there, he was one of the emergency workers pressed into service for several days.

Today on my show, he explained what it was like to be in the midst of the devastation with looters firing shots at the building he was in, why the city of Gretna kept New Orleanians from coming over the bridge into their city, whether he thought the feds let down the local authorities and whether those on the scene did their jobs well enough, why he left his hometown behind and decided to start a new life in the St. Louis area, and more. It's another first-person story with an up-close perspective.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Joshua Davis, The Underdog

How does a 128-pound man enter a sumo wrestling ring with an opponent four times his weight? Why would a sane man with no experience try his hand at bullfighting and competitive arm wrestling? Joshua Davis ("The Underdog") took on those challenges for a reason lots of guys can relate to -- he wanted to impress a woman.  We talked about his adventures today on my show.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Tennis Interruptus

Last night, my wife and I were locked into the Agassi-Blake match on USA when, at 11:35pm, the lead announcer said, "due to contractual obligations, we'll have to leave the air in a few moments, but you can see the remainder of this match on your local CBS station."  That meant it was time for the CBS late-night show, which apparently has an exclusive on all things tennis at that hour, so USA had to yield the coverage.  The CBS show is usually nothing but highlights, but last night would have the live conclusion of this five-set classic.

My wife didn't grasp the enormity of this situation, but I did.

You see, the CBS network sticks the US Open late-night show at 11:35pm between David Letterman and Craig Ferguson.  But KMOV-4, the St. Louis CBS affiliate, doesn't normally air Letterman and Ferguson back-to-back.  Instead, they insert "Inside Edition" at 11:35pm, then go to Ferguson at 12:05am.

During the tournament, they don't run the US Open show right after Letterman -- they still go straight to "Inside Edition" before the tennis!  So, here we were watching an exciting live sports event on one channel, only to have it taken off the air -- and then had to wait thirty minutes until we could see the conclusion on the other channel, on tape delay!

My wife, the big tennis fan in our house (who had also been up since 6am), was apoplectic, almost demanding that I call KMOV general manager Alan Cohen so she could yell at him over this scheduling snafu. While I know Alan (KMOV and KMOX are in the same building and we run into each other all the time), I don't have his home number -- which is a good thing, because he would have learned some new FCC-unfriendly words at that point.

Finally, at 12:05am, KMOV rolled the CBS tape and we could resume watching the fifth set.  And because it wasn't late enough, it went to a tiebreaker before Agassi squeaked out a win over Blake.

By then, it was 12:45am and we were nearly as exhausted as the players.

Dan Verbeck, In The Midst of Katrina

Aaron Barnhart tipped me off to Dan Verbeck, a reporter for KMBZ/Kansas City, who travelled to New Orleans to cover Hurricane Katrina with sister station WWL.  He got there before the storm hit, then lived through and reported on the aftermath.

Today on my radio show, Dan told chilling stories of what he'd witnessed -- FEMA personnel turning away trucks delivering fuel and drinking water, alligators in the water, and harrowing phone calls from trapped residents ("Can you save our lives?").  Another amazing first-person story as seen through the eyes of a veteran reporter who can't get the images out of his mind, and relates it so well you won't be able to get it out of yours.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Andy's MoJo NoGo

My wife's been watching every minute of the US Open coverage on CBS and USA, and I drop in for a few sets here and there, too.  We're both sick of the "Andy's Mojo" commercials which, rather than encouraging us to use the product they're advertising, are a turn-off instead.  Among the same nine commercials we see over and over again for the two weeks of the tournament, these are particularly annoying.

On the bright side, John McEnroe continues to be the best analyst in all of TV sports.  He may not have been a good talk-show host, but in the booth he's as skilled as he was on the court, knowing just what to do and when to do it.  McEnroe says more in a sentence or two than John Madden and Tim McCarver say in a whole game.  Of course, it's always a pleasure listening to Dick Enberg, the consummate play-by-play man.

Last night, there wasn't much analysis needed during the five-set match between two virtual unknowns, 33-year-old Davide Sanguinetti and 26-year-old Paradorn Srichaphan.   It was an epic battle, taking almost four and a half hours.  It also made for a riveting distraction from Katrina.

Our only other complaint is we wish they'd show more doubles matches, since that's the kind of tennis we play, and maybe even a mixed-doubles match here and there.