Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Final Table #160: Will Failla

This week on The Final Table, we discussed:
  • a well-known pro taking an angle shot by playing with the All-In button during the Main Event of the LA Poker Classic this weekend;
  • the return of "Poker After Dark" to late-night television
  • recent comments by a lawyer for the Bernard Tapie Group regarding its purchase of Full Tilt Poker, in response to a blog by Matt Glantz, who doubts it will ever happen;
  • which of the presidential candidates would be most likely to sign online poker legislation;
  • some big upcoming promotions in the Harrah's St. Louis poker room during March.
In our guest segment, we talked with Will Failla, who you may have seen the last couple of Sundays on the World Poker Tour's coverage of the Legends Of Poker tournament, which he won. He talked about that event and others he's run deep in recently, and explained his strategy in a couple of big hands along the way. He also revealed how he gets other players to loosen up and give him free information at the table -- let's just say Will's not exactly shy and reserved, as you'll hear.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012


The NY Times reports that the Dutch airline KLM has begun testing a program called Meet And Seat, which allows you to choose the person you sit next to based on their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles.

This program will no doubt lead to single male passengers desperately scouring the airplane seating plan for an attractive young woman to sit next to (might as well rename it Meat And Market), which in turn should keep most women from sharing their online profiles with the airline. If I traveled on KLM, I'd search for people who say they don't like to engage in conversation, are very thin, won't climb over me to use the bathroom during the flight, and never bring smelly sandwiches to eat in flight.

I prefer to leave things like this to chance. Sure, I've ended up sitting next to a guy who smelled so much like an ashtray that I thought he'd just burned down his house for the insurance money. Or the old woman who kept talking to me so loudly I could still hear her through my headphones. Or the parent with the screaming child who won't even make an effort to calm the kid down.

But I also remember a very happy seating coincidence I experienced 30+ years ago. I was on my way to a radio convention in San Diego when I found myself sitting next to an absolutely stunning brunette who was about my age (I'm guessing we were both 22). She was a model, on her way home from a fashion shoot in New York -- the kind of woman who under any circumstance wouldn't even give me the time of day. But seeing as how we had several hours to kill, she was more than happy to make conversation with me, even showing me her portfolio, full of beautiful pictures, including a couple of (tastefully done) nude shots.

Enraptured by this beauty but always horrible at picking up women, I didn't do what any other guy might have done in that situation -- asked her to join me when we landed for a drink, or for dinner, or a swim in the hotel pool. Instead, we just had a good time talking and laughing as we crossed the country at 35,000 feet, and I think she may have appreciated the fact that I wasn't hitting on her.

Good thing, too, because not long before we landed, she showed me a picture of her boyfriend, who just happened to be a sumo wrestler. That's when I paused to realize that this entire experience could easily have been a lot worse.

I could have been sitting next to him.

Again With The Complaints?

It has long been true that somewhere, there's always someone who's offended by something. It might be something totally outrageous, or it might be something so mild that you wonder how anyone could become upset. But until recently, to voice an objection, you'd have to write a letter or make a phone call. Now, with omnipresent social media and the nature of digital communication, those complaints come almost instantly and in much greater volume, and the threshold for whining has been lowered considerably.

Case in point: a recent episode of NPR's "Fresh Air," in which TV critic David Bianculli was reviewing some DVD releases of 1970s talk shows. In his segment, Bianculli included a 1970 clip of "The David Susskind Show."

"The David Susskind Show" was in its 12th season as a rather dry panel interview show, mostly focused on current affairs -- the Charlie Rose show of its day -- when someone on his staff suggested doing an episode about Dan Greenburg's new book, "How To Be A Jewish Mother." Greenburg was invited, as were actor George Segal (then starring in "Where's Poppa?"), rising young comedian David Steinberg, pizza chain owner Larry Goldberg, and fashion designer Stan Herman. So was a filmmaker named Mel Brooks (whose "The 12 Chairs" had just opened), who quickly dominated the conversation. Susskind tried to maintain control, steering the discussion from the difficulties of assimilation to being "too Jewish" in America in that era to how success was measured in their families, but his questions only slowed down the comedy and plugs for the guests' various projects, and Brooks rarely let a lull pass before he started riffing on one thing or another.

It became Susskind's most popular show ever, despite a few complaints from people who objected to the comedic Jewish stereotypes. They were probably the same people who complained in 1983 when I did a parody on my WHCN/Hartford morning show of the second "Star Wars" movie in a five-part series we called "Return Of The Rabbi," complete with the Death Star Of David and Jewish-American Princess Leia. As with the guests on Susskind's show, everyone involved in my parody (Martha Cohen, Gary Horn, Irv Goldberg) was Jewish, which helped defuse some of the objection. As for the rest of it, with full support from management, we let it roll off our backs and it dissipated quickly.

NPR, on the other hand, felt it had to issue a public statement, so they had their ombudsman (a journalism professor), look into Bianculli's segment, investigate why he did it, explain the history of the Susskind show, and on and on. Here's his rather lengthy summary of all that, which somehow drags "All In The Family" and Stephen Colbert into the discussion for context.

Better yet, how about just going back and watching the original (with modern commercials inserted by Hulu)?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Oscars Tweets

  • And with that, Jean Dujardin joins Roberto Benigni in the category of European Oscar winners who were never heard from again in America.
  • Adam Sandler, star of "Jack & Jill," talking about what makes a movie great is like Newt Gingrich explaining how monogamy works.
  • The Cirque du Soleil performance is supposed to be "what it's like to go to the movies." If the theater is in Guy Laliberte's house. And the projector's broken.
  • Good thing they got the emotional Octavia Spencer off screen quickly so we had time for that brilliant speech by the film editing winners.
  • What Siri should say in new Apple's commercial: "You seem to be in the Grand Canyon, where there's no cell service or wifi & I'm useless now!"
  • JLo hasn't done a movie in years, so it's odd for her to be on the Oscars -- but once, she was great in "Out Of Sight." Then what happened?
  • How is it possible that Tom Hanks has never hosted The Oscars?

The Original Artist

Yesterday, my wife and I finally went to see "The Artist," just before it picked up four Independent Spirit Awards (and tonight will probably add a few Oscars). We enjoyed the story of a silent film star whose career is jeopardized by the advent of talkies, but I liked it more when it was in color, had songs, and was called "Singing In The Rain."

Durst on Santorum

If you're not reading comedian Will Durst's commentary on the presidential race, you're missing some of the sharpest political satire around. Will's been doing it for years, but this year's GOP contenders have given him a mountain of material to strip-mine for laughs. His latest, "The Ayatollah of Pennsylvania," cuts Rick Santorum to shreds.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Backstage At The Oscars

Comedian/writer Carol Leifer explains what it's like to script the Academy Awards broadcast, from Billy Crystal's material to the often-awkward presenter banter.

My friend Jon Macks is working on this Sunday's Oscars show, too, as he has for the 15 years. When he wasn't busy with that, or writing other awards shows, or in his fulltime job writing jokes for Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" monologue, Jon used to do a regular weekly segment on my radio shows.  Most of the time, he just joked about whatever topical stuff came to his mind. But each year, on the day after the Oscars, I'd have him come on to reveal a little bit of what he witnessed from his vantage point backstage, working with the various movie stars, publicists, and others.  Here's an example of what those segments were like, from the afternoon after the 2007 Academy Awards, which were hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, and included Jon's run-ins with Peter O'Toole, Tom Cruise, and Robert Downey Jr.

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

Where's My Paperless Society?

Although we're doing more and more online, there's still too much printed material in my life. I just cleaned out my file cabinet, throwing out several thousand pieces of paper that accumulated over the last year alone. Many of them were invoices from various companies I do business with. Even those that I pay online still insist on sending me a paper bill. Others mail me a notice reminding me that I don't have to send them a check because they're going to deduct it directly from my bank account. You have my e-mail address on file -- use it!

The health insurance industry is responsible for more than its share. First we get the bill from the doctor, which tells us how much is pending with the insurance company. Then we get the Explanation Of Benefits form from the insurer, telling us how much they covered and how much we still owe the doctor. Then we get another bill from the doctor, telling us that we now have to pay that amount. These three can't be condensed into one? Or posted online?

We refinanced our house a few months ago. That meant spending an hour signing (in duplicate!) the deed, the note, the proof of homeowners insurance, the proof of title insurance, and dozens of other legal forms -- including the ones we signed to acknowledge that our names are our names and our signatures are our signatures. And after we signed it, we had to initial our signatures! There was even a form that said they have a right to have us sign more forms in case they made any mistakes or left anything out.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against paper. While I constantly consume news and information via various electronic and digital forms, I still enjoy sitting down with the two print newspapers delivered to my house every morning. My wife and I are voracious readers who take full advantage of our public library's book collection.

However, I thought that by the year 2012, the only file cabinet I'd own would be the virtual one in my hard drive. But then where would we keep the receipt?

There's Really Nothing On

While browsing through TV channels this morning, I came upon something I hadn't seen in a long time -- color bars. Oh, they occasionally pop up on newscasts when a satellite feed drops out, or when a switcher hits the wrong button in master control, but these color bars were onscreen for quite a while.

I went to the on-screen guide to see what was scheduled for that time and was surprised to read "Off The Air." Off the air? A television network? We haven't had TV stations go off the air since cable became a fixture of the media landscape. It's been a long time since any outlet "ended the broadcast day" with the national anthem and those color bars. Everyone's on the air 24/7, even the local stations. When they're not running network shows or their own newscasts, there's always a syndicated show or infomercial to kill time with.

What makes it odder is that the channel I came across this morning was the west coast feed of one of Cinemax's networks (More Max HD West, to be specific). It's hard to fathom that they don't have enough programming to fill every available half-hour -- particularly since, unlike their competitors, premium cable networks can start a new show at any point in the hour. They don't have to wait for the big hand to point to 6 or 12.

It's even harder to believe they lack the programming if you look through some of the movies that make up the schedules of the various premium networks. Though I have seen a lot of movies in my life, it's stunning how many titles they air that I've never even heard of. You'd think that Cinemax's nightly roster of soft-core porn (has any network ever aired more movies with the word "bikini" in the title?) alone would ensure they'd never go off the air.

Somewhere inside Cinemax, there's probably someone working on ensuring that this hole in their schedule doesn't recur. They could fool those lonely late-night viewers by changing the title in the on-screen guide from "Off The Air" to "We Have Nothing On."

Or, better yet, "Bikini Color Bars."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Final Table #159: David Bach

This week on The Final Table, we had a real Dog and Pony show, with stories from a WSOP Circuit Event at a Florida dog track and a HORSE champion as guest.

I started by Paul recapping my weekend at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, where they had a huge sellout of Event 1 (and a near-riot of players trying to enter) which created the largest prize pool for a WSOPC preliminary event ever, and history was also made in another tournament when women took the top three spots for the first time. We also analyzed a hand I witnessed in one of the pot-limit Omaha cash games on Sunday.

In our guest segment, we talked to mixed-games specialist David Bach, who just won his second Aussie Millions ring in a $2500 HORSE event to go with the bracelet he won in the $50,000 HORSE championship at the 2009 World Series Of Poker. He explained the difference in strategies between those limit games and no-limit hold'em. We also discussed his recent blog post about how TV coverage can have a negative impact on tournament play, a famous hand he played against Vanessa Rousso in the 2011 WSOP Main Event, and his reaction to Daniel Negreanu's comments about Full Tilt board members Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, and Chris Ferguson.

In our news segment, we discussed Jason Somerville's coming out announcement, the return of Jonathan Duhamel's 2010 Main Event bracelet, and why an Illinois prosecutor decided not to file charges against the players in a small-stakes home tournament.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poker Pro Comes Out

Meet Jason Somerville (winner of a WSOP bracelet and over $1.7 million in tournament prize money), who took to his blog this week to explain why he decided now’s the time to let the world know something he only figured out about himself a couple of years ago -- he's gay:

One of the things that I think is universally liked about poker is that the game is open to anyone. If you’ve got the cash, we’ve got a seat open. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, Christian, Jewish, a woman, physically disabled, a foreigner, a felon, or smell terrible, we’ll make room for you at the not-necessarily-proverbial table and let you play. Everyone comes in on an equal playing field, getting the same cards, the same chips, and left alone to make their own decisions. It’s a cutthroat world, but the waters are open to anyone who wants to swim. This universal acceptance/open invitation is sort of the centerpiece of poker – it’s a major reason we had a boom in 2003 after Moneymaker’s win at the WSOP ‘proved’ “anyone can do it, all you have to do is play.” Maybe it’s because of that cornerstone of acceptance, maybe it isn’t, but our community is pretty tolerant overall (maybe it’s more indifferent than tolerant). Bottom line, it really doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do; barring some truly awful behavior that usually has to do with a long-time abuse of the community’s trust, you’ll be accepted, or at worst, begrudgingly allowed in. It takes something pretty messed up to be truly ostracized from the poker community as a whole (the only person I can think of is Russ Hamilton of UB superuser fame, and the Full Tilt top guys will definitely make the list if players don’t get repaid).

Of all the diversity and variety that the poker world contains, though, there is a noticeable lack of openly gay poker professionals. Vanessa Selbst is a top tier player, a brilliant woman and an amazing person, but other than her, I’ve never met a single gay professional poker player, never mind a high profile one.

I’m not quite sure why exactly that is, and of course everyone is entitled to be as open as they want to be about their personal lives, but for there to be zero high-profile openly not-straight men in poker seems…bad. Archaic. Reflective of a community that isn’t open to all, when we actually are one of the most open communities in existence. Maybe it’s not because of something unique to poker, and it’s just a relic of the old-school mentality when the world’s default mindset was at best “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but, come on, it’s 2012. Whatever the reason… zero??

I’ve struggled with how to discuss this, with how to balance my desire for privacy with the fact that I do want to be myself publicly – and the fact that I think it’s overdue for a guy to be open about it in poker. I’m no Daniel Negreanu, the royalty of real talk, but I do pride myself on saying what I think and simply being who I am; but I suppose you could say in the past being “truly myself” has come with a bit of an asterisk. Privately, amongst friends, I can say I’ve been doing that for some amount of time – but publicly, and in poker, that hasn’t completely been the case. I haven’t exactly always been where I am now, though, and haven’t really been ready to share my story publicly. Privacy reasons excepted, that won’t be the case any more.
Read Jason's entire blog post here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Time To Kill The Caucuses

With the results from the GOP caucuses in a constant state of flux -- I'm not talking about the candidates, but the actual balloting, if that's what you can call it -- and turnout percentages in the single digits, we are long past the point where caucuses should be done away with, in favor of primaries. And those should be moved around so we don't always have the same two small states, with their lack of demographic variety, acting as the gatekeepers for America's presidential candidates. Richard Hasen makes the case better than anyone I've seen:

In the last few weeks, the Keystone Kops have taken over the Republican presidential caucuses. First Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses by a scant eight votes, and then Republican Party officials in Iowa said that there were so many local reporting problems that a winner could not be declared even though Rick Santorum was 34 votes ahead. Oops, they declared Santorum the winner anyway. In Nevada, Republican officials decided to hold a special late-night session of their Saturday caucus to accommodate Orthodox Jews and Seventh-day Adventists. This caused an uproar when Ron Paul supporters objected to requiring the late-comers to sign a statement that their religious obligations prevented earlier attendance, saying that people who had to work during the day should have the right to vote at the late-night caucus, too. Adding to the tumult, it took election officials in one Nevada county an extra day to count a small number of votes and deal with a “trouble box” of disputed ballots. Now comes news from Maine that Mitt Romney may not have won the Maine caucuses by 200 votes as initially reported, because some ballots have gone uncounted.

All of this is an embarrassment for the GOP, but it’s not a Republican problem. Four years ago, I wrote a Slate column describing the problems with the Democratic caucuses as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for their party’s nomination: That time around, in the Iowa caucuses voters had no right to cast a secret ballot; and in the Nevada caucuses rural votes counted more than urban ones. Hillary Clinton got more popular votes in the state than Barack Obama did, but got 12 delegates to Obama’s 13. Then came Texas-sixed problems with that state’s hybrid primary-caucus: long lines, unclear rules, the tailing of an election official to a police station when she took home caucus sign-in sheets to “correct” them, and even reports of three physical confrontations at Dallas caucus sites. Clinton got more votes in the primary, but Obama got more delegates because he got more votes in the caucuses.

None of this should actually be a surprise. This country has a hard enough time with competently run elections when professional election administrators are in charge. Caucuses are run by political party volunteers once every four years, without the normal safeguards (for example, while the GOP has supported voter identification laws, they were not required for the Republican Party caucuses). Without adequate procedures for ensuring that votes are properly cast, counted, and audited, a drumbeat of mistakes is inevitable.
Read Hasen's full piece at Slate.

Pediatricians vs. Deniers

I have written often about the danger of parents who refuse to allow their children be vaccinated. It's almost always because they are misinformed or refuse to believe scientists who have time and again proven that vaccines don't, for instance, cause autism, and that we need as many people vaccinated as possible to ensure herd immunity. Yet these parents would rather follow to advice of medical geniuses like Jenny McCarthy and Michele Bachmann than the doctors who are charged with caring for their children.

In today's wall Street Journal, Shirley Wang has a piece on pediatricians who are so annoyed by these deniers that they have "fired" them, asking them to leave the practice and take their children elsewhere for care. There's an ethical question here regarding the role of a family doctor, but I can understand their frustration. In a busy practice where you're trying to help as many kids as time allows, why put up with parents so hard-headed and sure they know better that no amount of explanation and convincing will change their minds? After all, if they won't take the doctor's advice on something as relatively simple as vaccines, what kind of fight will they put up when it comes to more complex issues regarding their children's health?

Your right to believe nonsense ends when your child needs help.

Stop Talking Like That!

One of my pet peeves as a broadcaster is when people on the air don't speak like real people. What was the last time you asked someone if they knew the weather for tomorrow and they said, "there's a chance of precipitation" or "we'll probably get some white stuff" when they meant it might rain or snow?

I once made a traffic reporter on my show stop saying "motorists, use caution," because he would never say that to anyone if he weren't on the air -- he'd say "drivers, be careful." There's no real reason to remind people of that in the first place, I told him, but if he felt compelled to play the role of traffic nanny, he should at least do it in plain English. And while you're at it, stop referring to a "vehicle" on the side of the road, when you can see from the helicopter or traffic cameras whether it's a car or truck.

Bob Ingrassia has compiled a funny list of some of other words journalists use that people never say.

Briefcase Full of Blues

This morning, I decided to digitize a few more albums from my vinyl collection. So, I dragged the ION USB turntable out of the closet and grabbed a record at random -- the Blues Brothers' "Briefcase Full of Blues." Because the recording has to be done in real time, I'm sitting here listening to it and remembering how good it sounded the first time I heard it in 1978.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd started the Jake-and-Elwood concept as a lark, but by the time they opened for Steve Martin at the Universal Amphitheatre, they had created a pretty damned good blues act. The reason they sounded so good was the band, which included some of the best studio musicians of all time, such as Stax veterans Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn, plus a horn section made up of Tom Scott, Lou Marini, Alan Rubin, and Tom Malone (who still plays trombone on Letterman's show). With a hot young drummer named Steve Jordan and Paul Shaffer as the musical director who put it all together (not to mention that Aykroyd played a mean blues harmonica), the Blues Brothers Band was tight and hot.

The other thing I'd forgotten was the choice of songs. While "Soul Man," "Rubber Biscuit," and "Hey Bartender" got lots of radio airplay, there were a half-dozen other solid blues tunes on the record, too, from "Messin' With The Kid" to "Shotgun Blues" to "Almost." Belushi pulled them off because of the musical pros surrounding him.

My contact with the Blues Brothers came in April, 1979, when I went to an Allman Brothers concert at the Palladium in New York with my friend Jay Rosen. Delbert McClinton opened the show, and when I mentioned that the Blues Brothers had done McClinton's "B Movie Box Car Blues" on their album, Jay speculated on the chances of Belushi and/or Aykroyd making a surprise appearance. McClinton did a great set, but no guests appeared. After a break, the Allmans hit the stage and ripped the place up for a couple of hours. When they returned for an encore, McClinton was with them and, hey, it's Belushi!!! Naturally, the place went berserk. They tore into "Hey Bartender," with Belushi swapping his Blues Brothers hat for Dickey Betts' white cowboy hat halfway through. When they finished, no one wanted to go home, but the stage cleared, the house lights came up, and it was over.

Unfortunately, Hollywood can't help but ruin good concepts by running them into the ground. Thus the "Blues Brothers" movie, which barely had a script and was only saved by cameos by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Cab Calloway. Even worse were Jim Belushi stepping into replace John after his death for a new Blues Brothers tour, and then the "Blues Brothers 2000" movie with Aykroyd and John Goodman (!). There's even a rumor that Akyroyd and John's widow have been shopping a Blues Brothers TV series, because they apparently haven't beaten the horse completely to death.

But today, listening to the album again for the first time in probably 20 years, it's good to know that there was something real in that briefcase full of blues.

Two More Movies You Might Not Know

My Movies You Might Not Know list adds two titles today, both featuring Patton Oswalt, who has been drawing crowds as a standup comedian for about 15 years, but in the last few has been cast in some pretty good film roles.

Last year, he appeared opposite Charlize Theron in "Young Adult," in which she plays Mavis, a beautiful but desperate, lonely woman who will stop at nothing to win back an ex-boyfriend when she hears that he and his wife have a new baby. It's another interesting career choice by Theron, who continues to play unique characters ("Monster," "North Country") that showcase her acting talent more than her exquisite looks. Oswalt, in a supporting role as Matt, a broken-down guy that Mavis ignored in high school but now needs as a sounding board, matches her step for step in their scenes together. His character seems to have been written (by Diablo Cody) as a one-man Greek chorus, but Oswalt's humanity makes him much more.

Side note: "Young Adult" marks the fourth feature directed by Jason Reitman, following "Up In The Air," "Juno," and "Thank You For Smoking." We haven't seen a streak of quality that good from a new filmmaker since Rob Reiner started with seven classics in a row: "This Is Spinal Tap," "The Sure Thing," "Stand By Me," "The Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally," "Misery," and "A Few Good Men."

As for the other Patton Oswalt movie, a couple of years ago, he got a star turn in "Big Fan," which didn't play in many theaters but is now on DVD and deserves your attention. He plays Paul Aufiero, a loser who works as a parking lot cashier and lives with his mother. Paul has no money, no life, no girlfriend, no hobbies other than following the New York Giants fanatically. He tailgates at their home games, but can't afford a ticket to get inside the stadium, so he and his buddy watch a portable TV in the parking lot -- literally on the fringe. But every night, he becomes a big shot when he calls in to a local sports radio show to talk up his beloved New York Giants and put down the hated Philadelphia Eagles. Those phone calls are such a highlight of his day that he spends hours composing exactly what he's going to say before spouting off for an audience of like-minded sports obsessives.

Anyone who's ever hosted a call-in radio show knows listeners like Paul. They're ready every day to jump into the conversation. Often, it doesn't even matter what the topic is -- they call at the top of the show and will talk about anything, always happy to express an opinion. This is their outlet, a way to fulfill their need to be heard by someone, anyone. These regulars can be entertaining, but their intensity and frequency of calling can make a show sound like too much of an insiders club, which keeps casual listeners from participating. Good hosts know how to keep them happy without letting them take over.

Paul's world is turned upside down one night, when he and his best friend spot their favorite Giants player on the street and decide to follow him. It doesn't go well. Paul ends up in the hospital, but his injuries are nothing compared to the guilt he feels when the player misses a couple of games and the team loses. He's torn apart by the notion that he did something that has hurt the Giants' chances. Oswalt plays that conflict perfectly. The script by writer/director Robert D. Siegel (who also did "The Wrestler") doesn't try to make Paul likeable and cuddly, but has you pulling for this loser of a guy, even at his stalker-weirdest.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Final Table #158: Jonathan Duhamel

This week on my Final Table poker radio show, we caught up with 2010 WSOP Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel, who bounced back from a brutal home invasion in December and went on to win over a million dollars at the PCA in January. He talked about recovering from not just his physical injuries, but the mental stress he suffered from the attack, and offered advice to other players who have achieved poker success and found themselves in a world where everyone wants a piece of you. He also explained why he decided to re-buy after busting out of the $100,000 super high roller event, how his game has changed in the last year, and why he never has time to play cash games anymore.

On the local front, we ran down the just-released schedule for the World Series Of Poker Circuit Event that's coming at Harrah's St. Louis in April, with ring events at both Noon and 5pm, as well as our first pot-limit Omaha championship and two re-entry events. And since Harrah's St. Louis is now running bounty tournaments on Tuesday nights, Dennis revealed the different strategies you'll need to succeed in them.

In our poker news segment, we discussed an online petition to ban Full Tilt shareholders and debtors from playing in this year's World Series of Poker, a reversal of a decision last fall regarding a player banned from an Epic Poker League event, and an odd video by poker pro Brad Booth regarding Russ Hamilton and Phil Hellmuth.

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

Why I Hate Valentine's Day

It's that special day of the year -- the time I remind you to read the column I wrote on this subject a decade ago.

Same Old Story

This year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue theme is the same as last year's: Women Who Would Never Talk To Me Under Any Circumstance Anywhere Anytime.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Coast To Coast Psychics Fail Again

Stuart Robbins kept an ear on George Noory's "Coast to Coast AM" radio show throughout 2010 to hear what we should expect in 2011, as predicted by professional "psychics" and random callers to the show.  At the end of 2011, he went back to compare the predictions to reality and found (once again) that they were wrong far more than they were right -- the "pros" had a hit rate of 2.6% while the audience more than doubled that, at a paltry 5.7%. 

Of course, accountability is not part of the psychic vocabulary. As with others who make predictions -- whether it's about personal matters, the stock market, the presidential campaign, sporting events, or anything else -- there's rarely an attempt to go back later and see how well they did, or to call them out when it's abundantly clear their guesses were next to useless.  That's why it's good to have someone like Robbins who takes them to task.

More Movies You Might Not Know

Today I'm adding two Irish black comedies to my Movies You Might Not Know list:

It's not easy putting together a rock band and turning it into a success, but imagine that while you're struggling, your friends from school are turning into one of the biggest bands in the world.  That's what happened to Neil and Ivan McCormick, a couple of guys from Dublin who were friends with Paul Hewson and David Evans.  The latter two went on to fame and fortune as Bono and The Edge, leaders of U2, with their best-selling albums, concerts, and faces on posters all over the world -- their success only made Neil more and more jealous.  That's the story of "Killing Bono," which follows Neil through his attempts to become a rock star and the series of bad decisions that keep him (and Ivan) from achieving every garage band's dream -- while seeing an old friend become bigger and bigger. It's not a documentary, but is based on Neil's true story, which he told in print a few years ago.

In "The Guard," Brendan Gleason plays a police officer in Connemara who dislikes authority and doesn't do anything by the book.  Into his world steps Don Cheadle as an FBI agent working an international drug ring case.  Naturally, the two don't get along at first, but Cheadle eventually realizes there's more to Gleason than his drinking, drugging, whoring, and racial insensitivity.  This could easily be another fish-out-of-water/buddy-cop comedy, but the two leads are too good to let that happen, and the clever script keeps you on your toes, too.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Only 5,000 people voted in Maine's GOP caucus last night -- less than the number of people who tweeted about Whitney Houston in the same hour.
  • I'm dazzled by Cameron Crowe's doc "The Union," about the recording sessions for Elton John's collaboration with the musician he says inspired him more than any other, Leon Russell (with cameo appearances by Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Don Was, Booker T, and more). It's airing multiple times this month on HBO -- set your DVR so you don't miss this musical history lesson.
  • Peter Funt says politicians who rail against class warfare should recognize they're promoting it now at airports & on the road.
  • It's not often I laugh out loud while reading a newspaper, but Maureen Dowd's piece about Callista Gingrich did it. 
  • Mimi Alford got a lot of attention this week for her tell-all book about her affair with JFK.  I am shocked to hear that he had sex with a White House intern. Next thing you'll tell me is that Nixon was corrupt.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bad TV Poker

I was going to write a piece about how ridiculous the poker scenes were in the episode of "Luck" that debuted last Sunday on HBO, but I've been busy all week and haven't gotten around to it. Fortunately, Rich Ryan had time to say everything I was thinking and more. Take a look.

I was looking forward to "Luck" because of its pedigree (David Milch and Michael Mann behind the scenes) and cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, Kevin Dunn, and others whose work I generally enjoy. Unfortunately, Milch's writing is so dense that it's almost impossible to understand and some of the plotlines aren't exactly rushing to be clear, either. I also wonder whether a show that gets poker so wrong is getting the horse-racing parts right. I know nothing about that world, so I can't judge, but if this Sunday's episode doesn't offer a dose of clarity, it'll be the last I watch.

Alan Zweibel & Dave Barry

Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry have pretty good resumes when it comes to comedy. From "SNL" to "Curb Your Enthusiasm" to 22 years of humor columns and several dozen books, they've done just fine on their own. Now, they've teamed up to write the comic novel, "Lunatics," about two men whose disagreement over a kids' soccer game turns into a personal battle that escalates way out of control.

Alan and Dave joined me on KTRS/St. Louis today to talk about the book, why they decided to team up, how the writing partnership worked, and whether it's true that Steve Carrell wants to star in the movie version. We also discussed some of their other projects, including the Broadway version of "Peter and the Starcatchers" (Dave co-wrote those books with Ridley Pearson) and the Showtime series "Inside Comedy" (which Alan helped produce for David Steinberg).

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

Previously on HarrisOnline.com...
  • In my introduction of Alan, I mentioned that he is the only author who's been allowed to read part of his book out loud on David Letterman's show. The book was "The Other Shulman," which came out in 2007. Not long after, I had Alan on the air to talk about the book and that historic TV appearance, which was as funny as any standup comedy spot. You can listen to that conversation -- and see video of his Letterman appearance -- here.
  • Just so Dave doesn't feel left out, here's a link to the last time he was on the air with me (and Ridley) talking about "The Bridge To Never Land."

Higher Taxes Don't Stop Investors

The federal tax rate on capital gains is 15%, and we're told by those who oppose raising it that keeping the rate low will spur investment, which will create jobs. Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with David Abromowitz (senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, who checked out that theory using Mitt Romney's years at Bain Capital. He found that, even though the capital gains rate was higher (Reagan made it 28%), plenty of profits and investment dollars still flowed.

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

Also worth your time: my earlier column on The Job Creation Myth

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Voting Yes With Feeling

Say all you want about what comes out of the mouths of politicians, but every once in awhile, you hear one speaking honestly, from the heart. Meet Maureen Walsh, one of two Republicans to help pass the marriage equality bill in the state of Washington...

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Ellen Takes On The Haters

On her TV show today, Ellen DeGeneres opens by celebrating yesterday's decision by the 9th Circuit to overturn Prop 8, which banned gay marriage in California, and then goes on to discuss the group of bigots that tried to get JC Penney to drop her as a spokeswoman.

I'm purposely not naming the hate group behind this attempted boycott because, like other special interest groups, they thrive on publicity. As most bigotry-based boycotts do, this one is destined to fail. Unfortunately, while that should shut them up, it won't. But, it would be nice if media outlets would refuse to give them the attention they so desperately seek.

The irony of this is that Ellen's audience is primarily made up of the same viewers who supported Rosie O'Donnell (also a lesbian) and Oprah Winfrey (unmarried, has lived with boyfriend Steadman for many years). These viewers are overwhelmingly heterosexual women who don't care at all about the sexuality of those hosts -- the "traditional value" that counts most is being entertaining. Ellen, Rosie, and Oprah all know how to do that, which is why they connect with American women much better than the haters.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

An Alternate Halftime In America

You've seen the Clint Eastwood "Halftime In America" commercial, but have you seen the alternate reality version?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Election With No Results

There's a presidential primary in Missouri today, but it won't matter -- unless you count the $7 million taxpayer dollars that are being wasted to print the ballots, open the polls, and count the votes. Why won't it matter? Because the primary is too early for party rules, so no delegates will be apportioned from it. The real vote will take place in caucuses on March 17th.

Here's how you know today's election doesn't matter -- none of the presidential candidates has been buying commercial time on radio and television. Not even the SuperPACs are interested. I wish Stephen Colbert had run here, as he could have swept the state by simply buying a few ads, easily outdoing the competition.

Rick Santorum's the only one who's even bothered to visit Missouri (if he wins, expect him to start saying he has momentum, despite the empty nature of the claim). Newt Gingrich isn't even on the ballot, though Romney and Paul are, but you can still vote for Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, or Jon Huntsman. They may be out of the race, but why not? It doesn't count!

Can you imagine any other business allowing this seven-million-dollar boondoggle, in a state that's cutting essential services because it's beyond broke? Unfortunately, we're not alone in this squandering of public funds. Colorado and Minnesota are also having non-binding elections today. Their delegates will be apportioned by local conventions at another time.

The lesson from today should resonate later this year, when we have a real election day, and Missourians can send a message by voting out the legislators who thought the expense of today's primary was a good enough idea to support in Jefferson City.

Updated 10:08pm...
Santorum looks like the overwhelming winner in Missouri and, as I predicted, the pundits are talking about how important this is for him and how it will draw new support and, most importantly, cash will begin to flow into his campaign. Do none of these people understand the dynamic of this non-event? Giving money to the winner of a non-binding primary is like buying World Series tickets because your team won a spring training game.

Final Table #157: Jack Effel, WSOP 2012 Schedule

Today on the Final Table radio show, we talked with Jack Effel, tournament director of the World Series Of Poker, about the schedule he's just released for the 2012 WSOP. The biggest changes have to do with the Main Event. If you play, it won't take two full weeks to get to the final table, and if you do, you won't have to wait all the way until November to play it out.

We also talked about other changes Jack has made to the WSOP, from new events like an Ante Only tournament to increasing capacity by 24% to fewer $10,000 buy-in events. He also talked about the satellite and deep stack tournaments that will take place every day.

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

Monday, February 06, 2012

Super Bowl 46 Ad Quiz

Advertisers spent $3.5 million on each commercial during the broadcast of Super Bowl 46, hoping to make an impression on you. Was it money well spent? Take this quiz to see which commercial messages stuck to your brain. All you have to do is name the product based on a one-line clue. You'll find answers after each clue in hidden text -- highlight it with your mouse to make it visible.

  • Office workers sing the “Rocky” theme, followed by other employees (Hyundai)
  • King Elton John makes his subjects audition (Pepsi)
  • Vampires explode around a campfire (Audi)
  • A guy in a foot race starts early, then fires his own gun (“The Dictator”)
  • A cheetah gets out of its cage and attacks a man (Audi)
  • The guys who invented Words With Friends are on an airplane (Best Buy)
  • Polar bears watch the Super Bowl (Coke)
  • After the apocalypse, men eat Twinkies and wonder where Dave is (Chevy Silverado)
  • Two women paint slogans on another woman’s body (GoDaddy)
  • Troy Aikman throws a football that’s not made of pigskin (Bridgestone)
  • Aliens attack the earth with giant spinning balls (“Battleship”)
  • Parents buy a gift for their son for his graduation (Chevy Camaro)
  • A dog buries a cat (Doritos)
  • A boy really needs to pee (TaxAct.com)
  • A dog decides to lose weight after getting caught in the doggie door (VW)
  • A soccer player shows off his tattoos (David Beckham Underwear at H&M)
  • A car is involved in crazy stunts including sky diving, bungee jumping, and a flip (Chevy Sonic)
  • Samuel L. Jackson wears an eyepatch (“The Avengers”)
  • A hot woman dresses in black and tells men “give and you shall receive” (TeleFlora)
  • The smallest dog wins the race at a dog track (Skechers Go Run)
  • A man’s confidence talks over his shoulder (Cars.com)
  • Grandma’s in a wheelchair and the baby’s in a swing (Doritos)
  • Sexy Italian woman seduces a man on the street (Fiat Abarth)
  • Regis gives a truck driver a prize (Pepsi Max)
  • A couch with bikini models, a time travelling baby, and a putting green at the DMV (Toyota Camry)
  • John Stamos teases a woman, who ends up head butting him (Oikos Yogurt)
  • A woman outdoes Donald Trump, Deion Sanders, and Apollo Ohno (Century 21)
  • Jerry Seinfeld wants to be #1, but Jay Leno beats him (Acura NSX)
  • A man marries bacon and is told “you may now eat the bride” (Jack In The Box)
  • Matthew Broderick takes a day off a la Ferris Bueller (Honda CRV)
  • Boss has a heart attack in the car (Hyundai)
  • A man has a rescue dog named We Go (Bud Light)
  • A man dreams of racing a car, a Motley Crue concert, women in bikinis, and a giant sub (Kia Optima)
  • A man lives w/monkeys with the “Odd Couple” theme in the background (CareerBuilder.com)
  • People waiting in line break out into a huge street party because of a new smartphone with a pen (Samsung Galaxy Note)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Does It Have To Be A Strip Club?

I don't go to strip clubs, but I laughed out loud at this piece by Neil Genzlinger on how television has managed to make "gentleman's clubs" boring through (pardon the pun) overexposure:

The strip club scene has been a staple of television, not to mention movies, for a long time. This isn’t high-class, burlesque-style stripping, which is apparently more intellectually acceptable than sleazy stripping because Frederick Wiseman just made a documentary about it. No, it’s poorly lighted bars, overly loud music, lascivious announcers, thrusting women, shady customers, hints of back rooms where something more than stripping is available.
The scene generally opens with a shot of a clothes-shedding writher — hey, couch potatoes, we’re in a strip club! — then shifts to the central characters. They exchange dialogue that often could just as easily have been delivered on a street corner, but producers and directors have long been committed to full employment for members of the Nubile Actresses Willing to Expose Themselves Guild and thus are quick to toss a strip club into a script where none are required.
Genzlinger goes on to explain that he has no problem with attractive naked women:
It’s not that if you’ve seen one nude woman, you’ve seen them all. But if you’ve seen 50 a week, you’ve seen too many, especially if they’re confined to doing what a woman can do in a strip club, which frankly isn’t much.
It’s not clear who first decided that gyrating around a pole is titillating, though the American Pole Manufacturers Association almost surely had something to do with it. Yeah, I get the phallic symbolism; thanks for the metaphorical whack over the head with a two-by-four. But, sorry, it just looks a little silly. Can’t we have a nice dinner and stimulating conversation instead?
His entire piece is here.

While we're on the subject, thanks to Frank Ladd for tipping me to a story about a strip club in Kansas City that's trying to get around Missouri's ban on nude dancing by showing videos of its dancers without clothes instead of having them take it all off on stage.  The reason Frank (and I) found it funny was this line in the article: "Two reporters for The Kansas City Star recently observed the entertainment at the club."

Yes, it took TWO reporters to, ahem, uncover the strip club story. I wonder how many lap dances they wrote off on their expense reports.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/02/01/3405082/strip-club-tests-limits-of-state.html#storylink=cpy"

Racing To Cure A Mistake

Here's where the Susan G. Komen Foundation blew it in the controversy over their funding for Planned Parenthood -- they made the grant dependent on whether the grantee was the subject of a federal, state, or local "investigation." That's too low a bar to disqualify anyone. Basing the decision on that would like getting a mastectomy just because you went in for a breast exam, without waiting to see what the results showed.

Years ago, I was negotiating the renewal of my radio contract with the company that had recently taken over our broadcasting group. That meant new lawyers who I had never dealt with before. It was obvious they hadn't looked over my previous contract, because the wording was entirely different and didn't include much of what I'd negotiated in the prior term. There was something else that caught my eye -- a clause that said they could fire me if I were ever accused of a crime, because that might affect the reputation of the radio station.

I told them in no uncertain terms that I wouldn't agree to that. Not because I was likely to commit a crime, but because of the word "accused." Anyone can be accused of anything, even charged with a crime by police. But in a nation where we're all supposed to be presumed innocent, I wasn't going to give them the power to yank the job out from under me before I'd been found guilty of anything. So I told them I'd agree if they changed "accused" to "convicted," and if they added "...of a felony," because "a crime" could include a speeding ticket. After some back and forth with my attorney, they agreed, the verbiage was changed, and we all went on to make great radio and plenty of money together.

Today, when Komen founder Nancy Brinker apologized to Planned Parenthood and announced that the funding would be reinstated, she included this in her statement:

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.
What she didn't say:
We blew it by forgetting that our mission was to save women from breast cancer and nothing else. It wasn't until our own fundraising efforts and public perception were endangered that we realized this, but we're back on track now and would appreciate it if you pretended this whole incident never happened.
The damage has been done, but there's one more thing Komen should do -- fire everyone on the executive group that made this decision in the first place for putting the future of the charity in peril. That would go a long way towards repairing the image that Komen has worked so hard to promote.

But Komen has another PR problem. There's a documentary by Lea Pool opening today in Canada (and probably later this year in the US) entitled "Pink Ribbons Inc." which takes the organization to task for raising millions of dollars but not accounting for where the money goes. It says Komen is a corporation that helps other corporations make money by wrapping themselves in pink, and raises the question of why breast cancer rates have risen from 1 in 22 women in 1940 to 1 in 8 women today. Here's the trailer...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • In case you missed it, here's the link to all those wacky prop bets you can make w/your friends & family at your Super Bowl party. 
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook donated $100mil to charity. How much will go to the underpaid Chinese workers who make iPhones & iPads? iNone.
  • I finally found something I agree with Mitt Romney on -- I don't care about the very rich, either.
  • Watching "Inside The Actors Studio" with George Clooney was like spending two hours looking into a mirror. But enough about James Lipton.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Stop Enabling Trump

The media were suckered again today when Donald Trump pulled off another publicity stunt today in Las Vegas to announce that he's endorsing Mitt Romney for president. What a surprise -- one very rich man who likes firing people supports another very rich man who likes firing people.

Meanwhile, no reporter has confronted Trump about the crap he spewed last year about Obama's birth certificate, claiming he had a crew of investigators pouring through records in Hawaii and elsewhere. At one point he pronounced that they'd found some amazing things and, when he revealed what they'd uncovered, we'd be shocked. Obama cut the legs out from under Trump and every other birther by releasing his actual birth certificate, but I haven't seen any member of the media stick it in The Donald's face and make him explain the lies.

Of course, Trump is awfully good at lying. The fact-checking organization Politifact has looked into 10 of Trump's pronouncements and found they bore little relationship to reality. The site rated four of his statements "false," three of them "pants on fire" (worse than false), two of them "half true," and only one "mostly true." That's an awful record -- and yet, news organizations keep covering this guy like he matters when, in fact, he's nothing more than the host of bad reality show. Why not ask Jeff Probst and Simon Cowell who they're endorsing?

The media also fall for his occasional teases about a possible third-party run, even though they know there's less chance of that than of Trump declaring that gold is bad for you. He's as relevant to presidential politics as Sarah Palin, who also will never be a candidate.

Trump is nothing more than a walking ego machine who would knock down anyone who stood between him and a TV camera. It's time for the news media to stop enabling him.

Should You Like Facebook Stock?

Facebook announced yesterday that it will go public sometime this spring with an initial public offering valued at $100 billion. Sure, the site has lots of users who "like" it, but should they consider buying the stock? Today on my show, I put that question to The Motley Fool's Chris Hill. I also asked him whether Facebook can be as much of a Wall Street success as Google and Amazon, or is it likely to remind people of AOL and Netscape? And how does it compare to the IPOs of other online companies, like Zynga, Groupon, and LinkedIn?

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

One More Moondance

Last week, Newt Gingrich stirred up some controversy when he said that, as president, he would okay plans for NASA to go back to the moon and build a base there. Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I asked astronomer Phil Plait whether the concept was practical, from whether we can afford it to what it would do to NASA's budget to the bigger questions of what we'd do once we were set up on the moon and how we could build a habitat that would sustain human life.

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

America's Socialist Pastime

Last year, a week before the Super Bowl, Bill Maher closed the "New Rules" segment of his HBO "Real Time" show with a commentary on why The NFL Equals Socialism. That explains how the small-market Green Bay Packers can continue to compete with the mega-market teams. With this year's Super Bowl just days away, London-based artist Frasier Davidson took the audio of Maher reading the piece (from "The New New Rules," his recently published collection of those bits) and added this animation...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ethical iPhone Petition

After last week's NY Times expose of working conditions at the Chinese factories where iPhones and iPads are made (along with most other high-tech devices sold around the world), the website SumOfUs.org started an online petition demanding that Apple use its status as high-tech's 800-pound gorilla to demand that its suppliers change the way they treat their workers. I have to admit that, as an iPhone user and Apple shareholder, these stories bothered me -- not to the point where I'm giving up the device or the stock, but certainly hoping that public opinion will drive Apple to take action.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I spoke with Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Founder and President of SumOfUs about the overwhelming response she's had since posting the petition just two days ago. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Final Table #156: Secret Accounts

Today on the Final Table radio show, we weren't able to talk with guest Will Failla because he was in the midst of Day 2 of the Borgata Winter Open Championship, one of many final tables he's made in that series (we'll reschedule him for a future show).

Instead, we spent the hour talking about some recent poker stories and controversies, including:
  • Chris Ferguson's secret Full Tilt bank accounts;
  • Phil Ivey returning to the Aussie Millions and winning the $250,000 buy-in Challenge;
  • Las Vegas poker rooms offering rakeback for multiple hours of live play;
  • MIT students competing to see who can write the best pokerbot software.
We also discussed this weekend's Big Game 2 at Harrah's St. Louis, some of the prop bets for Super Bowl XLVI, and the poker player who left $1 million in his will for his chauffeur.

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