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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Scott Ritter on War With Iran

Scott Ritter returned to my show today to discuss how to stop the Iran war before it starts. He says we're closer to war now than we were a few months ago when we talked, even though there's no evidence that Iran is any closer to being capable of making nuclear weapons.

I asked Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector, why he's calling for Congress to "hold real hearings on Iran," whether outrageous remarks by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be taken seriously, and whether the pro-Israel lobby in the US is pushing the anti-Iran venom.

Many of Ritter's critics don't take the time to pay attention to what he's saying, despite his track record of being right on everything about Iraq. To them, and you, I suggest giving him a good listen -- then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

You Think You're Cold?

Take a look at these photos from an ice storm in Switzerland [thanks to Bruce Dalrymple for the link].

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fighting Terrorist Phantoms

Nice job by Keith Olbermann (with help from Dennis Swanson) debunking President Bush's claims in his State Of The Union address that the administation has stopped four major terrorist plots, all evidence to the contrary.

Paternity Fraud

Today on my show, we had a discussion about paternity fraud, and how long men should be held financially responsible after finding out that the woman has lied to them about a child being theirs.

Scott Trout (managing partner of Cordell and Cordell, who has helped many clients in this situation) and Carnell Smith (of US Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, who advocates on this issue) offered their expert opinions on the matter, and we heard from several people, men and women, who have first-hand experience with this problem. Bottom line is that legislatures need to change the laws so the inbred bias against men is removed, there's no statute of limitations, and that women who commit this fraud be held criminally responsible.

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

Live, From Thin Ice!

You know it's a bad day when....something your TV station does becomes the lead story on the competing TV newscasts. For instance, that story you were working on about the dangers of driving on thin ice. [thanks to Steve Money for the story]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Horse Sense

Am I the only one who couldn't care less about the death of Barbaro?

He was a horse, fer chrissake. Sure, he ran fast and won the Kentucky Derby, but his death doesn't deserve the lead story treatment it's been getting all day in newscasts both local and national. The only media outlet that had the right perspective was Fark.com, whose headline read, "Barbaro's status is finally downgraded to glue."

And who are these people who are sending cards and condolences to Barbaro? His ability to read those cards is severly hampered not only by being dead, but also because of that whole being a horse thing. These must be the same pinheads who sent flowers to Princess Diana's grave. I'll bet that, somewhere in America, there's an elementary school teacher who has given her class the assignment of making "we miss you" cards for this horse. Argh! Where are the cards for our dead soldiers, or the eight-year-old boy who died in a freak accident in his school cafeteria in Shiloh today, and on and on?

What's really sad is that Barbaro was treated with more dignity than many humans. The reason his owners gave for having him put down was that they realized he'd live the rest of his life in extreme pain, and they didn't want him to suffer through that. If it's okay to give a racehorse some relief, why not afford humans the same respect? It's unfair that Jack Kevorkian is sitting in a jail cell while Barbaro's vet is considered one of the good guys. Where are the classrooms full of kids learning that Dr. Death was a hero?

Helping people who don't want to deal with a lifetime of unbearable pain (like some bone cancer sufferers, for instance) should be considered a noble thing, not a crime. I'm sure the dead horse won't mind my invoking his name to point out that it's more than ludicrous that we can be cruel to sick people, but not to sick animals -- in fact, it's barbaric.

Adam Savage, "Mythbusters"

"Mythbusters" might just be the coolest show on TV -- it's certainly must-see in my house -- so I was glad to have co-host Adam Savage back on my show this afternoon after spending some time with him last weekend at The Amazing Meeting.

We talked about the recent episode where he and Jamie tested how to get out of a car that's sinking in the water, where it seemed that he was really freaking out on camera, and how close they are allowed to get to any real danger. He also reminisced about his pre-Mythbuster days appearing in a Billy Joel music video ("You're Only Human") and working on the special effects team at Industrial Light and Magic on such movies as "Galaxy Quest," "Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2," and more.

Adam revealed some insider stuff, like how they often work on multiple myths at the same time, how Kari, Grant and Tori became part of the team, and how he and the other Mythbusters use the internet for research, ideas, and lots of fan feedback.

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

iPhone -- It's Everything

From "Late Night w/Conan O'Brien," a parody commercial for the iPhone -- it's everything!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Don't Play, Don't Tell

If you're the person who holds the winning $254 million Powerball ticket, I'm begging you, please keep quiet about it. Every media outlet wants to discover your name, tell your story, and on and on -- and that's exactly what you shouldn't do.

Once you go public as the winner of the 7th-largest lottery prize ever, you're going to discover that you have more friends than you ever thought possible. You'll have tons of people claiming to be your second cousin by marriage twice removed, who just happen to need some cash for a great new business idea they want to start. You'll have every charity in the world calling you night and day.

Resist. Keep quiet. Find someone who knows how to handle large piles of money (if you take the lump sum payment, it's something like $80 million after taxes) and get a lot of professional advice on what to do with it so your future is secure. Too often, we hear about people who have suddenly become multi-millionaires and, three years later, after buying a couple of houses and a lot of cars, going on a lot of vacations, and giving away a lot of money, they're broke.

The people who run lotteries know this, yet they still insist on making a big deal of their winners. It's easy to understand why -- every time they show a big winner, they get more people to believe "that could be me," and sell even more lottery tickets. The odds of winning don't matter, because the public has seen someone win who looks like them, and they picture themselves as that person. It's the classic All-American get-rich-quick scheme, only this one has the endorsement of your state government. It's been said that, in that way, lotteries are a tax on people who can't do math.

Then again, there are stories like the one my father told me years ago. He was a high school social studies teacher. Often, he would have lunch with a close friend from the school's math department. One day, while they were eating, the math teacher mentioned something about having to remember to stop and get a lottery ticket on the way home. My father was aghast at this. He asked how a math teacher, a man who understands statistics and probability, could fall for the lottery. Didn't he know the tiny odds of winning, the literal one in millions shot, that he had a better chance of being hit by lightning? He went on and on in exasperation.

Finally, the math teacher looked him in the eye and answered, "It's a dollar!"

Snip This

The Kentucky Humane Society is catching some flak for these billboards from the usual suspects who probably need to be snipped themselves...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dynasty Idol

I don't get the Carol Bayer Sager newsletter anymore, so I missed when exactly she turned into Joan Collins. But there she was on "American Idol" last night, in all her Liz-Taylor-fright-wig glory.

There was no good reason to have her on "Idol" as a guest judge, since she brought just slightly more to the show than Jewel did last week, which was less than nothing. The show doesn't need guest judges at all. Just keep giving viewers the three ingredients we watch for: good singers, horrible singers, and cutting remarks from Simon (with a dash of "dawg" from Randy and a splash of whatever Paula's drinking). That's the formula, and no fourth chair is necessary.

Bengals Barista

After the ninth member of the Cincinnati Bengals was arrested for drug possession or DUI in the last 13 months, a local coffee shop owner put this sign in front of his business, which many of them have to drive by everyday...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tantrums On A Plane

Hot topic on my show today is the family that was thrown off an AirTran flight because they couldn't get their 3-year-old daughter under control and into her seat. The flight was already late, the kid was crying on the floor, and the flight attendants made the decision to remove the family and get the flight in the air.

The family could have flown home on another, connecting flight, later that day, but insisted on a non-stop flight that didn't leave until the next day. So they had to get a hotel room, and the father missed a 16-hour shift at work.

Almost all of my callers are siding with the airline, some on the safety issue, but mostly on the annoyance angle -- not just with these parents, but with the epidemic of poor parenting and lack of discipline we're all exposed to every day. That's why it's nice that the airline took everyone else's needs into account. And one caller made a great point -- if the father had to be at work that much, he could have stayed on board and gone home while his wife and daughter stayed in Florida until the next day.

Update 9:31pm: According to AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson, who says the public response has been overwhelmingly supportive, the problem with the kid went on for about 20 minutes.

Terror-Free Oil

A gas station in Nebraska is calling itself Terror-Free Oil. The owner says he'll only sell gasoline made from oil that originates in countries friendly to the United States. That means no oil from the Middle East, none from Venezuela, etc. Which oil companies does that leave?

Forget about the big boys. No Chevron, Texaco, Exxon, Mobil, Shell, BP, Amoco, Phillips, Conoco, Sunoco, Gulf, Getty, or Citgo.

According to the Terror-Free Oil Initiative, you're down to three in the US: Sinclair, Flying J, and Hess (only two of which are available in the greater St. Louis area).

I asked listeners if they would drive out of their way -- say, 15 minutes or so -- to purposely get their gas at one of those outlets, knowing that the oil had not come from the Middle East. To my surprise, the vast majority said they would. In fact, quite a few said they already do and named Sinclair as one of the firms they support for that reason.

That seems to be at odds with what we've seen heretofore, an unwillingness to change anything about our energy consumption habits for any reason other than cost. When gas got over three bucks a gallon last year, SUV sales went down and people starting thinking more about better mileage. Now that gas is under two dollars a gallon, the trend line is exactly the opposite. It will probably bounce back the other way after Memorial Day, when gas prices traditionally spike for the summer driving season, but the point is that Americans have been notoriously fickle about committing to conservation.

Last night, President Bush's State Of The Union address included a paragraph or so about reducing US oil consumption by 20% over the next decade. Would it have helped if he had couched it anti-terrorist reasons?

Super Bull

A consulting firm issued a press release yesterday claiming that American businesses will lose $800 million in productivity over the next couple of weeks because their employees spend so much time in Super Bowl-related discussions. Here's part of their claim:

Assuming employees, for example, spend 10 minutes a day talking about the game, making bets, surfing the Internet or shopping for a new television, their bosses will lose some $162 million per day. In a five-day workweek, that adds up to $810 million, based on average earnings and expected viewership.
The firm's conclusions were reported by many media outlets across the country, virtually without comment or perspective.

But they are wrong.

That estimate is based on the faulty assumption that employees aren't already spending 10 minutes a day talking about all sorts of things. If it's not the Super Bowl, it's something else. The truth is that the American workplace is, and always has been, a place of social interaction, and yet our national productivity seems to be doing just fine. As long as we get the job done, why should it matter what we're talking to each other about, or e-mailing, or whatever?

Jamy Ian Swiss & Phil Plait

Here are two friends I stay in touch with mostly via e-mail, but we always get together once a year at The Amazing Meeting. One is astronomer Phil Plait, the other is magician Jamy Ian Swiss. On Saturday night, Jamy astounded a large audience with his new show, Heavy Mental (not an easy task with a crowd full of skeptics and other magicians) -- but he is also one of the top sleight-of-hand artists in the world. Phil grabbed his video camera and asked Jamy to show off for a minute or so, and here you go...

After enjoying that, check out a sample from his Heavy Mental show on Jamy's website.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

James Randi, Still Amazing

James Randi was back on my show today to update my audience on some of the things we talked about this weekend at The Amazing Meeting, including revising his Million Dollar Psychic Challenge to make it easier to administer and weed out the claimants who can't even explain what their paranormal ability is supposed to be.

We also discussed holding Sylvia Browne and James Van Praagh accountable for their incredibly wrong predictions about Shawn Hornbeck and others -- not to mention Montel Williams, who should be ashamed of giving them a platform on his show -- and finding legal ways to go after them, on both a criminal and civil basis (perhaps as class action suits) for victimizing people at their most emotionally vulnerable.

Finally, The Amazing Randi revealed the newest failure by spoonbender Uri Geller, as documented by Israeli media and officially denounced by its government.

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

Why Lie? Need Beer

A panhandler in Hudson, Florida, decides honesty is the best policy when asking people for help. He says he has food, shelter, and a cell phone, but needs beer.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Vegas Party Girls

There are several late-night clubs on the Las Vegas Strip where the demographic is purely 25-34, and the men in attendance are there for one simple reason -- there are a lot of women who aren't wearing a lot of clothes. I'm not talking about the strip joints, but places like Pure (Caesar's Palace), Light (Bellaggio), Ghost Bar (The Palms), and Tryst (The Wynn), which are all open from around 11pm to 4am.

If you're at any of those casinos during those hours, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, you'll see plenty of that crowd spilling out everywhere -- and I do mean spilling out. Most of these women looked like they wished they could afford a room at The Wynn, but would settle for spending the night with any guy who could.

They were dressed as if they were in a Paris Hilton party-all-the-time contest, wearing little more than a sneeze. There was a lot of skin showing, with cleavage down to here, skirts up to there, bare shoulders, bare backs. That turned out to not be the best decision when they had to wait outside for a taxi at 3am in 25-degree cold. Like their idols (Paris, Britney, and their pals), at least a few of them were going commando, as at least one eyewitness (me) can verify. Suffice it to say that you'll see more clothing on the women in those flyers the illegal immigrants are handing out on the sidewalk than you will on many of these party girls.

As a father of a daughter, I found myself appalled. As a heterosexual man, I found myself taking a break from the poker room several times to walk around and take a good look at the clientele.

Vegas Poker Stories

Imagine sitting around at a sports bar and noticing that Bart Starr just walked in. Many people might not recognize him, but if you knew anything about football history, you'd be impressed.

That's what it was like Thursday night in the poker room at The Wynn when I looked up and saw Amarillo Slim checking out the action in the room.

Slim is one of those legends who I remember seeing on the Carson show, telling stories about poker and gambling on all sorts of things. His name isn't as well known as the poker stars of today, because he's not in the big televised tournaments, but he's in the Doyle Brunson wing of the Poker Hall of Fame. Three decades ago, long before you could find a legitimate card room in virtually every state, Doyle and Slim used to travel around the country playing poker anywhere they could find a game. And he was good at it, too, winning four WSOP bracelets, beginning in 1972.

Unfortunately, he didn't sit down in the game I was in, and he didn't look too interested in conversation, so I didn't get a chance to speak to him, but I would have loved to have sat there and heard him tell stories like the ones in his book, "Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People." I'll just have to settle for the movie version that someone in Hollywood is said to be working on, possibly starring Nicolas Cage.

The next night, however, I did sit in a game with Mori Eskandani, giving me the opporunity to chat with the man behind such TV shows as "High Stakes Poker" on GSN and "Poker After Dark" on NBC.

I like both of those shows, particularly "HSP." Mori said to be sure to watch this week's episode, in which Gabe Kaplan comes out of the booth, leaving behind his role as analyst to sit down in the game and play with the big boys. I watched it tonight and he's right, it was worth it (if you missed it, GSN replays it several times during the week)

I asked Mori how many hands are played compared to the ones we see on the shows. Mori said it was about 25% for "HSP" and more for "PAD." The key to the success of both shows is to get the players talking, particularly on "PAD," where there's no real host doing a running commentary. To do that, he books players who know each other well and/or have ongoing rivalries, but even then still has to goose them a little during the production to remind them that they're now just playing poker, but making a TV show, too.

As we were playing, Mori got a text message reporting that two of the founders of Neteller (an online payment processor that many players used to transfer money to and from online poker sites) had been arrested. The company then suddenly stopped doing business in the US, leaving many American poker players with no way to get money to and from their accounts. Neteller posted a notice on its website: "Due to recent US legislative changes and events, effective immediately, US members are no longer able to transfer funds to or from any online gambling sites." Another e-wallet service, Citadel Commerce, then announced that it was halting US operations, too.

If you play on these sites and wonder how you're going to move your money, here are some recommendations from Card Player.

The discussion with Mori immediately turned to how this would affect the poker boom, and TV poker in particular. He speculated that it might kill off some of the shows that are branded with poker sites ("MansionPoker Poker Dome Challenge," for one, may die a quick death), but that his biggest shows will continue as long as they get ratings and bring in advertisers. The open question is how long some of these online poker sites will continue to be among those advertisers.

As for whether internet poker is on its last legs in the US, the bottom line is that some other offshore company will probably sprout that will handle the e-commerce and give players a new way around the legal obstacles. But many people who play casually are soon going to find it too much of a hassle, and that will affect the long-term prospects. You will also see a direct effect on this year's World Series Of Poker, which was growing so fast that it might have passed the 10,000 entrants milestone this year. With so many online poker sites either closing down or becoming nearly inaccessible domestically, and with Harrah's reluctance to be associated with those sites and their entrants, that number will likely decline dramatically this summer.

State Of The Union Drinking Game

For tomorrow night's State of the Union address, here's a drinking game devised by comedian Will Durst...

What you need to play:

  • 4 taxpayers: 1 rich white guy wearing a Suit. Cuff links are nice. 2 people wearing jeans, 1 in a Blue work shirt, the other in a White shirt and 1 person wearing clothes rejected by the Salvation Army. Belt and shoelaces removed.
  • 1 shot glass per person. Everybody brings their own from home and places it on table. Suit gets first pick for use during game. White shirt picks next, then Blue shirt. Suit takes last shot glass as well, and Rags has to beg a glass from other players when necessary or drink out of own cupped hands.
  • 20 buck ante for everybody except Suit who throws in a quarter.
  • 1 pot of Texas chili and 1 bowl of guacamole in middle of coffee table with tortilla chips nearby. Rags has to prepare and serve the chili and guacamole.
  • A large stash of beer. Rags gets the cheapest stuff available. Suit gets whatever import he likes. Jeans get any domestic brand as long as its no more expensive than Bud, but must pay for all the beer, the bourbon, the chips and the ingredients for the chili and guacamole.
Rules of the Game:
  1. Whenever George W uses the phrases, "defending liberty," "enormous progress" or "challenges ahead," last person to knock wood, has to drink 2 shots of beer. If he actually says "there are those who envy our freedoms and seek to destroy us," everybody drinks a whole beer.
  2. The 1st time George W mentions the tragic events of 9/11, the last person to eat 1 dollop of chili off a tortilla chip must drink 3 shots of beer. The 2nd time George W mentions the tragic events of 9/11, the last person to eat 1 dollop of guacamole off a tortilla chip must drink 3 shots of beer. Continue to alternate. If you mischip, drink 2 extra shots of beer.
  3. If George W mispronounces Iraqi President Al-Maliki's name, drink 2 shots of beer. If he even attempts to pronounce the name of Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad, first person to stop laughing is exempt from drinking 3 shots of beer.
  4. If George W makes up a word like "9/11ers or "deterrencism," last person to yell out "Strategerie!" drinks 2 shots of beer.
  5. Every time Senators Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are shown in the audience, Suit drinks 1 shot of beer.
  6. The first time George W talks about immigration, last person to finish 3 chips of guacamole has to drink 3 shots of beer.
  7. If either the Vice President, Secretary of State or First Lady are caught napping, last person to make snoring noises drinks 2 shots of beer. If Senator Robert Byrd is shown awake, Blue and White drink 2 shots of beer.
  8. Everybody drinks 2 shots of beer if President Bush mentions Scooter Libby. 3 shots of beer if he mentions Jack Abramoff. 4 shots of beer if he mentions Osama bin Laden.
  9. Whenever George W quotes the Bible, last person to sing the first 8 bars of "Amazing Grace" has to drink 2 shots of beer.
  10. If George W smirks during a standing ovation, take turns throwing chips of chili and guacamole at TV. First person to hit Bush's head exempt from drinking 3 shots of beer.
  11. If George W tells a folksy Texas tale with a deeper meaning about not leaving before the job is done, Suit has to drink out of beer filled hands of Rags who gets to dry his hands on Suit's jacket.
  12. Predict the number of applause breaks. After the speech, drink number of shots of beer equal to the difference between your estimate and the real number.

  • Anybody who can identify person giving the Democratic Response doesn't have to watch it.
  • If George W uses a heartfelt story of one of our brave troops, Suit gets to kick everybody once. Twice if the brave troop is a woman. Rags gets to kick the suit if Bush reveals the subject of the anecdote is in the audience. Twice if the brave troop is sitting next to an astronaut.
  • Suit takes home the $60.25.
  • Leftover beer, chili and guacamole go home with Rags after he/ she is finished washing the dishes.

Real-Life CTU

Today on my show, I talked with Kevin Whitelaw of US News about the real-life version of the CTU you see on "24," called the National Counterterrorism Center.

He was granted access (on an unclassified basis) to the operations center where all US intelligence agencies share their information. You'll be disappointed to hear that no one there has the computer access that Chloe has, able to immediately call up the schematics for any building anywhere in the wold. The good news is that the various agencies are finally sharing information -- but even that is limited by their inability to access all the databases simultaneously.

Listen, then read more in Whitelaw's piece.

Make Your Own Grandchild

Here's the story we're talking about on my show this afternoon, of a woman who is making her own grandchild with sperm extracted from her dead son.

Keivin Cohen was killed by a sniper in Gaza in 2002. Shortly afterwards, his mother, Rachel, decided that since he'd always wanted to start a family, she would carry through his wish and give him a child -- even though he was dead. She found a group that helped her recruit a woman who would serve as a Womb Donor (which sounds like a bad Angelina Jolie movie) and carry the child. It took her several years to overcome the legal obstacles, but now an Israeli court has granted her permission to continue with her plans.

This is a crazy and incredibly selfish act on her part. Keivin did not have a wife, did not have a girlfriend, but now he's going to have a child posthumously. What do you think?

Randi & Robert vs. Sylvia

I'm just back from "The Amazing Meeting" in Las Vegas, a fantastic annual event that I've attended many times.

This year, much of the buzz in the room (aside from speakers like Adam Savage of "Mythbusters," Christopher Hitchens, Julia Sweeney, Phil Plait, Jamy Ian Swiss, Penn & Teller, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone of "South Park") was the failure of Sylvia Browne and James Van Praagh in the Shawn Hornbeck case, which I wrote about last week.

On Friday night, Anderson Cooper shone the CNN spotlight on this matter, and did an extended segment that featured Robert Lancaster, webmaster of StopSylvia.com, who dug up the info on just how wrong she was about the missing boy. In the segment immediately after, Cooper did a live interview with James Randi.

It's apparent that Cooper is a skeptic about liars like Sylvia, and it was nice to see a major media outlet -- other than my radio show -- take such big swings at her (transcript here). What really made this different was that the skeptical viewpoint was the central theme, rather than being relegated to a few seconds of nay-saying for balance at the end of the show, as in ABC's incredibly lame "John Of God" special/infomercial of two years ago.

Here are the two CNN segments back-to-back, running a little over nine minutes...

I'll have lots more stories from TAM5 to share in the next couple of days, including details on some changes that will be made in the Million Dollar Challenge very soon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Heywood Banks on American Idol

Last night, I'm watching the season premiere of "American Idol," and about ten minutes in, contestant Troy Benham (he called himself Urban Amish) sang a song called "You Can Be Mean To Me." The judges hated his performance and it was clear they'd never heard the song before -- but I had. I knew it was a Heywood Banks song, which is included on his new album, "Big Butter."

So I called Heywood today on my show to ask him how this all happened, whether they had to get his permission, and whether they'd have to send him a check. Listen, then order a copy of the CD for yourself.

Too Much Water

Here's that audio from KDND/Sacramento on the day that Jennifer Strange died after drinking too much water during the morning show's "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" promotion.

After hearing this, Sheriff John McGinness has reopened the case, directing his homicide detectives to look into whether criminal charges should be brought.

The radio station fired 10 employees yesterday, but I have questions about whether the whole contest had been approved by management and vetted by a lawyer. I ask because I've been doing radio my entire adult life and can't remember ever doing anything like this without having the legal end (and the company's butt) covered. And if that's the case -- if the morning show was told to go ahead and do the contest, even though it's apparent no one there knew the dangers of drinking so much water -- I wonder why the air staff was scapegoated.

As you listen to the audio, pay attention to the nonchalant way most of the on-air people act about any danger, and also notice how Jennifer herself seems oblivious. Does that mean that she assumed the risk, and they're off the hook? I doubt it, but either way, there's certain to be a lawsuit, and I'd bet that there will be a multi-million dollar settlement.

Jake Halpern: Fame Junkies

Today I talked with Jake Halpern about his book, "Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction." We discussed a woman he met who was obsessed with Rod Stewart to the point of having a giant shrine to him in her house, and where the line is between fanatical fan and dangerous stalker.

He also talked about celebrity assistants who have to perform all sorts of odd tasks for their employers, whether they're in it for the reflected glory or the money, and why it really is a dead-end job, even with the freebies and perks. And Halpern revealed the results of a poll he did of middle schoolers, who surprised him by how much they're interested in fame.

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

Baby Gremlin?

Say hello to the slender loris, one of several species protected under a new British conservation program.

With a look like that, it should come with 3 instructions: No water, no food after midnight, and no bright light.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wrong Again

Almost four years ago, Sylvia Browne told Shawn Hornbeck's parents that he was dead, that his body was in a wooded area about 20 miles away from his house, near a couple of large boulders, and that his bicycle was in a dump in another state. She also told them that the man who had taken Shawn was a dark-skinned Hispanic man with dreadlocks (where she's heard of anyone like that, I don't know) who drove an old model blue sedan.

WRONG on every count. Not even close. A complete miss all around.

Why is it important to point this out? Because Browne and others like her are never held accountable for their sham predictions. Montel Williams keeps having her back on and she's allowed to claim that she has helped police find missing kids when there is no evidence she has ever done so. What she does do is exploit horrible circumstances and play on the emotions of people at their most vulnerable times, as she did with the Akers.

James Van Praagh is just as bad. On his "Beyond" show, he said that Shawn was in a rural area along I-55 near three silos. Later, on another show taped in Missouri, he said Shawn was dead and his body was in a freight train car in some sort of rail facility, and that a man who worked there was involved in Shawn's disappearance.

WRONG on every count. Not even close. A complete miss all around.

The suspect, Michael Devlin, managed an Imo's pizza restaurant and drove a white Nissan pickup.

To make matters worse, the Akers and the police spent time chasing down these ridiculous leads and found nothing. That's a waste of time, money, energy, and resources. And yet, these charlatans are allowed to do this time and time again.

It's long past the point where Montel should stop booking Browne and police departments should stop spending even one second listening to con artists like Van Praagh. If others can be held accountable for pain and suffering caused by words, why can't they?

Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby were found because 15-year-old Mitchell Hults noticed a white Nissan pickup in the neighborhood and told police about it. Then another man, Geoff Hadler, spotted that pickup a few days later in an apartment complex parking lot and told the police.

There was nothing supernatural about any of this. Just simple human beings using their normal senses to help break a case that made national news.

I predict that, any day now, one of these "talk to the dead" liars will claim they knew it all along.

Miss USA Gone Wild

With yet another Miss USA pageant queen in the news -- Miss New Jersey, with the perfect name of Ashley Harder, has resigned after announcing she's pregnant -- my engineer Kevin wonders why Donald Trump doesn't just throw away all the pretense and change the pageant to "Miss USA Gone Wild!"

Take Ashley, add in defrocked Miss Nevada Katie Rees, get party girl Tara Conner, and toss in all their pageant queen friends for a pay-per-view TV show that would make lots of money (the only beauty that Trump really cares about, as long as his name is on it).

We're not talking role models here, we're talking visual candy. You'd certainly get the young male demo to watch, since it would feature the two things they're most interested in when it comes to women: being good looking and being willing to disrobe.

Dope On A Rope

A toy company has a new Saddam Hussein action figure, complete with a noose and a t-shirt that reads, "Dope On A Rope." It's a perfect complement to your doll collection, along with Kim Jong Il, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney, Howard Dean, and Tony Blair action figures.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why Parents Get Gray

I don't know where this came from, but enjoyed it enough to share it with you [thanks to Stuart Snyder for sending it]...

A father passing by his son's bedroom was astonished to see that his bed was nicely made and everything was picked up. Then he saw an envelope, propped up prominently on the pillow that was addressed to "Dad." With the worst premonition he opened the envelope with trembling hands and read the letter.

Dear Dad:

It is with great regret and sorrow that I'm writing you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with mom and you.

I have been finding real passion with Stacy and she is so nice. But I knew you would not approve of her because of all her piercings, tattoos, tight motorcycle clothes and the fact that she is much older than I am. But it's not only the passion. Dad, she's pregnant. Stacy said that we will be very happy. She owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of firewood for the whole winter.

We share a dream of having many more children. Stacy has opened my eyes to the fact that marijuana doesn't really hurt anyone. We'll be growing it for ourselves and trading it with the other people that live nearby for cocaine and ecstasy. In the meantime we will pray that science will find a cure for AIDS so Stacy can get better. She deserves it. Don't worry Dad. I'm 15 and I know how to take care of myself. Someday I'm sure that we will be back to visit so that you can get to know your grandchildren.

Your Son John

PS. Dad, none of the above is true. I'm over at Tommy's house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than the report card that's in my center desk drawer.

I love you. Call me when it's safe to come home.


Exactly 40 years before President Bush's "surge" speech, another President from Texas gave a speech and talked about war. It was LBJ's State Of The Union address on January 10, 1967, and Will Bunch found some eerie similarities between then and now...

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war--a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the Communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force. I believe, and I am supported by some authority, that if they are not checked now the world can expect to pay a greater price to check them later.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror – and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: I wish I could report to you that the conflict is almost over. This I cannot do. We face more cost, more loss, and more agony. For the end is not yet. I cannot promise you that it will come this year--or come next year. Our adversary still believes, I think, tonight, that he can go on fighting longer than we can, and longer than we and our allies will be prepared to stand up and resist.

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

He has more here.

Two David Mamets

If you're a fan of David Mamet, as I am, you'll enjoy this short film of two guys in a bar having a conversation. The pace, the interplay, the subject matter, everything about it could have been taken from a Mamet screenplay, except that neither of them curses.

After you watch it, go rent "House of Games" or "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Another Radio Loser-To-Be

Now Dennis Miller has been given his own syndicated radio show.

It's only natural, since he's been so successful hosting a radio show at the local level -- oh, wait, he hasn't done that. He has no experience in creating three hours of radio five days a week. Here's his broadcasting track record: several successful years doing a few minutes of Weekend Update on "SNL," then a late-night TV talk/comedy show, then a failed cable news talk show, and a lot of stand-up comedy. Only in the latter instance was he solely responsible for creating content on a long-form basis, which is what radio hosts have to do every day.

There's no denying Miller is a smart guy, but when will these people learn that you don't hand a national platform to someone who has never done the job? Have they learned nothing from David Lee Roth?

As I said in an earlier column, radio is not a starter kit.

Knuckleheads Of The Year nominee

From the Knuckleheads In The News® file...

David Ratcliffe has trouble going up and down stairs because of his disability. He has several collapsed discs in his back and needs crutches to walk. Since his office is on the second floor at work, he asked his supervisor, Alison Dickson, whether the company would install a stairlift to make it easier for him. He says that she laughed and told him that if they did that, everyone would want to ride on it and no work would be done.

My father-in-law had one of these in the last couple of years of his life, enabling him to get upstairs to his bedroom. The only people who ever wanted to go for a ride on it were young children. I never heard any other adult say, "That looks like fun, let me try it!" That's because the stairlifts move slowly, and there's no thrill in it at all.

A government employment board reviewed David's claims and has ordered the company to pay compensation for discriminating against him based on his disability.

But what makes this a nominee for Knuckleheads In The News Story Of The Year is the name of the company that David works for: Stannah Stairlift.

Yes, the company that refuses to put in the stairlift at its headquarters is the company that makes them.

Paris & Paparazzi

I really couldn't care less about Paris Hilton, but this video is interesting as a peek into the world of untalented bimbo celebrities and the tabloid media that live off of them.

A few nights ago, Hilton ran out of gas in Beverly Hills and, having no idea what to do to help herself, ending up getting assistance from the paparazzi who were following her. It's an odd case of guys who make their living off of a publicity whore and her weird working relationship with them. At no point does she get angry with them, since she knows she needs them as much as they need her. While one of the photographers goes out of his way to get her gas (because it will take too long for an assistant to bring gas from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills -- probably the same assistant who forgot to fill the gas tank), Hilton sits there in her Bentley Roadster doing her makeup, talking on the phone, and looking through her scrap book. Meanwhile, the gang of other paparazzi keep snapping photos of her.

Two things to watch for: One, when the guy comes back with the gas, Hilton doesn't even get out of the car to help, and has no idea where to put it in (make your own joke). Two, watch what she does when the guy gives her the change from the $20 she gave him for the gas -- it's disposable currency.

I've tried this with the paparazzi who are always following me around, but the only thing they gave me was the finger.

[thanks to Ross Brittain for the link]

No Ads For Bombs, Please

There are few things more stressful than the experience of going through an airport security checkpoint. So I was surprised to see that companies are willing to pay big money to put ads in those plastic bins where we put our shoes, coats, and keys while we're being screened. Why would any company want to be associated with such a negative experience? Maybe these are the same companies that advertise on those little rubber screens in the bottom of the urinal.

Next: "This body-cavity search is brought to you by Preparation H!"

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Teen vs. Tigger

A family went to Disneyworld and wanted a picture of the kids with Tigger. But something went wrong, and Tigger slugged their 14-year-old son. The family says it was unprovoked, but the guy in the Tigger costume says the teen was pulling on the back of the outfit and he couldn't breathe. Judge for yourself (but keep in mind that slow motion makes everything look a lot worse.)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Medical Ethical Dilemma

Lots of debate today about Ashley, the 9-year-old severely mentally and physically disabled girl whose parents have stunted her growth to keep her a more manageable and portable size. After discussions with medical ethicists at Children's Hospital in Seattle, the parents decided to have Ashley have a hysterectomy and large doses of hormones to stop her growth and prevent her from going through puberty.

Today I talked to bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who vehemently disagrees with what the parents did and thinks it is slippery slope thinking. I'm of the other opinion, supporting their decision, which they made out of love of their daughter (and even if they did it a little bit to make their lives easier, considering the huge burden they have, can you really blame them?).

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

Moon-Less Millionaire

A contestant on the French version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" is given this simple question: "Which of these orbits around the Earth: the Moon, the Sun, Mars or Venus?" The guy is stumped, apparently not aware of the simplest facts in our universe -- but it gets even worse when he asks the audience for help. This is all in French, but you've seen the show so often, you can follow what's happening [thanks to James Randi for the link]:

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Following up on my column earlier this week about whether cigarette smoking would be considered a disqualifier when voters consider a presidential candidate, I got to thinking about what else the American public would hold against a politician in a national election.

Let's leave out illegal activity, or a criminal record, and let's consider this only in the present tense, not looking forward to how the next generation might vote. Let's also eliminate race and gender, which are still open questions, but may become central in 2008.

Would America elect as President someone who admitted:

  • Being an atheist? No chance.
  • Being a devout Muslim? No chance.
  • Being Jewish? Perhaps, but not orthodox.
  • Being Catholic or another Christian denomination? Absolutely.
  • Making proclamations beginning "God personally told me..."? No chance.
  • Being gay? No chance.
  • Having one or two lesbian experiences in college, but heterosexual since then? Probably.
  • Having one or two gay experiences in college, but heterosexual since then? No chance.
  • Having an abortion? Probably not, unless they publicly repented, but not if that turned her virulently anti-abortion a la Norma McCorvey, either.
  • Being a draft dodger during the Vietnam War? Possibly, if he hadn't led protests against returning Vietnam veterans (anti-war is okay, anti-troops is not).
  • Being single and sleeping around? Probably not.
  • Having an affair? Probably, unless it got messy because the spouse made a big deal of it.
  • Choosing to not have childen (rather than being physically incapable of procreating)? Sure.
  • Having used steroids? Probably.
  • Being an alcoholic? Yes, but only if it was long ago and you haven't fallen off the wagon.
  • Regularly performing in an adult entertainment venue, video, or website? No chance, regardless of when it was (keep that in mind, Miss Webcam America!).

NFL Instant Replay

I'm sitting here watching the Colts-Chiefs playoff game, not really rooting for either team, just happy to be enjoying some post-season NFL football. Kansas City cornerback Ty Law has just intercepted Peyton Manning for the second time, but the Colts don't think he really caught it, so Tony Dungy has thrown the red flag and challenged the call.

NBC showed several replay angles, and the call could easily have gone either way. After referee Jeff Triplette went under the hood (and we had to endure yet another NBC commercial break with a promo for that "Grease" reality show), he returned to the field and announced simply, "After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field stands."

That's it. No explanation, no description of what he saw that led to his decision.

Maybe there was no incontrovertible evidence that Law had bobbled the ball, or that it hit the ground. Whatever it was, tell us! When the ref has taken the time to review the play, the NFL owes both the teams and the viewers more than the absolute minimum of information on why the referee has ruled one way or the other -- particularly in the post-season, when the games mean so much more.

Voice Of The Blues

Congratulations to my former colleague Tom Calhoun, who is about to mark his 20th anniversary as the public address man for the St. Louis Blues.

In that time, he has announced something like 900 games and missed exactly zero nights behind the microphone. The players and coaches have come and gone, the venue name has changed, and he's worked for five different owners, but Tom has been the most consistent thing about the hockey franchise for two decades.

On his blog, he says the Blues may do something to mark the occasion on January 13th. He deserves it. Happy Anniversary, Tom!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Warning Labels

Today I talked to Bob Dorigo Jones, who has collected some of the wackiest warning labels ever placed on products for his book, "Remove Child Before Folding." The discussion included why we have so many frivolous lawsuits, whether judges are failing in their role as judicial gatekeepers by not throwing more of these cases out of court, and why McDonald's was sued over a spilled shake.

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

Smoking Politicians

Would you vote for a candidate who admitted past drug use? That was the question this week after Lois Romano pointed out that, in his autobiography (published 11 years ago), Barack Obama talked about his use of cocaine and marijuana as a young man.

When I asked my callers whether -- politics aside -- that would be a disqualifier for their vote, only two callers said it would, while everyone else said it wouldn't matter at all. That vast majority also praised Obama for his honesty, pointing out that both our current president and his predecessor dodged and weaseled their way around questions about their youthful consumption of narcotics (Clinton famously claimed he hadn't inhaled, while Bush pulled a McGwire and refused to talk about the past).

Of course, that only applies to previous drug use. No one who is still openly using illegal drugs could get elected to anything in this country, with the possible exception of President of the Willie Nelson Fan Club.

But what about legal drugs like, say, nicotine? Could a cigarette smoker be elected president, governor, senator, or congressman?

In America, we're told as children that anyone can grow up to be President Of The United States. As adults, we know that's not true. To this point, you could only get the job if you were a white man. While that may change in this century, there will remain certain absolute disqualifiers in the American public's mind (for instance, no atheist has even a remote shot at the job). Is being an "out" smoker one of those political poison pills?

You never see politicians smoking anywhere cameras are present, and it's not just a matter of spending so much time in public buildings where smoking is banned. There must be many of them who still smoke (Obama is rumored to be a pack-a-day smoker, and Laura Bush is said to have snuck out to have a butt on occasion), but they only do it out of the public's view, just like Jed Bartlett on "The West Wing" stepping out of the Oval Office to light up.

That wasn't the case a couple of decades ago -- the cover photo of the current Newsweek shows the late Gerald Ford smoking a pipe -- but the smoking climate is markedly different now.

It's as if politicians have seen some focus group research showing that smoking has become so unpopular, that the simple visual of a politician holding a cigarette would be enough to dissuade Americans from voting for them.

Several of my callers did express distrust of smokers, questioning their judgement on other matters if they couldn't see how bad tobacco is for themselves. One listener said that, all things being equal, the fact that a candidate smokes might be the tipping point against them (in the next breath, he pointed out that all things are never equal). There's also the question of how a smoker would vote on legislation relating to health matters, or to banning smoking in public places. But the majority of people I've heard from -- smokers and non-smokers alike -- say that, as long as tobacco is legal, its use would not be a factor in who gets their vote.

Still, I doubt you'll see any of the 2008 candidates lighting up in public. It's as anathema to them as screaming like Howard Dean.

Baby Panda Sneeze

Aw, baby panda has a cold -- wait for it! [thanks to Jon Michelson for the link]

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gerald Ford Headline Parody

A humor website did this parody of the famous Daily News headline "Ford To City: Drop Dead," and promptly got a cease-and-desist letter from the newspaper's attorneys. Naturally, the website posted that letter, too, gently urging the lawyers to read up on the concepts of fair use and parody.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Where's Obama, er, Osama?

During a discussion on Wolf Blitzer's "Late Edition" Monday afternoon about where Osama Bin Laden might be hiding, CNN put up a graphic with a big typo:

Raw Story says Blitzer apologized the next morning, and said he'd call Senator Barack Obama to make a personal apology.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

DVD Recorder

I need your help.

I have several hours of material recorded on DVRs and VCRs that I want to archive to DVD. I have tried using video capture and editing software on my computer, but the PC isn't fast enough and ends up dropping so many frames that the motion looks out of sync.

I have also tried a couple of models of consumer standalone DVD-recorders, one by Samsung and one by Panasonic. They do the recording and transfer with excellent quality, but they lack a feature I need -- creating chapters manually. In each case, when recording one segment, then stopping, and recording another, the DVD-recorder treats each one as a new title, not chapter. This makes everything on them except the first piece of video unreadable in other DVD players or my PC. Each unit does have an automatic chapter creating option, but all that does is take the recording and chop it down into five-minute units, with no way to adjust it or create new chapters at other breaks. I'd like to have this option so I can then create and edit the DVD menu, so that when I go back to look at them later, I can access what I need quickly and easily.

If you have any advice or recommendations along these lines, I'd appreciate your feedback via the Comments below, or you can reply privately via the link on the right side of this page. Thanks!

Weird Vehicles

A collection of odd vehicles, modified beyond all reason.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Leftover From The Old Year

Cleaning off my desk on New Year's Day, I find a few random thoughts I never got to in 2006...

Does wiping an apple on my shirt do anything? I don't know how old I was when I picked up that habit, but I find myself doing it unconsciously every time I have one. It can't be for cleanliness reasons, anymore than running it under the faucet for four seconds and wiping it off with a paper towel guarantees the fruit is now bacteria-free. Then again, in all these years, no apple has ever made me sick. Maybe Taco Bell and Olive Garden should have their kitchen help wipe their vegetables on their shirts to guarantee they're e-coli-free.

Among life's little online frustrations is printing out several news articles from websites, only to discover after you've closed the windows and gone on to other things that some of the articles didn't print out at all. Instead, you ended up with the ad from the top of that website, with none of the text you wanted. Now you have to go hunt up the link for the article again. That's almost as annoying as spending an hour printing out a couple of dozen items, only to find that your printer was so low on toner that every page has a big blank streak down the middle. And you don't have any new toner cartridges. And you have to leave for work in five minutes. Argh!

The US mint is at it again, trying to push dollar coins on an American public that has rejected them twice before. This time, they're going to do it with coins honoring the Presidents and First Ladies, releasing four a year, in the order they served. They hope they'll find success where it eluded them with Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, by getting kids and collectors to grab them up and hold onto them, as they've done with the quarters for all 50 states (a program that still isn't complete). However, the mint has failed to realize that the quarters program works because it was a coin already in circulation, and even those of us who don't collect coins still had to use them as regular currency. Vending machines and parking meters didn't have to be changed; it took no adjustment to our coin usage. Dollar coins, on the other hand, are not part of our daily life and aren't likely to become so anytime soon. If the mint really wants to honor the Presidents with coins, they should start and end with Harry Truman by realizing that The Buck Stops Here!

In the St. Louis region, our 314 area code was split in two a few years ago, and the 636 area code was added. Since then, there have been innumerable times when I've called someone in 636 from my 314 landline number and prefaced it with the digit "1" -- and every time, I get that error message from AT&T reminding me that I do not have to dial the "1" to this adjacent area code. I know, it's me, I never learn. The problem is that I do have to dial that "1" to adjacent area code "618" in Illinois, or if I call 636 from my 314 cell number, as I do whenever I call any other area code in the world. You'd think that, in a world where people have cell phones and other numbers they can keep with them forever, regardless of where they are (or have virtual fax numbers, like the 208 area code on my eFax account), that using that "1" would have become the industry standard and precede any ten-digit phone number I call. But you'd be wrong.

WH Suppressing Science, Again

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Bush administration appointees have pressured the National Park Service to suppress science at the Grand Canyon in favor of religious views, such as those in a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces. PEER's executive director Jeff Ruch contends, “As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan.”

Update 1/3/07: A former park ranger has looked into this and e-mails,

"I was skeptical of PEER's claims. After researching the matter, I found most of the claims to be wildly unsubstantiated and blatantly false. Also consider that the bookstore in question is operated by the Grand Canyon Association, a PRIVATE, non-profit organization, not the government. They also sell American Indian books with creation myths. The book in question is in the 'inspirational' section. Don't believe everything you read."
He has more on his blog.

To me, it doesn't matter who runs the bookstore -- the book is bogus and should have no place there, unless it's in a section called Complete Fiction. As for the American Indian books, that can be part of the history of the area, which is surrounded by tribal land, but should also never be passed off as anything approaching science (or inspiration).