Thursday, November 29, 2007

Upset Pick Update

When I picked the Packers + 7 @ the Cowboys tonight, I didn't know three things: 1) Brett Favre would leave the game injured and not return; 2) Charles Woodson wouldn't be in the Packers secondary; and 3) the officials would make some horrible calls, including that final pass-interference call against Green Bay that was clearly not interference. Final score: Cowboys 37, Packers 27.

This is the first game I've watched at length on NFL Network, and it became quickly apparent that Bryant Gumbel is horrible as a play-by-play man. The man uses the word "appears" about every two minutes ("it appears he has the first down," "it appears we have a flag on the field," "it appears the Packers have scored a touchdown," "it appears I'm still as much of a pompous ass as I always was").

As bad as Gumbel is, that's how good Cris Collinsworth is as an analyst. He makes great points, does a very good job of explaining why things happened, and doesn't hesistate to second-guess coaches, players, and officials. He deserves to be on the #1 team on a real network working with a real broadcaster.

With my prognosticating skills in a miserable slump, let's see if I can make up for it with another Upset Pick for Sunday. The Browns are in the playoff hunt and should beat the Cardinals, so I'll take the spread to win. Make it Cleveland +1 at Arizona.

Season record: 5-7-1

Upset Pick, Week 13

I'm hoping for a great game tonight between the Packers and Cowboys. It should be close, so I'm happy to have the seven points, plus a veteran QB who knows how to win under pressure. Take Green Bay +7 at Dallas.

Season record: 5-6-1.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another Movie You Might Not Know

I'm sitting here watching a movie I'm pretty sure was not released theatrically, at least not in most American cities. It's called "Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party," and I have just added it to the Movies You Might Not Know list.

Tobolowsky is an actor whose name you don't recognize, but whose face you've seen in over 100 movies and TV shows -- in fact, as I write this, he's listed 184 times on -- including "Groundhog Day," in which he played Ned Ryerson, the guy who pesters Bill Murray on the sidewalk.

He's also a hell of a storyteller, which is what he does in this movie. As he celebrates his birthday, Tobolowsky shares stories from his life, his career, and his relationships. He tells how he was named one of the 100 coolest people in LA by Buzz magazine (and lost to Andy Dick). He tells how he encountered a school of dolphins while swimming in the ocean. He tells how friends reacted when he told them he was going to be a father. He tells what happened when someone slipped LSD into everyone's drinks at a party.

Then he tells what it was like playing the head Klansman in "Mississippi Burning," giving a speech in front of a crowd of extras who were really members of the Klan, and it's riveting.

As you -- and the group of friends assembled at his house -- listen to him talk, you get drawn in, and don't want him to stop. Considering Tobolowsky is pretty much the only person who speaks for 87 minutes, that's quite an accomplishment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Whale Of A Name

Greenpeace asked online voters to help choose a name for a whale. Among the top vote-getters are Libertad, Aiko, and Mira, with less than 5% each -- but way ahead in the results column, with 66% of the votes, is Mister Splashy Pants!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fighting Truancy In Court

Judge Duane Bailey of Madison County (IL) was on my show this afternoon to talk about a new program he and his colleagues have developed for dealing with kids who don't go to school.

Explaining that "being punitive doesn't help," Bailey says this program is for hardcore truants who have missed 10% of the school year. The program offers kids an option. They either go back to school, and show improvement in their grades over a 12-week period, or take the community service option and do some manual labor. The first alternative includes assistance in the form of tutoring and discovering what's making the kid miss school in the first place, from drugs to bullying to whatever. It also involves the parents, who are often happy to have an authority figure like Bailey help them deal with this issue.

Bailey says the idea is to have the courts deal with kids this way, rather than having to deal with them later when they're arrested for petty (and often not-so-petty) crimes, beginning a lifetime relationship with the criminal justice system.

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

The Family Ombudswoman

It's sad, but I expect a big company to put me through customer service voice-tree hell when I call for help. Still, our dealings with AT&T this weekend were ridiculous.

Our latest bill came on Friday, and was approximately triple last month's bill. We have a combined bill for our home service, DSL, cell phones, and Dish Network, and it seemed that the cell phone charges were suddenly sky-high.

So I called the customer service number on our bill and got that perky automated voice that demanded my cell number and other information, then gave me several options to choose from, none of which got me through to an actual human being, until about the 9th layer of Dante's Phone Tree. That person looked up my information and said that my account was paid up in full. I countered that I had a bill in front of me that said otherwise. She said, "Well, we don't have anything like that on my screen. Maybe you should talk to Accounts Receivable."

Before I could object, she patched me through to what should have been another human being, but turned out to be another robotic phone tree voice, which informed me that a customer service representative would be "happy" to help me after a wait of six minutes. Even though I know that "happy to help" is a euphemism for "underpaid, bitter, and hoping not to have the job outsourced to India," I had no choice. I put the speaker phone on and spent the time answering my e-mail.

When a human person finally picked up the line (after, ahem, eight minutes), she told me that she couldn't help me because she only worked for AT&T Wireless, and this was a matter for the people in the Combined Billing department. Before the first of several profanities could work their way from my brain to my lips, I was back on hold, being transferred to yet another person. Fortunately, the third human came on the line relatively quickly, only to tell me that the problem was obviously in their cell phone division and that, if I'd be kind enough (!) to hold, she'd connect me to someone there who could help me. I didn't even bother suppressing my chortle.

By this point, I was convinced that I was talking to people in adjacent cubicles of the same office who had decided that, in return for being forced to work on a holiday weekend, were determined to take it out on anyone foolish enough to call and require assistance of any kind. Well, you know what happened next. The fourth person I was transferred to, from the cell phone division, told me the exact same thing the first person I had spoken to had told me ("we don't have any charges like that on our screen").

It was at this point that I slammed down the phone and asked my wife to deal with it. It's not that she's more patient than I am -- it's that I simply can't fathom how several people who work for the same company's customer service department can not only offer absolutely no service, but also have completely different information about my account and refuse to believe that my complaint is valid. Because I'm the kind of person with so much free time that I think it's hysterical to create phony scenarios with bogus billing data to see how they'll react.

My wife, on the other hand, knows these situations well. I call her our Family Ombudswoman.

She once got a case of Ragu spaghetti sauce sent to our home because they had changed the recipe of our favorite sauce. I have invoked her name with store clerks who wouldn't take back an item, telling them they had two choices: accept the return and give me a refund, or deal with my wife later, in which case they'd end up accepting the return and giving me a refund. The woman once got an entire new high-chair delivered to our doorstep because the one she'd bought in the store had a small rip in the fabric.

So I knew she could bring AT&T to its knees, or at least get an explanation of what the hell was going on with our phone bill. And she would do it by getting to the first person, and then making him stay on the line and fix this, no matter how long it took or how many supervisors had to be dragged into the conversation, without being transferred all over AT&T-land.

The end result? It took almost an hour, but she finally uncovered the truth. It turned out that AT&T hadn't billed us for our cell phone service for several months -- since I bought my iPhone and began Combined Billing. So the charges are accurate, and we really do owe the amount on our bill, contrary to what some of their own employees see on their computer screens.

That's fine. I don't mind paying for services I signed up for and use (the miscellaneous fees and taxes that are tacked on are a whole other argument), so we'll gladly pay the bill. But I know we're not alone in our frustration with this and other customer service departments. If your company writes "Question about your bill? Call this 800 number" on the invoice, then it is shameful to force your customers to go through this obstacle course of non-assistance.

After all, not everyone is married to The Family Ombudswoman.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Upset Pick Falls Under .500

NFL games are becoming like poker bad beats -- you're doing everything right and way in the lead until the last minute of play or the last card, when your opponent pulls off an improbable victory.

That's the story of my Upset Pick gone wrong today. The Broncos were up by two touchdowns with just a few minutes to play, but they made enough mistakes (like kicking right to Devin Hester, even after he'd returned a punt for a TD) to let the Bears catch up and tie them before the end of regulation, then drive down the field and kick the winning field goal.

I had the Broncos +2, they lost by 3, 37-34. My season record falls to 5-6-1.


Marisa Tomei

Marisa Tomei is still amazingly hot.

I just saw "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead." It features terrific performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, and Albert Finney, well directed by Sidney Lumet. Since Tomei's character is married to Hoffman and having an affair with Hawke, we get to see quite a few scenes of her topless, and I have to say that, at 43 years old, she looks remarkable.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she replied, "Well, sure, she probably has her own trainer and nutritionist, not to mention some work done."

That's not the point. The point is that Marisa Tomei is still amazingly hot.

Football Giants

It is no longer permissable for anyone to refer to Eli Manning's team as "The New York Football Giants."

It has been two generations since the baseball Giants left New York for San Francisco. The only other sports teams in New York that call themselves the Giants are in youth leagues, and we know we're not watching them during NFL coverage or SportsCenter. Yes, Chris Berman is responsible for this, but even he seems to have knocked it off, or at least toned it down, while other announcers keep this ridiculous phrase alive (as Matt Vasgersian just did on Fox a few minutes ago).

Stop it. It sounds as idiotic as referring to Tony LaRussa and the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

St. Louis Sports Arguments

  • Who is the best Cardinals manager of all time, Tony LaRussa or Whitey Herzog?
  • Who was more responsible for the Rams' Super Bowl victory, Dick Vermeil or Mike Martz?
  • Should Stan Musial have a better statue outside Busch Stadium?
These are some of the questions Bryan Burwell asks in his new book, "The Best St. Louis Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die Hard Fans." He was in the studio with me this afternoon to answer those questions and talk about Mizzou's chances of making the BCS Championship Game, whether Major League Baseball should use instant replay, and more.

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

James Lipton, Inside The Actor's Studio

James Lipton, host of "Inside The Actor's Studio," was on my show this afternoon, promoting his book, "Inside Inside."

We talked about the actors who have impressed him most, the actresses who don't believe they're beautiful, the episode in which Elton John wrote a song on the spot, what brings on those emotional moments with his guests, and other highlights from his show.

I didn't ask Lipton about Will Ferrell's impression of him, but we got to a couple of stories from his life that you probably don't know -- Lipton's days as a pimp in Paris, and how his wife ended up as Miss Scarlet in the board game Clue.

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

Upset Pick, Week 12

I'll try to get back over .500 this week, but I won't touch any of the Thanksgiving games. Instead, I like the Broncos to beat the Bears straight up, so I like them even more with the points. Take Denver + 2 at Chicago.

Season record: 5-5-1.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lesley Stahl's Sandwich

Several listeners have demanded that I post the audio from yesterday's show of me making fun of Lesley Stahl, because of something ludicrous in her report on "60 Minutes" about forcing fast food outlets to post calorie counts on their menu boards.

In that piece, she went into a Subway restaurant (with their head of marketing) and ordered a sandwich. It became immediately apparent that Stahl had never been in a Subway before, wasn't familiar with the concept of ordering her own sandwich, and that even the simplest arithmetic was beyond her.

I could go on and on about it here, but it's better if you just listen -- then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Media Memo

To: All News Outlets
Fr: Media Control Central
Re: Stories That Must Be Done During Thanksgiving Week

Monday: Do's & Don'ts of Holiday Travel. Include important things that the public can't figure out on its own, like a reminder of how to pack clothes neatly in a suitcase.

Tuesday: Deep Fryer Turkey Scare Stories. Dig up video of that guy from last year who burned down his house and ruined the family get-together.

Wednesday: Live Shots From The Airport. Start this at 5am, and keep doing it until there actually is a crowd of anxious travelers lined up out the door. Do not mention that a great deal of their anxiety came from getting around the many live trucks blocking traffic outside the terminal.

Thursday: Parade. Include not just the local Thanksgiving parade, but also interviews with a few people who have to make a last minute run to the supermarket because they forgot cranberry sauce. Also report on how much more this year's average Thanksgiving meal costs, and interview the Butterball Hotline lady (who has likely been outsourced to Bangalore, India).

Friday: Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year. It doesn't matter that today is not the busiest shopping day of the year -- that's always the last Saturday before Christmas, because that's when men finally remember they have to buy something for their wife, who bought gifts for the rest of the family back around Halloween -- play up the hype, especially for your advertisers.

Saturday: Retailers Report. Based on exactly one day of shopping, but hundreds of analysts making predictions, report that retailers are having a tough holiday shopping season.

Sunday: Back To The Airport. Remind the public that if they haven't left for the airport already, they're screwed.

Monday: They're Dead. Report the number of people who died on the road during the holiday weekend, and how high gas prices didn't seem to keep Americans from traveling long distances to eat and argue with their families.

Future File (Upcoming Stories To Work On):
  • Fire hazards of Christmas trees.
  • Increased popularity of online shopping.
  • Find a Jewish family that can explain Hanukkah.

Frank Caliendo

You may have seen the promos for "Frank TV" during TBS' baseball playoffs coverage -- ten second snippets of Frank Caliendo as various famous people. "Frank TV" will debut tomorrow night, so I invited him back to my show this afternoon to talk about it.

He says he's got a "Seinfeld" parody in which he plays all four characters, and since this is Thanksgiving week, John Madden will make an appearance, too, probably with a turducken recipe. I asked Frank what impact the writers strike is having on his series, and whether he's working up impressions of any of the presidential candidates for next year (in case the show gets picked up after these five episodes).

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

No Cards For Walter Reed

Every day for the last two weeks, dozens of listeners have sent me an e-mail that's been going around the internet, asking that I please plug it on both my show and this website. As always, those who have forwarded it have done so without checking to see if it's for real.

The e-mail in question this time is the one asking people to send holiday cards to recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital. It sounds like a good cause, but there's a good reason for my refusal to broadcast it: Walter Reed won't accept those cards, and they won't actually go to a soldier -- any soldier.

Here's the hospital's official statement...

Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials want to remind those individuals who want to show their appreciation through mail to include packages, letters, and holiday cards addressed to 'Any Wounded Soldier' or 'A Recovering American Soldier' that Walter Reed cannot accept these packages in support of the decision by then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Transportation Policy in 2001. This decision was made to ensure the safety and well being of patients and staff at medical centers throughout the Department of Defense.

In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is no longer accepting "Any Service Member" or "A Recovering American Soldier" letters or packages. Mail to "Any Service Member" that is deposited into a collection box will not be delivered.

Instead of sending an “Any Wounded Soldier” letter or package to Walter Reed, please consider making a donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our troops and their families listed on the "America Supports You" website.

Cold Beer, Really Fast

This guy is going to be a millionaire.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Upset Pick, So Close

If I had made my Upset Pick on Tuesday, I would have gotten the Dolphins plus ten and a half points, which would have covered the spread in today's game. By Thursday, the line had dropped to nine and a half points, which made me a loser. Argh!

Final score: Philadelphia 17, Miami 7. My season record: 5-5-1.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jon Macks, Still On Strike

Comedy writer Jon Macks is still on strike from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," but he checked in on my show this afternoon, to report on how things are going on the picket line (with presidential candidate John Edwards as special guest). Since Jon doesn't have the monologue as an outlet for the jokes filling his brain, he did some riffing on Michael Jordan's divorce, Barry Bonds' indictment, Lindsay Lohan's jail stay, and more.

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

Upset Pick, Week 11

This is a week I normally would not make a pick. There's just no game that jumps right out and says "I'm the one, go with me!" However, I vowed to make an upset pick every week this season, regardless, so why not go way out on a limb?

Under normal conditions, I recommend betting against a rookie quarterback (the Patrick Ramsey Rule), and would usually stay away from the worst team in the league. But since I'm out on this limb, let's step out even further and see if a little twig will hold me up. I'm going with the Dolphins -- not to chalk up their first win of the season, but to cover the spread.

Take Miami +9.5 vs Philadelphia. Season Record: 5-4-1.

William Cohen "Dragon Fire"

William Cohen, former US Senator and Secretary of Defense, was back on my show this afternoon to talk about his novel, "Dragon Fire." We also discussed Congress' reluctance to approve more money for the war without wording about withdrawing troops, and what that will mean going forward. Then we talked about Gen. George Casey's comments that the Army is "out of balance" and stretched too thin, the IAEA's report this week on Iran's nuclear capabilities, the volatile situation in Pakistan, and more.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sportsman's Park

Dan O'Neill, a sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch, has helped compile a book about Sportsman's Park, which was home to more major league games than any other stadium -- including 10 World Series -- before closing in 1966. All those years of both Cardinals and Browns games meant that the greats of the games passed through the place or called it home. There's even the story of the day Babe Ruth met little Billy DeWitt, who is now majority owner of the Cardinals.

Listen, then order the "Sportsman's Park" book here.

Annie Duke Testifies

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings yesterday on online gambling. Annie Duke, one of the top poker players in the world, testified brilliantly in defense of lifting the ban on poker websites (and others).

As I said last year (when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was snuck into the Port Security bill at the last minute), it's not the government's business to tell me what to do with my money, particularly when we have no limit on the number of state lottery tickets you can buy (talk about hypocrisy!).

Annie's a perfect spokeswoman for the Poker Players Alliance because she's not only a successful pro, but also a mother of four who has supported her family with poker...

Here's my conversation with Annie Duke last year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Don't Drive On Sunday?

Patrick Rule urges you not to drive on Sunday, December 2nd. He says it's a way to protest rising gas prices -- and by parking your car that day, you're also conserving, and thereby saving some money.

That's the real bottom line question: will Americans get to the point where they're willing to make sacrifices in their own lives to help out their own bottom lines? Most of the arguments about gas prices rely on someone else making a change -- from asking the government to act somehow, to blaming environmentalists and oil companies for no new refineries coming online, to forcing auto manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles, and on and on.

Rule insists (and I agree) that it's much more a matter of personal responsibility. Will one day of no-driving force ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and BPAmoco to their knees? Of course not. But many of my listeners like the symbolism of a no-drive day (which may tell you that not many of them have to work on Sundays!).

Ironically, with gas prices averaging $2.98/gallon in St. Louis (up from $2.09 a year ago today) and oil prices settled in at over $90/barrel, the Secretary-General of OPEC announced this morning that he sees no need to increase oil production. Well, of course he doesn't! That's the entire supply and demand concept in action. If they produce more oil, prices would go down, but while prices are high and demand isn't decreasing, they can clean up. There's very little incentive for them to act any other way.

I don't know many people who are doing a lot of excess driving. It's not like Missourians would wake up that Sunday and decide to "go for a drive," unless they had a specific destination they had to visit. Still, a message of conservation is one we're not hearing from our national or state leadership, so it has to be on us, individually, to make that choice to sacrifice. Or not.

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

Jonathan Karsh, "Kid Nation"

On my show today, I talked with Jonathan Karsh, host of the CBS reality show "Kid Nation." He's the guy who appears to run the challenges and hand out the gold stars at the town councils that end each episode. Karsh says there's a big change coming in tonight's show.

I asked him whether the kids came to the show knowing how to act because they'd seen other reality shows, and whether the cameras changed them. We discussed Laurel (the very impressive member of the town council who appeared on my show before the season began) and Taylor (the pageant queen who came off as the villain of the season).

I also asked a question my daughter -- a big fan of the show -- has been wondering about: do the $20,000 gold stars create a lot of jealousy in Bonanza City, or become an incentive for some of the kids to work harder?

CBS hasn't committed to a second season of "Kid Nation" yet, but if the writers strike goes on for a couple of months, they'll almost certainly be looking for more reality programming like this.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson -- Book 3

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson returned to my show today to talk about their third Peter Pan prequel, "Peter and The Secret of Rundoon."

We discussed everything from which of them came up with the flying camel that poops on its enemies (take a wild guess!) to how the giant snake from their book manifested itself in a real-life incident at their appearance in Miami a few weeks ago. I asked them if they owe a debt to JK Rowling for getting kids to read big plot-heavy books, and whether Disney is planning a theme park ride based on the "Peter" series.

We also talked about the all-authors rock band they're in (The Rock Bottom Remainders), Dave's presidential campaign, and how long it took Ridley to answer his daughter's question which set these books in motion.

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kevin Sites, In The Hot Zone

Kevin Sites has covered wars, disasters, and conflicts around the world, and has compiled some of the stories in "In The Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars."

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Sites about some of those adventures, including the infamous incident in Fallujah, where Sites videotaped a US Marine shooting an Iraqi prisoner. We discussed the fallout from that footage, the decision to air it in a censored form, and the international consequences of telling the story.

We also talked about covering the Indonesian tsunami, the role of the internet in his reporting, the impact of big-name network anchors going to disaster scenes to take over coverage of a story, and who is to blame for the lack of foreign news coverage in the American media.

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Upset Pick Loses Week 10

That'll teach me to pick the Lions. Fooled twice in one season. Should have gone with the Broncos, which was my original choice but, at the time, Jay Cutler's status was unknown, so I stayed away. Ah, well. Season record falls to 5-4-1.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Jon Macks, On Strike

On my show today, I talked with TV comedy writer Jon Macks, who hasn't written any jokes for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" this week because of the strike. He reported what it's been like on the picket line, talked about celebrities who have shown up to show their support for the writers, and explained the anger towards Ellen DeGeneres for continuing to produce her show during the strike. And there's the solidarity at home in Jon's family -- they all want him to get another job, quick!

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

James Gunn & Ryan Eslinger

This afternoon on my show I talked with two filmmakers who are being featured tonight at the St. Louis International Film Festival, both of whom grew up here.

One is James Gunn, who directed "Slither," wrote both "Scooby Doo" movies, and worked on "Dawn of the Dead." The other is Ryan Eslinger, whose first movie "Madness and Genius" caught the eye of Sharon Stone, who agreed to co-produce and star in his second movie, "When A Man Falls In The Forest."

I talked with Gunn about his years at Troma Films, where such classics as "Tromeo and Juliet" were made. He also gave an impassioned speech in support of the writers strike, even though it will impact him financially, as he has had to pull out of writing Ben Stiller's new project. BTW, I did not ask Gunn any questions about his wife, Jenna Fischer, as they're in the process of getting divorced.

Eslinger explained what happened when he visited Stone's home to talk to her about working together, how he financed his first film with part-time jobs at Best Buy and Wild Oats while in high school, and how far he's come since he was a ticket-taker at the AMC West Olive 16.

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

No Hugging In Schools - Another Student's View

Kyle Swanson has heard all the discussion on my show this week about the No Hugging rule in Mascoutah schools. As a student at Mascoutah Community High School, Kyle says he's going to make t-shirts that say Hug For New School Rules, and already has lots of people who want one.

When I asked if he's had problems with the district's PDA rule, Kyle told me that he and his girlfriend got in trouble for holding hands while coming down the stairs after the end of school one day a few weeks ago -- even though the school handbook specifically mentions that hand-holding is permitted. That led to a broader discussion of whether he's witnessed inappropriate public displays of affection in school, and whether any of his friends have gotten in trouble for violating the policy.

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

John Sayles and Gary Clark Jr., "Honeydripper"

John Sayles was in my studio this afternoon to talk about his new movie, "Honeydripper," which kicks off the St. Louis International Film Festival.

"Honeydripper" is a blues bar in rural Alabama in 1950 run by Danny Glover and Charles S. Dutton, who need a big crowd on Saturday night if they want to save the business. There's lots of music, family intrigue, and Sayles says some interesting things about race in the deep south at that time. The cast includes Stacy Keach, Mary Steenburgen, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Lisa Gay Hamilton.

Gary Clark Jr. is a hot young guitarist from Austin who has a featured role in the movie. He was with Sayles this afternoon, so I stuck a Stratocaster in his hands and had him play a couple of songs live in the studio.

I also talked to Sayles about how he directs "name" actors, what led him to this story, and how he deals with actors with different styles. We also discussed his work on several Bruce Springsteen music videos and on the script for "Jurassic Park IV."

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

You can also listen separately to the songs Gary Clark Jr. performed on my show: "China Doll" and "Shotgun Man." 

Upset Pick, Week 10

Normally, I'd take Denver this week, but with Jay Cutler out, it's a no-touch game. Instead -- and I can't believe I'm saying this, because it means going with Mike Martz again -- I'm taking the Lions to beat the Cardinals. With the spread, the upset pick is riding on Detroit continuing to prove it's for real this year.

Take DET +1 at AZ. Season record: 5-3-1.

No Hugging In School - Megan Responds

Yesterday on my show, Megan Coulter got her say about the hugging incident that led to her serving two days of after-school detention in Mascoutah (IL).

The 13-year-old denied the claims of Supt. Sam McGowan and gave her version of what happened -- both the incident at the basketball game that resulted in a warning, and the hugs after school last Friday that drew the detention. She also explained that she didn't realize that the school's PDA rule applied to hugging, which she says is just a natural part of the way she was brought up. Megan says the school should be much more specific in defining what's allowed and what isn't.

She also said that, earlier yesterday, she and the other 8th-grade girls had all been brought to the school auditorium, where an administrator expressed displeasure that "someone" was making a big deal about this (of course, all the girls at the school know that "someone" is Megan).

Megan's mother, Melissa, says she's going to the next school board meeting to try to get the PDA/hugging rule changed. Based on the volume of calls and comments I've received, she may have a lot of support in the community.

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Janessa Gans on Blackwater & Iraq

Janessa Gans spent more than two years as a US official in Iraq. While she was there, she lived in the Green Zone but traveled all over the country, guarded by Blackwater employees. Today on my show, she had some harsh words for the way she saw the Blackwater guards act towards Iraqis -- actions which she says serve to undermine the US mission in Iraq by turning locals against Americans and possibly into terrorists.

Gans doesn't think of the Blackwater security forces as mercenaries, and isn't calling for all private security contractors to be removed from Iraq. But she does think that their unregulated status and overly aggressive actions are harming the effort to win the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, at a time when we can least afford it.

After her comments on Blackwater, I found Gans' analysis of the current situation in Iraq and the problems we've had there to be very refreshing. She says some things that I haven't heard anyone else come forward and say, particularly about the lack of political will on the part of the Iraqi leadership.

Gans, who also spent time in Afghanistan, continues to consult the State Department on Iraq while she's a visiting professor of political science and Middle East politics at Principia College. Gans is founder of The Euphrates Institute, a non-governmental organization that seeks to "capitalize on the growing need and desire of many to bridge the divide between the Muslim and Western worlds."

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

Pakistan and Nukes

What's the most dangerous nation on Earth? Catherine Scott-Clark says, without a doubt, it's Pakistan, which has been making news this week with the instability of Pervez Musharraf and his military government.

Scott-Clark and fellow invesigative journalist Adrian Levy have spent the last couple of years looking into Pakistan's nuclear threat, and uncovered several disturbing revelations, which they lay out in their book "Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons."

Today on my show, Scott-Clark said that Pakistan is missing large amounts of fissile material, which no one is holding them accountable for. She claims that our government has known about Pakistan selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya for more than two decades. Scott-Clark explains the role of AQ Khan, the Pakistani nuclear mastermind who is being shielded from US investigators by Musharraf, and how your tax dollars are involved, through financial aid the US has passed to Pakistan since Jimmy Carter was President.

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

No Hugging In School Followup

After Monday's discussion with Melissa Coulter about her daughter, Megan, being punished for hugging some friends at school, I invited Mascoutah Schools Superintendent Dr. Sam McGowan onto my show to explain the policy.

It became immediately clear that McGowan is a "rules are rules" and "this is the way it's been for a long time" kind of guy. When I challenged him -- saying the rule was bad, not the people -- he was not happy.

He started off by saying that he could't speak about Megan's case specifically because of Illinois state law, but later did exactly that. When I pointed this out, he denied doing it. He also claimed that Megan's hug brought "discredit to the person and the school" (a patently ridiculous argument), and that public displays of affection are banned in the academic area because schools are about learning. But Megan's punishment was for hugging a friend outside the school on the way to the bus stop, not in a classroom or even in the hallway.

McGowan also seemed thrown when I asked why two football players can hug after scoring a touchdown but two friends can't hug in the cafeteria after acing a tough exam. If the rule applies to everywhere on school property, what's the difference?

Surely, there are physical acts that are inappropriate in a school setting. You don't want kids making out against the lockers or holding hands in class, and you certainly have to guard against unwanted touching of any kind, as sexual harassment. But when two friends hug after school on a Friday afternoon before they part for the weekend, who is harmed and how is the school discredited?

This is a bad rule, badly applied. In enforcing the rule with zero tolerance, the district takes away the ability of the adults in the school to judge what's appropriate and what's not -- teachers who know their students and judge them every day. Again, in our discussion, McGowan explained why judgement can't play a part in the application of the rule, but when I bring it up later, he denies that's the case.

It's apparent in talking to McGowan that he's the kind of guy who is not used to being challenged or having someone disagree with him publicly. I think he needs a hug.

Melissa Coulter says she's appealing her daughter's punishment (two days of after-school detention, which she served Monday and Tuesday) in an attempt to get the rule changed. I hope she gets a lot of support from other parents in Mascoutah.

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kathleen Madigan

Kathleen Madigan was back on my show today in advance of her appearance at the Ameristar Casino this Thursday night. We talked about bad songs, the effect of the writers strike on friends of hers in the TV business, whether she'll appear on another season of "Last Comic Standing," and why she isn't very good at blackjack.

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

Worst Song Ever, 2007 Edition

Today's election day, and with no major races to decide in our area, it's time for an annual tradition on my show -- voting for The Worst Song Ever!

The polls are closed now, and the votes are tallied. We had lots of good nominees, several of whom got plenty of support, including "Billy Don't Be A Hero," "We Built This City," "My Humps," and "Timothy."

Our winner is one that's gotten perennial mentions, and actually won it six years ago. The runners-up, however, are new to the top three. In fact, the song at number two had never gotten more than one vote in previous balloting.

That said, the results of this year's election are...

#1) Richard Harris "Macarthur Park"
#2) Minnie Riperton "Lovin' You"
#3) Michael Jackson "Ben"

In previous years...

#1) Captain and Tenille "Muskrat Love" #2) Tiny Tim "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" #3) Maria Muldaur "Midnight At The Oasis"

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

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

#1) White Stripes "Little Room" #2) Ween "Push The Little Daisies" #3) Los Del Rio "Macarena"

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

#1) Captain and Tennille "Muskrat Love" #2) Morris Albert "Feelings" #3) Vanilla Ice "Ice Ice Baby"

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

Monday, November 05, 2007

St. Lou Is...continued

The people who brought you the "St. Lou Is...." slogan now want your feedback on what should complete that sentence. If you're interested in adding something (they'll only post positive responses), the website is

No Hugging In School

No hugging in school! The discussion on my show this afternoon was sparked by this e-mail from listener Melissa Coulter:

Do you hug your child? Do you teach them to give a hug to help another through a rough day? Well, if you live in the Mascoutah Community School District, you'd better not!

Picture it...Friday afternoon, 3:20pm...
You are a 13yo girl. You and your friends are separating for the weekend. You give a friend a hug on his way to the bus. The vice principal tells you that you were warned the week before and now you have detention. So you are turning to go home and another friend comes up to you and hugs you and, of course, the vice principal sees and now you have TWO, yes that's right TWO, after school detentions.

It's called Public Display of Affection and there are NO exceptions here. Yes, it's in the student handbook but not as hugging. There are no specifications so those of us who thought it meant kissing, holding hands, etc. were way off base.

There is no room in the Mascoutah School District for understanding or caring. I tried talking to the vice principal, Mr. Blakely, who is as compassionate as a fence post. I left a message for the superintendent, Dr. McGowan, which is thus far unanswered. This school district is spiraling out of control in the hands of an administration that is high-handed and closed-minded.

I am hoping that someone will help me get through to them because they don't want to listen or explain their views. They just want us to fork over the tax money and keep quiet. Well, I'm tired of that!
Melissa and I talked about this stunning zero-tolerance rule on my show today, with lots of listener calls, including a couple of teachers who work in schools with similar rules. What's remarkable is the inability of administrators to discern the difference between what is and isn't appropriate.

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

Tom Brokaw "Boom!"

This afternoon, I talked with Tom Brokaw about his new book, "Boom! Voice of the Sixties." Think of it as Sons (and Daughters) of the Greatest Generation.

The title ("Boom!") isn't just a nod to the baby boomers, but also acknowledgement of the explosive impact of the events that made up the decade (which Brokaw doesn't define as 1960-69, but rather from the death of JFK in 1963 through Nixon's resignation in 1974). We discussed the assassinations of RFK and MLK, the civil rights struggle, the anti-war effort, and the impact of sixties music.

I also asked him how his wife Meredith handled segueing from society's expectations of a young bride in the early sixties through the years of women's liberation. In the book, Brokaw shares memories with Jane Pauley, Colin Powell, and many others, and writes about how baby boomers Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were so similar.

Brokaw says the verdict isn't in on the 60s yet, but that hasn't stopped a backlash against much of what made that decade so different.

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Upset Pick Back To Winning

Favre came through big time today for the Pack, who beat the Chiefs outright as I predicted, so they didn't even need the 2 points to cover the spread. Final score: GB 33, KC 22.

And congratulations to the Rams for their first non-losing weekend of 2007.

My season record improves to 5-3-1.

Friday, November 02, 2007

AJ Jacobs "The Year of Living Biblically"

AJ Jacobs returned to my show today to talk about his latest live-it-and-write-about-it experiment. He spent a year trying to follow all the rules of The Bible, more than 700 in all, and kept track of his adventures, which he recaps in "The Year of Living Biblically."

The rules included the Ten Commandments, of course, but also some less-known guidelines, like the ban on mixed fibers that made him throw out all his poly-cotton clothes. We talked about how hard it was to avoid coveting, the challenge he faced in avoiding lust while interviewing Rosario Dawson, and the time he actually stoned an adulterer.

Jacobs really got into the project, allowing his beard to grow unshorn and, for a few months, walking around in a white robe and sandals. You don't have to imagine how that went over with the TSA screeners at the airport, because I asked him. We also discussed how his wife reacted to all of this, including the hut he built in their living room. That didn't stop him from going forth and multiplying, as he and his wife begat twins.

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

Phil Keoghan, "The Amazing Race"

With "The Amazing Race" about to start its 12th season, Phil Keoghan was back on my show today to talk about what we can expect this year.

We talked about the teams (including the dating goths from Kentucky who wear pink), the couples who somehow believe going on The Race will help patch up problems in their relationships, the locations (some new ones this year), and how the producers have ramped up the pressure of the roadblocks and detours.

Add some stubborn animals, a change to the format of the race, and several eye-candy teams from California, and we're ready to hit the road with Phil and his gang of travelers.

In previous seasons, I have always started out pulling for whichever team includes a bald, middle-aged guy. Phil tried to assure me today that I'll have a few to choose from, but I'm not sure I believe him.

To see what I mean, listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Upset Pick Week 9

After that big Monday night win at Denver, I don't understand why the Packers are dogs this week, but Brett and the boys should beat the Chiefs outright this week to go 7-1. Take GB +2 at KC.

Season record: 4-3-1.

Ed McMahon "When Television Was Young"

TV legend Ed McMahon was back on my show today to talk about his book, "When Television Was Young: Live, Spontaneous, and in Living Black and White."

Ed says he was there the day FDR did one of the first TV broadcasts in 1939, and talked about being part of one of the first telecasts via coaxial cable. He also told early-TV stories about his friends Dick Clark, Merv Griffin, and Jerry Lewis (including a secret broadcast Lewis did with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson for an audience of one -- Albert Einstein!).

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