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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Take Back The Beep

David Pogue, the NY Times personal tech columnist, is fed up with the hoops that cell phone companies make us jump through to leave voice mail or retrieve our messages. As he explained to me on KTRS/St. Louis today, the reason is money -- by taking up 15 seconds of air time to explain to you "if you'd like to leave a message...if you'd like to leave a numeric page...if you'd like more options...etc" each time, the carriers rack up millions of dollars more per year.

This is not a huge matter, but it is one of those nagging petty annoyances that's part of all of our daily lives, so Pogue has started a campaign ("Take Back The Beep") to convince the phone companies to knock it off.

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

Pogue has more on the campaign on his blog. His rant that first alerted me to this, along with some tricks for your cell phone, is here.

Fear & Greed & Health Care

Wendell Potter spent 20 years as a public relations executive for two large health insurance companies before he became so disenchanted that he quit his job and began to speak out in favor of health care reform and against the corporate greed he had witnessed. I spoke to him on KIRO/Seattle about the battle between the reformers and the industry he left behind, including:

  • Whether the public option would really hurt the industry, and the irony of all these politicians who oppose it while they (and their staffs) are covered by a government-run insurance plan;
  • How Republicans in Congress use fear and talking points provided by the insurance industry;
  • What message he would send to Democrats in Congress to help save health care reform;
  • Why the insurance industry would love to have an individual mandate passed;
  • How much of your insurance premium goes to doctors, nurses, and hospitals.
Potter is now Senior Fellow on Health Care at the Center for Media & Democracy.

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

Ghosts of Busters Past

For years, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis have talked about creating a third "Ghostbusters" movie, but since they have yet to agree on a concept, a web-based writer/filmmaker who calls himself whoiseyevan decided to take a crack at it. Instead of advancing the story into the future with the same actors, he re-cast Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Fred MacMurray as the Ghostbusters, circa 1954, and edited together this trailer...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Final Table 26: Lon McEachern and Mike Eise

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Lon McEachern (play-by-play guy for ESPN's coverage of the World Series Of Poker), WSOP bracelet winner Mike Eise, and Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan.

Lon explained how the coverage will be different this year, what he and Norman Chad looked for as they checked out the players during the Main Event, and why ESPN producers were rooting for Dennis to make it back to the final table. He also refuted several rumors about this year's Main Event, including the claim that Phil Ivey refused to have his table become the Feature Table.

Mike won his bracelet in a $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold'em event, becoming the first St. Louisan to bring back some WSOP jewelry. He explained how he got there by being part of a poker club, and how he had to share his winnings (over $600k!) with the other players back home.

Joe offered his analysis of a big hand from the Main Event in which the two chip leaders went head-to-head. Billy Kopp was eliminated in that hand when his 5-high diamond flush lost to Darvin Moon's queen-high diamond flush -- but it was how the hand was played that caught our interest.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catch It and You Keep It

In 1972, National Lampoon released a comedy album called Radio Dinner. Most of it was from the mind of Christopher Guest, Michael O'Donaghue, and Tony Hendra, with songs sung by Melissa Manchester, and appearances by legendary voiceover gods Norman Rose and Jackson Beck, too.

One of the bits was "Catch It and You Keep It," a game show parody in which contestants got to keep valuable prizes -- from electric knives to a dinette set to a house -- if they could catch them when thrown off the top of a skyscraper in Manhattan.

Someone has uploaded the long-out-of-print vinyl "Radio Dinner" album to the Internet Archive and made it available as streaming audio. I don't know how long it will remain available, but "Catch It and You Keep It" appears about 7 minutes into side one.

Thirty-seven years later, what was once satire is now reality. Discovery's Science Channel has a show called "Catch It Keep It," in which contestants can win valuable prizes by saving them as they fall from great heights, are hurled across a parking lot, or are about to catch on fire or explode.

I haven't seen the show because Science Channel is not among those I subscribe to on Dish Network, but this promo video sets up the premise pretty well...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jeff Sharlet on "The Family"

A secret religious cult operating inside the chambers of our federal government, covering up their own misdeeds, and using taxpayer dollars to spread their goal of "Biblical capitalism"? Sounds like fiction, but it's fact.

Jeff Sharlet joined me on KIRO/Seattle today to talk about his investigations into a that group, as revealed in his book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power." He uncovers the inside workings of this group of senators and congressmen, who vow to put The Family and each other above all else, including their oath to uphold the Constitution.

Members of The Family have included two recently disgraced Republican big shots -- Sen. John Ensign of Nevada and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina -- whose adultery was known, and covered up by, fellow members of The Family (talk about religious hypocrisy: many of these legislators pushed for Ten Commandments displays across the country, but there's at least one Commandment they didn't follow themselves!). These ultra-religious (!) politicians have traveled the world on missionary trips disguised as Congressional business, given each other "veto rights" over their lives, and operated as a lobbying organization without registering as such.

The fact that such an extremist religious group -- made up of some of this nation's top elected officials, both Republican and Democratic -- has managed to stay so secret and been allowed to continue operating, is a huge scandal that should be the subject of an official investigation, with thanks to Sharlet for uncovering large parts of this developing story.

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Some of the members of Congress with ties to The Family: Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Chip Pickering, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Lindsay Graham, Sen. James Inhofe, Sen John Thune, Rep. Joe Pitts, Rep. Frank Wolf, Rep. Zach Wamp, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Mike McIntyre, Sen. Mark Pryor, and many more.

Ben Mezrich on Facebook's Founders

Ben Mezrich, author of "Bringing Down The House" (which became the hit movie "21") was back with me today on KIRO/Seattle to discuss his new book, "Accidental Billionaires." It's the story of the guys who founded Facebook, which began as a prank played by Mark Zuckerberg on the women of Harvard.

We talked about how that idea grew into the largest social-networking site in the world, with some 250,000,000 users, and a value of over $6.5 billion. Mezrich and I touched on how a site with virtually no income is worth that much, and why Zuckerberg hasn't accepted huge offers to buy his company. As he did with "21," Kevin Spacey is already turning this book into a movie, with a script by Aaron Sorkin.

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Judge Nap on Race In America

Judge Andrew Napolitano was back on the air with me today on KIRO/Seattle to talk about his new book, "Dred Scott's Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America."

We discussed the Professor Gates/Sgt. Crowley case as Judge Nap, a constitutional scholar, explained why he thought Sgt. Crowley was wrong to arrest Gates, and why he would have thrown them out of his courtroom. Then we delved into some of the history covered in the book, including whether the founding fathers deserve blame for the racial problems that still exist in this country. We wrapped up the conversation with his thoughts on John Yoo, the attorney in the Bush Justice Department who wrote memos claiming the administration's right to use the military to capture terrorists on domestic soil, supporting torture techniques, and giving the former president other unprecedented powers.

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

Judge Andrew Napolitano is senior judicial analyst for the Fox News Channel. You can listen to my interview about his previous book, "A Nation of Sheep." I also recommend his books "Constitutional Chaos" and "Constitution in Exile."

Old Phone, New Tricks

NY Times tech columnist David Pogue gave a presentation earlier this year revealing some cool new things you can do with your cell phone. The best part is when he ranted about the insipid recorded instructions that still come with voice mail:

When I call to leave you a voicemail message, the first thing I hear, before I’m allowed to hear the beep, is 15 seconds of instructions. "To page this person, press 5." Page this person!? Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize this was 1980! "When you have finished recording, you may hang up." Oh, really!? So glad you mentioned that! I would have stayed on the line forever! And then when I call in for messages, I’m held up for 15 more seconds. "To listen to your messages, press 1." Why else would I be calling!?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Poker Pix

Someone posted a thread on the Two Plus Two poker forum, asking people to come up with movies with poker pun titles. Some of the best:

Rakeback Mountain
A Fish Called Juanda
Dude, Where's Mike Caro?
Dwan of the Dead
Poison Ivey
Laak, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
A Bridge Too Farha
The Curious Case of Benyamine's Button
Blazing Seidels
Raymer vs. Raymer
Slumdog Moneymaker
There's Something About Barry

Friday, July 24, 2009

Love, Honor, and Dance

The best entrance by a wedding party ever, from Jill and Kevin Heinz of St. Paul, Minnesota...

[thanks to Alan Light for the link]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

All The News They Shouldn't Print

In his Studio Briefing column today, Lew Irwin writes:

New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley, who is likely the most corrected writer on the newspaper -- she is frequently cited on the websites RegretTheError, Gawker, and ReferenceTone (which called her "The Wrongest Critic") -- had her appraisal of Walter Cronkite worked over thoroughly in a corrections item on Wednesday, which quickly spread over the Internet.

The Times said that Stanley's article "misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite's coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. The CBS Evening News overtook The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents' reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of The CBS Evening News in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor."
That's terribly sloppy work and a lot of mistakes for one article, but it begs the question: where was her editor? How does a story like that get into print without an editor bothering to check the facts? The moon-landing error is particularly egregious, considering the 40th anniversary of that landmark event was just three days after Cronkite's death and was covered elsewhere in that same newspaper.

Worse: the article was no doubt posted on the Times' website hours before it was in print. I know that anytime I get something factually wrong on this site, it doesn't even take an hour for me to hear from readers who have spotted the error. I try to correct the error as quickly as possible. I'm sure the Times gets the same kind of instant feedback, so why were they unable to repair the damage before it appeared in the print edition?

For chrissakes, does anyone in the newspaper business bother to read their own stories anymore?

Evangelizing for Equality

President Jimmy Carter explains that he is leaving the Southern Baptists, the church that he's been part of for six decades, because its leaders (as well as so many other religious organizations) continue to subjugate women. I don't think it's out of place to ask why it took Carter all this time to come to these conclusions:

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.
Carter's whole column is here.


How do you translate "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" so it's still funny in France?

While you're at it, how do you translate "Good Morning America" so it's still considered a news show? That's an impossible task...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Final Table 25: Main Event Recap, Nov 9 Preview

My poker radio partner, Dennis Phillips, is in Washington, DC, tonight meeting some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital and playing in a charity poker game with them. Earlier today, he joined other poker pros (like Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, and Greg Raymer) in lobbying Congress on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance. They presented the online petition that 300,000 poker players have signed, and met with several legislators in an attempt to make poker legal in all forms everywhere in the USA.

Because Dennis was busy in DC, he wasn't able to be on my poker radio show, The Final Table, this evening -- but Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan and I held it together in his absence. We did a wrap-up of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, and then handicapped this year's November Nine, from chip leader Darvin Moon to top pro Phil Ivey to all the other players in between.

In Joe's "Poker Coach One-On-One" segment, he interviewed JC Tran just after he got knocked out of the Main Event. And I spent a few minutes with St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony Larussa, talking poker, baseball, and animal rescues.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

When Words Matter

I'm sitting at home watching the History Channel replaying CBS' coverage of the moon landing from 40 years ago, with Walter Cronkite anchoring. Neil Armstrong has just set foot on the lunar surface, and as I watch this greatest achievement in human scientific history*, I can't help think of a routine Robert Klein did on one of his first albums.

He talked about Armstrong being a man of such integrity, how his first words ("That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind") were so classy and perfect for the occasion. Klein pointed out that if Armstrong had been a different kind of man, if he had wanted to set himself and his family up for generations, his first words would have been "COCA-COLA!!!"

*Actually, the achivement wasn't just getting two astronauts to the moon, but getting them home safely, too, just as JFK promised.

Chirp and Bee-Doop

It's unlikely that you'd notice this, but with Walter Cronkite's death, CBS considered retiring the voice intro he'd recorded for "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," which they'd been using since she took over the anchor chair. Reports today say CBS is going to keep it on the air as sort of an ongoing tribute to Cronkite (until they can figure out something else). NBC did the same thing when Howard Reig -- the staff announcer whose recorded voice introduced "Nightly News" with John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw, and Brian Williams -- died in 2008. He was replaced by Michael Douglas (yes, that Michael Douglas).

When CBS does use another voice, there's no word on whether they'll go the celebrity route or just hire another voice guy (hey, I'm available!!), but it won't have any affect on ratings either way.

Neither will another change that CBS made a week ago, which you also didn't notice. They've retired the "chirp" that the CBS Radio Network used as an automation cue for about 30 years. The state of the art in digital distribution has rendered the chirps obsolete, as explained here [thanks to Joe Crain for the link].

In reading that story, I'm reminded of a classic radio prank pulled by Howard Hoffman and some friends many years ago. At the time, Larry King was doing his overnight radio show for Mutual, which used a cue tone that sounded like "bee-doop." It would tell automation systems at their affiliates when to insert a local commercial, when to rejoin the network, etc.

Howard recorded the "bee-doop," called the show and, once on the air and talking with King, played the "bee-doop" down the line a few times at irregular intervals during the conversation. After about the third time, King asked, "What's that sound?" Howard played dumb, replied "What sound?" and hit it again. Meanwhile, the legend says that not only were the guys in King's control room going crazy, but unmanned affiliates all across the country were firing carts with commercials or other elements, causing havoc on the airwaves.

Your Tax Dollars In Action

Three quick stories about politicians being reckless with your money:

1) Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (and four others) were in Iraq this weekend, eating with members of the military and doing a town hall meeting. Why? What possible reason is there for any governor to travel to a war zone at taxpayer expense? They may be rah-rah supporters of the troops, as many of us are, but they can do that at home. These politicians traveled to Iraq solely to do the old grip-and-grin with soldiers in uniform and having their press person alert the world in the hopes of free media attention.

2) Speaking of trying to bask in the spotlight, several states are already spending stimulus money on repairing our broken infrastructure, and that's good. What's not so good is the decision to put up road signs announcing that the repair work was being done with stimulus money. You see, making and putting up signs costs money, funds that could be spent on real work, not touting the work you're already doing. More help, less public relations, please!

3) At the Treasury Department, someone thought the people who work at the Bureau of Public Debt needed a morale booster. So they contracted with a cartoonist to conduct a couple of three-hour-long seminars on the benefits of humor in the workplace, and how humor can reduce stress. If you want to reduce stress at the Bureau of Public Debt, how about reducing the debt by not wasting money on bad ideas like this one? When asked, most of those employees would likely tell you that it would be less stressful if the boss would stop sending them to ridiculous seminars like this. The cost of the cartoonist was minimal compared to the other wasteful spending in our government, but the point is that it's still waste. Thanks to Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) for killing the plan once he heard about it.

One More Cronkite Post

Best idea that hasn't been announced yet: If Cronkite's family approves, NASA should take Cronkite's ashes up on the next shuttle mission and release them in space, giving him the opportunity to take the trip he always wanted and orbit the planet for eternity.

Best part of last night's Cronkite tribute on CBS: the clip of him reporting LBJ's death. He'd gotten a call during a commercial break from a former presidential aide, who was giving him the details, but they weren't finished when the spots ended. So, on camera, Cronkite put up his index finger to tell the viewers "hang on a second" while he kept the phone to his ear and gathered information. Then he calmly reported the news as he had just learned it. Classic.

Worst part of last night's Cronkite tribute on CBS: when the show ended, the next thing we saw on the network was cheesy reality show "Big Brother." I wonder what Walter would have thought of that.

Photo Journalism?

This was the front page photo in the Sunday New York Times for a story called "Driven To Distraction," about the dangers of talking and/or texting on a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Under the photo, credited to Dan Gill, was this caption: "At 60 miles an hour on a Missouri highway, a 16-year-old driver texts with a friend as a 17-year-old takes the wheel."

There are ethical questions here, which I haven't seen or heard raised anywhere. If Gill was in the backseat, did he ask the teenagers to enact this scene so he could get the picture? Isn't that a little William-Hurt-in-Broadcast-News-ish? If he didn't ask them, and texting while driving is so dangerous, did Gill object when the driver took his hands off the wheel at 60mph? How did he end up in the backseat of a car with two teenagers up front in the first place?

I'd like to hear what the Times' ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, has to say on the subject.

Update 7/20/09 6:11am: Not long after I posted this item, Dan Gill responded in the comments section with a link to a story on Photo District News that says, in part:

Last year, Gill was assigned a story for the Times that involved shadowing a group of high school students. This photograph is from that body of work, but it was not published until now. The scene was not set up. Gill writes:
"In the course of doing the story in which I was hanging out with or shadowing three high school students I made the picture.

"I met them at their high school after classes and spent the evening with them. I told them I would be with them but to forget I was there. It did not take them long for them to forget I was there. We rode from school to one of their houses and down an inter belt highway. The driver was constantly texting 'his girls' throughout our travels. At one point on the eight-lane inter belt either the driver suggested his friend hold the wheel or his friend suggested it...and they did it.

"Were we safe? Probably not.... As journalists, we are not here to judge or to direct, but only to observe and tell the story."
Gill adds that the parents of the students knew he was with them. He and the Times have not identified the students in the picture.

Gill says he thinks this practice was common for them. "Would the kids be texting if I were not there? Yes," he says. As for whether he should have told them to stop rather than taking a photograph, he says, "It's not really up to the photographer to be the parent."

No, you don't have to be the parent -- but you are the adult in the back seat of the car whose life is being endangered, and you might want to tell the driver, "Put your freakin' hands on the wheel!!!"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lampooning Ted Kennedy

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Chappaquiddick Incident, in which Mary Jo Kopechne died when the car she was in, a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 driven by Ted Kennedy, went off a bridge and sank. Kennedy extricated himself, but she drowned.

Much has been made of the story in the last four decades, but none was better than what the National Lampoon did -- back in the days when they actually produced funny material -- in their 1973 Encyclopedia of Humor. At the time, Volkswagen was running a series of ads touting the water-tight quality of their Beetles, thus this parody:

Since you likely can't read the print, here's how the copy under the photo reads:
It floats.

The way our body is built, we'd be surprised if it didn't. The sheet of flat steel that goes underneath every Volkswagen keeps out water, as well as dirt and salt and other nasty things that can eat away at the underside of a car. So it's watertight at the bottom. And everybody knows it's easier to shut the door on a Volkswagen after you've rolled down the window a little.

That proves it's practically airtight on top. If it was a boat, we could call it the Water Bug. But it's not a boat, it's a car.

And, like Mary Jo Kopechne, it's only 99 and 44/100 percent pure. So it won't stay afloat forever. Just long enough. Poor Teddy. If he'd been smart enough to buy a Volkswagen, he never would have gotten into hot water.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

We're All Food for EATRs

My favorite story of the last week sounds like the plot of a horror movie.

As reported by Fox News, a company in Maryland, under contract to the Pentagon, is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find -- grass, wood, even dead bodies. It's called the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, or EATR, for short.

The Fox News story said:

EATR can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment and other organically-based energy sources, as well as using conventional and alternative fuels, from gas to cooking oil, when suitable. The biomass wouldn't necessarily be limited to plant material, since animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy.
I can already imagine the horror movie, with a Michael Crichton-type plot, where we build these robots and they go all Westworld on us, and now it's Soylent Green time again, except humans are now the food for the robots! They're killing us for the purpose of eating us, just so they can survive -- and then they build Skynet and and take over the world and no humans are left because we're all robot food!!!

Fortunately for the real world, Fox was forced to revise their story after the company complained, insisting that EATR is strictly vegetarian. Besides, they said, desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something they sanction.

However, one part of the revised story still bothered me:
Dr. Bob Finkelstein, president of RTI and a cybernetics expert, said the EATR would be programmed to recognize specific fuel sources and avoid others. "If it’s not on the menu, it’s not going to eat it," Finkelstein said.
Sure. That's what all the mad scientists say, right before the robots re-program themselves, destroy everyone in the lab, and execute their android takeover.

Friday, July 17, 2009

That's The Way He Was

How ironic that Walter Cronkite has died, at age 92, on the 40th anniversary of the news story he most loved covering -- the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

It may be hard for some viewers to understand the impact Cronkite had, from a time when there were so few television news outlets that his only competition was Huntley & Brinkley on NBC (and he left them in the dust in 1967, when his ratings surpassed theirs and never dipped until he stepped down in 1981).

The 24-hour news networks are talking it up tonight, and CBS will do a primetime retrospective of his career on Sunday night, but Cronkite's death won't get nearly as much attention or adulation as Michael Jackson's. Yet his imprint on history is much greater. How important was he? Try to name one person today -- on or off TV -- who anyone would call The Most Trusted Person In America.

I've dug into my archives to find an interview I did with Cronkite on June 25, 2001, in which we talked about his voice work on "Apollo 13" and his love of the space program. We also delved at length into his criticisms of television newscasts he felt had become "cheapened" by giving people what they want to know rather than what they need to know.

Cronkite also lamented the lack of reporters in foreign countries:
"These are the days when a bonfire in a little country whose name we can't pronounce in a location on the globe we don't know, that bonfire can suddenly turn into a mushroom-shaped cloud. We'd damned well better know what's going on, and we don't!"
Those words seem fairly prescient in retrospect, considering this was less than three months before the 9/11 attacks forced the networks to cover places on the map they had ignored for too long.

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In watching some of the video obits of Cronkite, I was struck by a few things: no one makes it as a network anchorman anymore with facial hair and glasses, and very few of them are so trusted that they can show even a little emotion, as Cronkite did on the day he reported the death of JFK, or the enthusiasm he showed as Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the lunar surface.

To What End?

When I heard about the bombings in Jakarta yesterday, my first thought was, what do these terrorists hope to achieve? Long term, I mean.

If you look at the various terrorist acts in the last decade or two -- the World Trade Center, the Madrid train station, the hotels in Mumbai, any place you wanna pick in the Middle East -- they have not been effective at all in changing policies of the companies and/or countries they have attacked. I know that most of the people recruited to carry out these suicide missions are poor and desperate, but somewhere up the chain, the supposedly-smarter decision makers had an agenda they hope to achieve.

These Muslim extremists must not have a rearview mirror because, while they're very good at blowing things up and instilling fear in the short-term, the long-term policy-change failure rate seems to be 100%.

No Sunscreen For You

Zero Tolerance Alert: A 9-year-old girl can't wear sunscreen at school, because other kids might be allergic. Never mind that her mother died of skin cancer and she's susceptible, too.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not Government's Job

House Democrats want to pass a bill that would require GM and Chrysler to restore franchise agreements with car dealers they have severed ties to. The politicians no doubt heard from those business owners who were upset about being forced to close dealerships across the country, and saw the federal financial aid connection as an excuse to stick Congress' nose in where it doesn't belong. According to Bloomberg, the Obama administration agrees, saying it would set a "dangerous precedent" to "intervene into a closed judicial bankruptcy proceeding on behalf of one particular group at this point."

Meanwhile, the House also wants to spend more of your tax dollars on air travel to and from rural America. They've set aside $173 million (up from $120 million) for Essential Air Service, a subsidy to small airlines to keep flying virtually empty planes on unprofitable routes. Some of those flights are such short distances that you could make it from Point A to Point B faster by driving.

I wish someone would stand up and tell people in rural areas that they don't have an absolute right to airport access or any other service that isn't a basic human need, and the government shouldn't pay to provide those services. Schools? Yes. Roads? Yes. Law enforcement? Yes. Mail delivery? Yes. Air travel? No.

I live in St. Louis, where we lost the ability to fly non-stop to pretty much anywhere in the country when American Airlines bought out TWA and then took away our status as a hub. Now, there are fewer non-stop flights to most destinations, service on some routes has been discontinued completely, and the planes are much smaller (to visit my mother-in-law in Connecticut, we have to board a plane that's approximately the size of a paper-towel-tube). But I don't want the US government, or any state government, to pay the airlines to restore those routes.

This doesn't apply only to air travel. If you don't live where high-speed internet is available, and you want it, you have to either wait, move, or pay to get it via satellite. If your town doesn't have a movie theater, the government shouldn't build you one. Get a Netflix account and watch'em at home. If you crave Chinese food at 3am, the government shouldn't force Hunan Heights to stay open just so you can have Kung Pao Chicken on your schedule.

Life is about choices. If you don't want to be bothered by noise from the interstate, don't buy a house near the highway. If you enjoy alcohol and caffeine, don't move to Utah. If you prefer that your governor not go to jail, don't move to Illinois. If you're a huge NBA fan and can't live without a hometown team to root for, don't move to St. Louis.

And if your car company's going bankrupt and has to close you down to save the rest of the corporation, don't cry to Congress about it.

Ridiculous Survey Of The Day

A new survey lists the top ten American cities by how often people in those towns have sex. Houston came in number one, if you care. How was the survey done? By handing out questionaires to 100 people at random in each city. The survey, done by a condom manufacturer, had no way of verifying the information, so the data doesn't show how often those people have sex -- it shows how often those people say they have sex. What are the chances those people were honest in their answers? Would you be?

Print vs. Google

With all the problems the newspaper industry is having keeping their products in print, it makes no sense to blame Google for sending readers to the papers' websites. That's like telling an old-fashioned newsstand that, by selling individual copies, they're hurting home subscriptions. It's not Google's fault that the publishers haven't figured out a way to monetize their online editions. Google's response: if you don't want to show up in our searches, that's fine with us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lessons From The GOP

Ten things I've learned from Republican leaders in 2009:
  • Empathy is bad
  • Leaving your job halfway through the term isn't quitting, even if you don't have a new job lined up yet
  • Gays are ruining marriage, not heterosexual governors and senators who commit adultery
  • It's better to whine and complain about the other guy's ideas than to come up with your own solutions
  • Prove you're the Big Tent Party by celebrating when members leave (Arlen Spector) and urging others (Colin Powell) to get out, too
  • We don't torture, but if we do, we call it "enhanced interrogation"
  • States that don't like the federal government should secede, because it worked so well 150 years ago
  • Always keep a short term perspective, particularly when it comes to recovering from an economic crisis
  • If the Vice President did it, it wasn't illegal
  • When all else fails, blame David Letterman

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dennis' Remarkable Run Ends

Congratulations to my friend Dennis Phillips, who just ended his remarkable run at the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, finishing in 45th place (out of 6,494 players). On the final hand, just minutes ago, it was Ace-King against Ace-King, and the other guy hit four to his flush on the board to knock Dennis out.

Here's how they described it on PokerNews.com:

Phillips raised preflop to 450,000 from the button after Antoine Saout opened for 165,000 and Francois Balmigere called. Phillips' re-raise folded Saout but got the opposite reaction from Balmigere, who moved all in. Phillips called all in for less. Hands please, gentlemen!

{A-Spades} {k-Spades}
{A-Diamonds} {K-Diamonds}

Each player had suited Big Slick, which was a problem for Phillips on a flop of
{4-Spades} {K-Clubs} {6-Spades}. The turn {10-Hearts} was a safe card; Phillips just needed to fade spades one more time to remain in the tournament. Alas, the river was the {5-Spades}, filling Balmigere's spade flush and knocking Phillips out of the tournament in spectacularly cruel fashion.

Considering that Dennis was 3rd last year, he now has the best two-year span of any player in Main Event history, besting 13,290 entrants combined. He also made it further than any of the other members of the 2008 November Nine, or any of the other Team PokerStars Pros. He's sure to be spotlighted in ESPN's coverage of the Main Event, which kicks off in September.

All of us who are part of Team Dennis are very proud of him. He'll have lots of stories to share when we return to the Final Table, our poker radio show, next Tuesday night.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bob Greene, Late Edition

Bob Greene is one of America's best storytellers, as he has proved many times with his columns and books. His newest is "Late Edition: A Love Story," about his earliest years in the newspaper business.

When we talked about it recently on KTRS/St. Louis, Bob regaled me with how he wrote his first newspaper piece as a high school student on the day JFK was assassinated. While it went unpublished, it would eventually help land him a job at the Columbus Citizen-Journal as a copyboy and begin his lifelong career as a newspaperman.

We discussed not only Bob's past, but also the present state of the newspaper business and the advice he'd give to anyone thinking of applying for a job in an industry on the wane.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
My favorite previous interviews with Bob Greene:

Homeopathic ER

As seen on the British comedy show, "That Mitchell and Webb Look," a nice slam at homeopathy and other new age non-medical nonsense -- with a great final gag...

[thanks to Robert Knotbob for the link]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bathroom Break

Memo to the people who make auto-flush toilets: can you adjust your product so it doesn't flush while I'm still sitting there? I had this unpleasant experience at four different public venues in the last week. I don't know what you need to reset to make the toilet wait until I've finished my business, but if I wanted to use a bidet, I'd move to France. And thanks for the added bonus of having the toilet not flush once I've stood up. That's always a nice surprise for the next guy in the stall.

I'm guessing you've teamed up with the company that makes the toilet paper dispenser that holds onto the roll so tightly that when I pull at the paper, it tears immediately at the first perforation, allowing me only one square at a time. I also appreciate your third co-conspirator in public-bathroom annoyances, the ones who make the auto-faucet that won't spout water no matter where I place my hands under the spigot-sensor, so I look like I've just failed my final exam in mime class.

Before you entered our unsanitary lives, in the days when we were forced to operate the equipment manually, how did we ever manage the entire bathroom experience by ourselves? Oh, that's right, we had assistance from the men's room attendant, a profession that should never have been necessary in the first place.

Has there ever been a worse job than being forced to stand in a public bathroom and hand out paper towels all day, hoping you'll get a tip? You'd think the aromas alone would have been enough for the EPA to classify the facility as a hazmat site.

Some of these guys also ran a little flea market of related products, from cologne and cigarettes to gum and mints -- there's nothing I want more after emptying my bladder than a nice pack of Juicy Fruit that's been sitting on the sink all day. The attendants have been replaced in the last decade by a coin-operated box on the wall that dispenses pain relievers and condoms (seriously, I saw one at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas and wondered how many members of the Mile High Club bought their supplies there before boarding).

It almost makes me nostalgic for the ballpark bathroom trough.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Final Table #24: The Main Event & Mike Sexton

Tonight on my poker radio show, The Final Table, we have first-person coverage of the Main Event of the 2009 World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas.

I'm not playing in the tournament, preferring to stick to the cash games, but Dennis Phillips and Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan have both made it to Day Two with stories about their experiences. We also got into an extended discussion with guest Mike Sexton (from the World Poker Tour) about yesterday's "sold out" controversy, which kept hundreds of players from entering the tournament. And you'll hear my interview with Congressman Barney Frank about the legislation he's proposed to make poker legal in all forms, online and off.

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

World Series of Poker Controversy

There was some controversy at the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event yesterday.

As in past years, Day One was stretched out over four days, with the organizers prepared for thousands of players (total attendance last year: 6,844), but not knowing in advance how many people would register for each day's noon start. On Friday, there were 1,100 players. On Saturday, the Fourth of July, only 800 showed up. On Sunday, they nearly had 2,000 entrants. On Monday, they "sold out" and closed registration at 2,700 by 8:30am -- and that's when the muck hit the fan.

Hundreds of players were shut out. As the number of discontented players grew, meetings were called behind closed doors to see if there was some way to accommodate more people. There was some precedent in this WSOP, with some 7 other events also selling out. But this was the big one, The Main Event, the most famous poker tournament in the world, which people travel from every continent to play. The complaints were in several different languages, but boiled down to a few basic questions:
  • Why don't you allow alternates, who get a seat when someone loses and busts out?
  • Why don't you play ten-handed at the tables, instead of nine-handed, allowing at least 275 more entrants?
  • Why don't you set us up at one of the other Harrah's properties and let us play there?
  • Why don't you have a fifth Day One for us and move the subsequent days back?
  • Why don't you have a whole new session tonight that we can play in?
  • Why can't I play when we've heard a rumor that this famous poker player or that one got special treatment and was allowed in?
A waiting list was started, in the hope that registration would be re-opened. While the thousands who were already registered were filling the Amazon room and beginning to play, more and more people joined the mob of upset non-players. They tried to organize, shouting ideas to each other, choosing one player to be their spokesperson if they got a chance to talk to management, and refusing to take "no" for an answer. It was said that 600 people had been shut out. With an entry fee of $10,000 each, that's six million more dollars that could have been in the prize pool. Not only that, but those players would have boosted this year's Main Event attendance past last year's.

At one point, Mike Sexton, host of the World Poker Tour telecasts, wandered by. Mike has played in the WSOP for years and has a sterling reputation in the poker community. He had already played on Friday (and would return for Day Two on Tuesday), but was quickly surrounded and recruited to be an advocate for the shut-out players. He listened to their complaints and agreed to see what he could do.

Around 2:15pm, just as those who were in the tournament were going on their first break of the day, Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and several others from top management of the WSOP and Harrah's gathered the crowd in a small ballroom nearby. There, they broke the news that they would not allow any more entrants into the Main Event, that every option had been considered and rejected, that operational problems prevented them from adding another session and pushing the schedule back, that no other event had allowed alternates, etc.

Obviously, the crowd wasn't happy. Americans, Australians, Mexicans, Europeans, all shouted questions at Pollack, arguing with him over every point they could think of, trying to convince him to change his mind (or, in some cases, just blowing off some steam after traveling so far).

Pollack kept apologizing profusely, saying the last thing he wanted was to prevent people from playing in the Main Event, and promising that this would be dealt with as Matter Number One when he and his team planned for next year's WSOP, but the decision had been made and was final. The crowd refused to accept that, and things quickly devolved. It was clear to me this was like children who refuse to accept that Daddy won't take them to Six Flags, no matter how much they whine about it and offer to pay with their own money: No Means No.

After 15 minutes or so, Pollack realized there was nothing more he could say to the crowd, so he and the other execs left the room. That's when I went over to Mike Sexton, who's been a guest on my show. We talked for a couple of minutes and I invited him to come up to our broadcast suite to record a segment for our poker radio show, The Lumiere Place Final Table, and discuss the controversy, the decision, his role, etc.

He agreed, and you'll hear that in-depth conversation when the show airs tonight at 7pm CT on KFNS/St. Louis, or via the podcast I'll post when it's over at 8pm. You'll also hear Dennis Phillips and Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan discussing their play in the Main Event (they both played Sunday and advanced to Day Two), and my interview with Congressman Barney Frank about the legislation he's proposed to make poker legal in all forms, online and off.

While I'm at it, congratulations to Dennis, Josh "The Poker Lawyer" Schindler, and about a dozen other St. Louisans we know who played in the Main Event and are still in it. They're representing our hometown very well -- and they were all smart enough to pre-register to be sure they could play!!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Back in Vegas

I'm back in Vegas, where the Main Event of the 2009 World Series of Poker got underway this weekend. I'm not playing in the big tournament, sticking to the cash games instead (and doing well so far), while checking on a large contingent of St. Louisans who are playing. Thus far, all but one of them has advanced to Day 2, which is quite an accomplishment.

Like last year, there are four Day Ones, to accommodate the large crowds they expected. Unfortunately, Day 1a and 1b had only 2,000 entrants combined, because so many people were celebrating Independence Day. Things picked up on Day 1c yesterday, with another 2,000 or so, but if they don't get 3,000 more today, they'll end up with a smaller turnout than last year (6,844).

When time permits, Dennis Phillips, Joe McGowan, and I are going to record more material for our poker radio show, The Lumiere Place Final Table (7pm CT Tuesdays on KFNS/St. Louis), and then I'll crunch some of it into tomorrow night's show and save the rest for future shows.

One of the things you'll hear Tuesday is a conversation I had with Congressman Barney Frank, who was here to kick off the Day 1c with the classic "Shuffle Up and Deal!" announcement. Afterwards, we talked about his legislation to make online poker legal and keep the government from telling you what you can and can't do with your own money. We did the interview near the ESPN Feature Table, and at one point, just after he finished an answer, I saw a look of terror cross Frank's face. It turned out that we were standing a little too close to the dolly tracks for an ESPN camera, which was being pushed in our direction very quickly. Since I had my back to it, Frank grabbed me and moved me out of the way, just as the camera crew rolled past us. We then calmly finished our discussion, in which he said that, with the Democratic majority in Congress, he's hopeful his bill will pass this year.

Reminder: you can follow me on Twitter as "PaulHarrisShow." Dennis is tweeting, too, as "Dennis_Phillips," and Joe is "JoePokerCoach."

Friday, July 03, 2009

Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty has meant a lot to my family, from my grandparents who viewed it in New York Harbor as immigrants arriving in the US over a hundred years ago, to my father who wrote a book about Lady Liberty for her centennial, to the visits we made when I was a young boy, when we'd climb that cramped copper interior all the way to her crown.

Since 9/11, you haven't been able to go up inside the Statue of Liberty to see the view, because of security concerns. That changes this weekend, when the Department of Homeland Security reopens the venue to tours. If you can't get there, USA Today has a 360-degree panoramic view from the exterior, inside the stairway, and from the top.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Real Rehab

When Richard Farrell read James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," he got mad. He knew immediately that Frey's story of drug rehab was bogus, because Farrell had gone through rehab himself -- and not in an upscale detox facility like Hazleton, but in the municipal program in Lowell, Massachussetts. So Farrell decided to write his own book about the experience.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked to Farrell about that memoir, "What's Left of Us." We discussed what drove him to become a daily heroin user, what it was like going through detox, how he kicked the habit and became a successful screenwriter and film maker (his script for "The Fighter" is about to go into production, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale).

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

Raising Free-Range Kids

Roger Ebert laments the freedom we give children due to our own paranoia...

We live in a reign of terror. Outside the home, molesters and drug pushers lurk. Children drown, are hit by cars, shot, electrocuted, bullied, burned, stabbed, attacked by pit bulls, or kidnapped and end up with their photos on milk cartons. When they play, they make "play dates." They can ride their bikes outside--but don't leave the block. They can shoot baskets, but in the driveway, or at a supervised playground. If some kid tells you to go f*** yourself and you whoop him, you'll be seeing his parents in court. If he comes over to play and falls down your basement stairs, you'll get sued for the house.

Many parents keep firearms in the house for protection, even though most shootings in the house are tragic accidents. Now I learn of a church whose pastor has asked his congregation to bring their guns to church, in support of the cause of Visible Firearms. That pastor is getting mixed messages from above. My friend McHugh was sitting in O'Rourke's one night when a guy flashed a gun stuck in his belt. "What are you carrying that for?" he asked the guy. "I live in a dangerous neighborhood," the guy said. McHugh told him, "It would be a lot safer if you moved."

We believe that all undesirable things can be eliminated by legislation. In England this has gotten so far out of hand that that a 10-year-old boy is forbidden to cross a parking lot, and girls can't skip rope on public property. In America, have you seen grade school football players recently? They wear more armor than Robocop. It's safer for them to sit on the sofa and blow people up in video games.
The whole piece is here.