Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Final Table #83: November Niner Matt Jarvis

This week on the Final Table radio show, Dennis Phillips and I were in the Harrah's St. Louis Poker Room to talk about his experience in the Canadian Poker Open in Calgary and a tournament at the Hollywood Casino outside of Cincinnati. We also discussed the heated feud between the Poker Players Alliance and the Commerce Casino over the online poker legislation passed earlier this month in Barney Frank's congressional committee.

Our guest today was Matt Jarvis, another one of this year's November Nine for the Main Event of the World Series Of Poker. Since Matt was at the Canadian Poker Open with Dennis and won the $5,000 buy-in heads-up event, we talked about that before delving into how he hung on to make the November Nine, who he has helping him prepare for that final table, and how he almost didn't play in the WSOP at all because his father got seriously ill.

Finally we reveal the results of some online research to figure out which poker pro has won the most, and who has lost the most, over the six seasons of "High Stakes Poker." Got a guess?

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

Follow us on Twitter: Dennis is here, Paul is here.

Between His Legs

In a first-round match at the US Open last night, Roger Federer went between the legs to make this shot against 96th-ranked Brian Dabul. He's pulled this move before (last year at the same tournament vs. Novak Djokovic in the semifinals), but I was still surprised to hear John McEnroe call it before Federer even got there...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

DVR Alert

Two weeks ago when Patricia Neal died, I mentioned the 1957 movie, "A Face In The Crowd," in which she plays a TV producer who finds a loudmouth small-town drunk (Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes) and turns him into a star by putting him in front of a camera and letting him spout off about everything, including politics.

If you've never seen it, set your DVR for Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 7pm CT tonight. See which primetime cable news host Rhodes reminds you of most.

Wife vs. Wife At The Race Track

Larry Collmus calls the 7th race on Sunday at Monmouth Park, and it ends up being the greatest horse race call of the year. Wait for it in the home stretch...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Final Table #82: Phil Gordon

This week on the Final Table radio show, while I was in St. Louis, Dennis Phillips checked in from the Canadian Poker Open in Calgary. The Main Event, which he's playing today, is a $5,000 buy-in heads-up tournament, so we discussed strategy for facing an opponent one-on-one -- from raising regularly on the button to how to respond to an aggressive player and use that strategy against them.

Our guest today was Phil Gordon, the onetime host of "Celebrity Poker Showdown" who won this summer's Ante Up For Africa tournament and convinced lots of WSOP players to donate 1% of their winnings to his Put A Bad Beat On Cancer organization. We talked with him about all of that, plus the amazing 40th birthday party he just celebrated with 30 friends on his ranch in Washington, and why he did so poorly in his annual rock-paper-scissors championship during the WSOP this summer.

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

Phil Gordon's ESPN.com podcast is The Poker Edge.

Follow us on Twitter: Dennis is here, Paul is here, and Phil is here.

Ron Paul on Islamophobia

Whether you admire or detest Congressman Ron Paul, there's no denying that the man is a fundamentalist when it comes to our Constitution. For him the New York mosque arguments are all about demagoguery, hate, and Islamophobia -- and he's surprised that conservatives aren't defending property rights. Here's the powerful way he concluded the statement he issued Friday:

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.

The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservatives’ aggressive wars.

The House Speaker is now treading on a slippery slope by demanding a Congressional investigation to find out just who is funding the mosque—a bold rejection of property rights, 1st Amendment rights, and the Rule of Law—in order to look tough against Islam.

This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.

We now have an epidemic of "sunshine patriots" on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended.

Political demagoguery rules when truth and liberty are ignored.


I've written often about the anti-vaccination crowd who believe that vaccines cause autism. Despite being disproven again and again, these unscientific naysayers continue spreading their dangerous lies. On last week's episode of their Showtime series "Bullsh*t," Penn & Teller took them on to show brilliantly the risks of not vaccinating your child. Here's the way they opened the show (caveat: Penn's language is a little raw, as usual)...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mosque On The Hudson

There were a protest and counter-protest in New York yesterday over the Islamic community center project, a controversy that has lasted far too long already. Many of the protesters who don't want the project completed held up signs with viciously anti-Muslim sentiments, while they should have had signs saying "I'm among the easily manipulated Americans who don't know what I'm talking about but was told I should be angry about this, so I am!"

The irony of their Islamophobia is that they're playing right into their enemies' hands. I refer not to Imam Faisel Abdul Rauf, but to the extremist Muslims who attacked us nearly 9 years ago -- Al Qaeda. By spewing anti-Islam slogans and fomenting hate against Muslims, they're helping Al Qaeda recruit new members.

You see, Osama Bin Laden and his top lieutenants love telling young people in the middle east that the USA is conducting a war on Islam. They convince them that America hates them and their religion and wants them dead, so they have to fight back in any way possible, preferably by killing us first. Unfortunately, that's exactly the message the protesters -- and Newt Gingrich and other right-wing wackos -- are sending. They don't trust any Muslims, believe they're all here to kill us, and must be stopped at all costs.

Don't be surprised when this escalates into anti-Islamic violence in the US, nor when images of that violence or these protests are broadcast on Al Jazeera and other media outlets in the Arab world, serving to exacerbate the problem. It also doesn't help when our own religious extremists are spreading the hate to an audience that's too quick to believe nonsense -- take Pat Robertson, who said Thursday he's worried about a Muslim takeover of the US. That's about as likely as reason and logic taking over the "700 Club."

If Gingrich and Robertson and others feel that Islam is a threat to them, what exactly do they think the US has been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Those are Muslim nations, and the goal is supposed to be getting rid of the extremists so the moderate Muslims can run their countries in peace. While I think both wars have been a waste of time (and worse, flesh and blood), you'd think the proponents would understand the distinction.

They also get all irate over the possibility of Saudis underwriting the community center, apparently forgetting that that's where $3 billion in funding for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (parent company of Fox News Channel) comes from. I have railed against Saudi Arabia over its human rights violations for years, but where were these Saudi haters when Dubya was holding hands with Prince Abdullah five years ago? Suspiciously silent, they may have been out of the office at the time, too busy refueling their vehicles with Saudi oil. We import over a million gallons of their crude oil every day, yet I don't hear any of these bigots calling for us to boycott the nation that gave birth to fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers.

Though I'm not one to support any religion or religious institutions, the better strategy would be to not only tolerate Muslims in the US, but to embrace them. You don't have to show them love, just don't show them hate -- instead, show the enemy that we're not at war with their religion, but with their extremists. That's the message President Bush voiced repeatedly, and it's the reason President Obama went to the mideast shortly after he assumed office. They understood that alienating one-sixth of the planet's population is no way to secure the homeland, but a good way to threaten it.

As for the Park51 project, I won't be surprised in the coming days to hear that the developer has decided not to build it. That conclusion won't be due to kowtowing to the Islamaphobes, but simply because of a lack of money. Recent reports say that, thus far, a mere $16,000 has been raised. That's about what it cost my sister-in-law to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan 25 years ago, so it's a long way from the funds necessary to construct a 13-story tower.

Miner Problem

The story of the 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground in Chile is remarkable. What will be more amazing is if they all come out alive in four months, once a rescue shaft has been dug down to them.

I'm sure the mining company can keep them fed and hydrated through the smaller hole they've already drilled, but I keep wondering about the conditions down there. Spending a third of a year with that many people in a confined space is something that not even the most overzealous "Big Brother" contestant would sign up for.

I feel sorry for any of the 33 men who snores. I'd give it a week before the rest of the guys go Piggy in "Lord Of The Flies" on him.

Keyed Up

We lost one of our house keys the other day, so I decided that, in the interest of home security, we'd change all the locks, just in case. I called Jack The Locksmith, who showed up a couple of hours later and knocked on my door. I opened it and jokingly asked why, if he's so good at his job, he didn't just let himself in. Jack replied, "I can do that, but it would cost you extra."

It took him about an hour to remove all the locks, put in new ones, and cut some spare keys for us. I didn't observe everything he did, but it looked like the only tools this deadbolt MacGyver used were a screwdriver and half a wire hanger. It seemed on par with what you see private detectives using in a movie, the toolkit-in-a-vinyl-wallet with two small thin pieces of metal that manipulate the tumblers just so, until the door swings open.

I realized then that changing the locks on our house would keep us safe from most potential intruders, but we'd never be safe from the Jacks of the world. I know that he is licensed, bonded, and insured, but what's to stop some young criminal-to-be from getting a job in a locksmith shop, learning the trade, and then using those skills to get into any building he wants whenever he wants? He'd never have to break a window and the cops would never see signs of forced entry. Worse, if he teamed up with someone who had learned the alarm business, they'd never have to worry about being discovered.

I didn't mention any of this to Jack. He might charge extra for paranoia.

Updated at 7:30pm...Several readers have e-mailed to ask why I'm tipping criminals off to an easier way to commit their unlawful acts. I say, gimme a break. While many criminals are dumb, there are enough smart ones that they've no doubt thought of this on their own and, for all I known, followed this path already.

And then there's this e-mail from Bob in Tampa:

You're probably receiving similar letters already but on the off-chance you're not, you need to know something about the illusion of security. You seem to think it necessary for a potential thief to apprentice for a locksmith to gain the required skills. In reality, I'd say many 15-year-olds probably already have a rudimentary ability to pick locks from all the YouTube videos on the topic. I've watched many of them and it really doesn't seem very difficult for a moderately motivated person to pick most locks with a little help from YouTube university.

While I don't think these videos should be banned, I do think the lock manufacturers should see it as a challenge to step up their game and make better locks. Unfortunately, this comes at a high cost. Anyway, look up "lockpicking" on YouTube search, you'll be fascinated by what you find.
Bob's right. I just checked YouTube and found 5,150 videos on lockpicking -- at no extra charge.

Beautiful Ball Work

A street performer with glass balls, and he knows how to use them. This is contact juggler Okotanpe working the crowd in Yoyogi park in Tokyo last year...

Friday, August 20, 2010

One on One with Gene Siskel

With "At The Movies," the program that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert did for years (which became "Siskel & Ebert" which became "Ebert & Roeper" which reverted to its original name in its most recent incarnation with A.O. Scott & Michael Phillips) ending its TV run this week, I dug back into my archives to find an interview I did with Siskel in 1996.

There's no audio, but there is a transcript, in which the conversation roams from his love of the Chicago Bulls to the time S&E panned a Chevy Chase movie while sitting next to him on "The Tonight Show" to the first movie he walked out of because it was so bad to how he discovered his favorite pizza while interviewing Meryl Streep to why he and I both hated the movie "Twister."

Read it here.

William Tell Federer

Here's the viral video of the week. Roger Federer's at a photo shoot, talking to one of the staff, when he talks a guy into putting an aluminum bottle on his head. Federer then walks to the other side of the room with his racket and serves a tennis ball right at the guy, hitting only the bottle and knocking it to the floor.

Is it real? You decide. Then consider how many idiots will be injured trying to recreate this moment...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mindset Of Class of 2014

Beloit College in Wisconsin is out with its annual Mindset List for the incoming college freshmen who make up the Class of 2014.  The list is designed to help professors and other remember that the kids who were born in 1992 have different cultural connections than those older than them.

There are two in particular that strike me as most interesting:

Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren't afraid of immigration...unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.

This is an important generational distinction. Like gays and lesbians, immigrants are much more a normal part of life for young Americans than for the generation or two that preceded them. They are in their schools, on their teams, and in their peer groups. Tolerance of people who look, speak, and act differently tends to grow when you actually know the person. This foretells an important change in public policy in the years to come as this most-accepting demographic ages.

They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S

I grew up in the Cold War, when we had to learn to duck under our desks at school and cover up to protect us from nuclear fallout in case the Soviet Union ever hurled missiles at us. Today's school desks aren't built as reliable lead bunkers, but the college-bound generation doesn't fear attacks like that. Instead, they've grown up in the era of Al Qaeda and Timothy McVeigh, when a random attack or bomb can go off anywhere at anytime without crossing an ocean.

A few more items included on Beloit's list:

  • Few in the class know how to write in cursive
  • Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail
  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess
  • They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone
  • They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day
  • Czechoslovakia has never existed
  • Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall
  • The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs
  • Nirvana is on the classic oldies station
  • Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps
  • Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court
  • One way or another, "It’s the economy, stupid" and always has been
The whole list is here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Loudmouth Laura's Leaving

Tuesday night, Dr. Laura Schlessinger went on CNN's "Larry King Live" to announce that she's quitting her radio show at the end of this year.

Let's pause to note she chose a TV show on which to make her announcement -- she knows how unimportant her own radio show has become over the last few years, so she had to choose another media platform to get the word out.

On CNN, Schlessinger explained,

"I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm done with that."
It's clear that Schlessinger doesn't understand the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall make no law...." There's nothing in there about "Listeners shall not complain...." The freedom of speech guaranteed in the Bill of Rights pertains only to governmental interference, and there is none of that in Schlessinger's case. The FCC hasn't cracked down on her, nor has any other official in Washington decreed that she can't spew her ludicrous opinions.

The blowback she's experienced for years -- back to 2000, when she claimed homosexuality is a "biological error" -- has come from other Americans who expressed their free speech rights by complaining about her to advertisers and the radio stations who carried her show. That's the way things work in this country, but it's apparent Schlessinger can't stand the heat, so she's running out of the kitchen.

She claims she'll now be "stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country." But she won't have nearly as big a platform. She'll no doubt write a few books, go digital with a new online presence, and open Twitter and Facebook accounts, where she can spew nonsense nonstop a la Sarah Palin.

The difference is that when Palin quit her job prematurely, she left the lower-paying life of a governor for the higher-paying life of media celebrity. Schlessinger is already a media celebrity and is about to discover that the paychecks are a lot smaller in the real world compared to the radio universe she thrived in.

All of this is because of an incident on her show a couple of weeks ago in which a black caller married to a white man complained that his friends and family often used racial epithets in her presence, and she wanted Schlessinger's advice. Schlessinger's reply was to explain that there's a double standard between black and whites involving the use of the N-word. She said the actual word on the air, over and over again, a total of 11 times. The call created controversy online and on cable news shows, so Schlessinger apologized the next day, but that only exacerbated the problem by bringing more attention to the previous day's conversation.

I'm no fan of Schlessinger by any means, but I've heard the audio and, while she was overzealous in her overuse of the N-word, much of the criticism aimed at her was unwarranted. It came from groups that hate her for previous comments on race and homosexuality, who saw this as an opportunity to break the camel's back with one more straw.

That's how the system works. Those groups have the legal right to protest, contact sponsors, picket the stations, and run e-mail campaigns against her. There are plenty of extremist groups on her side of the ideological fence who do the same thing every day to radio and TV shows they disagree with. In Schlessinger's case, her opponents have been successful in the last decade in reducing the popularity of her show simply by showcasing the actual words that came out of her mouth. If she can't stand up to scrutiny, she's better off leaving.

Ironically, in the internet age, she won't be able to avoid that scrutiny simply by leaving the air. Those groups will continue to monitor what she says online and in print and respond in kind via blogs and other outlets, but from now on, Schlessinger won't have her cozy cash-producing radio cushion to cry into.

Her absence won't leave much of a void. There are plenty of other racist homophobes on the air for her affiliates to choose from. And Mel Gibson could probably use the work.

If nothing else, Schlessinger did inspire a great scene on "The West Wing." It's election night and, as returns are coming in, radio personalities from around the country have been invited to the White House (including one guy who claims he was "In The Morning" before "Imus In The Morning," even though his age makes that impossible). As the talk-jocks are mingling and enjoying some crab puffs, President Bartlet enters to say hello, notices Dr. Jenna Jacobs (the Dr. Laura Schlessinger doppelganger), and engages her with a few choice words...

Blame TV For Blago

Earlier today, I was discussing the Rod Blagojevich non-verdict with legal analyst Scott Sherman, particularly the jurors who said that the prosecution had offered a confusing case. One of them, a 21-year-old college student, said "They didn't follow a timeline. They jumped around."

Sherman observed that this might be a product of all the crime dramas on TV -- from the various permutations of "CSI" and "Law and Order" to this summer's new hit "Rizzoli and Isles" -- where viewers have gotten so used to seeing a case wrapped up in an hour that they expect things to be similarly simple when they serve on a jury. They're used to getting smoking gun forensic evidence, criminals who crack and confess easily, and linear lines of logic, where A leads to B leads to C leads to D and we know without a doubt who the bad guy is and what he did.

Unfortunately, in cases like Blago's, there's a lot of complicated stuff. None of the people he tried to extort in exchange for the Senate seat appointment went along with his plan, so there wasn't an "Ah ha!" moment caught on tape. The FBI recorded a lot of Quid, but not so much Pro Quo.

If that's what jurors expected and wouldn't convict without it (and in the case of the biggest charges, we now know it was just one juror who caused the deadlock), their disappointment was as basic as not getting complete resolution to the mystery between the last commercial break and the credits.

Rolling To Freedom

It's a cliche that rock and roll makes you free, but here's a story that proves it.

Twenty years ago, the Rolling Stones played a concert in Prague. That may not sound like a big deal, but this was just months after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its iron-fisted control of Czechoslovakia. For many Czechs, like then-16-year-old Eduard Freisler, seeing the Stones live was the moment they knew they were free of oppression. Here's his remembrance of that remarkable day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Final Table #81: Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi

This week on the Final Table radio show, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, who not only won the $50,000 Player's Championship (his first bracelet) to start the 2010 World Series Of Poker, but finished it by outlasting 7,310 other players in the Main Event to become one of this year's November Nine.

We talked to Mizrachi from Cyprus, where he and his friend Chino Rheem are spending a few days playing in tournaments and enjoying vacation. Among the topics we covered:
  • what his strategy will be at the final table this fall;
  • whether he changed his play to ensure he'd make the November Nine
  • how he knocked his brother out of the $50k event by getting lucky with a weaker hand;
  • what's happened to the poker scene in his home state of Florida now that the limits have been lifted;
  • whether he pays attention to the race for Player Of The Year, where he stands on the all-time tournament money list (12th at the moment), and other impressive statistics he's racked up.
Dennis and I also discussed Annette Oberstad's poor sportsmanship during the Main Event, a bad strategic move by the Loose Cannon on last week's "Big Game" telecast, and more developments in the effort to legalize and regulate online poker.

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

Phone Call Of The Day

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I was taking calls about the ongoing New York mosque controversy and espousing my opinion that the developers have the right to build whatever they want on that site, and should not back down. It's not that I care about putting up yet another religious edifice, but as a civil libertarian, I'll happily argue in favor of constitutionally guaranteed rights for Americans of any persuasion.

Callers were split on the issue, but far too many of them were simply uninformed because they've bought into lies being spewed and promulgated on multiple media outlets and websites. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, "You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

Coming out of a commercial break with only a few minutes left in the hour, I looked up at the call screen and saw that a woman named Michelle wanted to comment, and that she was a Muslim. I thought this might offer an interesting perspective, but things got twisted almost immediately when she opened her mouth and declared herself a "militant Muslim."

She kind of glossed over that description, but I wasn't going to let it go that easily, so I questioned her about what she meant. From then on, it didn't go the way she thought it would. I asked her some simple questions and gave her enough rope to hang herself, which she proceeded to do, at one point comparing her group to the...well, just listen...

...and then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Mosque Mania

Politicians of every stripe have been mouthing off about the New York mosque -- you know, the one that isn't at Ground Zero -- in the last few days, after President Obama threw gasoline on the fire Friday night and took an issue that had mostly quieted down and turned it into a national furor.

Some on the right claim that his comments on the constitutionality of building the mosque will have an impact on the elections in November, but I don't buy it. Obama won't be on the ballot for 2 more years, and the only thing Americans will have in mind on election day is the economy.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with Politico's congressional reporter Jake Sherman about whether the mosque issue will have any political fallout, why Obama re-lit the fuse, and whether any Republican has taken Newt Gingrich to task for ludicrously analogizing Muslims to Nazis.

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

You Have Something On Your Face

Not every Picture Of The Day on this site is video. Today, a single image is all you need. Meet Tibor Szabo, winner of this year's Bee Beard competition in Ontario, Canada...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Twisted Toy

I have no idea why I thought of the Slinky song yesterday. I can't remember seeing a commercial for Slinky for a couple of decades, and yet I couldn't get the theme out of my head.

This is the version that aired in the 1960s. It's a good thing it ran a full minute, so they had time to show all of the possible uses for a Slinky -- make it move from hand to hand, make it walk down the stairs, and, well, that's about it. You're done. But if that's not enough excitement for you, you can always look forward to the second time you play with it, when the metal Slinky coil has somehow gotten twisted and no longer closes correctly.

Whoo-hoo! What fun!

Let's all sing together: "It's Slinky, it's Slinky, it's such a wonderful toy! It's Slinky, it's Slinky, the toy that every kid threw under the bed and left there until the family moved!"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wrong But Loud

A few days ago, in the wake of Patricia Neal's death, I mentioned the movie she did with Andy Griffith, "A Face In The Crowd," in which Griffith plays the sort of folksy loudmouth who could be the role model for today's cable news pundits.

Here's a perfect example of one of those modern day pundits. Reason's Radley Balko writes about Wendy Murphy, a former assistant district attorney, who shows up on TV to spout off on all sorts of legal matters. From the birthright citizenship debate to her abhorrent comments about the Duke lacrosse case (she was 100% sure the players were guilty, even when the evidence showed they weren't) to other topics that are the grist of 24-hour info-arguments, Murphy is often inaccurate and slanderous.

But that doesn't matter in cable news. She gets invited back again and again because she's LOUD. She stakes out a position and sticks to it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that she's wrong, and will say anything to justify her claims. As Balko writes,

It's all theater, you see. She's just playing a part. It's fine if she slanders some people, ruins some reputations, spouts flat falsehoods, and generally dumbs down the public discourse. Because it's just entertainment. It's what pundits do.
I'm surprised no one's given her a show of her own yet.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Screaming For Ice Cream

In America, every child knows that wonderful moment where your ears perk up in recognition of the ice cream truck song, a sound that makes the world stop in its tracks, followed by the Pavlovian response in your brain that says, "Ice cream! I want some. Now!" You run to your parents to beg for money so you can get a chocolate eclair, or a bomb pop, or whatever you're in the mood for that day. And if you don't get the money in time to stop the truck in front of your house, you'll chase it down the street.

In many subdivisions, the ice cream truck driver knows from experience where to stop to generate the most sales. Here's Billy's house. He's gonna come out and buy something almost every day. Here's Linda's house. She always has friends visiting every afternoon and they'll all run over. Even better, here's the cul de sac where every family has a child in elementary school, the perfect ice cream demographic.

It sounds like a business that can't fail, but times are tough for ice cream truck drivers. I talked to a friend yesterday who runs the company that sends ice cream trucks out to local communities, and he told me that they're having a horrible summer and he's had to lay off some employees.

How can that be? How can this not be the season of Double Fudge Bars and Twin Pops and Sundae Cones? Part of the blame belongs to the economy, but a lot more of it has to do with the heat.

That seems counter-intuitive, since I'd assume that hot weather would make ice cream sales go up, but he says the problem is that it's been too hot. All of these days with the heat index over 100 mean that kids aren't playing outdoors, and people are staying inside with the windows closed and the a/c on. So, when the ice cream truck rolls through the neighborhood, no one hears it.

And with schools opening next week, their busy season that wasn't so busy is winding down.

The trucks will still roll for a few more months, and when temperatures drop back down below surface-of-the-sun readings, kids will be back outside, but some communities may have a long wait for a cold treat on wheels.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ricky Jay's Nightmare

The magician/actor is stuck in an elevator with two party girls, and he's not happy about it...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Final Table #80: November Niner Jason Senti

This week on the Final Table radio show, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Jason Senti, the short stack of this year's WSOP Main Event November Nine.

We talked about how he played to stay alive when there ten players left, including folding a big over-pair that he's sure he'll be mocked for when it airs on ESPN (their coverage of the Main Event begins this evening and continues every week until Senti and the others play their final table in November).

Dennis and I also discussed:
  • a former stockbrocker who confessed to financial fraud and is being allowed to play poker to get money to compensate his victims and keep himself out of jail;
  • Kathy Leibert and Jennifer Harman being inducted into the Women In Poker Hall of Fame;
  • how the predicted Year Of The Woman at the WSOP turned out to be a bust;
  • the return of "The Big Game" on TV, where a millionaire businessman may be the real loose cannon at the table;
  • why Phil Hellmuth and Robert Williamson III should stick to poker instead of TV trivia shows
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Mary & Rodney & Johnny

Over the weekend, as part of a summer-long attempt to share some classic movies and television with my teenage daughter, I showed her some of the first season of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," from 1970 (yes, 40 years ago!).

I haven't seen most of these since they first aired, except for "spunky" clips of the debut episode, and I was struck by how the pacing was so different from modern sitcoms. On "MTM," the creators took their time to develop storylines and characters (Rhoda, Phyllis, Lou, Murray, Ted), sometimes letting a couple of minutes go by without going for a laugh. That would practically be heresy today, when the writing is so dense in primetime that you rarely go more than a few seconds without a setup and punchline. I'm sure that in later seasons, once the main characters were fully ingrained in the audience's mind, "MTM" fell into a similarly predictable pattern, but it wasn't there at the beginning.

My daughter also dug out my collection of Johnny Carson "Tonight Show" DVDs after seeing some "Carson Comedy Classics" on Reelz Channel and laughing out loud every time Carnac used the work "yak" (as in "may a diseased yak leave a deposit on your sister"). One of the discs we watched showcased comedians making their national television debuts, including Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Roseanne Barr, Steven Wright, and Drew Carey. The latter two not only got the career-making "OK" hand sign from the master, but were called over to the guest chair, the highest honor a comic could get on that show -- one that had the immediate impact of designating that performer as a star, boosting their salary fifty-fold overnight.

The DVD also includes this performance by Rodney Dangerfield, a regular Carson favorite. Whenever Dangerfield did "The Tonight Show," he always did a few minutes of standup at the monologue position and then came over to sit with Johnny, who proceeded to play straight man for Rodney as he did several more minutes from the chair. You can tell that Carson was obviously thrilled to have a money-in-the-bank guest like Dangerfield, and had no problem yielding the spotlight to him.

As I've written in the past, I borrowed this attitude from Carson whenever I had good guests on my radio shows. The concept is simple. If you can deliver by entertaining my audience, enthralling them with a story or spitting out a series of jokes, it can only accrue to my benefit.

The morning after one of these appearances, people would ask each other at work, "Did you see Rodney with Johnny last night?" Both men were given credit, even though one of them pounded out the comedy while the other threw in an occasional "Really?" or "You don't say!" or "I didn't know that." Even the audience gets in on the act, knowing when it's their cue to ask, "How fat was she?" Those are the circumstances under which you can create something special.

The other part of this appearance from February 3, 1981, that always amuses me is when Dangerfield realizes he has run through all of his prepared material. He turns to Carson and asks, "Well, what do you wanna do now?", eliciting a howl of recognition from the host.

Speaking of the "Tonight Show" host, The Smoking Gun got its hands on documents from the John W. Carson Foundation, detailing its endowment of over $150,000,000, which it uses to support many charities -- including the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Olson v. Wallace

Conservatives couldn't understand why Ted Olson (the attorney who won the 2000 election for George W. Bush and later served as his Solicitor General) represented the gay couples who sued to overturn California's Prop 8 and won the case in a ruling by a federal judge last week. Yet Olson, a keen legal mind, was the one who understood the constitutional questions in play much better than his opponents, who are now running around screaming about judicial activism (definition: you lost the case, so the judge must be an activist), an argument as lame as the defense his opponents put up during the trial.

Here's Olson on "Fox News Sunday" explaining to Chris Wallace, who has nothing but those same tired complaints, why the 14th amendment protects the equality of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation...

Face In The Crowd

RIP, Patricia Neal, dead today at 84. All of her obits mention "Hud," the 1963 Paul Newman movie for which she won an Oscar, but my first thoughts went to "A Face In The Crowd."

That's the 1957 movie in which Neal plays a TV producer who finds a loudmouth small-town drunk (Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes) and turns him into a star by putting him in front of a camera and letting him spout off about everything, including politics. It doesn't matter whether he's right or wrong, as long as he's a rabble-rouser and the ratings keep rising. The formula for success: speak in the simplest possible terms, express anger over everything, and always be loud.

Nothing like that could happen today, of course, unless you were looking for the host of a primetime show on a cable news channel.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Hitchens on Cancer

Even without the hair he's lost from the chemotherapy he's endured to fight esophageal cancer, Christopher Hitchens is still brilliant. Of course, he would have been more brilliant if he hadn't smoke thousands of cigarettes over the years. Here he is on CNN last night with Anderson Cooper...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The TSA's X-Ray Specs

Remember those new high-tech devices the TSA installed in airports, the ones that could see through your clothes to show whether you were carrying a concealed weapon? The government loves the technology so much that, two weeks ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the scanners would soon be used at every major US airport. They're at other government-screened facilities, too, like courthouses.

Privacy advocates have long complained that this is too much to give up in the name of security, allowing screeners at checkpoints to see details of your anatomy (and your wife's and child's) that you probably would rather keep covered. But the feds told us not to worry, because those images couldn't be stored and would thus be discarded almost immediately.

They lied.

Previously on Harris Online: here's a piece I wrote on the subject of those backscatter x-ray machines earlier this year.

Final Table #79: Gavin Smith

This week on the Final Table radio show, Dennis Phillips and I talked about the online poker legislation (HR2267) that passed Barney Frank's banking committee in the House last week, from what the bill says to its chances of becoming law in the next year.

Then we had an extended conversation with veteran poker pro Gavin Smith, who finally won his first World Series Of Poker bracelet this summer in a mixed limit/no-limit hold'em event. We discussed that, and:
  • why he gave his WSOP bracelet to his brother
  • why he thinks Phil Hellmuth and other loudmouths are good for poker
  • why he hopes his soon-to-be-born child doesn't become a professional poker player
  • an update on the tattoo prop bet with Joe Sebok and Jeff Madsen
  • why he's no longer doing his Poker Road radio show
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Four Degrees Of Fat

It's not just what you eat that makes you fat. It's also what your spouse and friends and neighbors eat.

So says Dr. Dennis Gottfried, author of "Too Much Medicine," who joined me on KTRS/St. Louis today to explain how overeating is contagious. He says the US should attack obesity the way we attacked smoking, changing our food habits by peer pressure, taxes, and encouragement from private business.

Our conversation coincides with a new report from the CDC saying that 2.4 million people became obese between 2007 and 2009, bringing the total to more than one in four Americans. The report also says that Missouri is one of the 9 fattest states, with an obesity rate of over 30%.

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

Political Punch

Someone on the White House speechwriting staff deserves a little something extra today after coming up with this line for the President: "To drive the economic vehicle out of GOP ditch you put the car in D -- but if you want to go back you put it in R." [as tweeted by CBS' Mark Knoller]

That Tolerant Town

Yesterday, New York's historic buildings commission denied landmark status to the site two blocks from Ground Zero where a developer wants to erect a 13-story Islamic mosque and community center. Once that decision was announced, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave one of the most moving speeches I've heard in a long time.

Frankly, I couldn't care less about another religious edifice being added to the American landscape, regardless of its location, but Bloomberg's words offered a terrific lesson in freedom and tolerance. After I shared his speech with my radio audience today, I received a lot of requests for copies of it. Here's what he said:

We’ve come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

Our doors are open to everyone. Everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it’s sustained by immigrants — by people from more than 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here or you came here yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life. And it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11, 2001.

On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedoms to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams, and to live our own lives. Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that even here — in a city that is rooted in Dutch tolerance — was hard-won over many years.

In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue, and they were turned down. In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion, and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s, St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site, and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

This morning, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted to extend — not to extend — landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building.

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, "What God do you pray to?" (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little as he gets choked up.) "What beliefs do you hold?"

The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation, and in fact their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. But doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any ways consistent with Islam.

Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.