If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

School Begins At Home

Talk about Old School.

In 1957, Chuck Berry had a hit that started, "Up in the mornin' and out to school!" Fast-forward to the present and you'll find that sentiment sorely lacking in our city.

The St. Louis public schools started the new year Monday, and only 72% of the kids showed up. On Tuesday, the attendance rate jumped to 84%. That's a difference of almost 4,000 students.

Where were they on Monday? It wasn't a holiday, the Cardinals weren't playing a day game, there was nothing special going on. So why didn't their parents make sure they were at school, ready to go? How can the superintendent of schools call that a successful start? And what's keeping the other 16% of kids away?

These are the kind of questions that have to be asked, but never are. If St. Louis wants to thrive again as a city -- if any American urban area wants to turn the tide -- it must have good public schools. Without that, you'll never get families back in town, and without families, you're lost as a city.

There's been so much news and too much noise about the school board, the superintendent, and all the rest. It's the typical litany of distracting arguments and infighting that don't focus on the number one problem in education today -- lack of participation by parents.

I'm not talking about joining the PTO. I'm talking about parents doing what they're supposed to do, instilling in their children that school is a MUST, not a choice -- that education is the key to everything in life, that there's no excuse for not showing up -- and then making sure their kids get there every single day, starting on Day One.

But it can't stop there. Parents have to stop asking the schools to handle every problem their kids might encounter. This is not just an urban problem. You'll find it in the suburbs, too, and virtually every school district in the US. The reason many kids don't succeed in school is because they don't have a home environment that stresses the importance of learning and studying. If your kid doesn't do her homework, whose fault is that? Don't point the finger at anyone inside that brick building. Point it at the mirror.

Teachers want to teach, but when they chose this career path, they didn't sign up to be your child's psychologist, drug tester, discipline instructor, clothing inspector, probation officer, and nutritionist. Those are the responsibilities of parents. If you want teachers to perform all those extra duties, then pay them for the other five jobs you're making them do.

Are schools completely blameless? Of course not. In some cases, money is squandered, bad teachers aren't fired, students are promoted from grade to grade who haven't learned a thing, and lunch consists of tater tots and French toast on a stick.

On the other hand, some teachers have to pay for supplies out of their own pockets, haven't seen new textbooks during their entire tenure in the classroom, and work in facilities that haven't been upgraded since Laura Bush attended library school.

However, none of that detracts from the central problem in our educational system, the fact that Mom and Dad have to step up and do their job first (if, in fact, there are both a Mom and Dad at home). Just as parents helped their child take those first steps as a toddler, they must never relinquish the role as the ones who urge that child to keep moving forward.

That starts with getting them to school in the first place. Not just on the first day, but every day. Even the best teachers can't help a student who isn't in the building.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hiccup Helper

Last fall, I posted my Guaranteed Hiccup Remedy. Tonight, I got this e-mail:

My husband was REALLY, REALLY SUFFERING from continuous hiccups all evening (4 hours). Usually, he has a high tolerance for pain, but he was really hurting. I googled 'hiccup remedy' and yours was the first hit. It looked easy enough, so he tried it - mostly to humor me. I know he was thinking that there was no way this was going to work. While he was taking the sips of water, he was still hiccupping. He took the last two sips of water, exhaled and WOW - the HICCUPS WERE GONE!! It was incredible. We both were sooooo HAPPY !!! THANK YOU!!
Another satisfied customer. Glad I could help.

Ted Stevens vs. Government Transparency

As explained on my show today, there's a bill pending in the US Senate that would create a website with searchable information on where your tax dollars go. You could see find out how much money your senator was taking from various special interest groups, or who was getting a federal contract or grant, or who was hoarding all the congressional pork. It's all supposed to be on the public record, but there's no single place to find that info without digging into massive federal paperwork.

Unfortunately, the bill can't go anywhere because one senator put a "secret hold" on it. The rules of the senate give each of them that power, to keep the legislation or a nomination from ever reaching the floor for a vote (this odd rule has some resonance in my family, since a single senator was able to use it to block my brother from getting an appointment to a better position at the Labor Department a few years ago).

Several bloggers from both sides of the political spectrum have been trying to uncover who the secret holder is -- to reveal which senator doesn't want that transparency in our government.

This evening, their hard work paid off. After narrowing it down to just a few candidates, they finally got Senator Ted "Internet Tubes" Stevens (R-Alaska) to fess up and admit that he'd put the hold on the bill. This was the guy behind the $200,000,000 Bridge To Nowhere, as big a pork hog on the GOP side as Robert Byrd is on the Democrat side.

So, why did Stevens do it? He's mumbling some excuse, but it's probably revenge against bill co-sponsor Tom Coburn, who had dissed Stevens on the bridge pork.

By the way, Alaska's favorite son is on the Governmental Affairs Committee, but never attended a single hearing on this bill that he's so opposed to.

Your tax dollars in action.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina One Year Later

On the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I checked in today on my show with...

  • Jed Horne, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and author of "Breach of Faith." We talked about whether the rebuilt levees are strong enough to withstand another major storm, what happened to all those unused FEMA trailers, and whether President Bush is right that there are signs of hope and recovery. Listen to the conversation here.
  • CNN's Amanda Moyer in New Orleans, about the rubble and debris that's still piled up and an infrastructure that's still not capable of sustaining regular life in parts of town. Listen to the conversation here.
I also replayed two remarkable pieces of audio from last year:
  • Dan Verbeck, a reporter for KMBZ-AM/Kansas City, who went to New Orleans to help out at their sister station WWL, where he was on the air when a woman called to ask, "Can you save our lives?" Listen to the audio here.
  • Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera (in New Orleans) on Fox News Channel, trying to convince Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes that the situation at the convention center was much worse than it may have seemed from their dry, warm New York studio. Smith was particularly strong during that coverage and Geraldo was, well, Geraldo. Listen to the audio here.
And then there's this, from an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal:
The post-Katrina spend-fest in Louisiana will be remembered as one of the greatest taxpayer wastes in US history. First came the FEMA $2,000 debit-cards fiasco intended to pay for necessities that were used for things like flat-panel TVs and tattoos. Then came the purchase of thousands of mobile homes that cost as much as $400,000 per family housed; the $200 million for renting the Carnival Cruise ship; millions more in payments that went for season football tickets, luxury vacation resorts, even divorce lawyers. Federal flood insurance policies surely will encourage many to rebuild in the same flood plains and at the same height as before.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pat Summerall

Legendary NFL broadcaster Pat Summerall joined me this afternoon to tell some stories from his new autobiography, "On and Off The Air."

We talked about his recovery from alcoholism, why CBS broke up the team of Summerall and Tom Brookshier, what is was like broadcasting the first Super Bowl, and names from Jack Buck to Tom Landry to Vince Lombardi.

He also told several stories from his years with John Madden, including the classic "cantilever" segment, the time Madden sat on and crushed Summerall's headset on the air, and why Madden was so nervous before their first game together.

Summerall revealed the advice he gave Cris Collinsworth in his efforts to become a play-by-play man, the sport that he thinks is the toughest to broadcast, and much more.

Listen to the conversation here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Professor Turned Freshman

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Cathy Small (a/k/a Rebekah Nathan), a college professor who was so fed up with her students, she decided to become one. She enrolled as a freshman and kept track of what she experienced, which she has compiled for her book, "My Freshman Year."

She says that it's a lot harder now than when she (and I) were in college in the 1970s, although there's still lots of "drinking, sexuality, and craziness." But she says the drug culture is very different -- instead of yesteryear's pot-heads, today's college students are Paxil-heads.

Listen to the conversation here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

No Parking

A major debate ensued on my show today after a listener named Diane complained about a parking problem:

My husband and I took our 16 year old daughter to Hacienda on Manchester. Being a Friday evening, it was packed. After driving around for about 10 minutes, we parked across the street at Colonial Square (Cici's Pizza, Blockbuster). There were "no parking" signs along the storefronts and mid-section of the lot, but none visible facing Manchester, so we parked there. When we came out after eating, there was a "club" on our front wheel and two young men stating we owed $80 cash or a tow and impoundment fee of $225. Rock Hill police are aware, and they patrol simply to keep somebody from going off on these "collectors". They work for Abandoned Auto Alliance. I could see a parking ticket of $25 or $30, but $80 is insane. To add insult to injury, they attach a large orange sticker to your window and tell you, it will shred as you try to remove it and you will need a razor and soapy water to remove it. PLEASE HELP!
This seemed like a scam to me. Legal perhaps, but ethically questionable.

I can understand the property owner not wanting his parking lot to get so full that customers for his tenant stores can't get in. The problem is with the sign on the lot, which does not say anything like "Parking For Customers Only" or "No Parking Except While Doing Business With [These Stores]." Take a look at what it does say on the sign:

That photo was shot during my show by listener Michael Noble, who adds, "There are three entrances; main one across and on the East and West ends of the parking lot. There are two sign at the main entrance and signs on the east side, however the signage on the west side is missing, but the post is in place."

I'd guess that most people pulling into that lot can't read the sign as they go by. if they do, they must be confused by it. No parking?? By anyone?? What does "abandoned and illegally parked" mean?

According to Betty Crater, the woman we spoke with on the air from Abandoned Auto Alliance, "abandoned" means any car you leave in a parking lot -- even if you just go across the street, you've abandoned your car. That's crap. If I leave my car there with no intention of returning for it, then it's abandoned. If it's only there for an hour or two, it's parked. As for illegally parked, I would take that to mean a vehicle that's not properly within the lines of the parking space, as opposed to simply being on the property.

If the intention is to limit parking there to patrons of the businesses in that strip mall, they should say so, not hire a bunch of people who -- according to Diane -- hide in the bushes and boot your car as soon as you cross the street. I would also bet that the Blockbuster store has actually gotten business from people who eat at Hacienda, then go back to get their car and think, "Hey, let's get a movie while we're here."

As you'll see in the comments section, Diane is not alone in her experience in this lot, and lots of other folks have chimed in with their opinions and similar problems in other lots. Go ahead and add yours.

FYI, if you're ever caught in one of these situations and want to report it to the Missouri Attorney General's office, here's the number: 800-392-8222.

John Feinstein's US Open Mystery

Sportswriter John Feinstein was back on my show this afternoon to talk about his new novel, "Vanishing Act: Mystery At The US Open," and some stories from inside the tennis tournament.

While I didn't make him predict who this year's winners will be, we did discuss Andre Agassi's last stand and the way he has gone from punk player to elder statesman. And John had kind words for Martina Navratilova (this will mark her final major, too), Mary Carillo, and John McEnroe.

We also got into his longtime friend and colleague Tony Kornheiser's new gig (and thin skin) on Monday Night Football.

Listen to the conversation here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Few Bad Men?

In a story that sounds like a real-life version of "A Few Good Men," US Marine Lance Corporal Matt Solowynsky says he was physically abused for several weeks by other Marines, including his Sergeant and other Lance Corporals at Camp Pendleton. He told his story today on my show, just minutes before turning himself in at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, where he'll face charges of being AWOL since he walked away from the situation six months ago. Thus far, no action has been taken against the other Marines he says beat him.

Listen to the conversation here. Read more about Solowynsky's case here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dan Nassif, World Series of Poker

Dan Nassif is the St. Louisan who made the final table at the main event of the World Series of Poker a couple of weeks ago, and earned over $1.5 million. This afternoon, I talked to him about the experience on my show. He explained the advice he was given by the guys who won the event the last two years (Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem), how he was physically drained before and during the tournament, what happened on the hand that eliminated him, and what he did when he ran out of underwear. Listen to the conversation here.

TV News Meltdown

A Boston TV station ran into a major technical problem right at the top of its newscast last Wednesday when the control room switcher went dead. That left the anchors scrambling on the air with no teleprompter and no way to throw it to a live shot or taped report. Apparently, they also lacked the ability to read from a script (what's on that paper they're shuffling?) or ad lib the basics of the day's top stories.

You'd think the producers could have at least sent the sports and weather guys onto the set to cover their stuff, but without graphics and hi-tech toys, they'd probably be lost, too. It went so badly that after a few minutes, they bailed out of the local newscast entirely and aired an MSNBC feed instead.

Ironically, that seems to have helped their ratings -- they were #1 25-54 that night, probably because viewers got all the latest on the Jon Benet Ramsey developments.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pay Teachers Like Babysitters

Lots of requests for that essay I read on my show this afternoon, "Pay Teachers Like Babysitters." It was taken from a 2002 editorial in a New Hampshire newspaper. Author unknown.

Consider this:

If I had my way, I'd pay these teachers myself. I'd pay them babysitting wages. I'd give them $3/hour out of my own pocket. And I'm only going to pay them for 5 hours, not coffee breaks. That would be $15/day. Each parent should pay $15/day for these teachers to babysit their child. Even if they have more than one child, it's still a lot cheaper than private day care.

Now, how many children do they teach everyday? Maybe 20? That's $15 times 20, equaling $300/day. But remember, they only work 180 days a year! I'm not going to pay them for all those vacations! So that's $300 x 180 = $54,000.

Wait. I know that you teachers will say, "What about those who have ten years experience and a masters degree?" Well, maybe (to be fair) they could get the minimum wage, and instead of just babysitting, they could read the kid a story. We could round that off to about $5/hour, times five hours, times 20 children. That's $500/day times 180 days. That's $90,000! Huh?

Wait a minute. Let's get a little perspective here. Babysitting wages are too good for these teachers. Did anyone see a good salary guide around here?

Need I say more?

Signed, An Intelligent Parent

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hot & Cold

Steve Wobbe was on his way back from Rolla, Missouri, when he noticed these two water towers in St. Clair...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Eagle Flies Backwards -- Update

An update on the Anheuser-Busch sign controversy, which was started by Jeff Mild, one of my listeners. He contended that the sign (which has been next to Highway 40 since 1962) was wrong because it had the eagle flying backwards. Several others listeners chimed in and agreed.

After considering the visual evidence and hearing Jeff make his case on my show two weeks ago, I received the following statement today from Tony Ponturo, VP Global Media and Sports Marketing for Anheuser-Busch:

"We recently inspected the Highway 40 'A and Eagle' neon sign and learned that a short circuit in some electrical wiring had caused the eagle's flight to change in appearance. We immediately fixed it, and the sign once again accurately depicts and eagle's flight.

We appreciate you and your listeners for bringing this to our attention, and we hope St. Louisans and visitors to our community continue to enjoy this St. Louis landmark."
Case closed, with credit once again to Jeff for noticing it and bringing it to my attention.

Tony Kornheiser

While he's in St. Louis for a couple of days, Tony Kornheiser called into my show this afternoon.

I asked him what he thought of his Monday Night Football debut and what he expects to bring to the games each week -- he answered candidly, as he always has. Tony also fired back hard at Paul Farhi (a columnist for his own paper, the Washington Post), who took some shots at Tony in his review of his first MNF telecast. I believe Tony described Farhi as "a backstabbing, two-bit weasel."

Listen to the conversation here.

My history with Tony goes back to my days as a morning radio guy in Washington, DC, in the late 1980s, when he would come on as a guest occasionally and complain that I had made him wake up far too early. Then we worked together (for a very short time in 1992) at a station that wooed me away and offered Tony his first fulltime radio show. I did the morning show with my whole ensemble, then James Brown was on for three hours, then Tony held down middays. He lasted longer there than any of us, and was eventually picked up by ESPN Radio for national syndication, which led to the TV show "Pardon The Interruption" with Michael Wilbon, which continues to go gangbusters.

As I said this afternoon, as Tony settles into the rhythm of doing the Monday night games and becomes more comfortable in the booth, he'll be great at that, too.

Jon-Benet Ramsey

With the shocking new revelations in the Jon-Benet Ramsey case, a decade after her murder, I called upon Charles Bosworth Jr. (co-author of "The Killing Of Jon-Benet Ramsey") to reflect upon the case and the conclusions he came to in 1998 -- which may turn out to be completely wrong, if John Karr is the real killer.

Listen to the conversation here.

What I remember about the earliest part of that case was my utter revulsion at the pictures of six-year-old Jon-Benet dressed up for those kiddie beauty pageants, made up to look like a porcelain doll. We never saw any photos of her in what would be considered normal everday clothing for a girl that age -- which probably added to the popular belief that there was something wrong with her parents, and suspicion that they were involved in her disappearance. It's too bad that their exoneration comes too late for Patsy Ramsey, who died a couple of months ago.

What's A Planet?

This afternoon on my show, Phil Plait discussed the "what's a planet?" controversy, whether Pluto will no longer be considered a planet, and whether other big rocks could be upgraded so that we have 12 planets in our solar system. Listen to the conversation here.

ACLU vs. Hazleton

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Hazleton, Pennsylvania, claiming their new law to combat illegal immigration is unconstitutional. Since the St. Louis suburb of Valley Park has a new municipal ordinance based on Hazleton's, I invited ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat onto my show this afternoon to explain the problem with the law, whether anyone in Hazleton has actually been harmed by it, and how he feels about the English-only aspects of the legislation.

Listen to the conversation here.

Bruno Kirby

All the obits of Bruno Kirby this morning mention his work in "When Harry Met Sally," "City Slickers," and "Good Morning Vietnam."

But they leave out two of my favorite supporting roles in his filmography:

  • as Marlon Brando's nephew, who gets the whole con rolling, in "The Freshman."
  • as Albert Brooks' assistant in the severely underrated (but finally on DVD) "Modern Romance," one of the funniest failed-relationship movies ever made, about a man who breaks up with his longtime girlfriend and then obsesses over getting her back, at the same time he's trying to finish editing a space movie starring George Kennedy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Little League, Big Controversy

We got into the Romney Oaks story this afternoon on my show. He's the kid with brain cancer who played in the Pony League championship game in Bountiful, Utah, this spring.

In the bottom of the 9th, Romney's team was down by one run with two outs and a runner on third. Jordan, the best hitter on Romney's team, was up, but the opposing coach called time and walked out to the mound. He instructed his pitcher to pitch around Jordan, give him an intentional walk, and bring up the next batter instead.

The next batter was Romney. He's a small kid, a brain cancer survivor, and not nearly as good as Jordan or the other kids on his team. He struck out, and all hell broke loose. Parents were mad, the umpire couldn't believe it, the local newspaper lambasted the other coach, politicians and blogs chimed in.

Romney's father said, "What are we teaching our kids? Are we teaching them it's OK to pick on the weakest person?"

Too bad they're all wrong. No one picked on Romney. The coach didn't tell the pitcher to throw at his head. Romney was treated the way he probably wanted to be treated, just like any other kid. It would have been scandalous if his coach had pulled him and put in a pinch hitter, taking away his chance to play under pressure.

What if Romney had gotten a hit and brought that runner in? Talk about a Cinderella ending, just like that autistic kid in upstate New York who scored those six 3-pointers at the end of a game and was carried off the court as a hero. In Romney's case, instead of blaming the opposing coach, his parents and teammates should have rallied around him anyway: "Hey, Romney, you did your best, and that's what counts!" "Nice try, Romney, you'll get'em next year!"

Instead, the reaction has made Romney seem more a victim. The stories written about the incident make a big deal about Romney crying after his strikeout, as if that makes him more pathetic. It doesn't -- it makes him more like the other 9 and 10 year olds in that league. If any of them had gone down swinging in that situation, they probably would have cried, too. I've seen bigtime pros cry when they lose the championship game in lots of sports, so why use that against Romney, or as proof that the other coach is a big bad meanie?

Several callers said all this teaches the kids is that winning is everything. No, winning isn't the only important thing, but this was a championship game, not some esteem-building club. By definition, it's competitive, and everyone involved knew it. No rules were broken, and if there were no cancer angle, if Romney were a perfectly healthy yet still not-that-good ballplayer, no one would have said a word about any of this.

Best of all is Romney's attitude. He didn't let this incident knock him down and keep him there. Instead, according to SI's Rick Reilly, Romney told his father, "I'm going to work on my batting. Then maybe someday I'll be the one they walk."

Ron Suskind, "The One Percent Doctrine"

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Ron Suskind (author of "The One Percent Doctrine") about the lessons learned from last week's terrorist threat, which he says was not thwarted because of monitoring phone calls or electronic surveillance. Rather, it was a tipster and good old-fashioned human intelligence that broke the case. I also asked him about whether we're safer today than before 9-11, the patience of Al Qaeda, and the breeding of new freelance terrorists.

Listen to the conversation here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mike Douglas

With the death of TV legend Mike Douglas yesterday at 81, I dug through my audio archives to find an interview I did with him on November 24, 2000.

He told stories about:

  • doing his live show when news came in about the assassination of JFK;
  • the famous week John and Yoko were his co-hosts;
  • good guests from Ronald Reagan to Malcolm X to Burt Reynolds;
  • why Robert DeNiro was a terrible guest;
  • the day he got caught between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier;
  • how commercials changed his life.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Old Wrong Football Play

A high school team pulls off a cute trick play after the center shouts to the sideline, "Hey, coach, wrong ball!" On second thought, I'm guessing that the other team didn't think it was so cute [thanks to Mike Grimm for the link]...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Top Gun Maj. Rob Novotny

I had a Top Gun in the studio today. Major Rob Novotny, who appears in the Omnimax movie "Fighter Pilot: Operator Red Flag" came in to my show this afternoon. He told stories about flying missions over the No-Fly zone in southern Iraq in the 1990s and being part of Shock And Awe at the start of the war, too. He also explained the Red Flag missions used to train fighter pilots over the Nevada desert, which became the basis of the movie.

Listen to the conversation here.

Michael Barone

Today on my show, I talked immigration with Michael Barone, senior writer at US News and World Report and author of "The New Americans: How The Melting Pot Can Work Again."

Barone contends that assimilation has to be the basis of any immigration policy, which is why he's opposed to programs like bilingual education. I challenged him on whether assimilation can be forced by the government, or happens naturally over time. We also discussed immigrant enclaves and communities that show no interest in assimilating, and the problems that can cause.

He explained how the experiences of Latinos and Asians today mirror those of Italians and Jews a century ago, and what he thinks of cities (like Valley Park) that have passed English-only legislation. I also asked him about the proposed Guest Worker program and other methods to make illegals part of the American system.

Listen to the conversation here.

World Series of Poker

Congrats to St. Louisan Dan Nessif, who has made the final table at the World Series Of Poker. Unfortunately, he'll be the short stack when the nine remaining players enter their final day tomorrow. Fortunately, even if he's next to go out, he'll collect at least $1.5 million.

The Overblown Culture War

I've said for years that the notion of a divided America is nothing more than hype -- while there is an enormous amount of hot air expended over so-called hot button issues, most Americans don't fall into one camp or the other.

My theory is that we are not a nation that can be easily pigeonholed as Red State vs. Blue State, left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, Label One vs. Label Two. Sure, you have a very loud 10% on one side trying to shout down the very loud 10% on the other side, but the other 80% of us refuse to fall into convenient categories and labels.

The Pew Research Center has just released a poll of 2,003 American adults which backs up my argument. It shows that on supposedly defining issues like abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research, most Americans do not take consistent stances. On some, they lean one way; on others, they lean the other way, according to the study:

"Despite talk of 'culture wars' and the high visibility of activist groups on both sides of the cultural divide, there has been no polarization of the public into liberal and conservative camps."
We are the Great American Middle (and not just geographically), regardless of what politicos, pundits, and special interest groups would have you believe.

The truth is that the average American is more concerned about how much it costs to fill their gas tank, whether there's enough time in their day to get through traffic and still get their kids to soccer practice on time, whether that kid is going to a good safe school, what might happen on their favorite TV show tonight, and whether the next storm might knock out their electricity again.

Unfortunately, talking about those issues won't get you elected in this country.

Or would it? I've yet to see a politician try, making an effort to relate to real people and what they honestly worry about. It all seems too mundane in the world of power and ego.

I'm not saying that social issues aren't anywhere on America's radar, I'm just saying they're not as high on the priority list as the news media (both mainstream and blogosphere) and political propagandists insist they are.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

E-Mail Of The Day

Greg Young writes,

You suck. Your show is so interesting everyday that when I get to my destination, I still sit and listen because I would find it unacceptable to walk through the grocery store or Wal-Mart, etc.. wearing headphones. And I don't want to miss anything. It's been hot lately, so I have to run my engine to stay cool. I'm sure I'm not the only person that does this. That means that you have to take some responsibility for the depletion of fossil fuels and the ozone layer, air pollution, and reducing the overall productivity of the United States of America. If you were a true patriot, you would be more boring, at least occasionally.

Morons 1, Meerkats 0

Here's the story that created so much buzz on my show this afternoon.

Five meerkats were euthanized after one of them bit a 9-year-old girl at an exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.

Why did the animals have to die? Because the parents of the girl didn't want her to have to have rabies shots. Since she wouldn't do that, state law mandates that the meerkats had to be tested, which required killing them. Naturally, the tests showed that they didn't have rabies, but by then it was too late.

Here's the unasked question in this story: where were the girl's parents, or whoever was supposed to be keeping an eye on her that day? To get close enough for the meerkat to take a nip at her finger, the kid had to crawl over a driftwood barrier, climb up several feet of artificial rock, reach over four feet of Plexiglas to get her arm into the exhibit, and then dangle her arm down to where the meerkats were. While all that was going on, no adult stopped her.

The girl should have been forced to get the rabies shots, regardless of how painful they might be. Then she and her family should have been barred from the zoo. Instead, the animals are dead and the zoo not only has to replace them, but has to add an additional barrier in case other parents aren't doing their job and making sure their kids stay out of harm's way.

Kind of makes me wish the kid had tried her stunt in the Ape House.

Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?

"Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?" is the followup by Mark Leyner and Dr. Billy Goldberg to their wildly popular "Why Do Men Have Nipples?" They were back on my show this afternoon to talk about it and answer new questions about snot, breast implants, and whether you can blow your eyeballs out by holding in a sneeze. Listen to the conversation here.

Listen to our conversation about their first book here.

Monday, August 07, 2006

E-Mail Of The Day

Greg Miller writes,

As a long-time listener, I've always appreciated your emphasis on personal responsibility -- especially when it comes to the duty parents have to protect their children. I think it's a good idea for parents to know how many convicted sex offenders are in a neighborhood before they think about moving (or raising children) there. I am writing to alert you of a ridiculous change recently made to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Sex Offender Registry.

After having successfully accessed the database in the past, I recently tried to do so again. I found my attempt frustrated by a new "validation" feature. Ostensibly added for "security purposes", it appears to be nothing more than a duplicative attempt to keep citizens from exercising their right to view the database. The new "feature" requires you to enter the next in a simple series of numbers or letters. I proceeded to do so, only to have a new sequence pop up each time.

I began counting how many sequences I'd been asked to complete prior to being allowed to view the database. After being asked for the 30th time to complete a sequence--with no end in sight--I finally gave up.

Whoever has made the decision to make the process of protecting our children and communities more onerous and difficult ought to lose their job.
Greg is right.

There are plenty of sites with verification screens. Ticketmaster has one, for example. I can understand that, since someone could use robot software to go to their site and snatch up lots of tickets for some concert. Some blogs use them to prevent comment spam.

But where's the possible threat to the Sex Offender Registry site?

The first time I accessed it, the site asked me to fill in the blank for this sequence: T-S-?-Q. It took me about a minute to realize that the missing letter is R, which I entered and was allowed to proceed into the database.

True, it didn't take me 30 attempts, but that's not the point. The point is that this is supposed to be a public database to help us know which pervs and sickos might be living nearby.

We shouldn't have to take a logic quiz or overcome any other website obstacle to access that information.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Raymer Out Of WSOP

Greg Raymer won't win the World Series Of Poker main event this year. He was just eliminated from the tournament on day 2B.

The Eagle Flies Backwards?

As heard yesterday on my show, listener Jeff Mild claimed that, on the big Anheuser-Busch sign next to Highway 40, the animated eagle is wrong -- it's flying backwards!!

Here's his argument, along with video of the sign so you can judge for yourself:

I am a St. Louis native, 45 years old. My parents took me to lots of Cardinals games (both football and baseball) and Blues hockey games. I remember driving home as a kid after the games and waiting to catch sight of the Budweiser eagle sign on hwy 40. The eagle was spectacular - graceful and BIG. I feel as though it is an icon of the city.

Quite a few years ago, AB had the sign restored (sometime in the 1970's ?). A few of the animations, like the white/gold lights that outlined the "A" used to dance around. Now those lights are gone. But more importantly, they accidentally reversed the order of the 5 frame animation that makes the eagle fly.

I know - it sounds crazy. How could it have been flying backwards for so long without anyone noticing? Well it has and I did. Once you suspect it is flying backward, and then study the sign, it becomes obvious. Also, to the younger viewer who may have never witnessed the eagle flying properly, one may see the awkward bird trying to fly and dismiss it as "It's just difficult to animate an eagle in flight using neon lights".

But don't take my word for it, I have created animated gif files of the the eagle flying backwards and forwards. Most picture viewers and web browsers will work to view the files. The first file is the eagle as it flies now - backwards. The second file has been reversed to show how the eagle should be flying.
To be honest, I can't tell the difference, but several people I've showed this to agree with Jeff. For an expert's opinion, I have asked Walter Crawford of the World Bird Sanctuary what he thinks, and he says that he will go look at the sign in person before rendering his verdict. We're also waiting to hear from someone at the brewery with their response.

In the meantime, what do you think? Add comments below.

Also for your viewing pleasure, a home movie of the way the sign looked in 1962, as shot by Joseph A. Hess [contributed by his son, Carl].

Update 8/2/06 @ 5pm: This afternoon, Anheuser-Busch sent me this official statement: "We appreciate all the interest in our Highway 40 'A and Eagle' neon sign. This historic sign has been a landmark in our community since it was put up in 1962, and we agree it's important it accurately depicts and eagle in flight. We are currently looking into this to ensure the sign's accuracy."

They'll be happy to hear Walter Crawford's verdict. He says the eagle is not flying backwards, but blames the illusion on the way the five-step animation works, with one step making it seem like the eagle is going backwards, when in fact it's just the animation resetting. Listen to his full explanation here.

Update 8/16/06 @ 6pm: After considering the visual evidence and hearing Jeff make his case on my show two weeks ago, I received the following statement today from Tony Ponturo, VP Global Media and Sports Marketing for Anheuser-Busch:
"We recently inspected the Highway 40 'A & Eagle' neon sign and learned that a short circuit in some electrical wiring had caused the eagle's flight to change in appearance. We immediately fixed it, and the sign once again accurately depicts and eagle's flight.

We appreciate you and your listeners for bringing this to our attention, and we hope St. Louisans and visitors to our community continue to enjoy this St. Louis landmark."
Case closed, with credit once again to Jeff for noticing it and bringing it to my attention.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

World Series of Poker

I had my numbers wrong for the WSOP 2006 Main Event. There were 8,773 entries, and first prize won't be ten million. It will be $12,000,000. Second place will get over six million. The top 12 finishers will get at least a million each.