Thursday, July 28, 2011

MP3 Experiment

The latest Improv Everywhere effort involves a couple thousand people simultaneously listening to an mp3 file that gives them instructions on how to act, where to go, and when to dance. Let's hope this power doesn't slip into the hands of someone evil...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

West Wing Debt Ceiling

Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Dule Hill, and Kristin Chenoweth do a better job explaining the debt ceiling "crisis" in this one-minute clip from a sixth-season episode of "The West Wing" (circa 2004) than most professional newscasters have in all the hours devoted to the story over the last month. Ironically, the script was by Lawrence O'Donnell, who now anchors an hour of primetime on MSNBC...

And for those Americans who believe that President Obama is responsible for the burgeoning deficit, check this chart from Sunday's New York Times, which shows that the Bush tax cuts alone cost more than all of Obama's policies -- and so did the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We could end those without touching any other federal spending and the "crisis" would be over.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Final Table #130: Phil Collins, November Niner

Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we talked with Phil Collins, one of the November Nine for this year's World Series Of Poker Main Event. Collins, who is one of only 3 Americans who will return November 5th to play for the $8.7 million first prize and is currently fourth in chips, discussed:
  • what went through his head as the 10th player busted out;
  • how he's planning to prepare for the big finale in November;
  • how he felt about the almost-live ESPN coverage giving away hole card information;
  • why he played ace-king differently in this year's tournament;
  • whether he'll bet on himself at the Wynn sports book, which is taking wagers on the November Nine; and
  • whether, as an online player, he considered moving out of the US after Black Friday.
In our news segment, we covered the breaking news about Bodog shutting down US operations at the end of this year, the postponement of a hearing regarding Full Tilt Poker's license (which means players who still have money on that site won't get any relief for almost two more months), how much the value of making the November Nine has decreased since Black Friday, and the just-announced schedule for the upcoming World Series Of Poker Circuit season.

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Teller Explains

It's not just rare to hear Teller speak, it's even more rare to hear him explaining the psychology behind his brilliant sleight-of-hand illusions. Here he is doing just that at the Magic of Consciousness Symposium in June, 2007...

[thanks to Joyce Williams for the link]

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stephen Colbert's Bully Story

Stephen Colbert has recorded a message -- as himself, not as his character -- for Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tim Minchin's Storm

At the Amazing Meeting (which I wrote about Wednesday), I ran into Jason Goodbody, a member of the Skeptical Society of St. Louis. He mentioned that while we were in Vegas, we were missing a performance by Australian comedian Tim Minchin at the Sheldon Concert Hall. I wasn't familiar with Minchin, so Jason told me to check out a bit he does called "Storm," which an animator named DC Turner has turned into this video.

After watching this and his appearance two weeks ago on "Conan" and other bits on his YouTube channel, I'm now a Minchin fan.


Adam Rocher e-mails:

I loved your column yesterday with migraine advice for Michelle Bachmann. It's a good thing she's a federal government employee so, under Obamacare, her health plan pays for her migraine medication despite her pre-existing condition!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Job Creation Myth

During the debt ceiling debate, Republicans have stopped referring to millionaires as "rich people." In a page right out of the Frank Luntz playbook, they've changed the phrase to "job creators."

This is their way of getting middle class Americans to vote against their own interests yet again by portraying the rich as the victims, trying to get you to believe that increasing the top marginal tax rate 3% -- to where it was during the boom years of the Clinton era -- would keep employers from hiring more workers.

Here's the question I haven't heard anyone in the media ask the GOP leaders and pundits who are spewing this new line of nonsense: if the Bush tax cuts were so good at helping rich folks create jobs, then where are the jobs? In the 8-10 years since the tax rates were decreased, where's the proof that those at the top have hired more Americans? While big businesses have pumped up their bottom line by transferring jobs overseas, where workers cost less, the ranks of the domestic job force haven't exactly swelled.

Most job creation comes not from large corporations with hyper-wealthy CEOs, but from small businesses, the vast majority of which are unaffected by the lower tax rate. As William Gale wrote in the Washington Post, "Less than 2% of tax returns reporting small-business income are filed by taxpayers in the top two income brackets -- individuals earning more than about $170,000/year and families earning more than about $210,000/year."

The other line being spewed by Republicans is, "Now is not the time to raise taxes." I'd like someone to ask Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, "When was the time to raise taxes? Can you tell me when it would be prudent?" Because if you can't, then you have to stop acting like your opposition to taxes is situational, when you know that it's the very basis of your economic world view. And because when you lowered those top tax rates, all you did was add to the country's debt. The Bush tax cuts aren't solely responsible for the deficit (the recession deserves most of the blame), but they were certainly a contributing factor -- one which could easily be reversed without harming America's middle and working classes.

I don't understand why Obama and his minions aren't making these points loudly every day that the debt ceiling debate drags on, informing the public about the hypocrisy of GOPers who raised the debt limit seven times without a squawk under a president of their own party, but now are throwing a tantrum because Obama's in the White House.

Obama should also be reminding the public that, contrary to what Republicans want you to believe, income tax rates for the vast majority of Americans -- the ones who need a break the most -- have gone down on his watch. By not repeating this truism, the White House allows conservatives to give the impression that Democrats want to raise taxes on everyone, when in fact it's just the fat cats, the top 1-2%, who would have to cough up a little bit more. And when I say "a little bit," I mean it.

Let's do some math. If a "job creator" makes a million dollars a year, and their tax rate goes up 3%, that's $30,000. Remember, we're talking income tax here, not wealth, and not counting capital gains and other non-payroll income -- just the stuff on their W-2s. If they don't give that $30,000 to the government, they can afford to hire one new employee, and pay them the stunning salary of $15/hour.

That's one person hired for each rich person who paid less taxes. At that rate, it would take 40,000,000 fat cats to employ everyone who's out of work now (not to mention the millions more who are underemployed). And that's assuming that they're going to use those 3% savings to hire someone, rather than spending it on some luxury item or a vacation with the trophy wife.

So, if all of these "job creators" have been saving that 3% since the rates went down nearly a decade ago, where are all those jobs that should have been created? Because the only positions I see being filled are as lobbyists for the rich, and they make a lot more than $15/hour.

A Pain In The Head

I'm not a fan of Michelle Bachmann, and doubt she has a chance of being the GOP presidential nominee, let alone winning the election. But I do have one piece of advice for her: cut down on the pickled herring.

I share this tip as a fellow migraine sufferer.

About a decade ago, I started getting blinding headaches. They came upon me suddenly, and would become so intense in the right front quadrant of my head that I couldn't see out of that eye. Naturally, this scared the crap out of me, so I went to see my physician. He listened to my explanation of the symptoms, checked me out, and concluded that I was either suffering from migraines or cluster headaches.

Then he added this: "But I'd like you to have an MRI, just so we can rule out a brain tumor."

Brain tumor? I suggested to him that, in the future, he should avoid saying those two words to a patient until they were in a confirmed diagnosis -- if he'd substitute "anything else" for "brain tumor," the sentence above would cause a lot less anxiety. By saying "brain tumor," all I could think about was a malignant growth growing inside my head faster than the Andromeda Strain.

I went for the MRI, but because I'm claustrophobic, I was freaked out even more, to the point where I couldn't stay in the tube long enough for the tech to get the images of whatever was going on in my skull. He suggested I go to a place that has an "open MRI" machine which, although not as precise as the regular MRI, wouldn't make me feel like I was stuck inside a coffin being nailed shut. He was right. The open MRI experience was much easier, and the radiologist on duty was kind enough to review the film immediately and contact my doctor, who then called me with the good news: no brain tumor.

Relieved, I asked him what was next. Reverting to his original diagnosis, he sent me off to a neurologist. That's where I learned 3 things that would help fight these incapacitating headaches: 1) take medication like Imitrex; 2) go lie down in a quiet dark room with no visual or audio stimulation until the pain subsides; and 3) don't eat pickled herring.

Pickled herring? It was on a list the neurologist provided of foods which can be triggers for migraines and should thus be avoided. Also on the list: pizza, nuts, yogurt, caffeine, aged cheese, and several others. Not only was pickled herring on the list -- it was at the top!

I asked the neurologist if most of his clients were old Jews in Boca Raton. If not, how did pickled herring make the number one spot? He explained that it was the combination of the fish and the vinegar that made it a migraine trigger. I told him that giving up some of the other items would mean a change to my diet, but cutting down on pickled herring from my current quantity of "never tasted it, never want to" wouldn't be too much of a sacrifice.

He instructed me that not all migraine sufferers have the same triggers, so these were general guidelines, and I should use trial and error to discover which foods, when eliminated from my diet, I should avoid. I stopped eating everything on the list immediately, and the migraines decreased substantially. Over the next few weeks, I tried consuming some of the foods again, and eventually narrowed down my own triggers -- a process that has been remarkably effective at reducing my headaches from frequent to rare.

So now I can function like a regular person and go out for pizza and a Pepsi without having to lie down for an hour afterwards because I've gone blind in one eye. If Bachmann has gone the same neurological route, she probably has her migraines under control, too.

But she shouldn't count on a lot of campaign contributions from pickled herring lobbyists.

Stupidest Things In Sports

Norman Chad writes about the Stupidest Things In Sports. Among my favorites:

Baseball managers wearing a uniform. Granted, a baseball dugout is not the board room of Goldman Sachs or the sales floor of a Lexus dealership; it’s not even as dignified as courtside at a basketball game. But the sight of these 50-, 60- and even 80-year-old men — yes, you Jack McKeon — donning the play clothes of their players is laughable. Now, they don’t have to go full-throttle, Armani-suit Pat Riley on us, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a manager or two in a nice golf shirt and khakis for a change.

The two-minute warning in football. Does the referee really have to go over to each sideline and tell the coaches that there are two minutes left in the half? What, they can’t see the stadium clock? IT’S HUGE. Rather than warning the coaches in regard to time remaining, what would be more helpful — particularly if you’re, say, Lovie Smith — is if the referee could warn a coach that Jay Cutler is about to throw a game-changing interception.
The whole column is here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another Amazing Meeting

My wife and I were in Vegas this weekend, but not for the World Series Of Poker Main Event. We attended the 9th annual Amazing Meeting, put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

TAM is a gathering of skeptics, scientists, and magicians, and has become the largest gathering of its kind in the world. When I attended TAM 2, we had a couple of hundred people. This year, TAM 9 was a sellout -- attendance topped 1,600. I was stunned to look around the ballroom at the Southpoint and see such a large crowd, and happy to see that 40% of them were women, a marked improvement over the 90-10% ratio of just a few years ago. Half of the attendees were experiencing their first TAM, and I could see in their faces that same feeling I had 8 years ago -- the joy in being surrounded by other people who believe in critical thinking over pseudoscience, fighting against not just paranormal claims, but harmful idiocy like homeopathy. It's the kind of group where the men are more likely than not to have facial hair (so I fit right in).

While evenings were filled with entertainment from Penn Jillette, Paul Provenza, and mentalist Max Maven, the core of the four-day Amazing Meeting is the middle two days, which are filled with speakers. Among those who took to the lectern were major crowd-pleasers Bill Nye (yes, The Science Guy, who now heads The Planetary Society), Richard Dawkins (who previewed the children's book he'll publish this fall), and Richard Wiseman (whose "Paranormality" is now available in the US for Kindle). In addition to the large number of women in the audience, we had more female presenters than ever before, including astronomer Pamela Gay (who gave one of the most passionate pro-science-education speeches I've ever heard), psychologist Carol Tavris, NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott, and Elizabeth Loftus (with a very compelling explanation of false memories, the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and a debunking of regressive therapy).

One of the highlights was a panel with Tyson, Gay, Nye, and Lawrence Krauss debating the future of space exploration, moderated by Phil Plait. The panelists had so much to argue about that, at breakfast the next morning, Phil told me he felt guilty for not saying more to steer the conversation. I told him that he should feel the way I do when my interview subjects are so entertaining that I hardly speak -- be happy with the outcome and take credit when people say how great it was!

In his keynote address on Friday afternoon, Tyson attacked scientific illiteracy in the American public and media, mounting an argument for more and better science education: "We are not part of the universe, the universe is part of us." He also decried the reduction in funding for NASA, pointing out that, from Columbus' New World voyage to Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind, exploring frontiers has only been accomplished when subsidized by governments -- adding that more money was spent on the bailout of the "too big to fail" banks than on the entire fifty-year history of NASA.

Of course, many of the attendees wanted to see and hear James Randi, and he didn't disappoint, whether it was at the opening reception or in the hallways or onstage. Now into his eighties, he's smaller and a bit more feeble than he was when I first met him a quarter-century ago, but he still had enough stamina to stay at Penn's bacon-and-donuts-and-rock-and-roll party long after I'd gone to bed, only to return to start the festivities again early the next morning. I'm so proud to call him not only a hero, but a friend.

One session featured Randi being interviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss in a retrospective of Project Alpha, a 1979 project in which he conspired with young magicians Steve Shaw (now known professionally as Banachek) and Mike Edwards to undermine a parapsychology experiment conducted at Washington University by physicist Peter Phillips. Phillips' experiments were funded by McDonnell-Douglas chairman James McDonnell, who believed in all sorts of psychic nonsense. When Randi heard about them, he offered his expertise as an expert in deception, sending several letters warning Phillips of fraudulent practices to watch for when testing people who claimed to have paranormal abilities. Phillips rejected Randi's entreaties, so Randi had Shaw and Edwards pose as psychics with telekinetic abilities. With his guidance and their talents as magicians, the two guys were able to fool Phillips and his researchers for nearly three years. When it was over, Randi, Shaw, and Edwards made their hoax public for the first time, sending shock waves through the world of parapsychology and proving that, while scientists are very good at science, they're terrible at illusion.

Project Alpha is a story too long to recount in full here, but deserves to be told in a full-length book because it's such a great story. In the meantime, this Wikipedia summary will give you a pretty good idea of what Randi, Shaw, and Edwards pulled off.

There's one last moment from TAM 9 that I have to share with you. During the Q&A session after a panel on science-based-medicine and placebos, an audience member from Spain (who sounded just like Mandy Patinkin in "The Princess Bride") asked a question and the panelists responded. That's when emcee George Hrab paused, turned to the questioner and asked, "This is just for me. Would you please say 'Prepare to die'?" The guy from Spain said it and got a big laugh, although I'm not sure he understood the reference. I check his name badge, which did not say he was Inigo Montoya.

For more information about the James Randi Educational Foundation, click here.

Good Point

I told my friend Dennis how steamed I was that my car's air conditioning died during the hottest week of July. His reply: "If it happened in December, how would you know?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Final Table #129: Main Event + Tom Oldcroft

Today on The Final Table, we continued our coverage of the 2011 World Series Of Poker Main Event at the Rio in Las Vegas. Dennis, who cashed for the third time in four years, talked about how he managed to make it to the money despite being short-stacked from very early in the tournament. He also explained the strategy behind a couple of hands he played just before the money bubble burst.

We also discussed the controversy over a player who refused to show his hole cards to ESPN's cameras, our thoughts on ESPN's almost-live coverage and the break-out performances of analysts Olivier Busquet and Antonio Esfandiari, whether Black Friday explains why Europeans seem to be doing better than Americans this year, and much more about the Main Event.

In our guest segment, we talked with Tom Oldcroft, a St. Louisan who has survived prostate cancer and quadruple bypass surgery and finally got to cross "playing in the Main Event" off his bucket list. He got there on the cheap via an online tournament, then lasted through Day 6 before being knocked out in 128th place (in a field of 6,865!), earning a payday of $54,851. Tom explained why he loved the experience so much, the strategic guidelines he'd written for himself (which included tips he'd heard Dennis discuss several times on The Final Table), and how he added fun to every table he played. He's an outgoing and gregarious guy, and we enjoyed having him share his story with our audience.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Final Table #128: The Main Event & Kara Scott

Today on The Final Table, we began our coverage of the 2011 World Series Of Poker Main Event at the Rio in Las Vegas. Dennis, who has made it to Day 3, discussed the atmosphere, the huge turnout (the 3rd largest field ever, remarkable considering the online poker shutdown that happened three months ago), playing with NBA superstar Paul Pierce, and a hand he played on Day 2 that had him thinking about his decision -- with his tournament life on the line -- for more than five minutes.

There are always plenty of bizarre stories around the Main Event, and we touched on some of them, from the player who brought his own leather chair to sit in to the guy who showed up with no pants to the pro who wasn't allowed to return for Day 2 (even though he had a nice chip stack) because he was barred from the Rio after an incident with a woman in his room.

We also spent several minutes being amazed at Phil Hellmuth's run this summer at the WSOP, coming in second in three events, including the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship -- an achievement that may change the minds of his critics.

In our guest segment, we talked with poker pro Kara Scott, hostess of "High Stakes Poker" on GSN, who is also part of ESPN's expanded coverage of the WSOP, both on TV and online. Among the topics we touched on, the normally mild-mannered Kara explained what set her off on a Twitter rant earlier in the series in an event where some of the other players were acting like jerks, and we got her reaction a piece Mike Sexton wrote, in which he said that poker could have no better public relations victory than having Kara win the Main Event -- which she unfortunately can't do this year because of her ESPN work (Mike explained his rationale on our show last month).

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

Monday, July 11, 2011

Field Of Dreams 2: Lockout

A new version of the sports classic, this time focusing on football and the NFL lockout, starring Taylor Lautner, Tony Gonzalez, Ray Lewis, and a bunch of other pros -- plus Ray Liotta as Roger Goodell, Dennis Haybert as James Earl Jones, and one more clever cameo appearance...

Saturday, July 09, 2011

That Thing He Did

The reviews for "Larry Crowne" have been uniformly terrible, despite starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Here's a substitute suggestion, the other movie written and directed by Hanks some 15 years ago: "That Thing You Do," which has long been on my Movies You Might Not Know list (spoiler alert: Roberts isn't in it).

It's the story of four guys from Erie, Pennsylvania, who form a band in the mid-1960s and strike it big with a one-hit wonder song. Their adventure takes them from small-time gigs in their hometown to state fairs to Hollywood, where they get a shot on a primetime TV show and in a Frankie-and-Annette-type beach movie.

Hanks has a small part as the record company exec who guides their way, but the movie belongs to Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Jonathan Schaech, Ethan Embry, and Liv Tyler as the tag-a-long girlfriend of the lead singer/songwriter (plus short appearances by Charlize Theron in one of her first movies, Rita Wilson, Obba Babatunde, Kevin Pollak, Giovanni Ribisi, Alex Rocco, Bill Cobbs, and Peter Scolari).

In writing and directing and composing the songs, Hanks did a terrific job capturing the era, the attitudes, and the rising appeal of rock and roll in the months after the Beatles changed everything.

Here's a scene in which the band's song is played on radio for the first time, and the characters' delighted reaction. It's a scenario that has been played out in real life thousands of times by bands everywhere -- in fact, I once asked Ray Manzarek about the first time he heard a Doors song on the radio ("Light My Fire") and he said they reacted just like this...

Oh, For Art's Sake

I readily admit that I don't know anything about art, particularly abstract and modern art. I have no background by which to judge which piece of art is better than another. Like most people, I just know when I look at something whether I like it or not. When it comes to abstract art, I often find myself asking, "How is this art?"

Two examples of this type of art caught my eye this week, both of them featured in obituaries of Cy Twombly, who the NY Times called "a towering and inspirational talent."

Again, I'm no expert, but I just can't see the genius in this painting:

To me, that looks like the exact same scribble I make when I'm trying to get the ink to come out of a pen I haven't used in a long time, or the kind of doodle I used to make in school when I was incredibly bored. If only I'd kept the masterpieces I was creating instead of throwing away those valuable scraps of paper!

That Twombly piece is called "Bacchus," and I think it's easy to see why. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture and wine, and Twombly beautifully captures...wait...I'll figure it's...oh, I have no idea.

Nor do I understand this Twombly work, entitled "School Of Athens":

Perhaps I'm being too literal. Perhaps I'm wrong in expecting the title of a piece to be vaguely related to its content. After all, I live in a world where trees grow vertically, houses have walls, fire is hot, and chocolate tastes good. In my world, instead of "School of Athens," the title would be "Pattern On The Splat Mat Under My 4-Year-Old Daughter's Easel."

But that's why I'm not as Abstract Expressionist. I'm the guy looking through the window from the outside and saying, "The emperor has no art."

Friday, July 08, 2011

Piano Strings

This is the most stunning marionette work I have ever seen -- even after the routine is over. Meet Alex Jorgensen and his friend Barti...

[hat tip to Mark Evanier for the link

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hands Off Her Implants!

The TSA warned airlines today that terrorists might have bombs surgically implanted in their bodies as a way to elude security. The public was advised that this will likely lead to more pat-downs at screening checkpoints.

Which will probably mean thousands of women all over the country getting felt up by overzealous TSA agents who were "just doing their jobs."

As if they'll be able to tell you have an implanted explosive by rubbing you outside your clothes. Good luck with that -- because the TSA keeps proving how safe it keeps fliers by patting down small children and senior citizens in adult diapers, but somehow this guy got through security with an expired boarding pass that didn't even match his name. Nice job.

News I Can't Use

Last night, a friend asked what I thought of the Casey Anthony verdict. I told him I'd given it no thought whatsoever. Couldn't care less. It's not that I have no concern for a dead toddler, it's just that I refused to be manipulated by Nancy Grace and her ilk into caring for any particular dead kid, when so many more of them die or are abused each year in this country, without any media outlets choosing them as a cause celebre. The same goes with stories about kidnapped blonde teenage girls. Enough already.

I'm continually amazed by Americans' fascination with crimes against people they had no connection to, direct or otherwise. This is the basis of far too much of our news coverage in this country. Watch any local TV newscast and see stories right off the police blotter -- this person was mugged on this street, this warehouse caught fire, this bank was burglarized, this little puppy was caught in the crossfire of two gangs having a gunfight, and on and on. Unless you personally know anyone involved in the story, why do you care?

Even when I was on the air every day, I never talked about these stories, and I never heard the public talking about them, either. Yet because they have a visceral quality (and because the station can do a live shot from the scene of the crime), they get more airtime than the issues that really do affect the lives of everyday Americans. Of course, it's much more complex to talk about economic issues, education funding, the corrupt banking system, and why we're involved in three wars -- and I don't expect local TV news producers to focus on those issues, but the day in day out parade of harmed strangers just drives me away.

I'm sure the ratings spiked for the cable news outlets after the Anthony verdict. They and their broadcast news counterparts are going to now drain every last drop out of the reaction to the jury's decision, and I'm sure Diane Sawyer is negotiating with an agent for some of those jurors to do a primetime special that will exploit the story for a full hour.

But I won't be watching, because I don't care. And I seriously doubt that, deep down, any of this matters to you, either.

Update at 4:28pm: ABC just announced that they will, in fact, have an interview with one of the Casey Anthony jurors tonight. "Nightline" anchor Terry Moran says that, despite what you may believe, they did not pay for access. Either way, it's a waste of resources.

Final Table #127: Tony Dunst & Dwyte Pilgrim

Today on The Final Table, we continued our coverage of the 2011 World Series Of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas as it approaches the beginning of the Main Event on Thursday. We discussed the tremendous turnout they're continuing to get, as well as the guy who made the final table of the Ladies Event, and Doyle Brunson's announcement that he won't play this year's Main Event.

In our guest segments, we gleaned some terrific advice from two tournament pros.

First, we talked with Tony Dunst, who does the Raw Deal segments on World Poker Tour telecasts (one of the reasons their ratings are up 35% this season) and has some good advice for anyone planning on playing the Main Event for the first time. He also explained why he only plays no-limit hold'em tournaments, and whether any poker pros have complained to him about his hand analysis on those WPT broadcasts.

Then, we brought in Dwyte Pilgrim, who has been on a remarkable run for the last two years, with big scores in WSOP Circuit and WPT tournaments, including an event he won earlier this year and "shocked the world." Dwyte also offered some Main Event strategy and talked about the difficulties of being a pro on the tournament circuit.

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

Monday, July 04, 2011

Celebrating New Americans

A year ago today, my brother Seth spoke at a naturalization ceremony in Delaware, and made these remarks to a group of new Americans who had just taken the oath of citizenship. He called it one of the most moving occasions he's ever been a part of.

Tonight, my wife and I watched Alexandra Pelosi's new documentary "Citizen USA" on HBO. In it, she traveled to all 50 states to witness thousands of immigrants officially become American citizens and explain why they did it.

The majority of them celebrate this as a momentous occasion in their lives, although they have differing reasons for wanting to be an American. The most moving are the women from places like Iran, where they had few of the freedoms they have found here, and marvel at the opportunities afforded them in this nation. Others own businesses, homes, and cars they could never have in their native lands, while some of them talk about the educational opportunities they have taken advantage of in the US. There's also mention of some aspects of freedom that Americans take for granted -- from running water and electricity to walking down the street and kissing your loved one in public, regardless of your sexual orientation, without being arrested.

While some of the ceremonies include portions so corny they could only be American, you can see the life-changing joy in the eyes of these immigrants once they have repeated their oath and been told that they are officially US citizens. During the hour-long documentary, I wondered if my grandparents felt the same way when they came through Ellis Island from Eastern Europe over a century ago.

Here's the trailer for "Citizen USA," which will air many times this week on the multiple channels of HBO...

American History Via Facebook

If you missed this on my Twitter feed earlier, here's a funny timeline of American history, posted as Facebook status updates.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Knuckleheads In The News®

Yes, of course I brought a batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories to KTRS/St. Louis this morning, and here they are for your listening pleasure, including an assault suspect with one of the worst excuses ever, the tenants who want DNA testing for dog poop, and a snorkeler who was really surprised when he finally pulled his head out of the water.

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

Another View of American History

As America prepares to celebrate its 235th birthday, I thought this would be a good time to hear a different view of our nation's history.

This morning on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with Thaddeus Russell, author of "A Renegade History of the United States," which is now out in paperback. Russell says that, despite its puritan roots, the only way America could exist as the home of freedom is through the contributions of those at the lowest order of society. He says prostitutes pioneered many of the freedoms that women now take for granted, that organized crime was responsible for legal alcohol and gay rights, and violent protestors were as much a part of gaining civil rights for blacks as Dr. King's non-violence.

We spent quite a bit of time on who should get credit for bringing down the Soviet Union, a topic I've touched on before -- we agree that it was cultural forces like jazz musicians, rock and rollers, and CNN founder Ted Turner who played a bigger part in ripping away the Iron Curtain than any politician or the US military.

It's a fascinating read, and a fun conversation. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

In this interview, I asked Russell how the college students he taught and the administrators he worked for reacted to his view of American history. He said that, despite increasing attendance in his classes, they led to his getting fired by Barnard College, an event he chronicled in this Huffington Post entry.

Colbert's SuperPAC

Stephen Colbert went to DC yesterday to ask the Federal Elections Commission for permission to open a Super PAC, a political action committee that can collect huge donations without divulging where the money came from, and then use it for pretty much anything it wants. Huh? Why?

This morning on KTRS/St. Louis, I asked Sarah Mimms, reporter for The Atlantic and National Journal's Hotline to explain...

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