Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Friday, September 29, 2006

White House Suppressing Science?

Has the White House been suppressing science again, particularly about global warming? This afternoon , I talked with Paul Thacker of Salon.com, who investigated and found evidence of that at NOAA. Listen to the conversation here.

During the discussion, I invoked the name of George Deutsch, the 24-year-old political appointee who was forced to resign for doing this same thing at NASA. Phil Plait explained that story on my show earlier this year.

Judge Nap on the Detainee Bill

Today on my show, I asked constitutional scholar Judge Andrew Napolitano (Fox News Judicial Analyst) what he thinks of the detainee bill the Senate passed yesterday. He doesn't like it at all, and says it will not stand up to scrutiny by the Supreme Court. That won't stop it from being used for political purposes in the next six weeks, of course. Listen to the conversation here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Who Can Afford Baseball Anymore?

Russell Adams wrote the Wall Street Journal piece I talked about today, regarding how hard it is for regular fans to get tickets to post-season baseball games. With first-round prices up 10%, and World Series prices up 35% to $250 for box seats, how can an American family afford to sit in the stands anymore?

Worse is the squeeze put on here in St. Louis by the new Cardinals ballpark, which has fewer seats -- but so many of them are sold on a full-season basis that only 3,000 tickets are available per game to non-season-ticketholders, down from 14,000 last year. Good thing those games are televised into my house at no extra charge.

Major League Baseball is also continuing its crackdown on scalpers, to the point where some teams will revoke your season tickets if you sell them to someone else for even one game that you can't attend. Instead, the Cards and other teams set up their own in-house scalping agency, the Prime Seat Club, in which only they can re-sell those tickets -- with an extra surcharge, of course (take a minute to review a column I wrote 18 months ago called Scalping The Scalping Laws).

"It's not about the money, it's all about the fans." Riiiiight.

Ronnie Lott

NFL Hall Of Famer Ronnie Lott was on my show this afternoon. We talked about the Rams players adapting to their new coaches, this week's bizarre Terrell Owens "incident", and players like Ben Roethlisberger and Shawn Alexander trying to come back quickly after major injuries (Lott's the guy who once told his trainers to cut off an injured finger so that he could play that weekend). I also asked him why he's not on TV every weekend, where he belongs. Listen to the conversation here.

Billy West returns

Billy West, one of the top cartoon voice actors, was back on my show today.

As the voice of many of the "Futurama" characters, he revealed that the show will be back on Comedy Central and in a new movie next year. I also had him tell the story of how he and Bob Bergen (the voice of "Porky Pig") were not allowed onto the red carpet or into the premiere of "Space Jam," even though they did the voices for the major characters -- he did Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd -- because they were told "oh, this is only for the actors."

Listen to the conversation here.

Rock Covers, Then & Now

Chris Epting is working on a rock and roll road trip book, and went to some of the places where famous rock album covers were photographed. He has posted ten of his favorite now-and-then sets, from such mega-groups as The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Studio 60

I want to like "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip." I want it to be a hit. After just two episodes, I fear that the former will turn out to be true, but not the latter.

I know it's a drama, but it's about a comedy show, so a few funny scenes here and there would help. Aaron Sorkin is a brilliant dramatist, but what was the last thing he wrote that made you laugh? You probably have to go back to the first season of "Sports Night."

When do we get to see the cast of the fictional "Studio 60" doing something funny? That cold open they spent all of episode 2 building up to certainly wasn't it. First of all, Amanda Peet's character told them to open with the Crazy Christians sketch that had caused all the ruckus in the pilot. Not only did it not open the show, but we didn't even get a glimpse of the premise.

Worse, Sorkin fell back on his love of Gilbert and Sullivan -- he's not just a member of the fan club, he's the damned president! -- as he did in several forgettable "West Wing" episodes. Most Americans are more familiar with Gilbert O'Sullivan ("Alone Again, Naturally"), and there's no one clamoring for more G&S references, certainly not on what is supposed to be the hot, new, cutting-edge direction of a late night comedy show.

On the plus side, Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford are very good together, and Perry is proving that he's a real actor. Matt LeBlanc will never be anything more than Joey Tribbiani, but Perry has already proven he's much more than just Chandler Bing. Amanda Peet is fine, DL Hughley and Tim Busfield are reliable but given too little to do, and Steven Weber may give James Woods a run for his money as the season's best scenery-chewing attention-stealer.

The characters and concept off to a good start, but "Studio 60" may be a little too inside-the-biz for a mass audience. "Grey's Anatomy" is a drama about the lives and loves of people who work in a hospital, but Shonda Rhimes is smart enough to include some real medicine in every episode. If "Studio 60" is going to succeed as a drama about the lives and loves of people who work on a TV comedy show, Sorkin had better find his funny bone, fast.

To Get An ID, You Need An ID

Bob Foley writes:

I just had an experience I think you would find sureal. I goofed up and let my drivers license expire, never looked at it. "My bad," as my boys say. Thought the worst thing that could I would have to retake the drivers test. No problem, I've been driving for 30 years. Went to the Illinois Dept. of Motor Vehicles with my expired drivers license, and insurance card. After a 2 hour wait, I finally got to the counter and told them my license had expired and I needed a new one. My first clue that I was going to have a problem is the counter person kept typing in the computer and going back and forth to an office and getting advice (I assume) from a supervisor. After 10 minutes at the counter, she comes back and says my license was expired and I need to reapply for a new one and retake all the tests. No problem, I was prepared. Then things went nuts. They said I needed a social security card to get a license, new rules since 9/11. Never needed a card before, had memorized my SSN when I first started working in high school and on top of that my old drivers license had it on there. They told me they could not use my drivers license because it had expired. Nope, the only ID they could use was a social security card. They gave me a phone number to call. Called the number, all kinds of options to choose from, but no option for a replacement card. So I decided to go online, where I downloaded a form and instructions. Now "they" required a picture ID to get a replacement. I sent them my expired drivers license. So yesterday what shows up in my mail, but a new social security card. On the documentation with the card, in BOLD letters, were the words "DO NOT CARRY IT WITH YOU." So how can it be used as an ID? Off this week to get my new drivers license. After I get it, going to be sending this same info to my congressman. One of the problems that came out of the 9/11 attacks was how the government agencies did not communicate with each other. It seems they have not learned their lesson.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Art Teacher Fired Over Museum Visit

Today's zero tolerance outrage, as heard on my show this afternoon: a veteran art teacher in Texas has been let go after he took 89 students on a field trip to an art museum. Afterwards, one parent -- one parent!! -- complained that their kid had seen a nude sculpture. Despite the principal having okayed the trip, the tight-butted school board decided not to renew the teacher's contract.

I'll bet this guy's a heckuva teacher, and that the other 88 kids got something good out of the museum trip. Instead of firing the teacher, I would have told the complaining parent that their child is banned from all future field trips, to avoid the risk of seeing the human body as it has been captured on canvas and in sculpture for centuries.

While granting that just about anything can stimulate a teenager's overactive hormones, was this parent really afraid their child would be led down some evil path if he saw brass breasts?

Lynn Sherr

Lynn Sherr, veteran ABC correspondent and a pioneer in network news, was on my show today to talk about her book, "Outside The Box."

The discussion included the impact TV has had on politics and why the conventions are no longer worth watching, whether her gender affected her coverage of Geraldine Ferraro's candidacy in 1984, and which candidate she thought would do better, but didn't.

We also talked about women in TV news, from the resistance she felt from male executives at the beginning of her career, to Katie Couric's place in the CBS anchor chair. She also explained why she loves doing live TV, but also likes being edited, and how the internet has changed the way news is now covered.

Finally, Lynn revealed how she became friends with astronaut Sally Ride during the years when she not only covered NASA, but was almost chosen as the first journalist in space.

Listen to the conversation here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lawsuits Aplenty

Several legal stories caught my eye today:

  • the class action lawsuit against the tobacco companies over "light" cigarettes
  • a judge allowing the "McDonald's made my kids fat" lawsuit to proceed
  • the deaf people who want NFL stadiums to be closed-captioned
Walter Olson of OverLawyered.com joined me this afternoon to talk about these cases, and what's behind them. Listen to the conversation here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stop With The Music

This has been bugging me, too. Ken Levine writes an open plea to the people who run TV's dramatic shows:

STOP LISTENING TO NEW MUSIC! It seems every one hour show ends now with the obligatory montage bouncing from one main character to the other, each alone, each in a different location, and each soul searching and oozing angst. Rain slicked streets and mood lighting a must. And over this is some dreary song by some new artist that the showrunner discovered on KaZaa or satellite radio, plaintively wailing some life advice that is designed to touch us all with its perception and depth. Tom Waits wannabes even though they’re too young to know who Tom Waits is. It’s great for the writer of the episode – three fewer pages he has to write but the device is starting to get real cliché. Plus, the songs tend to be AWFUL. The one in the premiere of SMITH was so grating that I actually envied the crew member that died. ... Oh, and while I’m ranting, to showrunners, producers, and directors everywhere – NEVER play “Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong EVER AGAIN. Thank you.

Bonds Plays On, Reporters To Jail

With the news that the two SF Chronicle reporters who wrote the book on the Barry Bonds /BALCO steroid scandal will have to go to jail for refusing to reveal their sources, here's the conversation I had with Lance Williams about it earlier this year. They're appealing the sentence, but doesn't 18 months seem like a bit much, especially while Bonds continues to play?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Health Care Mayhem

Charles Inlander stopped into my studio this afternoon. He's the president of the People's Medical Society, a consumer advocacy group fighting mayhem in the health care industry. He made some very compelling points about the erosion of the public's influence on health care policy, and how hard it is to get the system changed so that patients, not profits, come first. Listen to the conversation here.

The Case Against Homework

Following up last week's discussion of kids getting too much homework, I talked with Nancy Kalish about her book, "The Case Against Homework," on my show today. In addition to the studies she researched, she and co-author Sara Bennett were able to effect changes with the teachers in their kids' schools -- and have tips for how you can do it in yours.

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

Photo Voter ID

Judges in Missouri and Georgia have knocked down photo ID requirements for voting, but the Congress voted yesterday to mandate them in federal elections.

The argument always comes down to right vs. left, with too few people in the logical middle trying to figure out how to actually make this work. Instead, you hear about "disenfranchising voters" -- which is, of course, the job of politicians, as our 50% voter turnout rate proves. The rest of America isn't unable to find a photo ID, they just can't stand the candidates and the level of political discourse in this country.

The obstacles should be easy to overcome, if we can just get past the partisanship. If you need a birth certificate to get a state-issued photo ID, but paying for a birth certificate is seen as a poll tax, then the solution is making those birth certificates free. We need to think "Yes, we can make this work" instead of "No, we can't make this work."

Instead, we hear complaints like, "What about vampires? Their image won't show up in a photograph, so photo IDs are unfair to them!" Fine, so Jay Severin can't vote. Big deal.

Discuss.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chris Wink, Blue Man Group

Chris Wink, one of the founders of Blue Man Group, was on my show today to talk about their rock show tour that's coming to St. Louis on October 21st. I saw their stage show in Chicago a couple of years ago -- it was one of the most offbeat and entertaining interactive theater experiences I've ever had. Their new show, How To Be A Megastar, is more of a concert, an homage to both the good and bad of big arena rock shows. Listen to the conversation here.

Annie Duke, Poker Pro

Today on my show, I talked to Annie Duke, one of the top poker pros in the world. We talked about how she made it to Day 5 of this year's World Series of Poker, despite having a horrible Day 3, thanks to a jackhammer next door. I also asked her about her lawsuit against the World Poker Tour, what it was like coaching Ben Affleck, what happened to the NBC sitcom about her life, and more.

Listen to the conversation here.

Annie's book is "How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker."

Listen to conversations I've had with other poker pros:

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hey Hey It's A Monkey

Here's the story we talked about all day on my show and on News 4 At 6 -- Debby Rose of Springfield, Missouri, says her monkey is a service animal that assists her with an anxiety disorder, so under the ADA, she should be able to take it to restaurants with her.

The story reminds me of a column I wrote six years ago, about a woman who insisted that her 300-pound pig sit with her in the passenger cabin of an airplane. That was a non-starter to me, too.

I realize it's not as bad as Snakes On A Plane, but Monkey In A High Chair is unacceptable in any restaurant I'd want to go to. I understand the concept of a service animal, and have no problem with a seeing-eye dog that sits quietly under the table, but Bubbles The Chimp sitting opposite you enjoying a plateful of mashed bananas isn't quite the same thing.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Movies You Might Not Know

It's been awhile since I've added anything to the Movies You Might Not Know list, so here are three more:

  • In My Bodyguard, Chris Makepeace is having trouble with school bully Matt Dillon, so he gets big loner Adam Baldwin to stand up for him. That sounds dumb, but the movie's actually wonderful, plus it includes Martin Mull, Ruth Gordon, and John Houseman
  • Mystic Pizza is one of those small movies where everyone noticed some rising stars in the cast, particularly Julie Roberts, plus Annabeth Gish and Vincent D'Onofrio
  • Bob Roberts is a cynical, folk-singing, manipulative politician at the heart of a wicked satire on the American electoral process, written and directed by its star, Tim Robbins

Ian Gurvitz, TV Sitcom Writer

Ian Gurvitz, who has written for such sitcoms as "Wings," "Becker," "Frasier," and "The Wonder Years," was on my show today to talk about life as a sitcom writer and his book, "Hello, Lied The Agent." We discussed Hollywood-speak (where anything less than "I love it" means "I hate it"), the importance of casting, dealing with network execs, how reality shows are keeping sitcoms off the air, and more. Listen to the conversation here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ken Jennings, Brainiac Jeopardy Champ


Here's my conversation with Ken Jennings, who won over $2.5 million in a record-setting 75 appearances on "Jeopardy." He told inside stories about doing the show, including the day he caused a panic on the set by using Alex Trebek's mirror, the categories he didn't want to see on the board, and how he kept from slipping up and telling anyone he'd won all that money before the shows aired. We also discussed whether being a "geek" is a bad thing, how pop culture helped him learn lots of non-entertainment trivia, the impact Google has had on writing and answering trivia questions. Then I made Ken take The Harris Challenge.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Ken Jennings, Brainiac "Jeopardy" Champ


Here's my conversation with Ken Jennings, who won over $2.5 million in a record-setting 75 appearances on "Jeopardy." He told inside stories about doing the show, including the day he caused a panic on the set by using Alex Trebek's mirror, the categories he didn't want to see on the board, and how he kept from slipping up and telling anyone he'd won all that money before the shows aired. We also discussed whether being a "geek" is a bad thing, how pop culture helped him learn lots of non-entertainment trivia, the impact Google has had on writing and answering trivia questions. Then I made Ken take The Harris Challenge.

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

Clint Van Zandt, FBI Hostage Negotiator

Today I spoke to Clint Van Zandt, the FBI hostage negotiator who has worked on some of the most notorious cases of the last two decades. He told stories about:

  • dealing with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians at Waco
  • how he knew immediately that the Oklahoma City Bombing suspect was domestic, not from the Middle East
  • why they re-painted his office when they used it to shoot a scene for "Silence Of The Lambs"
  • how we should be doing profiling at airport security based on behavior, not nationality or appearance
Listen to the conversation here.

Van Zandt's book is "Facing Down Evil: Life On The Edge As An FBI Hostage Negotiator."

Too Much Homework

My daughter comes home after a long school day and consistently has 2-3 hours of homework to do. She's a very good student with very good grades, but the stress is getting to her -- and she's only in 7th grade.

I know, I know. Generations of kids have complained that they have too much homework. But something has changed in the last few years, and it's not for the better. Now, there's research to back up those who believe that kids are being overloaded with homework.

Duke University professor Harris Cooper has reviewed several studies on homework done in the last decade and concluded that too much homework (over 90 minutes per day for middle schoolers, over two hours for high schoolers) has no academic benefit and may produce negative results.

A survey by the University of Michigan found that the amount of time spent on homework has increased 51% since 1981.

Alfie Kohn says in his book, "The Homework Myth," that for elementary school students, there is no evidence of any academic benefit in homework: "People fall back on the self-discipline argument and how it helps students learn study skills, but that is an urban myth" (that applies in the suburbs, as well).

We have to get teachers to stop piling on, especially the homework that is nothing more than busy work. If we want our children to have well-rounded lives, including sports, music lessons, and general free time to play and let their imaginations roam, we have to stop bogging them down in these crushing days that consist of little more than school, homework, and meals.

To those who claim our kids have to work harder to stay ahead in a global economy, consider this. The countries whose children do better on student achievement tests tend to give their students less homework that we do, not more.

This is not about blaming teachers, or saying they're not doing their jobs, or denouncing the American educational system. There's no need for any of that. But even the teachers I've spoken with agree that homework has gotten out of control (and remember, they're the ones who have to review and grade all this stuff!).

Is this a result of all the extra testing demanded by No Child Left Behind? I don't know. But I do know that my daughter is living in a world of No Textbook Left At School -- the kid's lugging virtually all of them home every day to do her homework.

Smoking Tax

There will be a referendum on the ballot in November to raise the cigarette tax in Missouri 80¢/pack, with the money going towards anti-tobacco programs and replacing the health care money that was cut out of the state budget last year.

As a non-smoker, you'd think I'd be behind this, since it would be for a good cause and wouldn't cost me a cent. Wrong.

This is nothing more than another Sin Tax -- the government punishing people for legal behavior it disapproves of -- and it's wrong. But would it work? Yesterday on my show, I asked listeners who smoked if the price increase would make them stop, and the vast majority said no. Even ex-smokers agreed that the reason most people stop is medical, not financial.

While there is certainly a need to repair the Medicare cuts in Missouri, that should not be on the back (or the lungs) of smokers alone. If it's a good idea that we subsidize health care, then we should all chip in our fair share. Yes, smoking does cause some of those problems, but Medicare patients come from many different causes, and it's not reasonable to levy an extra tax on just one group. Next thing you know, someone will argue that since obesity is a "medical crisis," we must tax ice cream and cheeseburgers and put that money into healthy-eating classes.

Part of the push by those behind this referendum is to teach kids not to smoke. That's an admirable goal, but it's already being accomplished without more government intervention. According to the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the number of Missourians under 21 who smoke has been cut in half in the last decade, and the number of high school students who smoke is well below the national average. All that without increasing the cigarette tax.

Bottom line: if a program is worthy of statewide support, we should all contribute to its success. We should not dump our social expenses on smokers -- many of whom are low-income already, making this a regressive tax -- just because we disapprove of their habit.

Canine Americans

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society, said in a speech this week that animals should be treated no differently than humans, and that dogs should be referred to as "Canine Americans." That prompted listener Joy Elliot to ask, "If dogs are canine americans, are stray dogs undocumented canine americans?"

India Intersection

No traffic light, no stop sign, no one directing traffic. Yet somehow, all these cars, trucks, and scooters survive a typical day at this intersection in India (probably on their way to answering your customer service call). Apparently, all you need is an accelerator and a horn. Keep an eye out for the guy who crosses the street on foot and doesn't even look at the vehicles.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Plus Five

My brother, Seth, works 6 blocks from where the World Trade Center was.

On 9/11/01, we didn't know where he was, whether he was okay, or what had happened to him. Because the phone lines were all down, we couldn't get in touch with him, and it wasn't until that evening that he called to say that he was okay, and to tell me what he'd experienced that day. The story was so personal and amazing that I asked him to come on my show the next day and repeat it for my listeners -- including what it was like when the Twin Towers went down and a 20-story-high grayish-black ball of smoke and debris rolled up Church Street towards his office window at New York Law School. I'm sharing that audio for the first time. Listen to the conversation here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Danny Sheridan, USA Today Oddsmaker

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Danny Sheridan, one of the top sports handicappers in the country and the oddsmaker who sets the sports lines for USA Today. In discussing the NFL season that starts tonight, he gave an over/under for the number of games the Rams will win, and had some very harsh words about owner Georgia Frontiere. I asked him whether the Steelers can repeat as Super Bowl champions (or who will win it all) and who's the best college team this season. We also had an extended discussion on online betting and why efforts to crack down on it are wrong, when it should be legalized and brought into the US from offshore.

Listen to the conversation here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Terrorists Want

This afternoon on my show, I talked to Louise Richardson about her book, "What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Steve Irwin

Regarding the death of Steve Irwin, I heard several people this morning saying "it's unbelievable that he would die this way." No, it's not. This is a guy who was going to die this way, or something like it. The only surprise is that he bought it while swimming with stingrays, not crocodiles.

It's not like the news came in that he had been crushed to death during a Monster Truck rally, or licked to death by a cute kitten. Irwin lived on the edge, for our entertainment. We watched because what he did was so risky. I have no problem with that, but let's not act shocked when someone doing dangerous things gets hurt.

I was surprised at how many people called my show this afternoon to admit that they would like to see the video of him dying (a poll on KMOV.com tied to my appearance there got a similar response). I see no need for that. If it were an episode of "CSI," maybe -- although they'd make it even more gruesome than it must have been, including CGI views of the stingray's barb actually entering Irwin's chest and puncturing his heart.

Many of the callers pointed out that Irwin had always ordered his crews to keep the videotape rolling if something went wrong, and that seems to be what happened in this instance. So, they reasoned, he must have wanted the public to see whatever footage was shot.

My philosophy is different. As I told my colleagues today, if I have a heart attack in the middle of my show, they are to turn off the microphones and get me some medical assistance immediately!

Hugh Laurie, Long Before "House"

With season three of "House" starting tonight, here's a flashback to Hugh Laurie in 1991, when he was unknown to US audiences, but hugely popular in the UK as half of the comedy team Fry & Laurie (DVDs of their British TV series are available here). They were asked by James Randi to appear on a Granada TV series and do a sketch in which Laurie plays a Uri Geller-like psychic spoon bender...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Juan Williams

This afternoon on my show, I talked to Juan Williams about his book, "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It." Listen to the conversation here.