Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Marc Cuban on GooTube

Mark Cuban was skeptical about Google's purchase of YouTube, but now raises some other interesting questions about whether the YouTube concept can even stand up under its own weight, considering how little of the content is user-created.

He also makes an important point about social networks like MySpace and FaceBook:

Social networks are not new. Go back 20 years to CompuServe and UseNet groups and even chat rooms. They all cycled through the same way. They were fun and exciting when you found people with like interests. People found the forum, group or room usually via referral. People involved learned, were educated, were entertained, whatever the forum offered. Then if the forum grew, as in any group, some participants became more popular than others, and others tried, but failed to become popular. They tried to dominate conversations, and when they couldn't they tried different ways to game or sabotage the system. That pushed out the "purists" and original posters. Then the spammers came. When the forum reaches the point where no one has a strong connection, the spammers and people trying to game the forum take over till the forum dies. It's what has become "The Ecology of Forums." When a forum is open to everyone, eventually everyone shows up and the original attraction of the forum is lost.
When I bought my first PC in January, 1986, when most everything online was text-only, I used CompuServe for internet access and discovered some of their forums, such as the Broadcast Professionals Forum and the Consumer Electronics Forum. I quickly became a regular visitor and occasional contributor, and met some really smart and clever people there (one of those was Mark Evanier, whose tremendously popular website is still a must-visit everyday -- Mark was the one who tipped me in April, 1993, to the industry secret that an unknown named Conan O'Brien had been chosen by NBC to replace David Letterman as the host of "Late Night").

Unfortunately, as Cuban says, the forums' importance and relevance dwindled as the membership became tainted by bitter people desperate for more attention or those with an ax to grind. Like many others, I visited them less and less often, and eventually gave up on them completely, opting to maintain contact with some of the better contributors privately, rather than stick our necks out on that public guillotine.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bob Greene On Gerald Ford

Several thoughts crossed my mind last night after hearing about the death of Gerald Ford.

One was that he was the first President of the 1970s. You ask how that's possible, since he didn't move into the Oval Office until Nixon resigned in August, 1974? It's because that event marked the end of The Sixties for many of us, just as that decade had started with the assassination of JFK and the arrival of the Beatles. Then the 70s lasted until the hostages came home and the Reagan Era began the 1980s.

The other was that I had to invite Bob Greene back to my show to tell some of the stories of the time he spent with Ford while writing his book, "Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents." Fortunately, Bob made time in his schedule to talk with me about Ford as everyman, how he handled himself in his post-presidential years, and how he dealt with his image as a bumbling stumbler.

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

Ford Angles

Every media outlet is trying every angle they can on the Gerald Ford death story, with a twist that fits their specific news niche.

CNBC just found theirs, with a Wall Street connection, of course. They put up a graphic showing that the Dow was at 777 when Ford took over the presidency in August 1974, and rose to 968 by the time he left in January 1977. At the moment they had that graphic up this afternoon, the current quote for the Dow was 12,510, a new record high.

So, if you'd had the insight (and the intestinal fortitude) to invest in those 30 stocks right after Nixon resigned, you would have made a 1,600% return on your money as of today.

Customers You Can't Service

When you call a corporate customer service or technical support number, you'll often be told "this call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes and to ensure better service." Yes, and so they also have a record of some of the more bizarre requests and calls they receive.

Here are a couple of those, as compiled by the British newspaper The Mirror, that I mentioned yesterday on my show:

Caller: "Can you give me the telephone number for Jack?"
Operator: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand who you are talking about".
Caller: "In the user guide it clearly states I need to unplug the fax machine from the wall socket and telephone Jack before cleaning. Can you give me his number?"
Operator: "I think you mean the telephone point on the wall".


And this:

Tech Support: "I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop."
Customer: "OK."
Tech Support: "Did you get a pop-up menu?"
Customer: "No" .
Tech Support: "OK. Right-Click again. Do you see a pop-up menu?"
Customer: "No."
Tech Support: "OK. Can you tell me what you have done up until this point?"
Customer: "Sure. You told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click'."


You'll find a few more here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Movie Weekend

Our holiday weekend included a couple of trips to the local multiplex.

I was surprised my wife wanted to see "Rocky Balboa," but we went and weren't disappointed -- probably because we had such low expectations and the movie exceeded them.

The guy's still a likable character, and Stallone was smart enough to remember that what was initially appealing about Rocky all those years ago was the small world he inhabited and how he negotiated life's littlest problems. He keeps the flash and razzle-dazzle to a minimum until the final fight sequence, when we enter the over-the-top world of Vegas, televised boxing, and extreme product placement.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a great movie. Stallone pulls on the heartstrings so many times you'll have rope burn by the end, and the fight is another one of those brutal slugfests that no real fighter could endure, particularly if they wanted to shoot a final scene without a broken face. "Not as bad as it could have been" isn't much of an endorsement, but it'll have to do.

We also went on Christmas morning to a 10:50am showing of "Dreamgirls," figuring the theater would be empty that early on a holiday. Wrong! The place was packed. I guess by that point, plenty of people needed a break from the family get-together thing, and the only places to get away on Christmas Day were the movie theater or Walgreen's.

I had seen "Dreamgirls" on Broadway in the early 80s, and was interested in how well it transferred to the screen, and whether its heavyweight cast helped or hurt.

The buzz is about Jennifer Hudson, the "American Idol" loser who gets the showy role of Effie, the Dreamgirl who is tossed aside on the ride to fame. She gives the same scenery-chomping performance that earned Jennifer Holliday standing ovations on Broadway, and her two big songs earned a lot of applause from the crowd (an unusual and uncommon phenomenon in a one-way medium like a movie theater, where the performer isn't present -- I wonder if they do that at home in front of the TV, too).

The problem I've always had with Effie is that the script wants us to have sympathy for her, but she's really an unpleasant person, a total diva with lots of talent but no discipline and no interest in anyone else. Of course, there's the irony of her singing her big song, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," followed immediately by her leaving, though not of her own volition.

"Dreamgirls" succeeds when it sticks to its ersatz Supremes success story, with Beyonce as Diana Ross, Foxx as Berry Gordy Jr., and Murphy as a combination of Wilson Pickett and James Brown (who, coincidentally, had died that morning). There's also solid work from Danny Glover and a few people you've never heard of.

I'll bet I wasn't the only one who felt a little squeamish watching the group obviously modeled after the Jackson Five doing their number on a TV special. What made me smile the most was the shot at Pat Boone and all the other safe white acts that stole and covered songs by early black performers.

Unfortunately, "Dreamgirls" is guilty of the same sin. The movie is about Motown music, but what we get is pure Broadway -- the raw sound and appeal of those R&B classics stripped away and replaced by lush orchestrations and arrangements that the real Gordy would never have allowed. In the end, you walk out of the theater remembering the personalities and performances, but none of the songs that were supposedly The Dreams' big hits -- they are merely devices to drive the plot, unable to stand alone. That's not what you want from a musical.

Foot In Mouth Awards

Wired magazine's list of Foot In Mouth award winners for 2006 includes this classic from Senator Ted Stevens, who at the time was chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees regulation of the internet, about which he is positively clueless:

"The internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material."

Monday, December 25, 2006

More Movies You Might Not Know

The Movies You Might Not Know list has now grown to over 150 titles. Thanks to Archie for these suggestions, which I've just added: "2 Days In The Valley," "Taking of Pelham One Two Three," and "Smile."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?

Dr. Billy Goldberg and Mark Leyner were back on my show today with more odd questions and answers from their book, "Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?" We talked about those charley horse cramps that wake you up with a knot in your leg, whether athletes should abstain from sex before a big game, whether cockroaches would survive a nuclear blast, and much more.

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Highways, Freeways, Expressways

After talking to Mark Evanier this afternoon, he posted a link to the audio on his site, and added:

I'll tell you how stupid I can be at times. When you do these by-phone interviews, they call you and as you wait to go on, you're usually listening to the station. Waiting for Paul to introduce me, I'm hearing a traffic report that the 270 Southbound is jammed due to heavy holiday traffic and an overturned vehicle...and I think, "Ooh...better stay off the 270 Southbound." Of course, two seconds later, I realize that I'm not likely to be travelling the 270 Southbound in the next hour or so since it's in St. Louis and I'm in Los Angeles. I don't know why I keep falling for this...only that I do.
I laughed as I read that, not just because it was funny, but because Mark referred to "the 270." Only in California are highway numbers preceded by "the" -- "the 5" or "the 101" or "the 405" -- while here, it's simply "270" or "55" or "44."

Similarly, I've had to train our new sports guy, Kevin Wheeler, who just moved here from Chicago, to stop saying "freeways." We don't have any of those in St. Louis -- they're all "highways," as in "highway 40." Of course, I spent my childhood in a state with "expressways" and "parkways."

Any other road-naming quirks around the country?

Mark Evanier on Joe Barbera

As soon as I heard that Joe Barbera had died at age 95, I called my friend Mark Evanier because I knew he'd have a lot to say about Barbera, half of the legendary animation team Hanna-Barbera, who gave the world The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and many more. Mark was involved in several H-B projects and has been highlighting their work for several days, since word broke that Barbera was sick.

I had Mark on my show to talk about Barbera's work and legacy, and about those ever-repeating backgrounds that were always part of H-B cartoons, like Quick Draw McGraw running by the same rock and tree over and over again.

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reporting From Iraq

Laura Bush thinks she knows more about what's going on in Iraq than the reporters who are there, and blasted them for not showing more of the "good news" in that country. Today, I talked to USA Today media columnist Peter Johnson about whether that criticism is valid. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

I called upon Johnson because of his piece on just how hard it is to be a journalist in Iraq, putting your life on the line to try to tell the story. He quotes ABC's Dan Harris:
There are "plenty of bad guys who would gladly and quickly kidnap or kill you," Harris says. "I said to my driver casually the other day, 'If I get out of this car, take off my flak jacket or get rid of all my security and walk down the street, how long would I last?' He said, 'Four or five seconds.' "
Then there's the problem of endangering the lives of everyday Iraqis by telling their story:
Simply being seen with a foreigner is now enough to get an Iraqi killed by insurgents, reporters say. As such, normally talkative Iraqis are now more reserved. Many want nothing to do with the media.
Or maybe Mrs. Bush should read the Iraq Study Group report, which says that when it comes to telling the truth about what's happening during this war, the Pentagon and the Bush administration have been the ones who have tilted and spun reality:
There is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases… For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.

Recipe For Radio Disaster, continued

Several months ago, I wrote about the problems at Air America and noted that they all stemmed from one central problem -- the conceit that they could run a radio network without anyone who had been successful doing radio. In that column, I said:

If you were starting a new restaurant chain, and hoping to have outlets in every major city in America, you probably wouldn't hire a staff of people whose only experience was eating out on a regular basis. You'd want chefs and waiters who had not only worked in the food service business before, but were good at it. So why would anyone believe that model could work in radio?
In a NY Times piece today, Douglas Kreeger (former CEO of Air America, who may be part of a group that will take control of it again) admits their mistake:
I have come to understand very clearly that the radio component of this requires a radio professional.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Ameren Forest

Now that a couple of weeks have passed since the November 30th ice storm, and about a week since most people have had their power restored, an interesting phenomenon is occurring regarding public perception of Ameren. While they're still being blamed for their response after the storm hit, people seem to be softening on Ameren's responsibilities when it comes to trimming the trees around power lines. It was the icing of those trees and fallen branches that contributed to over two million people losing their power, but many callers to my show today were more willing to put the blame on homeowners who don't do their part by trimming their own trees, or even keep them from being planted near the power lines in the first place.

In his tele-conference with the press today, Ameren CEO Gary Rainwater tried to make that case, but added that the utility can't possibly get to all the trees surrounding those wires when they're on other people's private property, and it's not reasonable to think they can.

He also, for the first time, broached the idea of putting more of Ameren's wires underground. That would be a massive project costing tens of millions of dollars and taking a couple of decades to accomplish -- but it's about time they at least started down that road. The Missouri legislature and Public Service Commission should make it a law that all new subdivisions and other construction must include underground wiring, and force Ameren to develop a plan to move their wires off poles and underground in the areas that tend to be most vulnerable in bad weather like we experienced twice this year.

When I asked my listeners if they'd be willing to pay more on their Ameren electric bills to help underwrite the cost of burying the wires, the response was a near-unanimous "no!" The public wants that cost to fall on the shoulders of Ameren's stockholders, especially after Rainwater said today that, despite over $200 million in losses from this year's storms, the company is going to make a profit once again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spy Chips

This afternoon, I talked to Katherine Albrecht about her book, "Spy Chips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move." It's about RFID chips that are implanted in millions of products for tracking purposes, and can be implanted in humans, too. Listen to Katherine explain what's wrong with this technology, the privacy problems, and the concerns from a civil liberties perspective.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ideas For Aaron Sorkin

Mike Wuebben offers Aaron Sorkin ideas for his next TV project -- maybe an animated drama:

The TV audience expects cartoons to be funny so the tough part will be to squeeze every last drop of comedy out of the script from the beginning. This shouldn't be a problem. Just do what you did with the fictional sketch comedy show in "Studio 60."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back To The Moon

Phil Plait returned to my show today to talk about NASA's plans to put humans back on the moon by 2020 and set up a permanent base there by 2024. He explained the science that can still be done there, whether the base could be self-sufficient (rather than constantly having to bring food and supplies from Earth), and how this could be a launching point for further adventures in space, including a trip to Mars.

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rain Pryor

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Rain Pryor about her dad, Richard Pryor, and her book, "Jokes My Father Never Taught Me."

We discussed the N-word controversy that's still humming after the Michael Richards incident and the reaction of some black performers like Paul Mooney (who wrote for Richard Pryor for 3 decades) who say they'll stop using that word. She also explained how her father always had women around, whether all his ex-wives get along with each other, and how he beat all of them (and her). Then we discussed how he started out as a Bill Cosby wannabe, and turned into the comedian that others wanted to be -- from Eddie Murphy to Chris Rock and others.

Interestingly, Rain told me that she probably could have sold a lot more books by making this a tawdry tell-all, but she didn't want to go there.

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How To Swindle The Suckers

Remember Miss Cleo, the scam organization that was busted in Florida a few years ago -- the one with an actress pretending to be a Jamaican who could predict your future? James Randi, who fights this sort of nonsense and flummery every day, has gotten his hands on one of the scripts the bogus psychics (I know, that's redundant) used on suckers who called in.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Notes

  • New to the Movies You Might Not Know list: "Into the West," "Why We Fight," and "Into The Night" (recommended by Michele Wagoner).
  • Nikki Finke says that, if a recent list of top-earning actresses is right, then Hollywood is severely overpaying Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, and Cameron Diaz -- and underpaying Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon.
  • It's bad enough Sly Stallone is reviving Rocky Balboa, but now Eddie Murphy's planning to gag us with another Axel Foley spin in "Beverly Hills Cop 4." Once again answering the question, "Is there a drug problem in Hollywood?"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq Aplenty

More good insight on Iraq today on my show from Rajiv Chandrasekaran, including:

  • the impact of 36 members of Iraq's Parliament walking out;
  • lack of confidence in President Al-Maliki;
  • whether our military will withdraw from Al-Anbar province, and what that would mean.
Listen, then get Rajiv's book, "Imperial Life In The Emerald City."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Buy A Video Camera, Get Pasta Sauce

Jim Rittenberg bought a video camera at Best Buy, but ended up with a jar of pasta sauce in the box instead. On my show today, his wife Melisa explained how it happened, how they handled it, how Best Buy reacted, and how the issue was resolved. Then Jason, a listener who used to work at that Best Buy store, called to explain how this could happen. Remember this is a chain that charges a 15% "restocking fee," when it seems that all they do is put boxes back on the shelf without checking them out first.

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Movies Times Three

Quick reviews of three movies I've seen in the last week:

"Stranger Than Fiction" is the kind of original storytelling we need more of. Will Ferrell reins in all his wacky urges and shines as an IRS agent who hears a woman's voice narrating his life. It turns out the narrator is Emma Thompson, an author who always kills off her main character. Maggie Gyllenhall give another good performance (since "Secretary," she's done solid supporting work in "Criminal" and "Monster House," and has become one of the best actresses of her generation) as a baker that Ferrell first audits, then falls for. When you add Dustin Hoffman, doing what he always does, and a very understated Queen Latifah, you get a world I was completely drawn into, and walked out smiling -- exactly what you want from a movie.

I'm a sucker for James Bond movies, but for too long, they have simply sucked. "Casino Royale" may save the franchise, and Daniel Craig is just right as 007. The action sequences are perfect, including an early foot chase that is nothing short of remarkable. Fortunately, they've cut out the over-the-top gadgets of some of the recent movies (there's nothing as ridiculous as an invisible car), and given Bond a love interest who is smart and beautiful (you won't snicker as you did when Denise Richards was cast as a nuclear scientist). There's even a funny moment when Bond is given an injection and says "Ouch!" -- this from a man who's been beat up, knocked over, and bruised in every way without ever uttering an objection. My problem with "CR" comes in the poker scene, in which Bond must (of course) beat the villain in a winner-take-all tournament. After giving his female colleague a lecture on how you win at no-limit hold'em -- not by playing the cards but by reading your opponent -- his ultimate victory comes in the kind of hand that never shows up anywhere but in a movie. With four people all-in for the final pot, it's even more unlikely than Edward G. Robinson's straight flush beating Steve McQueen's full house in the climax of "The Cincinnati Kid." Then again, it's a lot more interesting than those boring games of baccarat that Bond used to play.

"For Your Consideration" is a big disappointment. Maybe it's because Christopher Guest and Company set the bar so high with "Waiting For Guffman" and "Best In Show." They started to slip a little bit with "A Mighty Wind," but even that's a masterpiece compared to "FYC." Unlike those, this one's not a mockumentary, but that's not all that's wrong. It feels like a sketch that went on too long, based on a premise that wasn't that funny to begin with. In fact, the basic concept is so lame, you'd think Aaron Sorkin had written it for the show-within-a-show on "Studio 60." Guest's repertory company is full of talented people, but they're becoming redundant, and maybe it's time to get some new players. Besides, how many really good comedies have there been about the behind-the-scenes machinations of making a movie? "FYC" certainly isn't one of them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Michael Konik on the World's Best Sports Bettors

Michael Konik -- author of the classics "The Man With The $100,000 Breasts" and "Telling Lies And Getting Paid" -- was back on my show today to talk about his new book, "Smart Money: How The World's Best Sports Bettors Beat The Bookies Out Of Millions." We discussed what it was like being part of an organization that routinely outwitted the top sports book managers in Las Vegas, how he handled friends who wanted to share his information, and how he loved living the high-roller lifestyle. We also talked about the hypocrisy of the NFL's anti-gambling stance and the new ban on online gambling.

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Iraq For Sale


On my show this afternoon, I talked to Robert Greenwald about his new documentary, "Iraq For Sale," in which he exposes the war profiteering that has come from privatizing so much of this war.

Instead of supporting the troops, companies like Halliburton and CACI are racking up huge profits, while hundreds of millions of your tax dollars are being wasted and lives are being risked unnecessarily -- not to mention the abusive interrogations at Abu Ghraib, which were conducted by some of these private contractors. Thanks to their incestuous relationships with politicians and high-ranking Pentagon personnel, these companies were given no-bid contracts, and there was been absolutely no oversight of their activities by Congress.

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

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Beware Presidential Praise

Here's the lesson from the last 16 months of the Bush administration: if the President praises you effusively in public, you should immediately start packing up your desk.

First, to FEMA Director Michael Brown during the Hurricane Katrina cleanup: "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job!" Days later, Brownie was looking for another job.

Last week, Bush said Donald Rumsfeld was doing a "fantastic job" as Defense Secretary. Today, he's being pushed out (in another brilliantly time Karl Rove move to grab the headlines away from the Democrats' election victories).

If I worked in the White House, I'd worry anytime the President said anything positive to me. "Hey, Harris, nice job on that report!" Gulp -- better update the resume!

Exception: when Bush "appreciates" your "hard work." This is just standard stuff he throws off all the time. In fact, he even "appreciated" the Democrats today.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Worst Song Ever

The results are in from the annual Election Day voting, and once again my listeners have chosen THE WORST SONG EVER.

The winners, and those that preceded them...

THE WORST SONG EVER 2006
#1) Captain & Tenille "Muskrat Love"
#2) Tiny Tim "Tiptoe Through The Tulips"
#3) Maria Muldaur "Midnight At The Oasis"

THE WORST SONG EVER 2004
#1) Billy Ray Cyrus "Achy Breaky Heart"
#2) Tiny Tim "Tiptoe Through The Tulips"
#3) Melanie "Brand New Key"

THE WORST SONG EVER 2003
#1) Morris Albert "Feelings"
#2) Led Zeppelin "Stairway to Heaven"
#3) Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods "Billy Don't Be A Hero"

THE WORST SONG EVER 2002
#1) White Stripes "Little Room"
#2) Ween "Push The Little Daisies"
#3) Los Del Rio "Macarena"

THE WORST SONG EVER 2001
#1) Richard Harris "Macarthur Park"
#2) Ween "Push The Little Daisies"
#3) Paul Anka "You're Having My Baby"

THE WORST SONG EVER 2000
#1) Captain & Tennille "Muskrat Love"
#2) Morris Albert "Feelings"
#3) Vanilla Ice "Ice Ice Baby"

THE WORST SONG EVER 1999
#1) Morris Albert "Feelings"
#2) Debby Boone "You Light Up My Life"
#3) Paul Anka "You're Having My Baby"

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bob Greene Returns


Bob Greene was back on my show today to talk about his book, "And You Know You Should Be Glad," one of the best books I've ever read about friendships, particularly those that last a lifetime. We had a long discussion about it when the book was published in May, so today we talked about the response he's had from readers and the friends he wrote about. I also had Bob tell a wonderful story about how he and his friend Jack, at age 12, made calls to sports stars like Jerry Lucas and Jack Nicklaus and interviewed them for their junior high newspaper.

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

Hacking Democracy

Just watched a fantastic documentary on HBO, "Hacking Democracy." It's about how the electronic voting machines that have been used for the last several years are not secure, how vote totals can easily be manipulated, and how companies like Diebold -- with multi-million dollar contracts -- are not doing their job in making sure that our votes, the most essential part of democracy, are tabulated correctly.

"Hacking Democracy" will make you think twice about that touch-screen or optical scanner you think is registering your vote -- particularly after you see the Hursti Hack, in which a Finnish computer expert manages to change votes right under the watchful eye of one Florida elections supervisor, by changing the code on one of the Diebold memory cards used in the machine.

The documentary is based on the work of Bev Harris, who started the grassroots organization BlackBoxVoting.org after finding discrepancies in both local and national elections -- and complaints from both Republican and Democratic candidates and supporters. With so many of these machines about to be used again, Bev was on my show this afternoon to talk about whether these security holes have been plugged, or we're in for another round of problems.

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

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fired For Flipping Off Bush

Lots of reaction on Friday's show to the school bus driver who was fired after flipping off President Bush.

He was in Washington state doing a fundraiser for Congressman Dave Reichert. When their motorcade went by several school buses on a highway ramp, several students waved, but the bus driver gave the finger. Apparently, Reichert saw it and contacted the school district, which decided this was inappropriate behavior, and fired the driver. Her union has filed a grievance on her behalf, but the district says she has a bad track record and this was the last straw.

The question I asked was, putting her history aside, is this a firing offense? If I were her employer, I certainly would have reprimanded her and told her that sort of action could not be repeated, but I wouldn't have let her go. It has nothing to do with politics -- I would have had the same reaction regardless of his party -- or that this was the President of the United States. If she had simply flipped the bird at another driver in traffic (for all we know, she was reacting to having to sit there waiting while traffic was blocked off so the motorcade could go by), I would have given her the same consequences.

Listener reaction was split right down the middle. What do you think?

Federal Censorship Commission

Bob Wright, CEO of NBC Universal, has a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about how the FCC should butt out of content, and stop pandering to small-minded special interest groups.

No one suggests broadcast networks adopt an "anything goes" approach. All broadcast networks employ standards experts who vet thousands of hours of programming to make sure it doesn't violate sensibilities. Of course they make mistakes, and neither audiences nor government officials have been shy in voicing concerns -- to which the networks respond. Over-the-air broadcasters -- who are the most responsible, community-focused providers of programming in the business -- do an excellent job. Indeed, the vast majority of complaints about specific shows filed with the FCC (99% in 2004) came from organized interest groups who regularly trawl for complaints from individuals who never saw the show in question.

The FCC should formulate policies that take advantage of advanced technology, rather than hark back to solutions developed in -- and for -- a bygone era. An appropriate FCC policy would recognize that our TV audience is quite varied; that some programs at all hours should appropriately serve the two-thirds of households that do not have children; and that blocking technology is a 21st-century solution that is consistent with the Supreme Court's admonition that the government is constrained by the First Amendment to use the least restrictive means to address "indecent" programming content.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Let's end the week with something remarkably clever.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair sings the Clash classic "Should I Stay Or Should I Go," thanks to some masterful editing [thanks to Dave King for the link].

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Knuckleheads In The News®

The AP story from Wisconsin reads, "A Hartford man has been ordered to serve 60 days in jail and two years' probation for putting photographs of his genitalia on cars driven by women in Menomonee Falls. ... He pleaded no contest to the charges, which accuse him of putting photos on cars parked outside department stores."

He did what? Let's think this through for a second, which is probably longer than he did. Some questions:

  • What was he trying to accomplish -- picking up chicks? Because you know how much women love seeing anonymous pictures of a strange man's genitalia when they're left behind under the windshield wiper like an advertising flyer.
  • How did the cops identify this guy? Was there a lineup? Did witnesses ID him based on the photos?
  • How did he know which cars belonged to women?
Even better, according to the story, the guy's defense attorney "said at the hearing Monday that his client got involved in the activity at a time when he was depressed about three deaths in the family and the failure of his marriage."

Well, that explains it. The old "I was really depressed so I snapped some quick pix of my package and left them on random windshields at the mall" excuse.

Case dismissed, except for this -- he's also facing six other counts of doing the same thing in several other towns.

John Kerry, Political Comedian?

Quick thoughts on the current John Kerry brouhaha:

  • John Kerry says he was trying to make a joke. John Kerry should never attempt this because, as he has proven time and time again, John Kerry has no sense of humor. He may be the least funny person on the planet, with the possible exception of Dick Cheney. John Kerry could not tell a joke if his life depended on it -- or an election.
  • John Kerry is not running for anything this year, so nothing he says on the campaign trail matters, but I'd bet that the RNC already has added this footage to the anti-Kerry commercials they'll air next time he runs. The man actually manages to swift-boat himself. Any minute now he'll announce that he voted against telling the joke before he went ahead and told the joke.
  • None of this matters at all in the grand scheme of things. It has nothing to do with any issue that's important, but serves as yet another political distraction. You want to talk about Iraq and our troops? Then have a real discussion of the war, not some ridiculous foot-in-the-mouth comment.

Spam Spam Spam Spam

With the road version of "Spamalot" just opening here in St. Louis, and as a followup to yesterday's Spam-O-Lantern, here's the original Monty Python's Flying Circus skit, now with extra spam for your pleasure...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?


Gavin Edwards of Rolling Stone magazine has compiled some of his favorite questions about rock and roll mysteries, myths, and urban legends, into a book, "Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?" This afternoon on my show, he answered that questions and many others, including:
  • Did Randy Bachman sing "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" to mock his brother's stuttering?
  • Does The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" end with the guy burning down the woman's apartment?
  • Where did band names like Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, and Wang Chung come from?
  • Does John Mayer really see music as colors?
  • In Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages," what the heck does "Gunter Gleeben Glausen Globen" mean?
  • It's been a quarter-century since the first CDs came out -- are they going to start disintegrating soon, or will they last forever?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Phil Rosenthal, "Everybody Loves Raymond"

Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of "Everybody Loves Raymond," was on my show today with some behind-the-scenes stories about running that show and his book, "You're Lucky You're Funny."

We talked about his battles with the network over an actress he didn't want to play Debra Barone, why he cast Brad Garrett as Robert, why he told the writers to go home and fight with their wives, and why there wasn't a spinoff when "Raymond" went off the air.

I also asked him about his job interview with David Letterman and his lunch with Johnny Carson, which happened after he did President Clinton's funny "Final Days" video for the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2000.

Listen to the conversation here..

Monday, October 30, 2006

Say No To Daylight Saving Time?

Now that we're back on Standard Time, here's an oddity from forty or fifty years ago. In this compilation of drive-in movie intermission clips, there's one that warns the viewer not to let the government switch us to Daylight Saving Time, as if it's some sort of nefarious plot.

I'm guessing it was produced by the Association Of Guys Who Make Clocks With No Adjusting Dial. If you can pin down for me when or where this might shown, or shed any (day)light on it, I'd appreciate the info. Meanwhile, I'm headed to the snack bar for some popcorn and barbecue...

WH Suppressing Science, continued

Yet again, the Bush administration has been caught suppressing science, this time in the Interior Department.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fox News Alert

Set your DVR: I just found out I'll be on Fox News Channel this Sunday at 12:30pm CT, talking with anchor Brian Wilson about all the issues that have been in the news this week in Missouri on the lead up to Election Day.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Slow Down, Alvin!

Remember Alvin & The Chipmunks, whose "Christmas Don't Be Late" became a perennial holiday radio staple? When the original came out on vinyl, many of us slowed it down on our turntables to hear what Ross Bagdasarian (a/k/a David Seville) was doing to create that Chipmunks sound. Now, it's a little easier, via digital technology, as this blogger has discovered.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Michael J. Fox and The Commercial

With the controversy over Michael J. Fox's commercial for Claire McCaskill, it turns out that a lot of people -- both on and off the radio -- don't know what they're talking about when it comes to Parkinson's Disease. So I decided to do something unorthodox and ask an expert.

Today I talked with Dr. Joel Perlmutter, the neurologist who treated Jack Buck, to get the facts on Parkinson's Disease and an explanation of why Fox is moving around so much in the commercial (and we did it from a non-partisan point of view). The doctor said that Fox's movements, which he referred to as "fidgeting and writhing" are absolutely due to the medication he's taking for the disease, and are a very common side effect of that therapy, not because Fox is over-acting or didn't take his medication.

Listen to the conversation here.

We also had a discussion this afternoon on the opposing ad that features Cards pitcher Jeff Suppan, plus Kurt Warner, Patricia Heaton, and Jim Caviezel.

The latter played Jesus in "The Passion Of The Christ" and opens the commercial with a message in Aramaic, because there just aren't enough political messages targeting the Aramaic-speaking demographic. Made me wonder if the same people behind this campaign are the ones pushing for English-only legislation: "These foreigners have to learn to either speak English or the language of a long-dead civilization if they want to stay here!"

As for Suppan's participation, some have questioned whether the guy who's scheduled to pitch Game Four of the World Series (which meteorologists tell me won't happen until Halloween night) should be appearing in a political ad that will air during the game. It's a non-issue. Suppan has the right to express his views, just like anyone else, and you have the right to ignore them, just like anyone else.

The contradiction arises when those who are on one side of an issue make a fuss because a celebrity has dared speak their mind for the other side of the issue. You hear, "What does he/she know about this, and why does his/her opinion matter so much?"

I'd have no problem with that line of thinking, if it were consistently applied. If you make that point for those with opposing viewpoints, you also have to stand by it for those with viewpoints you agree with. In other words, if you don't like Jeff Suppan's part in the debate (because he's just an athlete), then you can't like Sheryl Crow's part on the other side of the debate (because she's just a singer).

On the other hand, I don't care what any celebrity has to say about any political matter, but I do have a unique take on Amendment 2. I don't believe that it does allow human cloning, as some of its opponents claim, but if it did, that would only make me more in favor of it. I dream of the day thousands of human clones grow up, healthy and strong, and come back to kick the crap out of the people who make all these noisy, negative, obnoxious political ads in the first place.

WWE vs WS

A listener named Zeb e-mails:

Paul, thought you might find this interesting. As you may or may not know, WWE( World Wrestling Entertainment) was in town to do a show last night (10/24/06) at the Scotts Trade center. I have a relative who works in the suites at the center and was working the show last night. Around the 5th inning of the CARDINALS game I received a call from her asking for an update of the World Series. I thought this was kind of strange considering the amount of TVs located in the suites and surrounding areas, so I asked why she wasn't watching the game. She told me that when the staff arrived for work at Scotts Trade, WWE had stipulated that there were to be no TVs on in the suites during the wrestling performance. She said she had spent 1/2 of the night going in and out of suites turning off the TVs 4 or 5 times and having to explain to the customers, who had already paid for their tickets, that they could not watch the CARDS because WWE did not want the TVS on. She said that at one point a WWE rep. threatened to have the cable feed to the entire building cut off if the suite staff could not keep the TV's off, which would of meant no CARDINALS GAME in the concourse as well. Now I don't know about you but if I had paid 2 to 3 hundred dollars for a suite, I would watch whatever I liked, especially my home team in the World Series. Its not like WWE would lose money by allowing their fans to watch a baseball game. They are still getting the ticket money. Does this sound strange to you?
Absolutely. I could see if they objected because the TVs were too distracting to other fans, but having been in those suites, I've seen them on with no problem. On the other hand, maybe they're afraid that if anyone looked away from the arena for even one minute, they'd lose track of the incredibly complex plot lines that make up all WWE events.

Christine Brennan returns

Christine Brennan stopped into my studio today while she's here writing about the World Series for USA Today. We talked about the Kenny Rogers controversy, whether the new baseball labor agreement will do anything about steroids, and more. Listen to the conversation here.

Read Christine's USA Today columns here. Her book is Best Seat In The House, which we talked about earlier this year. Listen to that conversation here.

Boy Stuck In Vending Machine

Remember the scene in "Toy Story" where Woody and Buzz end up inside a vending machine? Meet 3-year-old Robert Moore, who found himself in the same predicament after climbing inside in an attempt to get a SpongeBob SquarePants toy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Lou Dobbs "War On The Middle Class"

CNN's Lou Dobbs was on my show this afternoon to talk about his new book, "War On The Middle Class." I'd tell you what we discussed, but the lengthy subtitle of his book will give you a pretty good idea: "How The Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How To Fight Back." Listen to the conversation here.

Marathoner Falls At 26 Miles, 384 Yards

Whoever was responsible for putting a slippery decal one yard before the finish line at the Chicago Marathon this weekend should be fired. The Kenyan who won the race, stepped onto that mat at the 26-mile-384-yard mark, slipped and fell and hit his head -- without breaking the tape that marks the end of the race. Fortunately, his feet ended up under the tape and across the finish line, so he was declared the winner. Then he was taken to the hospital, where he's expected to make a full recovery.

See the story and the video here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Larry Miller


Comedian Larry Miller, who you've seen in movies from "Pretty Woman" to "Waiting For Guffman" and dozens of others, was on my show this afternoon to talk about his funny new book, "Spoiled Rotten America: Outrages of Everyday Life."

As you'll hear, Larry is as easy-going as a guest can be, in a wide-ranging discussion touching on daydreaming about women we've known, being a Little League dad, being impatient with the most mundane things, products with built-in obsolescence, and having to wear a toupee for a movie role .

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

Friday, October 20, 2006

Inside Iraq's Green Zone

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, was on my show today to talk about what life is like in the Green Zone, and what's wrong with the way the Bush administration is dealing with the continuing violence and reconstruction of Iraq.

We talked about the underestimated power of religious leaders like Moqtada Al-Sadr, the failed management of Paul Bremer in his stint as our top man in Iraq, and why the training of the Iraqi army and police has gone so slowly.

One of the amazing revelations in our conversation (and Rajiv's book, "Imperial Life In The Emerald City") is how much politics, not experience, played a role in who was sent to Iraq to set policies and implement them -- even to the point where some candidates for post-war roles were asked about their thoughts on Roe v. Wade and other matters that had no bearing on whether they were qualified for the job.

Listen to the conversation here.

Truth Behind Online Gambling Law

Here's a terrific video on the truth behind the new law banning online gambling, which I wrote about a few days ago. It names two of the legislators (Goodlatte and Frist) who were behind the legislation, reveals who they got campaign contributions from, and the loopholes and downright hypocrisy in what they've done [thanks to Stuart Snyder for the link].


Also, here's a column by George Will, who calls this Prohibition II and points out that "the new law actually legalizes online betting on horse racing, internet state lotteries and some fantasy sports."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Phil Plait vs. Katie Couric

My pal Phil Plait takes on Katie Couric for her boneheaded criticism of NASA on the CBS Evening News.

First, Ms. Couric:

NASA’s requested budget for 2007 is nearly 17 billion dollars. There are some who argue that money would be better spent on solid ground for medical research, social programs, and in finding solutions to poverty, hunger, and homelessnees… I can’t help but wonder what all the money could do for people right here on planet Earth.
Part of Phil's response:
The money spent on space has direct results here on Earth as well. The irony is that the ability of Katie to appear to millions of people (well, fewer every day according to her ratings — oh, snap!) is due to the space program. Or does the term "satellite TV" mean something I’m missing? Maybe she could ask whoever the weatherman is on her show if (s)he thinks the space program is a waste of money. Does she think about all the instruments and the designs of the planes she flies on which owe their existence to the first "A" in NASA’s name? Look, I know a lot of people don’t know this stuff. I know, too, that NASA could do a better job of talking about this kind of stuff. I also know Ms. Couric is not a journalist, but c’mon, she plays one on TV. It’s simplicity itself to actually, y’know, do some research.
The whole thing's here. If Katie had a little less scientific knowledge, she'd qualify for a job in the Bush administration.

NBC-Ya!

NBC announced today that, in addition to firing 750 people, they're also eliminating comedies and dramas from the first hour of primetime every night, in favor of reality shows and game shows.

So, Howie Mandel has job security. But NBC would have been better off by vowing never to program another show based on what happens backstage at another one of their shows. "Studio 60" is on its last gasps of life support, and "30 Rock" would work only if Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey teamed up to kill Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski and make a workplace show Americans might want to see.

I wonder how many of those 750 people made the decision to put this dreck on the air in the first place.

Foley Story Gets Sleazier

Ugh. Just when you thought the Mark Foley story couldn't get any sleazier, along comes Rev. Anthony Mercieca, the then-33-year-old priest who abused Foley at age 13. This pedophile doesn't see anything wrong with having given a pubescent boy a naked massage, skinny dipping with him, etc. None of this excuses Foley's actions with congressional pages, but one has to hope that this behavior doesn't get passed on to yet another generation of young men.

Tagged Out

Lots of e-mailers have written wanting my comments on the game of tag being banned by yet another elementary school, this time in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, it's just symptomatic of the litigious times we live in, with school districts afraid that some kid will fall and scrape their knee, followed by their lowlife parents filing a lawsuit. I say, a kid who goes through childhood without some cuts and scrapes is a kid who didn't have any fun.

Six years ago, I wrote a column on the death of dodge ball, so this sort of thinking isn't brand new. It is merely the continuation of the drop in spontaneous fun we allow American children to have. There's very little unsupervised, unplanned kid stuff left in this country, and it is the parents who are to blame.

A few weeks ago, my mother was in town, and I took her and my daughter to the historic district in St. Charles to walk among the shops and enjoy a nice fall day. At one point, we walked down to the banks of the Missouri River. When my daughter spotted a big grassy field, she turned to me and asked, "Dad, can I run here?" I said, "Of course," and she took off with a huge smile on her face, running around with complete abandon. I was thrilled, and then I was sad. Thrilled to see my daughter this happy, but sad that it has become such a rarity today -- not just for her, but for most suburban kids.

Their lives are scheduled so heavily, their sports activity so organized, their homework load so heavy, their free time so limited, that the simple concept of fun has been forced into the background. And now, they can't even break out into a game of tag during recess, which itself has become a precious and rare commodity.

More and more schools are doing away with or reducing recess and gym classes -- and then we wonder why we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. What do you expect when you don't let kids run around and burn off a few calories? Worse, you end up with kids who have so much natural energy pent up inside them that it can find its way out in other, less constructive ways (and then we give them medication to bottle it up even more).

This is a vicious cycle we're reaping, the literal destruction of childhood fun.

What's worse, with no one allowed to play tag anymore, there's some kid somewhere who will perpetually be "it."

Nutty Buddy

Thanks to Danny for tipping me to this video for the Nutty Buddy, a new athletic cup. This guy's approach is hysterical, and I bet he's selling a lot based simply on this video. See for yourself.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jim Gaffigan

Comedian Jim Gaffigan has created a superhero crimefighting duo, "Pale Force," which he's been showing on Conan O'Brien's show. He's also producing weekly webisodes, with guest appearances by Eartha Kitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. We talked about it when Jim made an appearance on my show this afternoon. And yes, we also discussed the everlasting appeal of Hot Pockets.

Listen to the conversation here.

John Feinstein returns

Sportswriter John Feinstein was back on my show today to talk about the Cards-Mets NLCS series, the Miami-FIU fight, Tony Kornheiser on Monday Night Football, and the paperback release of his book, "Next Man Up."

Listen to the conversation here.

Judge Says No More Babies

Mandy Nelson has been told by a judge that she can't have any more kids out of wedlock as part of her probation in a forgery case. He says he did it to help her with her financial difficulties. Today, Mandy told me she was stunned by the judge's decision -- and it's a moot point because she had her tubes tied two years ago.

Keep in mind that, although she's had trouble with the law before, Mandy is not a child abuser, her children haven't been taken away, and she's not on the public dole. These are petty crimes -- by what authority can a judge tell her she can't reproduce? Would a judge ever do this to a middle-class family that has three kids but is in bad financial shape because of lots of credit-card debt and a huge mortgage?

Listen to the conversation here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Smoking Gun's New Book

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Andrew Goldberg, one of the editors of The Smoking Gun, about their new compilation of odd stories, mug shots, legal paperwork, primadonna concert riders, and more. The book is "The Dog Dialed 911." Listen to the conversation here.

Scott Ritter "Target Iran"

This afternoon on my show, I talked to Scott Ritter -- who was right in everything he ever said about Iraq -- about his new book, "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change."

Ritter makes the case that Iran does not have the capacity to make nuclear weapons, and that the IAEA has access to their nuclear enrichment facilities, but has not found any evidence of a weapons program. He says the US intelligence agencies also have no proof either, yet the spin we keep getting from the White House (and Israel) is that Iran is the next big threat we have to deal with, and they're beating the war drums to that end.

Listen to the conversation here.

Don't expect to see Ritter talking about this on Fox News Channel. Unfortunately, he's not getting the attention he deserves from other media outlets, either. Don't get me wrong -- I like the fact that I almost have an exclusive with Scott every time he's on, but his message is so important, I wish he would be given more widespread coverage.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Larry Garrison, News Broker

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Larry Garrison about his role in bringing out details of the Natalee Holloway, John Mark Karr, Terri Schiavo, and Robert Blake stories. He has acted as broker for family members, witnesses, jury members, and others who were involved and wanted to tell their stories -- Garrison then made deals to get them exposure with Diane Sawyer, Larry King, etc. Listen to the conversation here.

Garrison's book is "The NewsBreaker: A Behind the Scenes Look at the News Media and Never Before Told Details about Some of the Decade's Biggest Stories."

The Human Camera

Alan Light contributes the Picture Of The Day -- "they call Stephen Wiltshire the Human Camera because he can see something once and draw it precisely from memory. Stephen is autistic. In this clip, he sees Rome for the first time via helicopter and then in three days draws the entire city in exact detail, down to the number of windows in the buildings, columns in the Coliseum, and back streets and alleys. Goosebump-inducing."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Recipe For Radio Disaster

One of the big stories in the radio industry on Friday was that Air America has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That doesn't mean they're going off the air, but it certainly isn't good.

I've known all along that Air America wasn't going to succeed, and it has nothing to do with it being liberal. The problem was that its first priority was its political agenda, instead of good broadcasting.

Most of the people they hired to do shows had very little (if any) radio experience. You don't start what you hope will be a national network by putting on hosts who have never had any success in the medium. You'd think was an easy mistake to avoid, but failures through the years from Mario Cuomo to David Lee Roth prove that Air America was not the only company making it.

Radio is not a starter kit.

I know a little something about this, because it's what I've been doing for a living my entire adult life. Most people don't consider us very far up the show business ladder (on a good day, we get slightly more respect than carnies and circus clowns), but that doesn't mean that anyone with a mouth is qualified to be on the air. Just because you can talk cleverly at cocktail parties, or in speeches, or in the guest chair on someone else's show for a few minutes, does not mean you'll be able to handle the pressure of coming up with several hours of entertainment and information every day, five days a week.

When Air America started, they hired all sorts of writers and producers and political insiders -- they thought they could fill the air time with wacky sketches. One of the people involved in that, and on the air, was Lizz Winstead. She's known for exactly one successful thing, "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central -- and it didn't become a major success until long after she'd left (following a run-in with then-host Craig Kilborn), and it morphed into its current buzz-creating version thanks to Jon Stewart. On Air America, Winstead bombed.

So did most of the other hosts, with the exception of Al Franken and Randi Rhodes. Franken won't be there much longer, having moved to Minnesota to start running for the Senate in 2008. That won't be a major loss, because even my most liberal friends find his Air America show exceedingly boring and have already given up on it.

Does this mean that liberal radio hosts can't succeed? Not at all. There are a couple out there who are slowly developing an audience, including Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller, neither of whom is on Air America. And then there are those wacky morning shows all across the country that aren't obsessed with political firefights, but who probably tilt a little more to the left than to the right, particularly on social issues. The difference is that they're more concerned with entertainment than propaganda.

If you were starting a new restaurant chain, and hoping to have outlets in every major city in America, you probably wouldn't hire a staff of people whose only experience was eating out on a regular basis. You'd want chefs and waiters who had not only worked in the food service business before, but were good at it. So why would anyone believe that model could work in radio?

Air America isn't alone in traveling this woeful path. There's a new group called Greenstone Media that's trying to develop radio that will appeal to a female demographic. It's backed by an all-star group of rich and famous women who, again, have no idea what makes good radio, but they'll pony up millions of dollars nonetheless.

Meanwhile, there are dozens of successful radio hosts on the air right now -- getting ratings, creating buzz in their towns, making the phones ring and hitting the target demo -- who would love to have the opportunity to take their shows national (please note that this is not my way of begging for a syndicated show, as I'm very happy doing what I do every afternoon), but there's no one offering them anything.

Instead, that deal was given to Whoopi Goldberg. I rest my case.

Unlucky Lady

Talk about a victim of coincidence.

In 1997, Kathleen Caronna went to the Thanksgiving parade in New York City. It was a stormy day, and some of the balloons were blowing around a lot. One of them, the Cat In The Hat, banged into a streetlight, knocking it over and hitting Kathleen in the head. She spent 24 days in a coma with a fractured skull.

Fast forward to last week, when Cory Lidle's plane crashed into a Manhattan condo high-rise. Guess whose apartment the plane hit? Yep, Kathleen's. The engine was found a few feet away from her bed. Fortunately, she wasn't there at the time, but she was on her way home when the accident happened.

Kathleen's gotta be hoping the "things happen in threes" rule doesn't apply to her.

Bill O'Reilly vs. US Constitution

Thanks to Randy, who e-mailed me something Bill O'Reilly said on his radio show last week:

You know, I don't really care who wins the election in November. The only thing that bothers me is the Supreme Court because I don't want secular-progressive judges on the court, and they're more likely to come about if Nancy Pelosi and her crew are in there.
WRONG.

Even if the Democrats do gain enough seats to have a majority in the House, and Pelosi becomes Speaker, she'll still have nothing to do with judges being appointed to any federal court. If O'Reilly had read the US Constitution (specifically Article 2), he'd know that only the President can appoint federal judges, and must receive the Advice and Consent of the US Senate. The House of Representatives has as little to do with the process as facts in an O'Reilly rant.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Online Gambling Hypocrisy

Today, President Bush signed the ports safety legislation, which also includes a ban on internet gambling. What one has to do with the other, or why an online poker game might be a threat to national security, I have no idea.

The problem with the online gambling ban is hypocrisy of our politicians criminalizing betting in one form, while promoting it in so many others. Every state in the country has a lottery, and several take part in multi-state lotteries like Powerball and MegaMillions, which means the gambling crosses state lines. No one is suggesting we shut those down. Nor would they ever tell churches to knock off their bingo nights, and we know about the growth of all those brick-and-mortar casinos across the country.

Obviously, our nation has embraced gambling -- or rather, allowing adults to gamble if they like. Even now, in the midst of the baseball playoffs, we have mayors like Slay and Bloomberg making very public wagers on the Cards vs. Mets, with the payoff coming in toasted ravioli, pizza, and lemon ices. They not only made the bet, but they publicized it to the press and on their websites. But if you wanted to make a bet on that series, the only place you could do it legally is Las Vegas. God forbid you place that wager with an online sports book. What's the difference? Why is it okay for politicians to make these bets out in the open, but not the rest of us?

Opponents of online gambling always throw up the classic red herring, "we have to protect the kids." This kind of protection is not the government's job, it's the job of parents -- just as I have to make sure my daughter is not giving out a lot of personal information on MySpace.com, and you have to ensure that your son isn't running up your cellphone bill by sending 10,000 text messages to his friends.

If my daughter were to somehow use my credit card or bank information to start playing poker or betting on sports online, she'd feel plenty of consequences right here in our own house -- there would be no need for an FBI agent to get involved. If she's old enough to have money of her own and ends up losing it, well, that's one of life's lessons, which she could just as easily learn in a real-world casino.

Don't tell me it's about gambling addiction, either. No law prevents a gambler from going to a local casino and losing several hundred dollars every single day. And there's no restriction on the number of lottery tickets they can buy, either -- even though the odds of winning are worse than being hit by lightning. What message does that send, that the worse you are at math, the less you should be restricted?

The new legislation won't stop online gambling. It will make it a little more difficult to transfer money in and out of those accounts for awhile, but eventually, the offshore sites will figure out a way to bring their customers back, because there's just too much money at stake.

All that money is another part of the argument, because the government isn't getting its share of taxes from the revenue. But legalizing it would kill two birds with one stone. One, they could monitor and regulate the gaming, taxing the revenue of both the online operators and the players. Two, the large corporations that run the biggest brick-and-mortar casinos would be encouraged to enter the business, and customers would be much more likely to do business with brand names they know and trust, like Harrah's and MGM Mirage and Wynn. Those publicly-traded companies would make sure that things are on the up and up, because any cheating or other scandal would endanger the billions of dollars they could be raking in. Thus, it would be safer for the gambling consumer. Making it illegal may have the opposite effect, driving the business underground even more and allowing it to be run by the shadiest and least-secure organization -- akin to what happened with alcohol sales during Prohibition.

It will be interesting to see if this legislation has an effect on the World Series Of Poker next year. Nearly three-quarters of the 8,773 entrants in this year's Main Event got there by winning satellite tournaments in online poker rooms. If the legislation is successful, those numbers will drop off dramatically.

Ironically, poker has been played by people at every level, including even the most conservative politicians -- Richard Nixon used the money he won in the Navy to finance his first run for Congress. George W. Bush played lots of poker at Harvard Business School. The late William Rehnquist used to host a weekly poker game, even when he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

One of the parties that was pushing Congress for this law is the NFL, which supposedly detests the notion that anyone might bet on football. I can understand their concern, worried about how gambling might influence how games are played. Yet every newspaper in America prints the point spreads every day, every office building in the country has some sort of fantasy football league, and the league forces its teams into full and timely disclosure of any injuries or other roster changes. Who is that for, if not for the sports bettors? The NFL is an enabler, and another gambling hypocrite.

The most offensive part of this online gambling legislation is the presumption that the government has the right to tell us how to spend our hard-earned money. It most certainly does not. They don't place a restriction on the number of shoes my wife can buy, nor the number of songs I can download from iTunes, and they can't shut down some eBay addict who is bidding on some ridiculous tchotchke at three in the morning. If they tried that, they'd start a revolution. So why is it their business if some poker player (whether it's a med-school student, an auto mechanic, a Fortune 500 CEO, or your favorite radio personality) is playing no-limit hold'em for a few hours in an online poker room?

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom was in my studio this afternoon to talk about his new book, "For One More Day." We also talked about the ALCS-leading Detroit Tigers, Mike Martz and the not-leading-anything Detroit Lions, and the Rock Bottom Remainders (the band he's in with Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, and Steven King). I also had him tell a story about Jack Lemmon during the filming of "Tuesdays With Morrie." Listen to the conversation here.

Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett was back on my show to talk about his classic interviews with Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, and Groucho Marx. They're included on the collection on his new DVD, "Hollywood Greats," and are being featured on Thursday nights on TCM.

Listen to the conversation here. You can also listen to my earlier conversation with Dick about the shows he did with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Side note: when we booked this interview, I was told that Dick was on a very tight schedule and we had to wrap things up by a certain time. Since I've been on the other side of that -- being the next person in an interview tour, waiting for the previous host to finish so I can start on time -- I try to be respectful of these requests. However, sometimes, the guest is having such a good time, or has more stories to tell, that they don't seem to care about the schedule. As you listen to the interview, you'll hear me try to bring things to a conclusion a couple of times, but Cavett just wants to keep going -- and I wasn't going to cut him off until I absolutely had to hit a commercial break.

Edible Wedding Dress

When a Ukranian baker got married, he wanted his wife to wear an edible wedding dress, so he spent two months making her one out of flour, eggs, sugar, and caramel.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Frank Caliendo

No one does a better John Madden impression that Frank Caliendo -- everyone else is imitating his impersonation -- and he proved it this afternoon on my show. In a wide-ranging discussion which also included appearances by Presidents Bush and Clinton, Leno and Letterman, and even Ted Knight, Madden kept re-appearing to hilarious effect. Listen to the conversation here.

Free Hugs

A guy named Juan Mann walked around with a sign that said "Free Hugs." Naturally, lots of people were skeptical, but some took him up on his offer. Eventually, he handed the signs to others, who then offered their own hugs to strangers (I'd be willing to bet that the young women with the signs had a lot more people who wanted hugs than Juan or the other guys).

Of course, this sort of activity couldn't be allowed to continue, so the police shut him down. Then he started a petition drive and got support from thousands of people, and a few more hugs, too.

Make of this what you will, but give it a look [thanks to Michelle Stephens for the link]...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

LA Notes

Notes from my recent trip to LA...

Had a terrific dinner with Jon Macks at a steakhouse he suggested called The Lodge, where he had promised me two things: Jimmy Caan and Peppercorn Bacon. We didn't see Jimmy (and if we did, he'd have been Mr. Caan to me, or at best, James), and I wasn't sure what to expect for the other. On my way there, I wondered if Peppercorn Bacon was some porn star I hadn't heard of, or did Kevin Bacon have another kid and give it one of those weird Hollywood names (yes, I'm talking about you, Apple Paltrow). It turned out to be neither. When you sit down at the bar at The Lodge to have a drink, you can munch on a bowlful of honey-roasted almonds, or on one of the long, cooked slices of peppercorn bacon sitting in a tall glass. Having never had a bacon finger-food snack, I chose the latter, and it was both delicious and salty. That is, of course, the idea behind both munchables -- to make you even more thirsty. Mission accomplished. Over dinner, Jon told us about several new projects he's working on, none of which I think I'm allowed to mention yet, but suffice it to say that he had to run out on us after a couple of hours to go do some work at Billy Crystal's house.

Mark Evanier took us to the Second City Theater to see Totally Looped, in which several improv comics and voice talents add the dialogue and sound effects for film clips they haven't seen before. The evening is organized and directed by Vince Waldron, who has written several books on classic sitcoms including "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book." Among the voices the night we were there was Laraine Newman, who is often joined by Dan Castellenata and others. Pretty clever stuff, worth your time if you're in LA on one of the nights they're doing the show.

The hotel we stayed in was the first I've seen with a clip on the drapes. You may have noticed how hotel drapes always close in the middle, but never all the way, so when the sun comes up, it has just enough of an opening to shine right into the room -- usually on your eyes as you try to sleep. I've solved the problem in more than one hotel room by overlapping the two sides of the drape and then holding them in place with a chair or floor lamp. This place had a clip we could use to accomplish that purpose, a nice simple solution. They could avoid this problem altogether by just making it one long drape that pulls all the way across, but that seems to be against the basic rules of hotel room design.

The traffic in LA is now officially the worst in the US. One night, I was going to have dinner at the house of an old college roommate. It was about a 30 mile ride, so I planned on it taking an hour. Thanks to the incredible backups that are so commonplace on The Five and The One Oh One, the drive actually took two hours. And that's wasn't the only time or road on which we ran into traffic congestion -- it was pretty much omnipresent. I can't imagine having to deal with that on a regular basis as a commuter, and it must be a thousand times worse for any business that makes deliveries or has to be on the road all day long (which might just be how long it takes make one trip!).

Speaking of getting around, if you rent a car from Hertz, I seriously suggest getting their Neverlost GPS system. Very easy to use, and only about $8/day. Beats having to figure out the maps in a town you're not familiar with, and quite good at getting you directly to an address or intersection. Downside is its inability to come up with alternates when you run into a massive traffic jam on the one route it gives you.

Poker players in LA are among the rudest I've experienced anywhere. Several of them crossed the line into downright abuse, particularly of the dealers, when it was totally uncalled for. Perhaps it's a cultural thing, because most of the dealers are Asian and most of the abusers are not (although the players are majority Asian at most tables), but regardless, it was wholly inappropriate. Whatever the problem was, these were locals and regulars -- not tourists -- who berated both the staff and the other players. One player kept playing bad hands and then yelling at the dealer when he'd lose, as if the dealer had the power to control the cards and was doing it on purpose. I've seen this behavior at a couple of the local poker rooms in St. Louis and other cities I've played in, but this was by far the worst and most shameful.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Remember that song by the Motels, "Take the L Out Of Lover, And It's Over"?

A county in Michigan has to spend $40,000 fixing a typo on their election ballot, and has learned that "public" is a lot more private when you leave out that letter.

Could have been worse. They could have misspelled "election."

Randy Larsen on North Korea

Want to know the bottom line on the North Korea story? Check out the eight-minute discussion I had this afternoon with Col. Randy Larsen, our CBS News Homeland Security Consultant. He puts the whole thing in perspective perfectly. Listen to the conversation here.

Tom Gardner, Motley Fool

Today on my show, I talked with Tom Gardner of The Motley Fool about the Google/YouTube deal, old media vs. new media, and whether there's money to be made investing in alternative energy and China. He also revealed the Fool's new CAPS program, which is like fantasy football for stock-pickers. Listen to the conversation here.