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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Craig & Caine

I'm disappointed in Craig Ferguson. While I've praised him and enjoyed his show in the past, the magic has worn off. The biggest reason: his interviews.

When a guest sits down, Ferguson picks up a blue card -- like the ones all other talk show hosts have in front of them, ostensibly full of questions for the guest -- and rips it up, tossing the pieces onto the floor behind him. It's his way of saying, "I don't do interviews like everyone else. We're just going to have a conversation." That's all well and good, but a conversation has to start somewhere, and far too often Ferguson has nowhere to start or, if he does, nowhere to proceed to.

Take a couple of nights ago, when Ferguson's guest was Michael Caine. Here you have a screen legend who has just published his autobiography, "The Elephant To Hollywood." Caine is a great storyteller with a remarkable career. There are so many interesting avenues to explore that my only frustration with having him as a guest would be that there would never be enough time to ask him all the things I want to hear him talk about.

Unfortunately, Ferguson punted the opportunity, and it was entirely his fault. On most of these shows, guests are pre-interviewed by a producer who compiles a list of questions or simple bullet points so the host can guide the guest into those areas of conversation. But it's also incumbent upon the host to have spent some time thinking about what they want to get out of the guest. Without the pre-interview, that burden falls even more heavily on the host.

In the case of the Caine interview, it was clear Ferguson hadn't prepared anything and hadn't bothered to even skim through the book. In fact, twice in the segment, Ferguson leafed through the book as if hoping something would pop out of there that he could ask Caine about, but the best he could do was show a photo of Caine and Sean Connery from "The Man Who Would Be King." What makes this even more disappointing is that Ferguson is clearly a Caine fan -- it's not like he had to endure a conversation with Justin Bieber.

At the very least, Ferguson could have talked to Caine about the tough, working-class backgrounds they have in common. Caine steered the discussion in that direction at one point, talking about filming "Harry Brown" in the very projects he grew up in, yet Ferguson didn't pick up the ball and run with it.

Anyone who can't get 20 good minutes out of Michael Caine just isn't doing their job. He's been a delightful interviewee many times on many shows, having lived a life full of cinematic adventures going back five decades. He's made some terrific movies and several clunkers, and I look forward to reading his autobiography.

One thing's for certain -- Craig Ferguson didn't spoil it for me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Late Night War

Bill Carter, whose "The Late Shift" told the story of the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman to replace Johnny Carson as host of "The Tonight Show," is about to publish "The War For Late Night," the behind-the-scenes saga of what happened when NBC forced Leno out from behind the "Tonight Show" desk and into primetime to make way for Conan O'Brien. I was already looking forward to reading it, but even more so after my appetite was whetted by this excerpt from the book in "Vanity Fair."

It's not a coincidence that the release of Carter's book coincides with the November 8th debut of Conan's new TBS show. Prediction: early on, the show will earn heightened interest from the viewing public and quick praise from the critics who have supported Conan for many years, but in less than a month, the ratings will cool off and, while he'll have a decent-sized audience, "The Conan Show" will be not be a blockbuster, nor will it contain any content that will revolutionize late-night television. Bottom line: those who already like him will watch, but other programs airing at that time will not be significantly impacted.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Decision Points

Here's a scenario I'd love to see on George W. Bush's book tour.

He's at a store, where children are seated in small chairs listening to someone else read Bush's book out loud to them. One of Bush's aides comes over and whispers something disturbing to him. The former leader of the free world then sits there for several minutes not knowing how to react or what to do next, but doesn't show any alarm because he doesn't want to disturb the children and the book reading.

Nah, that could never happen. Unless the book has a pet goat in it.

Hot Stuff

The next time you run into someone who denies global climate change, point them to this list of evidence compiled by scientists at NASA.

Book Dominoes

Jennifer Winokur e-mails, "I loved the mattress dominoes video you posted as Picture Of The Day last week, and thought you'd like to see this ad from a store called Bookmans that uses books as falling dominoes."

Taking Fear Out Of Halloween

Last month, when I addressed the St. Louis Skeptics Society, I talked about the lack of skepticism in the mass media and how the vast majority of outlets report trend stories without bothering to fact-check them.  They just run with what they think is "common knowledge" because they see everyone else running with it.  That pack mentality leads to bogus storylines, misinformation, and misplaced fear.

This week, you're seeing more proof of that in the annual Halloween scare pieces telling you how to protect your children from poisoned candy, dangerous costumes, and sex offenders in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, there's no fact pattern to back up the claims that form the basis of those stories -- it's just lazy reporters and producers repeating the same lie-filled tales they told last year and the year before that.

Lenore Skenazy (whose Free Range Kids site is a great resource for parents who want their children to grow up learning about personal responsibility instead of being afraid of the world) points out that, despite the hype and the media scare stories, Halloween is not a dangerous day for kids.  As proof, she offers research by Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, which shows that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger's Halloween candy, and Elizabeth Letourneau, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, who studied crime statistics from 30 states and found, "There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation."
Stranger danger is still going strong, and it's even spread beyond Halloween to the rest of the year. Now parents consider their neighbors potential killers all year round. That's why they don't let their kids play on the lawn, or wait alone for the school bus: "You never know!" The psycho-next-door fear went viral.

Then along came new fears. Parents are warned annually not to let their children wear costumes that are too tight—those could seriously restrict breathing! But not too loose either—kids could trip! Fall! Die!

Treating parents like idiots who couldn't possibly notice that their kid is turning blue or falling on his face might seem like a losing proposition, but it caught on too.

Halloween taught marketers that parents are willing to be warned about anything, no matter how preposterous, and then they're willing to be sold whatever solutions the market can come up with. Face paint so no mask will obscure a child's vision. Purell, so no child touches a germ. And the biggest boondoggle of all: an adult-supervised party, so no child encounters anything exciting, er, "dangerous."
Skenazy's entire piece is here.  Her site is here.  Her book is here.

Final Table #91: Liv Boeree

This week on my Final Table poker radio show, Dennis Phillips and I talked about a recent crackdown on online players using poker bots, including one guy who's upset that he was thrown off one of the top sites, claiming that he'd done nothing wrong in using his own software to win $200,000+ from other players while his computer played with no hands-on assistance from him.

Our guest was Liv Boeree, who went from a college degree in astrophysics to modeling and co-hosting poker TV shows to life as a poker pro -- and she's done pretty well at it recently, winning the EPT San Remo event in the spring, cashing in three WSOP events this summer, two deep runs at the WSOPE in September, and a 2nd place finish at the EPT London earlier this month. We talked about a Discover magazine piece that profiles Liv and other poker-playing physicists, how she told her parents she was leaving science behind to play poker for a living, how she got her training in the game from Phil Hellmuth, Annie Duke, and Devilfish Ulliott, and the difference between US and European players. Liv also discussed how she uses her sex appeal at the table to gain an edge over male players, and her thoughts on getting more women to overcome intimidation and play the game.

We also discussed Howard Lederer's blog on why Phil Ivey should not have been nominated for the Poker Hall Of Fame this year, the huge turnout for the main event and regional championship at the WSOP Circuit tournament at Horseshoe Hammond, and some poker TV news.

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hangover Hypocrisy

There's a story out of Hollywood that Mel Gibson won't be making a cameo in the sequel to "The Hangover," supposedly because the cast and crew (led by Zach Galifianakis) refused to work with him.

At Salon, Matt Zoller Seitz points out the hypocrisy of that refusal, considering that all of those people had no problem working in the first movie with convicted rapist Mike Tyson, but adds we shouldn't be surprised, what with Hollywood's history of hypocrisies:

How is it that Roman Polanski -- in theory a pariah after fleeing the United States to avoid prosecution on charges of drugging and raping a barely adolescent girl -- got a 2003 Oscar as Best Director (in absentia) and a standing ovation, while a 1999 honorary Oscar for director Elia Kazan was preceded by months of protest over Kazan being a rat for the House Un-American Activities Committee? One wonders, how many of the actors that made a big show of sitting on their hands when Kazan got his award applauded loudly for Polanski four years later? And does anyone doubt that if Polanski offered Galifianakis the lead role in his next film that the actor wouldn't happily accept? Or that if Tyson invited Galifianakis to his birthday party, that he'd show up with a bottle of Jagermeister, then re-enact the infamous punch-out from "The Hangover" while guests snapped pictures with their cell phones and posted them on Twitter?

Why is Lindsay Lohan, substance abuser and intoxicated driver, borderline-unemployable right now, but Kate Moss, a one-time cokehead blasted as a toxic role model for young women, still a sought-after model, appearing in a Valisere lingerie campaign and on the cover of Bryan Ferry's new album "Olympia"? And how is it that Charlie Sheen, who was accused of strangling his wife Brooke Mueller and holding a knife to her throat on Christmas Day, 2009, is still the star of the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men," and recently signed a new contract guaranteeing him two more years of employment?
While Seitz takes some unnecessary shots at Alec Baldwin in his piece, he's absolutely right when he says it's possible for the public to accept both the good and the bad when it comes to celebrities:
Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite, a sexist, a homophobe, and very possibly a deranged religious fanatic; he's also one of the few bona fide movie stars of the last three decades and the most brilliant action filmmaker since Sam Peckinpah. Polanski is a great director and a sex offender. Kazan was a great director and a rat. Lohan and Moss are substance abusers and arresting beauties whose most interesting work probably lies ahead of them. Sheen is a master of droll self-parody and an unexpectedly charming sitcom star, and a wife-abusing scum that should be behind bars right now. If I cared enough to hypothesize an ideal future for Sheen, I'd picture him serving several years in prison for assaulting his wife, preferably in maximum security with the hardest of hardcore felons, then moving over to HBO, playing himself.
As for "The Hangover," there's still going to be a sequel, because in Hollywood the most important thing is money, and this was the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. But instead of a shock cameo by Mel Gibson, we'll get an understated performance by Liam Neeson.

Why The Right Hates NPR

Joe Conason explains the real reason the right hates NPR:

These same voices have reliably exploited every chance to damage public broadcasting, not because of any supposed liberal bias, but because they disdain the straightforward, probing journalism that the public network provides every day. What the NPR haters want to see and hear on America’s airwaves is the “fair and balanced mentality” of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage and nothing else. After all, they hate CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC with almost equal passion, no matter how much those networks or NPR bend over to accomodate conservative viewpoints.

What the right dislikes about NPR, aside from its dogged effort to achieve ideological balance, is its devotion to actual reporting about real issues, from campaign finance and Congressional lobbying to the Supreme Court, the war in Afghanistan, and mine safety.
Read the whole piece here.

By the way, all the blustering about de-funding NPR is nothing more than election-year nonsense. Conservatives can jump up and shout all they want, but they don't really want to have this discussion, because then we'd have to get into the subsidies and regulatory loopholes that make so much of their own media possible.


There was a time when I read "Doonesbury" every day. I looked forward to the adventures of Mike, Zonker, BD, Joanie, Rick, Duke, Honey, and all the rest, as well as the satire that flowed out of Garry Trudeau's pen. We have several of the books, including "The Doonesbury Chronicles," a 1975 compilation of strips.

Somewhere along the way, however, I didn't see the strip anymore. Notice I didn't say "read," but "see." When we lived in DC, "Doonesbury" was on page 3 of the must-read Style section of the Washington Post, so I never missed it. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts Doonesbury in with the rest of the comics, none of which I was ever a fan of, so I don't bother digging for it. Now, we don't even get the P-D at home, so there's even less impetus to see what Trudeau's up to each day.

It's been so long since I thought about "Doonesbury" that it didn't even occur to me to see if the strip is online. Of course, it is, and a glance shows it hasn't lost any of its political edge and Trudeau's writing and drawing are as sharp as ever. I just bookmarked it and will see how long it holds my interest over the coming weeks.

Perhaps I'll also take a look at a new collection called "40: A Doonesbury Retrospective," compiled by the same people who did "The Complete Far Side" and "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes."

There's also an interview with Trudeau, in which David Plotz asks him what was the most memorable or egregious attack on Doonesbury, considering how the strip has, at various times, been censored, criticized, shrunk, or moved around the newspaper. Trudeau's answer:

Years ago, I did a series on Joanie Caucus bedding her then-boyfriend Rick Redfern. The week starts with a drawing of Joanie's empty bedroom. It's followed by a three-day, dialogue-free tracking shot that takes us out the bedroom window, across town, and into the window of Rick's bedroom, where Joanie and Rick are intertwined in post-coital bliss. This was too much for many comics editors, and many papers, reluctant to run the foreplay without a payoff, banned the whole week. But the Bangor newspaper had the most unusual solution; in the last frame, instead of the scandalous tableau of Rick and Joanie, the paper ran the day's weather forecast.
Update 12:06pm...Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company informs me that you can get "Doonesbury" (and many other comics) delivered daily free via e-mail from GoComics.com. Sounds easier than having to actively click on the strip site regularly.

Amazing Fire Animation

My daughter found and enjoyed this and thought I should share it with you as the Picture Of The Day...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cavett and Curtis

In today's NY Times, Dick Cavett writes about Tony Curtis and includes a clip of his show from January, 1970 (which I can't embed, unfortunately) where Curtis sits on a stool and takes questions from the audience. As Cavett explains,

Considering that we taped "to time" and did no editing, it took a certain amount of guts to take unrestricted questions this way, but Tony was willing to do it. I’d have liked to do this on my show more often, but there were few takers.
If this was a rarity then, it happens even less frequently now. I can't remember seeing a talk show in the last decade or two in which a guest took open questions from the audience. James Lipton used to allow his students to query the interviewees on "Inside The Actor's Studio," but we usually only saw two or three exchanges, all of them heavily edited.

If any host allowed this on their show today, they'd surely work in post-production to take out any clunker questions or dead spaces. Although after seeing this clip, most modern hosts would say it was a bad idea in the first place and this was proof.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Big & Small Screen

Since I've had a slow work week, I've been consuming several things on the big and small screen., and over the next couple of days I'll share my thoughts about them on this blog.

First is "The Social Network," which proves yet again that Aaron Sorkin is our best contemporary screenwriter. He uses words in a way we haven't seen since David Mamet was at his peak over a decade ago. The speeches he crafted for the characters in this movie (particularly Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) are crisp, clever, and smart, in the same way as those he devised for "Sports Night," "The West Wing," "The American President," "Charlie Wilson's War," and "A Few Good Men."

In interviews Sorkin has done to promote the movie, he has said he wanted to offer different perspectives on events, a la "Rashomon." But instead of giving us disparate views, he gave us visualizations of legal depositions and he-said-she-said disputes. It's an effective way of telling the story, and the characters vividly drawn, but it's no "Rashomon."

Still, it's a pleasure to hear his wit and pacing in the dialogue, and director David Fincher gets the look right -- right down to the coding that Zuckerberg and his fellow Harvard computer geniuses are obsessed with night and day.

In case you missed it, here's the interview I did with Ben Mezrich about "The Accidental Billionaires," the book "The Social Network" is based on.

The second movie I'm recommending is "The Town," a tour de force by Ben Affleck, who stars, directs, and developed the story of a group of bank robbers from the Charlestown area of Boston. Affleck smartly leaves the goofy stuff behind and plays it straight as the leader of a quartet of tough guys who take direction from Pete Postlethwaite and stay one step ahead of the FBI, whose lead investigator is played by Jon Hamm.

While Affleck gets good performances from everyone, he could have worked a little more with Hamm on his Boston accent. At times, Hamm is heavy on the blue-collor Boston-ese, pronouncing "Star Market" as "Stah Mahket," but too often he loses the accent entirely. He's not bad in the role, but he should have had a consistent voice.

The scene-stealer in "The Town" is Jeremy Renner, who got a lot of attention last year for "The Hurt Locker." Renner's character is the best friend of Affleck's character who has a volatile temper and a chip on his shoulder from nine years in prison. He's all rough edges, the kind of guy who'd stick a knife in you just for bumping into him accidentally. That volatility makes him both an asset and a liability during the bank robberies, and helps kick-start the plot.

All in all, a very solid piece of entertainment.

Third on my content consumption list is "Boardwalk Empire." When it debuted on HBO, I thought it would be another of those shows I had to watch every episode of. I'm a big Steve Buscemi fan, and with Martin Scorcese's involvement, they had me from the boardwalk on. But they've lost me after just a few weeks by getting bogged down in too many stories I didn't care about. It's tough to keep me interested in a period piece, but the tales of corruption and power in the prohibition era should have been enough to do it.

They weren't, so I'm done with the series.

Freedom Flyer

I've been going through security screening right here in this line for five years and never blown up an airplane, broken any laws, made any threats, or had a government agent call my boss in Houston. And you guys have never tried to touch me or see me naked that whole time. But, if that’s what it’s come to now, I don’t want to enter the facility that badly. -- Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts is a pilot for ExpressJet, or at least he was until he went to work at the Memphis airport and saw that the TSA had installed a new security device, a backscatter imaging machine. I've have written previously about these devices, which can see through your clothes and give TSA personnel a view of your naked body underneath. If you're in the security line and don't want to offer such a personal view of yourself to strangers, you can choose the alternate indignity of being frisked.

Roberts chose neither. He had passed through the metal detector without setting off any alarms and found it ludicrous that, since he had commuted to work through this portal every week for more than four years without incident, he was being treated this way. He's right. As the pilot, if he wanted to crash into a building or use the aircraft for a similar terrorist attack, he wouldn't need a box cutter or any other sharp implement because he'd already be at the controls of the plane!

Roberts posted his story in detail in an online forum for ExpressJet employees. As of this morning, his job status is unclear, although he hasn't been allowed to work since the incident last weekend. The conservative civil liberties group The Rutherford Institute has agreed to represent him in his claim that the TSA's use of full-body scanning technology as a primary security scan violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Elvira's Not Christine O'Donnell

It's hard to believe it's been almost 30 years since Cassandra Peterson created the Elvira character for a local LA TV station. It wasn't long before she had a national presence, and I remember her visiting my morning show on WHCN/Hartford sometime in the early 80s on a promotional tour.

She was only supposed to be there for a half-hour, but ended up staying nearly two hours because my listeners loved her and bombarded the station with phone calls. What they didn't know was that while they were picturing Elvira in her black wig and tight-fitting dress, Peterson was actually sitting beside me as her real-life self, a redhead who was never noticed in public because she didn't look anything like her character out of costume.

On the air as Elvira, she was a gifted improviser with a quick wit, willing to play along with anything I threw at her. Off the air as Cassandra, she was more than a pleasure to hang out with, bubbly and funny and candid. She clearly understood how she'd struck gold and how to exploit her sudden success.

Elvira ran pretty hot for a decade or so, with commercial endorsements, her own movie, computer games, calendars, and tons of personal appearances to go along with her syndicated TV show. That fame began to wane in the 1990s, but she never completely disappeared. In fact, there's been a steady stream of demand for Elvira, particularly around Halloween -- so much so that, a few years ago, Peterson, who is nearing 60, hired a couple of actresses to impersonate Elvira around the country, making it possible for her character to be in more than one place at a time.

Here's the original, parodying Christine O'Donnell...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Final Table #90: David Williams

This week on my Final Table poker radio show, Dennis Phillips and I talked about playing in cash games in Las Vegas and at the WSOP Circuit Event at Horseshoe Hammond this weekend, the newest inductees to the Poker Hall Of Fame (Erik Seidel and Dan Harrington), and a court case in South Carolina involving five guys arrested for playing poker at home.

Our guest was David Williams, winner of the 2010 World Poker Tour Championship and runner-up to Greg Raymer in the 2004 World Series Of Poker Main Event. David discussed how he's changed his game in the last few years by being less aggressive and more patient, a couple of odd prop bets he's been involved in, why he left Bodog to become a member of Team PokerStars Pro, and more.

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mocking Uri

On the British comedy game show, "8 Out Of 10 Cats," Uri Geller is mocked mercilessly by the panel while he tries to pull off the same lame tricks he's always done...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Joel Burns: It Gets Better

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns took time at a council meeting Tuesday night to make this extraordinary statement. He talks about being bothered by the recent suicides of gay teens across the country, remembers how it was for him as a gay teenager, and how he wants any young people who are considering taking their own lives because they're being bullied to know that life gets better; that they should stay alive to see society's attitudes change.

There weren't any young people in the Fort Worth city council chamber that night, but let's hope this video goes viral enough that millions of teens see it and are affected by it...

Get Away From The Box

Kevin Pollak does a perfect Albert Brooks imitation. Dave Coulier does a perfect Bob "Super Dave" Einstein imitation. When Coulier appeared on Pollak's online chat show earlier this year, they improvised a segment with one comedic brother interviewing the other (including a cameo impression of Richard Kind at the end)...

Wanna see the real guys working together? Here they are in a classic scene from "Modern Romance," in which Brooks goes into a store to buy running shoes and encounters Einstein as an unbelievable salesman...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Left Foot

I've been having a problem with my left foot since April, when I strained my achilles tendon playing tennis.

I thought it was the kind of injury that would heal itself if I just stopped playing for a few months. I've had lots of those injuries, like the broken toe, in which there's no reason to go to the emergency room because all they're going to do is tape the broken toe to the one next to it, give you a pain reliever, and send you home. Same thing with a broken rib, or a slight muscle tear I had in my upper arm a few years ago. No medical intervention necessary, just let the healing power of the human body take its course.

My thinking -- and I know this is a typically male thought -- was to stop playing, take it easy, and wait to get back on the court for the fall season. A week before Labor Day, I went out to test myself by hitting some balls with my wife and daughter, but after only 40 minutes on the court, it was clear I wouldn't be able to play doubles at full speed three times a week as I used to.

It was at that point that I went to see my physician, who suggested that after more than four months, the injury might be worse than I speculated, so I should get an MRI and see a specialist. Armed with that film, he sent me to an orthopedist who seemed a little too eager to do surgery, and since I'd had too much experience getting cut open last year, I want to avoid the scalpel unless it's the absolute last resort.

My physician sent me to another orthopedist for a second opinion, and I liked what she suggested -- immobilizing my foot for six weeks in a plastic boot (actually, an air cast), which I started wearing a couple of days ago. Hopefully, by Thanksgiving, after all that inactivity, the tendon will have healed itself, and I'm hoping to play tennis again by January.

But that's not what I'm writing about tonight.

In both visits to the orthopedists, I was frustrated by the process -- in particular, the nurses' use of the biggest lie in medicine: "The doctor will be right with you." That's what they said after I had filled out all the paperwork, had an x-ray taken, gone over what was bothering me, and finally been placed me in an examination room, where I was effectively abandoned.

The doctor was not "right with me." I sat in there for the better part of an hour. I'd forgotten to bring a book or magazine, so I used my iPhone to review email, check Twitter, and look around at a few news websites. But after absorbing all the content I could think of from my electronic friend, I'd only killed a half-hour. Next I reviewed all the orthopedic charts on the wall, memorizing the Latin names for all the bones in the foot, which was only slightly less interesting than looking at those transparent "visible man" pages in the World Book when I was a kid.

I was in there so long I got an accurate count of the cotton balls in the jar on the counter. But still no doctor.

To make matters worse, I'd occasionally hear someone outside my door pulling the clipboard fake. That's when a staff member comes up to the door to your examination room, rattles the clipboard containing your medical information, perhaps even removes it to review something, and then puts it back in its holder. I imagine they looked at it, saw I'd only been waiting 45 minutes, realized that wasn't nearly long enough, and continued to leave me in limbo.

What's most bothersome about this is how common this practice is. I'm happy to say that my personal physician is very good at understanding the concept of The Appointment: two people agreeing to meet in a certain place at a certain time, with both then abiding by that agreement.

Apparently, this is not how the rest of the medical community defines an appointment. Their definition involves the patient sitting on the crinkly exam table paper for longer than necessary until the doctor finds a few minutes to spend in their presence. Now, I understand that these are busy practices, and they're trying to jam as many patients in as possible, but I can't help but wonder if the MD's even know how rude and inconsiderate this is. Do they ever get sick enough to need another doctor's attention, and if so, do they have to wait around like we do?

At one point, I thought this was part of the orthopedists' method of handling cases like mine. They took one look at my MRI and x-ray and realized that my achilles tendon would heal itself over time -- so why rush?

Keyless and Clueless

You go out to dinner, park your car in a public area, but forget to lock the doors. When you come back, a thief has opened the door and taken something valuable you left on the seat, or perhaps ripped your car stereo out.

That scenario has played out thousands of times in thousands of places. It's often followed by a call to the cops, who come out, take a report, and tell the victim, "We'll see what we can do." Then nothing more ever happens, because there's nothing the cops can do about it, and it's a waste of time and manpower for them to start hunting all over town for your briefcase, backpack, or Blaupunkt.

Bottom line: you've been ripped off because of your own carelessness. Hopefully, you'll learn from your mistake.

But if you live in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Moreland Township, the cops are going to play nanny for you. No, they're not suddenly better at tracking down stolen merchandise. By they are considering an ordinance that would require you to lock your car when you park it in a public area, or get a ticket and face a $25 fine.

Here's one thing they've overlooked, though: won't those tickets on the windows of the unlocked cars help the thieves know which vehicles they should target?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Alec Baldwin vs. NPR

Alec Baldwin has done a funny promo for public radio stations to run during pledge weeks, in which he urges listeners to not donate. Details and audio here.

Final Table #89: Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates

Today on my Final Table poker radio show, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Daniel Cates, known online as "Jungleman12," who has roared onto the scene as one of the newest stars of poker.

We talked with Cates about the nose-bleed stakes games he's been playing against Tom Dwan (The Durrr Challenge) and Isildur1 -- $200/400 no-limit, heads-up -- from how they schedule the matches to which player he thinks is better, as well as his recent trip to the World Series Of Poker Europe and the differences between playing live and online.

Dennis and I also discussed:
  • my weekend trip to Las Vegas, where I was disappointed to find almost no pot-limit Omaha action
  • whether a casino should have reimbursed a well-known player who was robbed in one of its bathrooms
  • the poker site that's suing Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi for promising to wear its logo during the main event, but then switching to another site halfway through
  • the St. Louisan who just took down the HORSE tournament at a WSOP Circuit event
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Next week on The Final Table, we'll talk with Brandon Steven, the Wichita car dealer who finished 10th in this year's WSOP Main Event, making him the November Nine Bubble Boy.

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

Simpsons Take On Simpsons

I haven't watched "The Simpsons" in over a decade, so thanks to Tony Nessing for sending me this clip, which pokes fun at the Korean animators who do the artwork and the massive merchandising machine for all things "Simpsons." This isn't a parody -- it was produced by the show's creative team and actually aired Sunday night, with the permission of Fox...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Movie On A Deadline

I rented a movie to watch on a flight the other night, but because I didn't take my laptop it had to be something compatible with the smaller screen of my iPhone. That meant nothing with big action and special effects like "Iron Man 2."

I went to the iTunes store and rented "Solitary Man," a character study Michael Douglas as a 60-year-old man who finds himself alone -- no job, no real prospects, an ex-wife he can't live with anymore, an apartment he can't pay for, and nothing much more than the charisma he has long used to talk younger women into bed. Douglas does a very good job, ably supported by Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary Louise Parker, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, and an impressive newcomer named Imogen Poots.

But here's what I didn't like: the restrictions on watching the movie. The rule for movies rented from the iTunes store is that you have 30 days to enjoy the movie, but once you start watching it, you only have 24 hours before it dissolves into thin air (at which time, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your IMF activity).

So, when I started watching the movie on the plane Thursday night, if I had stopped an hour in and decided to sleep the rest of the way, intending to watch the remainder of the movie on my flight home Sunday night, it would have been impossible unless I re-rented the movie. I bet this happens to a lot of people who download a film to watch on the road, perhaps in their hotel room, but then something else comes up and they never get to finish it before it disappears back into the cloud.

That viewing window should be extended from 24 hours to 7 days. After all, Apple and the movie studio already have the $3.99 I paid for the rental, regardless of when I watch it. And it's not likely that I'm going to watch it repeatedly over the course of a week (unless I had a small child who insisted on seeing "Toy Story 3" over and over again during vacation). Even if I did, how does that affect their bottom line?

As it turned out, I did watch the entire movie during that first flight, and enjoyed it enough to add it to my Movies You Might Not Know list -- which does not have a time limit on your perusal.

Terry Gross & Jon Stewart

Over the years, I've had quite a few people say some very nice things about the interviews I conduct, which I appreciate very much. Recently, a listener asked me who I think does great interviews, and the first name out of my mouth was Terry Gross, the woman who has been hosting NPR's "Fresh Air" for a quarter-century (plus another ten years as a local show before that at WHYY/Philadelphia, still the show's home station).

What makes Gross so good? Three words: preparation, curiosity, and listening. It's clear that Gross has done research on every guest, delights (as I do) in asking questions that the interviewee may not have been asked before, and pays close attention to what they're saying so she can ask followup questions that make the interview a conversation, not a re-hash of the same old talking points. You get more than the same old stories and talking points in a Terry Gross interview.

I don't know how many people are on her staff, but it's clear that she has resources that few local hosts have, from guest bookers to researchers to editors who find audio for her. All of them contribute to one of the most consistently well-produced shows in the business.

While I don't listen to her show live on the radio, I do download many of the "Fresh Air" podcasts via the iTunes store. I just enjoyed her extended discussion with Jon Stewart, recorded onstage at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, that touched on his Rally To Restore Sanity, how he and his staff put together "The Daily Show," his thoughts on some of the public figures he's parodied, and how his comedy career has morphed from his early days as a standup comedian to his role as one of our most important (and still funniest) social commentators.

Here's the link to that conversation between two master communicators.

Smell Like A Monster

You have to give the producers of "Sesame Street" credit. More than 40 years after the show debuted, they're still using current pop culture references to teach children. Sure, they misfired with the Katy Perry/Elmo appearance that was yanked before it aired, but now they've cast Grover as Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice Man...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Woman Walks Into A Bar

Here's a clever commercial with a woman and man in a bar. It's a little old-fashioned, since I don't know any hotels that use actual keys anymore, but it wouldn't work with a generic plastic room card...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Negotiating With The Taliban

Three months ago, I had an extended conversation with correspondent Jere Van Dyk, who has done extensive reporting in Afghanistan over the last two decades and was held prisoner by the Taliban for 45 days, which he lived to write about it in "Captive."

Today, on the eve of the 9th anniversary of US combat operations in Afghanistan, I called upon his expertise once again to analyze a Washington Post story saying Afghan President Hamid Karzai was holding secret talks with the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war. I asked Van Dyk whether this means the US might get out of Afghanistan in the near future, and what the resurgence of the Taliban -- which harbored Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda training camps pre-9/11 -- means for US homeland security.

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

Click here to listen to my earlier discussion with Jere Van Dyk.

Final Table #88: Annie Duke

Today on my Final Table poker radio show, I reported on my trip to Florida to play in some of the new cash games there, while Dennis Phillips finally returned from his trips to Argentina for the LAPT Finale and England for the EPT London. We also discussed last week's ruling by an appeals court judge that makes online poker illegal in the state of Washington, which led PokerStars to no longer allow anyone with an IP address in that state to play on the site.

In our guest segment, we talked with Annie Duke, who beat Dennis in the semi-finals before going on to win this year's National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Annie testified before Congress about regulating and licensing online poker, so we spent some time on that subject. Then we turned to why she didn't play in the World Series Of Poker Europe, and whether she thinks that bracelets won there are equivalent to the bracelets awarded at the WSOP in Las Vegas. Finally, we touched on the aftermath of the feud she had this summer with Daniel Negreanu, which started out as a disagreement about ladies-only tournaments.

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

Next week on The Final Table, we'll talk with Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates, who is playing some of the highest-stakes no-limit hold'em games online versus Tom "Durrr" Dwan and Isuldur1.

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

Retro Rockets

In Nelson, New Zealand, a theater group developed an interactive show called "Apollo 13: Mission Control," in which the audience has to help get the astronauts home...

[thanks to Jennifer Bane for the link]

Monday, October 04, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell

When I heard that Stephen J. Cannell died over the weekend, my mind immediately went to some interviews I did with him several years ago.

If you watched TV in the 1970s and 1980s, you couldn't miss the shows Cannell produced, including "Baretta," "The Rockford Files," "The Greatest American Hero," "Hardcastle & McCormick," "The A-Team," "Stingray," "Wiseguy," and "21 Jump Street."

In the last decade, Cannell turned to writing novels, publishing 14 of them. When "The Viking Funeral" came out in January, 2002, he returned to my radio show to talk about it. He also revealed that he was working on a big-screen version of "The A-Team," predicting that it would be out within 18 months, but of course it didn't hit the big screen until this year.

All of the writing Cannell did was remarkable considering that he suffered from dyslexia, another topic we touched on in this conversation, including why he wasn't diagnosed with the condition until he was 35 years old.

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

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Scott Turow Brings Rusty Back

More than two decades ago, I picked up Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent" and couldn't put it down. When it became a movie with Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Raul Julia, Brian Dennehy, Joe Grifasi, John Spencer, and Paul Winfield, I rushed to see it and was gratified that it lived up to the book.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend mentioned that Turow had finally written a sequel, "Innocent," which picked up the story of Rusty Sabich, the former prosecutor who became a judge but found himself accused of murder yet again. I quickly went out and got the new book and, as before, couldn't put it down.

I enjoyed it so much that I e-mailed Turow and asked him to talk with me about it on KTRS/St. Louis, which we did yesterday morning. In the conversation, I asked him why he'd decided to bring Rusty back, whether he'd had an "a-ha!" moment that gave him the jumping off point for the plot, why he's always used fictional Kindle County instead of real locales, and whether he heard the voices of the movie actors in his head as he wrote the dialogue for his characters.

Listen, then buy a copy of "Innocent," then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Diane Ravitch vs. Superman

There's a new documentary, "Waiting For Superman," about the American education system, but Diane Ravitch says it's really part of a continuing attack on public schools in this country.

Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education, joined me to explain how the movie wrongly props up charter schools as an answer, vilifies teachers' unions, and misunderstands how important good principals are to good schools. We also discussed what was wrong with NBC's week of "Education Nation" reports, why No Child Left Behind hasn't worked, how there's far too much emphasis on test scores, and how Finland achieved its status as world leader in education.

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

Also on Harris Online... 

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Different Direction

A well-respected radio Program Director was fired this week in St. Louis after 7 highly-successful years. The company told him they thought it was "time to part ways."

It reminds me of a friend who ran a top-rated station in Chicago a couple of years ago. When he was let go, the General Manager told him they were "going in a different direction." Considering that he had helped make the station's ratings go nowhere but up, guess which direction it headed after he was no longer there? And guess which GM isn't there anymore, either?

More Bad Universe

My friend Phil Plait returns to the Discovery Channel next Wednesday (right after the season premiere of "Mythbusters") with episode 2 of his "Bad Universe," this time investigating whether aliens could actually make it to Earth.

We talked about it today on KTRS/St. Louis, and I also asked him about the new Earth-like planet that was discovered this week, what he thinks of Congress' plans for NASA, and why aliens in science-fiction movies always look so human.

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

Here's a promo for the next episode of Phil's TV show...

The Social Network

"The Social Network," the new movie about the founding of Facebook, is based on the book "Accidental Millionaires" by Ben Mezrich. Last year, I had an extended conversation about it with Ben, which you can listen to here.

One of Ben's previous books, "Bringing Down The House," also became a major movie, with the title changed to "21." We talked about that one here.