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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm Fine, Thanks For Asking

Went to West County Mall to pick up an accesory at the Apple Store. Or I should say I tried to go to the mall. The parking lots were so full that people searching for spaces became stalkers, following anyone on foot in the hopes they'd lead to an empty spot -- then cursing out loud when the pedestrian cut through between cars to get to the next row instead.

After about 15 minutes of circling with no success, I decided that I could wait another week until winter break is over and the world goes back to normal, leaving me plenty of breathing room and parking spaces. As I drove away, I thought, "well, that whole recession thing is sure working out!"

Then it was off to see my physician for my annual physical. Results: everything is still in the right place, nothing new has grown in the wrong place, and all of my bodily fluids contain the correct ingredients in the correct proportions.

On that last one, when it came to discussing my PSA number (the test for prostate cancer), he explained that under 4.0 is good, under 2.5 is great, and that mine is at 0.3. Then he quipped, "You can't get any lower than that on the prostate exam without being a woman."

Just what I want when we're talking about that part of my body -- being compared to a person of the opposite sex.

Visiting Abe

Yesterday, I took my daughter to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and was very impressed. They have two multimedia presentations, one that uses video, special effects, lighting, and vibrating seats to lay the groundwork for Lincoln's role in the Civil War and his assassination at Ford's Theater. The other is "Ghosts In The Library," which uses the best hologram effects I've experienced since seeing John McEnroe in the Wimbledon museum locker room. It's a stunning piece of technology.

In a more traditional vein, there's also an exhibit called "Packaging Presidents," about the way presidential campaigns have changed through the years, from 1828 through today. Why nothing earlier? Because the politicians of that time thought it unseemly to "run" for office. Back in the days when most Americans had no role in choosing their president -- only the elite and the well-connected were involved, and they were all white property owners -- the men who wanted to be president weren't out barnstorming the country trying to convince the electorate to choose them. To the contrary, candidates like Jefferson and Adams spent most of their time at home while surrogates wrote occasional propaganda pieces for supportive newspapers.

The exhibit includes over 350 historical items used to promote the candidates, from buttons that promoted Andrew Jackson for President in 1828 to the WBBM-TV camera that broadcast the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon Debates. And in case you think modern campaigns are uglier than earlier ones, see the 1884 magazine commentary about Grover Cleveland fathering a child out of wedlock -- he confirmed the story and was elected -- and the first use of "family values" as a campaign argument in 1888 when Cleveland, recently married, lost his re-election effort.

The exhibit runs through this Sunday (1/4/09), but even if you miss it, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is well worth the visit.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Man On Wire


I knew Jim Lovell and the crew of Apollo 13 returned safely to Earth, but Ron Howard's movie had me on the edge of my seat nonetheless.

I knew that not all of the POWs got home safely during The Great Escape, but that didn't keep me from investing enough in the characters that I hoped they would.

I knew that United Flight 93 went down in the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2001, but Paul Greengrass' movie still had me rooting for the passengers to get into the cockpit, kill the terrorists, and pull back on the yoke in time to save the plane and themselves.

When a movie can cause that suspension of reality, getting you to forego history just long enough to involve you in the tension of the moment, it's quite an accomplishment.

Add to the list of movies that do so -- and to my Movies You Might Not Know list -- a documentary from earlier this year entitled, "Man On Wire." It is about Phillipe Petit who, in 1974, suspended a cable between the tops of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and walked between them, as if suspended in mid-air.

The film includes interviews with Petit and his co-conspirators, with footage shot during their secret deliberations and preparations, plus re-enactments of the plot as they pulled it off disguised as businessmen and contractors to gain access to the buildings. It is presented with a benign undercurrent that made me question whether they'd be able to finish the job, despite being firm in the knowledge that they did.

There's also a marvelous clip towards the end from a press conference the day of the incident, in which one of the NYPD officers who went to try to get Petit down off his wire, confesses that he knew at the time that he was seeing something he'd never see again, and was getting a kick out of it.

That's what makes "Man On Wire" special. Petit's time in the spotlight lasted slightly longer than the 45 minutes he spent alone in the air that day. The movie returns you to that period, when the towers still stood tall -- when a French wire-walker viewed them not as a target for terrorism, but as a palette for his art.

Friday, December 26, 2008

How To Break A Terrorist


In the debate over using torture in interrogating detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo, we've heard from a lot of armchair quarterbacks -- pundits who have never interrogated anyone, but think they know which techniques would be most effective in eliciting information from a prisoner.

None of them has had the experience of Matthew Alexander, who was the chief US interrogator in Iraq, and who led the team that eventually brought down Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq. How did Alexander and his colleagues do it? By using brains, not brutality. By building relationships, not beating people up.

I spent an hour last week speaking with Alexander about his experience, which he recounts in his book, "How To Break A Terrorist." He told me that torturing prisoners ended up costing American lives, as it served as the biggest recruiting point for Al Qaeda. We talked about his methods and results, despite resistance from the Pentagon (which fought the publication of his book), and why he so strongly disagrees with torture as an interrogation technique.

He explained how his team elicited information from adults (and children) who didn't bother to contain their hatred for America, how his translators were helpful in explaining idioms peculiar to Iraqi culture, and how he managed to gather information from even the most hardened detainees.

This is not a guy in a think tank or a TV talking head. Alexander sat a foot away from terrorists and fanatics and won the mental battle time and again. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his work, which hopefully has influenced those who succeeded him.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include the wrong way to melt ice on your porch, a man with trouble in his shorts, and a stolen firetruck for Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include an episode of CSI Finland, a woman playing demolition derby with the cops, and a bookstore embezzler.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a very honest guy with a knack for finding money, a robber who couldn't get money at McDonald's, and a woman with a speeding ticket and a surprise.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

James Rocchi's Movie Year

Yesterday on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked to James Rocchi (senior writer at Cinematical.com and former movie reviewer for my show) about the best movies of the year. James' list always includes several movies you and I haven't seen, which sometimes means some titles we can add to our DVD rental lists. And he always has an interesting take on movies, from every angle.

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Read James' blog here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a man concerned about his drug test, a passed-out passenger, and a guy who hired a hit man and wanted a souvenir of the hit.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Ethics of a Face Transplant

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Art Caplan about the woman who recently had a full-face transplant. Art, who is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, was opposed to transplants of this type several years ago, but has changed his mind -- though not without some continuing qualms.

One of the intriguing questions I had for him was about the family of the donor. Is it possible, I asked, that a year from now they could be walking down the street and see this woman and recognize her face? Boy, if there isn't someone in Hollywood working up a romantic movie with that plot, there oughta be.

For Art's answer, plus some of the ethical points he raised about the procedure, listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Nick Gillespie on Bailouts

As a libertarian, Nick Gillespie (editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv) is an outspoken opponent of any kind of federal bailouts.

I invited him to talk it over with me on KTRS/St. Louis, where I asked him whether he worries about the human fallout if one or more of the domestic automakers fails and tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. After that discussion, we talked about how he views the end of the Bush years and the incoming Obama administration.

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Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a man who got a ticket for driving his couch, a woman pulled over in a McDonald's drive-thru, and some missing holiday lawn decorations.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mug Shots Of The Year


That's one of the winners in The Smoking Gun's exhibition of the 20 Best Mug Shots of 2008

Going Green To Make Green

On KTRS/St. Louis today, I talked with my friend Joel Makower about his new book, "Strategies for the Green Economy," in which he lays out opportunities for businesses to embrace the environment while adding to their bottom line.

We discussed whether we can afford to worry about being green during a recession, how companies like Wal-Mart can have a measurable positive impact on the environment because of their size, and where we stand on alternatives to oil- and gas-powered vehicles. I also asked Joel for his assessment of Obama's choices for his administration's energy and environmental team, and whether government should force people and businesses to be greener.

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As Chairman and Executive Editor of Greener World Media, Joel publishes GreenBiz.com, GreeenerBuildings.com, ClimateBiz.com, and other sites. He also blogs here.

Wall Street Bull

This morning, Morgan Stanley announced a net loss of $2.3 billion -- in the last quarter alone. That's an astounding figure. But what makes it even more remarkable is that Wall Street analysts, the geniuses who follow the company and are supposed to know how it's doing, predicted that its losses for the quarter would be $298 million.

They only missed it by a little over two billion dollars. You or I could have done better than that, and we're not supposed to know anything about the subject. Hell, a monkey and a dartboard couldn't have gotten it more wrong than the analysts did.

Here's the kicker: as I write this, Morgan Stanley's stock is trading higher today than yesterday, up over a dollar per share (about 6.5%)! Well, who wouldn't want a piece of it?

Have A Trashy Christmas

When I brought in our trash barrels yesterday -- Monday is pickup day in our neighborhood -- there was a note attached which read, "Happy Holidays! We wish you a delightful holiday season, with warm wishes!" It was signed by two of the guys who do this route.

Gee, isn't that nice? Just out of the goodness of their hearts, expecting nothing in return, they left me a generic holiday greeting. Riiiiiight.

I'm tempted to leave them a note in reply:

Dear Trash Men,

Thanks for your holiday card. I know you're expecting a tip or a gift to end the year, but that's not how I roll. You don't get a bonus just because the calendar says it's that time of year.

The people who receive something extra from me are the ones who do something extra for me. I'm generous with restaurant employees who bring me more water without my asking for it, or the woman who cuts my hair who always remembers how I like my beard trimmed, or anyone else who gives me personal service that goes above and beyond the bare minimums of the job they're already paid to do.

So if, every Monday, I found my trash cans emptied and then placed neatly upright with the lids on tight, I'd be shocked, but I'd consider that the basic description of your job. If, on a regular basis, you returned the barrels to the side of my house, I'd say, "Wow, these guys really care about giving quality service." But since each week, I find our barrels knocked over, often with the lids getting run over in the street -- just like all of our neighbors do -- I've taken that as a message that don't care about your customers. And so, the feeling is mutual.

Have a happy holiday.

P.S. If you'd like something special from us, please help yourself to the three broken barrels we have in the back, which we've tried to leave out as trash, but you won't toss in the truck.

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include parents who gave their children horrible names, a thief baffled by an empty store, and a mysterious eggbeater burglary.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dennis Phillips' Blog

My friend Dennis Phillips has been in Las Vegas playing in the Five Diamond Classic, which culminates in the Doyle Brunson WPT Classic, a big poker tournament that draws all the heavyweights. Unfortunately, Dennis busted out this afternoon on the third day of the event. Fortunately, he's blogging from the tourney -- read it here.

Car Czar Candidates

Three guys at The Motley Fool have put together a list of candidates for Car Czar, including:

Mitt Romney

  • Pros: Experienced businessman; successful politician; perfect head of hair.
  • Cons: Hair too perfect. Most likely part of a costume to disguise long-suspected fact that he is a robot. Robots have eliminated enough Detroit jobs already.
Rod Blagojevich
  • Pros: Illinois governor has demonstrated an uncanny appetite for cutting deals; likely to be freed of current responsibilities very soon.
  • Cons: "Car Czar" required to show up for work. Cannot telecommute from prison.
Lee Iacocca
  • Pros: Beloved car-industry exec from era when bailouts worked; can do his own TV commercials.
  • Cons: Iacocca's former trademark commercial pitch line -- "If you can find a better car, buy it!" -- seems to have resonated a little too deeply with the American public.
See the whole list -- including Madonna, Richard Petty, and RoboCop -- here.

The UAW Perspective

With the auto industry still waiting to hear whether it will get a federal bailout, I spent an hour on KTRS/St. Louis this morning talking with Darin Gilley, president of UAW Local 1720. He represents the thousands of employees at the GM plant in Wentzville, the Chrysler plants in Fenton, and others in this area.

I asked Gilley whether he feels that his blue-collar members are being treated unfairly compared to the white-collar financial-industry employees who were helped by the banking bailout. We also talked about the impact bankruptcy of the domestic automakers would have, how much UAW members really make, how foreign car companies are subsidized by their governments, what happens to the workers when factories are idled, and more.

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John Ratzenberger

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with John Ratzenberger, who you know as Cliff Claven from "Cheers," plus his voice work in all the Pixar animated features.

We talked about one of his favorites "Cheers" episodes (in which Cliff sells shoes), whether he finds doing voice work for animated characters tougher than acting on camera, and -- since he'll be on The Hallmark Channel this Saturday in "Our First Christmas" -- his all-time favorite Christmas movie.

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News Item Of The Day

Reprinted verbatim from a small item in today's paper:

Felix Batista, a well-known US anti-kidnapping expert, was abducted in Mexico City, his employers said Monday.

So much for the definition of "expert."

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include an actor who almost died committing suicide, a homeowner who didn't like being toilet-papered, and a knife that was too long for court.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

The State of Newspapers

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with Dick Weiss (former Metro editor at the Post-Dispatch, now contributing editor to the St. Louis Beacon) about the state of newspapers and journalism in America.

We discussed the bankruptcy of the Tribune company and the effect it's having on employees who took buy-outs, whether the Post-Dispatch can continue to offer such a thin newspaper, and how two Detroit newspapers are killing home delivery. I also asked him about the economics of these huge news-gathering institutions trying to move their product to an online version.

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You're On Tape, Rod

In watching the Rod Blagojevich scandal play out over the last week, the thing that has struck me is his insistence that he did nothing wrong, that when the whole story comes out we'll see how he's guilty of nothing inappropriate.

Rod, they have you on tape.

That's tough to beat. When it's your voice spewing those words, regardless of how many of them have to be bleeped, it's very tough to talk your way out of the corner.

I worked in DC in the 80s and 90s, the glory years of Mayor Marion Barry. It wasn't a particularly glorious time for him or the city, but it sure was for those of us in the media. He was always saying or doing something that made my job easy -- I was doing a morning show at the time, so I woke up every day hoping that someone had done something stupid that I could make fun of, and Barry made himself a regular target.

In January, 1990, the mayor was caught by the FBI in a hotel room smoking crack with an ex-girlfriend named Rasheeda Moore. At first, he tried to deny everything, almost to the point of saying he wasn't even in the hotel, but when the FBI told him they had the whole thing on tape, he changed his tune. That's when he spouted his classic line, "Goddamn, the bitch set me up!"

Even a bad politician like Barry knew that when they have you on tape and are going to release it to the media, you're screwed.

Maybe Blagojevich can try another tactic, from back in the Abscam days. In that investigation, several federal officials were caught accepting bribes in return for political favors. One of the officials -- I can't remember which -- was shocked to discover that the person offering the bribe was doing so undercover for the FBI. In his defense, he insisted that, rather than having done anything wrong, he had, in fact, been looking into this corruption himself: "You're investigating me? I'm investigating you!"

It didn't work. When they have you on tape, nothing works -- except the truth.

Shoe Enough


You gotta give President Bush credit for how he handled the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq last night. He showed quick reflexes in ducking (twice) and in keeping things calm.

I bet there was a meeting at the Secret Service today to find out why their response was so slow, considering that the reporter who threw the shoe had enough time to take his other shoe off and throw that, too!

I'm pretty sure that once he was tackled to the ground, the shoe-tosser screamed in Arabic to the security personnel, "Don't tase me, Hassan!"

Several reports I heard this morning said, "In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt." As opposed to here in America, where it means, "We love you and want you to have our footwear!"

Supposedly, Iraqis consider the bottom of the foot to be the dirtiest place on the human body. I guess they've never had to change an infant's diaper. Now that would be a sign of contempt -- throwing a used Pampers at someone.

Although it does make me wonder about those women who threw their panties at Sting.

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a suspect identified by his tattoo, a realtor's worst customer, and how to use pizza as a defensive weapon.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blago-go

Nice job by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and his staff for arresting Rod Blagojevich yesterday morning and shocking the world with the allegations against The Guv.

My problem: I'm not on the air this week. What, you couldn't wait a few days?

Line Of The Night

Jay Leno on what he tells people who wonder why he's staying at the struggling NBC:

It's because I remember my parents telling me when I was a kid that, whatever you do in life, you should strive to come in fourth.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Knuckleheads In The News® will return Monday, December 15th. That gives you a few days to click here to subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Primetime Jay


Talk about a game changer: We've known for a long time that NBC would take Jay Leno off "The Tonight Show" this spring to turn the slot over to Conan O'Brien. So, where's Leno going?

After lots of speculation, the answer is ... NBC. Bill Carter says they're going to move his show intact to the last hour of primetime, five nights a week. That means Leno will fill more hours of evening television than anyone since Regis Philbin hosted "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"

Will it work? Two guys whose opinions I respect on matters such as this -- Mark Evanier and Aaron Barnhart -- agree that it will. And they speculate on what it means for Conan, Jimmy Fallon, and Hollywood's producers who will now have one less hour of primetime available to fill.

Mark says,
The move will piss a lot of people off, including producers who'd been hoping to sell new shows to NBC. Leno's going to consume five hours that could have been available for their wares. And you have to wonder how Conan O'Brien's viewing it since he'll still be second-in-line for the big guests...and now that he'll be in Hollywood also, that may make it very difficult. The folks behind Jimmy Fallon's new program, which will take over Conan's old time slot, have to be wondering if viewers will really want to watch three talk shows in a row.
Aaron's take:
It gives the local affiliates a sure, stable lead-in to their late local news -- you've got to think GM's everywhere are popping corks after suffering through years of dismal lead-ins. Here in Kansas City KSHB suffered doubly in the November book because of appallingly low numbers from "My Own Worst Enemy" (aptly titled) and other lead-ins to late news. It took a hit in the evenings, and then took another hit in the mornings when people woke up and tuned into whatever network affiliate they were watching the night before.

It gets NBC out of the 22-hours-a-week prime time programming business, at which it was presently sucking, and into the 17-hours-a-week business, just like Fox.

And of course, it locks up Jay Leno and prevents him from going to ABC -- where, frankly, he would not have done as well as he will here.
Best of all, this probably means some job security for my friend Jon Macks, who has been writing monologue jokes for Leno since his debut as host of "The Tonight Show" more than 16 years ago.

In Other Words, Lesley

Last night on "60 Minutes," Lesley Stahl did a two-segment piece on Saudi Arabia's oil. It wasn't bad, but it was too long.

Stahl loves numbers. Here's how much steel they're using to build this facility, here's how many miles they have to pump sea water from the ocean, here's how many barrels of oil they can produce per day, and on and on. She's particularly impressed by scale -- this is a huge room, that tank is the size of a football field, how much did this facility cost, how long is this pipeline, etc.

The problem is that much of this is useless information, included solely to bloat the piece into two segments. Any good editor would have cut out scenes like Stahl getting off a plane wearing an abaya, or going up a long staircase.

I'm not kidding. At one point, she visited the Khurais oil field, where Stahl spoke to Khalid Abdulqader, the project manager. He showed her around the facility, including a climb up the steps of a seven-story-high oil tank, where Stahl was heard saying, "This is a lot of walking."

Once at the top, he showed her the vast expanse of the tank, and she asked if they could climb down the steps on the inside. He said yes and led the way. Stahl followed, warning him to "be careful, be very careful" as if she were his mother.

At the bottom, Abdulqader explained, "This is a floating roof. So, when oil comes in, the whole roof will go up." Here's the next thing out of Stahl's mouth: "So, in other words, we're standing on the roof of the tank, and the oil will push it up."

No, Lesley, not in other words. Those were his exact words you were repeating for no reason.

She does this often. Someone says something in plain, non-technical speak that we can all understand, but Stahl feels the need to repeat and explain it ("This is an apple, it grew on a tree." "In other words, this fruit was once on the branch of a tree until someone picked it?" "Yes.")

Stahl scored some points with tough questions of the Saudi oil minister, but in the end she concluded that, despite leaders in the US and elsewhere pushing for alternatives, Saudi Arabia is bullish on oil's future.

What a shock. That's like Paris Hilton being bullish on paparazzi, or Lesley Stahl being bullish on redundancy. In other words, one doesn't exist without the other.

Bonus: Here's a rant I did on the air a year ago about Stahl's visit to a Subway restaurant.

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include man vs. squirrels, cops vs. one-legged man, and two drunk drivers in the same car.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Amazing Race 13


Reader Ted Williams e-mailed to ask which of the three remaining teams I think will win this 13th season of "The Amazing Race."

My wife and daughter and I had been rooting for Toni and Dallas, the mother-and-son team who came in last on Sunday and were eliminated after Dallas left the bag containing their money and passports in a taxi. But in an interview with BuddyTV, Dallas claims it wasn't his fault:
They cut it and made it look like I kind of just lost this cab, which was not the case. I took three cabs before I even got to where my mom was there at the end of that road block. It wasn't until I got out of the second cab that I realized that it'd gotten left in the first cab, due to when they were changing my battery on my microphone, which is underneath my t-shirt, strapped around my chest. So they had to undo the fanny pack that was carrying everything.
Regardless, his error is what cost them the chance to make the final three.

Of the teams that are left, Nick and Starr have to be the favorites. They've run a great race, finishing each leg by getting to Phil's mat first more often than any other team. We certainly can't root for frat boys Dan and Andrew, who may be the most incompetent (and spastic) team to ever get this far. As for Ken and Tina, I despise the whole notion of couples going on "TAR" to help save their damaged relationships. Besides, Tina would just blow the million on more Botox.

So, Ted, I'm going with the brother-and-sister team to win it all.

As a bonus, watch this clip from host Phil Keoghan's video diary of some time he spent with his father -- who helped to greet the teams in the Keoghans' home nation, New Zealand -- and introduced America to the Bastard Burger.

Click here to listen to interviews I've done with Phil and some teams from previous seasons.

By the way, the 14th season of "The Amazing Race" is set to debut February 15th. I hope that when it starts, at least one team will have thought ahead far enough to know how to get to the airport from their starting point. Why no one has mapped that out before baffles me -- you know it's an international race and your first destination will be outside the US, so your first job is to figure out which roads lead to the major airport!

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include how not to steal an ATM, when to abandon your wheelchair, and why politicians might be breath-tested before being allowed to vote.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Long Distance

I called a friend yesterday to ask a question, and when he picked up the first thing he said was, "Let me call you right back. I'm on the other line, and it's long distance."

After we hung up, I laughed at the old-fashioned way he'd put that.

A long-distance call used to be a lot more important, because it was a lot more expensive. Now, most home and cell phone plans are all-inclusive -- you can call pretty much anywhere in the US for a flat monthly fee, limited only by the number of minutes you use. It doesn't matter where either party is, nor how many miles are between them. That has helped shrink the country, by taking away the faux aura of importance that something far away implied.

Distance doesn't matter on your phone bill, nor does the time of day. It wasn't that long ago that you'd wait until after 7pm to call someone because it was less expensive. And it was cheaper still after 11pm. Start that phone call even a minute early and you'd fume when your bill came and they charged you the higher rate. I once had a roommate whose girlfriend traveled a lot, and she couldn't understand why the phone company kept charging her "evening" rates when she was clearly calling him late enough to qualify for "night" rates. Let's just say she was never very good on the concept of time zones.

Now, it would be a moot point -- pay your flat fee, call whenever, wherever. On the other hand, it takes away a good excuse: "Don't bother Daddy right now, he's on a long distance call." Because if it was just down the street, it couldn't possibly be important.

In my lifetime, I've had more than a dozen phone numbers as I moved from state to state. It's now possible to get a phone number that's local to anywhere in the country, so that you can grow up in St. Louis, go to college in Boston, get a job in Los Angeles, and still have a 314 area code on your phone. It's likely that my daughter will have one phone number -- her current cell number -- for the rest of her life.

It amuses me to see people put the area code in parentheses on business cards or in e-mails. We're already at the point where you should include all ten digits as your full phone number, especially in areas where two area codes overlap because of the increased number of phones in a market. And when did this trend start of breaking up your phone number with a dot instead of a dash? It looks like an IP address, not a phone number (e.g 202.456.1414 instead of 202-456-1414 -- which, by the way, is the switchboard at the White House). Europeans may do it that way, as they do with the time, but if we're going to start adopting their standards, you'll have to flip the month and day when putting the date on your checks.

There was a time when I could tell where you were just by the area code. Every area code had either a zero or a one as its middle digit, and the other digits were between 2 and 9. Atlanta was 404, Denver was 303, Hartford was 203, New York was 212. For a long time, New Jersey had only two prefixes: 201 for the northern part of the state, 609 for the southern. Those geographic distinctions are gone -- my brother's cell number starts with 201, but his home number starts with 973.

Also gone are the days when your phone number included letters. When we were kids, my phone number started with HT4, and my friend Bill's number started with MA1. As a matter of fact, Bill's parents gave their prefix as "Mayfair-1." If my daughter is using her phone keypad to punch in letters, it's because she's sending someone a text message, not calling them.

Frankly, I don't even know the phone numbers of most of the people I call. I don't have to remember them because my phone does. It's only when someone asks, "Do you have Josh's number?" that I dig out the actual digits -- and then provide all ten of them.

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include the theft of the Empire State Building, an animal surprise for a deer hunter, a husband who stole half his wife's bed.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What To Do With GM

What does Dan Neil, who covers the automotive beat for the LA Times, have in common with Michael Moore, the movie director and provacateur? They both want the government to buy General Motors instead of giving them more money.

Here's Neil:

What to do about the domestic automakers? My modest proposal: Nationalize GM.

To be clear, I mean that the federal government should buy GM; forget rathole loans or nonvoting equity shares. The company's stockholder value has been essentially wiped out. The company's enterprise value -- the lock, stock and forklift price -- is about $32 billion; its total debt is $45 billion. Let's make GM an offer.

If you feel the gall of free-market ideology rising, consider that the measures being bruited about as preconditions for a bailout -- firing GM's top management; forcing a bankruptcy-like renegotiation of contracts with the UAW, suppliers and dealers (it has too many); and creating a czar of product development to force the building of green cars -- are nationalization in all but name. I say embrace it. GM-USA.
And Moore:
Let me just state the obvious: Every single dollar Congress gives these three companies will be flushed right down the toilet. There is nothing the management teams of the Big 3 are going to do to convince people to go out during a recession and buy their big, gas-guzzling, inferior products. Just forget it. And, as sure as I am that the Ford family-owned Detroit Lions are not going to the Super Bowl -- ever -- I can guarantee you, after they burn through this $34 billion, they'll be back for another $34 billion next summer.

So what to do? Members of Congress, here's what I propose:

1. Transporting Americans is and should be one of the most important functions our government must address. And because we are facing a massive economic, energy and environmental crisis, the new president and Congress must do what Franklin Roosevelt did when he was faced with a crisis (and ordered the auto industry to stop building cars and instead build tanks and planes): The Big 3 are, from this point forward, to build only cars that are not primarily dependent on oil and, more importantly to build trains, buses, subways and light rail (a corresponding public works project across the country will build the rail lines and tracks). This will not only save jobs, but create millions of new ones.

2. You could buy ALL the common shares of stock in General Motors for less than $3 billion. Why should we give GM $18 billion or $25 billion or anything? Take the money and buy the company! (You're going to demand collateral anyway if you give them the "loan," and because we know they will default on that loan, you're going to own the company in the end as it is. So why wait? Just buy them out now.)

3. None of us want government officials running a car company, but there are some very smart transportation geniuses who could be hired to do this. We need a Marshall Plan to switch us off oil-dependent vehicles and get us into the 21st century.

This proposal will save our industrial infrastructure -- and millions of jobs. More importantly, it will create millions more. It literally could pull us out of this recession.

In contrast, yesterday General Motors presented its restructuring proposal to Congress. They promised, if Congress gave them $18 billion now, they would, in turn, eliminate around 20,000 jobs. You read that right. We give them billions so they can throw more Americans out of work. That's been their Big Idea for the last 30 years -- layoff thousands in order to protect profits. But no one ever stopped to ask this question: If you throw everyone out of work, who's going to have the money to go out and buy a car?

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a man who ended a police chase by running himself over, bad timing outside a Starbucks, and a restaurant ripoff ruined by Facebook.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a bank robber with a naked butt covered in red dye, a phone thief in for quite a surprise, and a cop who wasn't as thirsty as the guy next to him.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Real Variety

There's been quite a bit of talk in the TV blogosphere about the crashing-and-burning of Rosie O'Donnell's variety show on NBC last Wednesday. By the next day, when Nielsen said only five million people had watched the show, the network announced it would not pick up the option to turn the show into a series (or even an occasional special), and the critics were unanimous in their scorn.

Ironically, little has been said about Ellen DeGeneres' variety show, which aired this weekend on TBS. It's her second annual "Really Big Show," done at Caesar's Palace as part of a comedy festival. And it works.

Unlike O'Donnell's insistence on shoving all things Broadway down viewers' throats, Degeneres plays host to the kind of Vegas novelty acts that must show up in the Cirque Du Soleil casting office every day -- from tumblers to jugglers to a mannequin dancer (?!?). The only sour notes are an 8-year-old girl who sings "Proud Mary" a la Tina Turner (making you squirm in a Jon-Benet-Ramsey-Meets-Sin-City way) and magician Hans Klok (poster boy for the kind of big illusion acts Penn & Teller love to make fun of).

There's also a funny segment where DeGeneres meets the cast of "Legends," a show at the Imperial Palace that has celebrity impersonators onstage (Madonna, Britney, Cher, Elvis, Leno) and very old people in the audience. DeGeneres goes out to perform, and the crowd doesn't seem to realize it's really her. Nicely done.

"Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show" re-airs Tuesday night on TBS.

More Movies You Might Not Know


Today I'm adding two titles to the Movies You Might Not Know list that go together thematically. They're both documentaries about musicians who faced harsh criticism for speaking out against the leadership of this country, but whose careers were not curtailed, nor their voices squelched.

First is "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing," which begins at the concert in England in 2003 where Natalie Maines said, just as US troops were invading Iraq, "We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas."

When the comment was printed in a London tabloid, the echo reverberated back home, where conservative commentators blasted her, country radio stations pulled their music off the air, and some fans burned and destroyed their Dixie Chicks CDs. The band still played sold-out shows overseas, but the backlash in the US hurt their domestic business considerably, and the movie follows these talented musicians and singers as their families expand but their fan base shrinks.

The most compelling parts of the documentary show the discussions Maines, Emily Robison, and Marti Maguire have with their manager, Simon Renshaw, about how to handle the situation -- including changing tour security in the face of death threats, whether they should try to maintain a relationship with country radio, and how to answer their critics both at press conferences and on their next album -- without losing their integrity or sacrificing their sound.

It's a fascinating look inside the music industry and at the resiliency of the band as they discover who they are and what they stand for.

The other movie is "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song," which follows the career of the legendary folk singer -- inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, recipient of the National Medal of Arts, and Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement honoree -- from his early days with Woody Guthrie to stardom as one of The Weavers to being blacklisted for standing up to the House Unamerican Activities Committee to his anti-war songs to his efforts to clean up the Hudson River.

Along the way, you hear from some of those Seeger inspired, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and, yes, Natalie Maines. There's also a chilling section about a 1949 performance in Peekskill, New York by Seeger and Paul Robeson that was marred by violence from so-called patriots whose concept of free speech meant using rocks and baseball bats to smash car windows and injure dozens of concertgoers.

The documentarians provide plenty of footage of Seeger doing what he does best, playing banjo and guitar while enticing huge crowds to sing along with him. Anyone who's ever seen him in concert knows Seeger won't let you sit there and just watch. He makes it a truly interactive experience, and before you know it, you're part of the chorus on "We Shall Overcome," "Turn Turn Turn," "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," and others from the great American folk songbook to which he has contributed so much.

See the entire Movies You Might Not Know list, then feel free to recommend your own.

Knuckleheads In The News ®

Today's stories include a man pulling over to help a hot blonde on the highway, a two-dimensional bank robber, and a boy upset about his mean teacher.

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