Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Letter From An Ex-Slave

A website called Letters Of Note has posted a piece of correspondence from August, 1865, in which former slave Jourdan Anderson responds to a note he'd received from his former master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, of Big Spring, Tennessee. Jourdan, by then a free man living and working (for pay) in Ohio, laid out the conditions under which he'd consider returning to the employ of the man who had owned him. I don't want to give any of it away, because you'll want to read the letter in its entirety.

Picture Of The Day

If you're tired of seeing ads overlaid on the YouTube videos you watch, this is for you...

Monday, January 30, 2012

20/20 Hindsight

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, CKLW was one of the great 50,000 watt Top 40 radio stations. It signed on in 1967 and within 90 days was the most popular signal in the Detroit area (although it was licensed across the river to Windsor, Ontario, which is why the call letters began with a C).

In addition to playing the hits in Paul Drew's "Boss Radio" format, The Big 8 also became known for its "20/20" newscasts -- instead of the top and bottom of the hour like all the other stations, they ran theirs at :20 and :40 -- which were known for unique writing and delivery. Radio buffs and industry pros from around the country all wanted airchecks of CKLW, with some of them trying to recreate the sound but never quite achieving it. The presentation was theatrical, flamboyant, and sensational (in the tabloid sense), in stark contrast to the straight-laced newscasts heard elsewhere.

Here's a segment of the 2004 documentary "Radio Revolution: The Rise And Fall Of The Big 8," focusing on the men who created that legendary news operation...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Newtonian Moon Base

Newt Gingrich was mocked this week for saying, as president, "...by the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American." Forget the fact that we have an international treaty prohibiting any nation from declaring the moon "ours." What about the whole moon base idea? Is it practical, affordable, and do-able? For those answers, let's turn to astronomer Phil Plait:
A lot of the media have made fun of Gingrich for this plan. The irony is they’re doing it for the wrong reason. A Moon base is being likened to science fiction, just some silly fluff. But that’s grossly unfair.

Space exploration is an issue that’s important. It’s vital to our nation for a host of reasons, but it is also costly in every sense of the word. If we go, we should go for the right reasons, and we should do it the right way. If we go, we must go to stay. The budget for this can’t be set up on political election cycles, it must be based on the real constraints of engineering and technology, and far more importantly it must be based on a commitment to the future. If we do this, we must invest in the long haul.

Gingrich’s plan does not encompass that idea. Ineptly aimed media ridicule aside, what’s clear is that Gingrich’s speech was long on rhetoric but short on actual substance, something that tests well for the few days leading to the Republican primary in Florida (home of now-underused Cape Canaveral), but will snap if stretched to the presidential election in November. In other words, it sounds very much like a campaign promise made during a close race in a state that wants to hear that space still has a place.
Read Phil's complete analysis of Gingrich's idea here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Adam Savage's Failures

Adam Savage of "Mythbusters" spoke at The Amazing Meeting in 2009 about learning from your mistakes...

For more skeptical videos from The Amazing Meetings, check the James Randi Educational Foundation's YouTube Channel

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Brian Stelter's look inside how NFL Films feeds TV's insatiable appetite for football programming.
  • How long would it take for Mitt Romney to earn what you make in a year? Try this calculator from Slate. 
  • Disney will allow theme park workers to grow facial hair. That's what kept me from being Goofy all these years. That and some self-esteem.
  • One of the greatest booth announcers ever, Dick Tufeld, is no longer Speaking. Here's a nice obit by Mark Evanier.
  • Memo to airline pilots: you don't have to point out every landmark we're flying over. We're trying to sleep back here, and unless that's no longer The Earth below us, let's have some quiet, please!
  • Non-Reality TV: four TV networks that used to be largely about science & history are now about everything but.
  • How "Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See" was banned in Texas (+ 9 other surprisingly banned books).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tired Of Being Famous

When the story came out this morning that Demi Moore had been hospitalized for "exhaustion" (she's burned out from trying to think of something clever to say on Twitter), my first thought was that she got the rich person's diagnosis.

I've never heard of a blue collar worker being hospitalized for exhaustion. People who work two jobs to support their family, pay their mortgage, and scrape together some savings are not diagnosed that way. They may end up with heart disease, or high blood pressure, or other problems, but they never think, "You know what would be a good cure for my fatigue? A few days in a hospital bed." Even if they did come to that conclusion, they probably don't have a health insurance plan that covers "being wiped out by life."

Having been in a hospital bed (for surgeries, not "exhaustion"), I can tell you that it's not exactly a restful place to be, either. Between the midnight blood draw and the IV-monitor beeping when the bag goes empty, and your roommate snoring, no one gets a good night's sleep in a hospital unless they've had some pharmaceutical assistance.

Which is how most rich celebs ended up with the "exhaustion" diagnosis in the first place.

What's The Silver Lining?

My friend Rocco complained this weekend that he had to increase the data plan for his Android phone because he was listening to so much music from "the cloud." He had blown right past the limits on his original plan and had to buy one that cost $50 more per month, all for the pleasure of listening to music from his own collection, which he had uploaded.

I pointed out that he could save all that money by simply keeping the music on his phone in the first place. It would be different if he didn't own the music and was using a service like Pandora or Spotify -- each of which eats up that data bandwidth as it streams from the cloud -- but with 16gb of memory, his phone will hold a couple of thousand songs, and it costs nothing to listen to them.

So why does anyone use the cloud?

Less Than Fair

The results of a new NY Times/CBS News poll about Americans' views on tax policy includes one interesting nugget that may help define the path of this year's presidential election.

First they asked, "Do you feel you pay more than your fair share in federal income taxes, less than your fair share, or is the amount you pay about right? A little more than half of the respondents chose "about right," while a third said "more than fair share." The numbers didn't change from Democrats to Republicans to Independents.

Then they asked "Do you feel upper-income people pay more than their fair share in federal income taxes, less than their fair share, or is the amount they pay about right?" This is where the differences became apparent -- 70% of Democrats said "less," while only 37% of Republicans said "less."

But here's where we get to the important number. Among those identifying themselves as "Independents," 58% believed that the rich aren't paying enough in taxes. That's a big number, 58%, and it's from the group that will decide this year's election -- those who have no allegiance by party, the swing voters.

Income equality wasn't even on the map as a campaign issue until the Occupy Wall Street movement began last fall. But now, with stories like Mitt Romney's tax rate, and unless some catastrophic story comes along (an attack on the US, a natural disaster, etc.), this will be one of the defining issues of the year. The candidate that convinces those 58% will win in November.

Apple Bites

Yesterday, before Apple announced its earnings for the 4th quarter, Wall Street investors were selling the stock, nervous that the company might not meet "expectations." That drove Apple's value down about $7/share (a little less than 2%).

Then, after the markets closed, Apple released its quarterly earnings, and those "expectations" were completely wrong. The company sold 35 million iPhones and twice as many iPads as last year, not to mention a whole lot of Macs and Macbooks and Mac Airs -- in 3 months. Today, Wall Street loved the stock again, running it up to a $26.25/share gain (6.24%).

I'll bet that many of today's buyers were yesterday's sellers, the ones who blew it. Think any of those analysts' jobs are in danger today? I doubt it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Final Table #155: Matt Savage

Today on the Final Table radio show, we recapped our weekend poker road trips. Dennis was at the Choctaw Casino in Oklahoma for a World Series Of Poker Event, along with such notables as Scotty Nguyen, TJ Cloutier, Men The Master, and Todd Brunson. Meanwhile, I was in California to play cash games on Live At The Bike (watch it here, with commentary by Bart Hanson & David Tuchman) and at the Commerce Casino, where the LA Poker Classic kicked off with a massive field in its first event. That led to a discussion of the pros and cons of re-entry tournaments, as well as a piece of cash game strategy you should use whenever you play in a poker room against players you don't know.

In our guest segment, I talked with the very busy Matt Savage, tournament director of the LAPC, the Epic Poker League, Bay 101, and the World Poker Tour. The conversation touched on those re-entry events and other new tournament ideas, the obscure questions Matt answers via his Twitter account, strategy changes he's noticed in recent years, and much more.

In our news segment, we discussed Zynga admitting that customers of its free-play internet poker platform (with more than 30,000,000 players per month) are interested in playing for money online, progress on i-poker legislation in Iowa, and a story about the man who bought Peter Eastgate's 2008 WSOP Main Event Champion bracelet and wants to use it to raise more money for charity.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • An appreciation of "Sunday Morning," the CBS tradition that provides a respite from all the shouting on other networks.
  • Jesse Eisinger explains that, while there are a lot of issues confronting our country, debt isn't one of them. He argues that Mitt Romney, more than any other candidate, knows that you have to borrow money to make money (exactly what he did at Bain Capital), so he shouldn't squawk so much about the federal government doing the same.
  • When Newt Gingrich told Marianne he wanted their marriage to be "open," she probably told him she preferred his mouth "closed." Neither was very likely to happen. Meanwhile, he persecuted Bill Clinton for his extra-marital shenanigans.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Praise Of Jimmy Fallon

In a new post on The AV Club, Steven Hyden makes the case that Jimmy Fallon has become the best host in late night, and I agree with much of what he says. Fallon's rise is a classic example of not judging a show based on its first few episodes (or even months), but giving it time to grow and find what it does well. Compare the third and fourth seasons of "Seinfeld" or "Friends" with episodes from their debut season and you'll see what I mean -- they had to find their groove.

Fallon has certainly done that, and in some ways reminds me of a morning radio host. Even the best in the business had those early years where they struggled, trying to do too much, telling lame jokes, forcing banter with their co-workers, and airing bits that didn't work because they were better than nothing. After a while, the good hosts learned through trial and error not only what they were comfortable with and what had to be jettisoned, but more importantly, how to relax and have fun on the air.

That's where Fallon is now. Watch his show any night and -- aside from the monologue, a vestige of every previous late night show, which he should drop -- the guy is clearly enjoying himself. And it's contagious. Where he once interviewed guests like an autograph-seeking fan-boy, he now gets guests caught up in the fun environment he's created. Fallon's also found some durable bits of his own, like Thank You Notes and Slow Jamming The News (with help from Brian Williams), which add to the notion that this is more than just another talk show with parade of guests with something to plug.

One of the the most popular things I ever did in my radio career may have been a trivia segment called The Harris Challenge. Listeners loved to play along, even if they never called in to participate on the air, and so did many of my guests -- Regis Philbin, Connie Chung, Graham Nash, John Goodman, various politicians and sports stars and other celebrities -- asking the questions, helping contestants with answers, or sometimes just announcing the prizes we were giving away. Fallon does the same thing, getting his guests to take part in silly games like Charades or Password, with random audience members as partners. What other TV host does an interview over a game of Beer Pong?

Another morning radio similarity is Fallon's penchant for song parodies. The difference is that most radio hosts have someone else who does them (a brilliant parodist named Mark Bradford contributed material to my shows for more than 15 years). Fallon doesn't need anyone else to do them, because he's the impressionist on his show, and he's terrific. Take a look at his Neil Young singing "Whip My Hair" or Bob Dylan doing the "Charles In Charge" theme or last week's Tim Tebow/David Bowie parody.

While Fallon imbues his show with cleverness like that, Conan O'Brien looks like he's still trying too hard to prove something to the world, Craig Ferguson has let his quirks overtake his amiability, and Leno and Letterman are repeating bits they wore out a decade ago. Only Jimmy Kimmel infuses his broadcasts with energy and fun in a style that approaches Fallon's -- not a surprise, considering his years doing morning radio!

Jimmy Fallon is putting on A Show, and it takes time to get it right. He has.

No One To Blame Butter Self

I don't watch the Food Network or any of the TV cooking shows, nor do I know anything about any of the celebrity chefs. But I do know the name Paula Deen, because I've been to the buffet that bears her name at Harrah's Tunica and, based on what I saw there, I was not surprised when she announced today that she has diabetes.

Granted, most buffets (particularly in casinos) are not full of food for people on diets. They are essentially gorging venues that offer high-fat, high-carbohydrate items. You eat all you want, then have more, and then start in on the desserts. I try to avoid them, but a few years ago I was in Tunica with an hour to kill before starting a poker tournament at Harrah's, and the only other lunch options were a Quizno's and a Dunkin' Donuts, so I decided to give Deen's buffet a try.

What I discovered was that Ms. Deen has never found a food item she couldn't deep-fry or swaddle in shortening. You know the way some restaurants post the calorie count of their menu items? There aren't numbers high enough for Deen's entrees.

I'm not a health food nut, but I realized I had made a mistake as I walked past creamed this and fried that and several dozen people lined up for all-you-can-eat crab legs (complete with your own bucket o' butter!) and prime rib with extra added fat and -- I swear I'm not making this up -- deep-fried stuffing on a stick (!). My cholesterol level was rising and I hadn't eaten anything yet.

I finally found the small salad bar at the end of the buffet. There weren't many other people in this section (surprise!), so I didn't have to fight a crowd to fill my plate. It wasn't the best salad I've ever eaten, and I'm sure there was no fat-free dressing, but it was better than the alternative. As I sat there eating, I heard arteries hardening at nearby tables.

One news report today said that Deen knew about her diabetes diagnosis three years ago, but waited until now to make it public because she wanted to develop a healthier line of foods and sign an endorsement deal with a pharmaceutical company that makes a drug for diabetics. How altruistic of her. Wouldn't it have been nice if, instead of waiting, she'd stopped pushing all those ultra-fat recipes to the public? She could have at least changed her buffet to offer more healthy options. I've heard a rumor that there are actually food items that taste good without being battered and deep-fried.

Ms. Deen would call that crazy talk. As she reached for her insulin injection.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Final Table #154: Matt Glantz

Today on the Final Table radio show, Dennis shared more stories from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas, including an oddly-played hand in a cash game and a great run of events for 2010 WSOP Main Event Champion Jonathan Duhamel.

In our guest segment, we talked with Matt Glantz, who has won over $4 million in poker tournaments, including a big year in 2011. He discussed his success in high-stakes mixed-games, his involvement in the Epic Poker League Standards and Conduct Committee, and his recent blog post about Responsibility In Poker (in which he urged poker pros to realize how their actions reflect on the entire industry).

Reminder: if you're going to be in St. Louis over the next two weekends, there are a couple of events you should be a part of at Harrah's St. Louis. On January 21 and 22, you can play in the $200 double-shootout World Series Of Poker Main Event Qualifiers, and on January 27-29, it's Big Game 2 weekend -- with at least two tables of $25-50 no-limit hold'em ($15,000 minimum buy-in) and two other tables of $10-20 no-limit hold'em ($2,500 minimum buy-in). If you're interested in playing, send your name and e-mail to the address on the right side of this page and we'll send you full details on how to lock up a seat, get a discounted hotel room, wire money to the poker room cashier, etc.

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

Today Minus Sixty

Here's a piece of American television history -- the opening half-hour and final 15 minutes of the very first "Today" show, which aired on NBC sixty years ago, on January 14, 1952.

It's a reminder of a time when viewers would be dazzled by live video from the streets of Chicago or the parking lot of the Pentagon, unseen correspondents checking in via phone from London and Frankfurt, wire service photos shown "minutes after they were taken," newspaper headlines flown in overnight from across the country -- and the lowest-tech weather graphics you've ever seen. It was full of technical snafus and segments interrupted with no warning, but remains fascinating to watch.

In those days, "Today" was essentially a newscast for white men by white men, anchored by Dave Garroway with a huge microphone hanging off his chest. There were no cooking segments or author interviews that morning, but there were musical interludes, in which jazz records were played while the camera panned across the studio, because -- as Garroway explained -- "we realize you're not going to have your eyes glued to the screen all morning."

Other things you may notice in this black-and-white TV time capsule, captured on film via a feed from NBC's flagship station, WNBT/New York:

  • A news ticker scrolling along the bottom of the screen;
  • Garroway and his news anchor reading typewritten scripts, in the days before teleprompters;
  • Amazement at a new device called the electric typewriter;
  • Several people smoking cigarettes on camera;
  • The emphasis on international news, thanks to the clacking teletype machines of United Press, International News Service, and Associated Press;
  • The repeated concern over flammable sweaters;
  • Don Pardo, at the time a relatively new employee, serving as the booth announcer for live promotional announcements during network breaks in the final segments.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Candidate Of Principle

Huntsman Then: "Romney's bad for the country. Seriously, you can't vote for him."
Huntsman Now: "I quit, so vote for Romney, he'll be good!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another Political Thought

Now that Mitt Romney has won Iowa and New Hampshire, political pundits are acting as if the GOP nomination battle is over, so they're looking ahead to the next battle, which means making general election prognostications based on Romney vs. Obama polling.

It's all garbage. Not because someone else may become the GOP nominee (they won't), but because you haven't seen the Obama machine in action yet.

He hasn't had to run any campaign ads, he hasn't criss-crossed the country with rallies and speeches, and we haven't even seen what his overriding message will be. Obama is laying the groundwork by taking on the Republicans in congress, but he (and the SuperPACs that support him) have barely put the machine into first gear, so any predictions at this point are as irrelevant as boasting that your fantasy football team will win the Super Bowl before you've drafted the players.

A Political Thought

How different would the race for the GOP presidential nomination be if, instead of Iowa and South Carolina, the caucuses and primaries began in New Jersey and California (which won't vote until June!)?

I'd bet that the nominees would be different, because the voters in those states aren't nearly as conservative as the ones who act first under the current calendar. Candidates like Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum -- who never really had a chance of becoming Obama's opponent anyway -- would probably not have run, and more moderate Republicans might have given it a shot (although there are other reasons, which I wrote about here). It might also help bring that party back from the extreme social conservative brink and turn the emphasis away from topics like gay marriage and contraception.

If they adjusted the calendar that way, Mitt Romney wouldn't have to pretend to be as conservative as he does. However, there doesn't seem to be any desire inside the GOP mainstream to appeal to the moderates, which is why they ended up with the crop of crazies in this year's field.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Final Table #153: PCA 2012 + Chris Krafcik

Today on the Final Table radio show, Dennis reported from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas, with stories of its Main Event, its Super High Roller ($100,000 buy-in) Event, and the effect Black Friday and the loss of US players had on attendance. We also discussed whether a new Guinness record for Fastest Online Poker Player (set by Randy Lew at the PCA) was really about poker.

In St. Louis, I revealed details for the first World Series Of Poker Main Event Qualifiers of the year at Harrah's St. Louis (1/21-22), and for Big Game 2 weekend at Harrah's St. Louis, January 27-29, with at least two tables of $25-50 no-limit hold'em ($15,000 minimum buy-in) and two other tables of $10-20 no-limit hold'em ($2,500 minimum buy-in). If you're interested in playing, send your name and e-mail to the address on the right side of this page and we'll send you full details on how to lock up a seat, get a discounted hotel room, wire money to the poker room cashier, etc.

Other topics we touched on included a goodbye to Jimmy Sommerfeld (retiring after 18 years as one of the best tournament directors in poker), whether Phil Ivey was worth the $11 million/year he was paid by Full Tilt, and Daniel Negreanu offering to sell pieces of himself for the $1 million buy-in One Drop tournament at the WSOP this summer.

In our guest segment, we talked with Chris Krafcik, research director for Gambling Compliance, about the latest developments in getting internet gaming back into the US, including:
  • how Nevada may lead the way in licensing online poker this year;
  • comments from the heads of two Las Vegas casinos who oppose online poker;
  • how New Jersey's attempt to legalize sports betting will have to overcome a federal obstacle;
  • whether Missouri and Illinois are likely to allow any of this in those states.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, January 09, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I'd Do The Same: Fed up with candidates interrupting meals, a NH restaurant owner bans all politicians.
  • Nice to see Jeff Greenfield back on CBS Sunday Morning with commentary on political pundits who keep getting it wrong.
  • The Prop Bet Of The Weekend was the person who went on Sportsbook.com and bet that the Atlanta Falcons' first score against the NY Giants on Saturday would be a safety. At 50 to 1, his $100 bet paid $5,000
  • Most sitcoms need professional laughers in the audience to convince us they're funny. Meet the woman who auditions them

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Marilyn Monroe Doctrine

I've never gotten the Marilyn Monroe thing.  Maybe it's because I'm not of her generation, or maybe because I've never seen her in anything except the perfect comedy "Some Like It Hot" and the far-from-perfect Marx Brothers vehicle "Love Happy." Don't get me wrong -- she had a helluva body, but it was clear there wasn't much else there (the modern word for that: Kardashian).

So, when I saw "My Week With Marilyn," it wasn't because I was a fan of hers, but because I usually enjoy movies about movies. In this one, a young guy named Colin is hired by Lawrence Olivier to help out on a movie he's making with Monroe -- as preposterous a bit of casting as Colin Firth co-starring with Paris Hilton.

While it pretends to be a little bit inside-the-industry and a lot more star-gazing-bio-pic (with a very solid performance by Michelle Williams as Monroe, seen above), the movie is really about how men allow bombshell women, particularly famous ones, to get away with pretty much anything.  Monroe's constantly late, keeping Olivier and the entire crew fuming and waiting for hours while she sits freaked out in her dressing room.  She insists on having her acting coach by her side at all times.  When she wants to go for a drive, she tells Colin where to go and what to do and he pants like a poodle in heat, giving in to her every whim.  She is endlessly narcissistic and riddled with problems, obviously fighting severe mental difficulties and pharmaceutical nightmares.

None of that keeps Colin from falling for her, head over heels. Same for virtually every other man she encounters, except Olivier, who is exasperated by her.  Each of the enthralled men no doubt harbors a secret sexual fantasy about Monroe, but it's better they never consummate their fantasies, because that va-va-voom superpower wears off after awhile (as her frustrated husband Arthur Miller can attest after escaping her grasp in England to return to the US and some semblance of sane existence).

At some point in their lives, most men encounter a woman like this.  Perhaps they even date her for awhile. I did.

Before I met my wife, I went out with a fashion model for a few weeks.  She wasn't smart, but she was stunning and sexy and, most important, willing. As a guy in my early twenties, the brain was not the dominant decision-making organ in my body, so I put up with all sorts of nonsense -- some of which bordered on the psychotic -- because I knew where we'd end up as the evenings wore down. But after awhile, something Bill Maher once wrote kicked in: "Show me the most beautiful woman in the world, and I'll show you a guy who's tired of fucking her."

Just ask Marilyn Monroe's three husbands.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

In Case You Missed It

  • We're only a week into 2012, but this is absolutely the best Knuckleheads In The News® story so far this year. 
  • I'm boycotting Fox News Channel because its anchors have refused to wish viewers "Merry Christmas" for over 10 days!  
  • Another flip-flop: Romney called Obama a "crony capitalist" yesterday. That's the opposite of a Marxist, Mitt!
  • Since Wednesday, Americans have been waking up, reading the news, Googling "Santorum," and throwing up in their breakfasts. Congrats, Dan Savage!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson & Stephen Colbert

Science has no greater spokesman today than astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who can explain even the most difficult concepts in a way laymen like you and me and understand. In addition to his role as executive director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York and the many bestsellers he's written, Tyson speaks all over the world to promote science literacy, raise money for science education, and generally increase the public's knowledge of our world and universe. Here he is in a conversation with Stephen Colbert at Kimberley Academy in Montclair, New Jersey, last January (this runs about 85 minutes, but is fascinating throughout, particularly at the end, when Tyson makes an impassioned plea for parents to allow their children to discover more through experimentation)...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Final Table #152: Tristan Wade

Today on the Final Table radio show, we talked about what a recent ruling by the Department of Justice regarding online gambling could mean for the return of legalized online poker in the United States. We also discussed an odd hand Dennis witnessed in a local Vegas tournament, the unique feature of Jamie Gold's poker room at the Tropicana, and how PokerStars has developed a new way to ensure that player funds are protected.

We also revealed details for Big Game 2 weekend at Harrah's St. Louis, January 27-29, with at least two tables of $25-50 no-limit hold'em ($15,000 minimum buy-in) and two other tables of $10-20 no-limit hold'em ($2,500 minimum buy-in). If you're interested in playing, send your name and e-mail to the address on the right side of this page and we'll send you full details on how to lock up a seat, get a discounted hotel room, wire money to the poker room cashier, etc.

In our guest segment, we talked with Tristan "Cre8ive" Wade, who won his first bracelet at the World Series Of Poker Europe a couple of months ago in a Shootout event. He explained the different strategies necessary for six-max games vs. full ring games, as well as how bet-sizing is a key to successful play in both cash games and tournaments. Tristan is one of the DeepStacks Live pros who will take part in the new DeepStacks Poker Tour, which kicks off next month at the Seneca Niagara Casino.

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

Lenore Skenazy, Free Range Kids

FDR's famous quote, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," is still true in America -- and perhaps more so. We have become a nation of fear-mongers, trained by politicians, media, and authority figures to worry about bad things happening to us and particularly our children. Unfortunately, the things that we're supposed to be afraid of are based on anecdotal evidence, not real data. And that hurts kids more than anything else.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I spoke with Lenore Skenazy, who has been fighting back against the paranoiac beliefs that keep our children from playing outside, have turned parents into 24-hour watchdogs, and taught those fears to a new generation. Her site, FreeRangeKids.com, is a bastion of relief from a world that says your kids are in danger every moment they're out of your sight (and often when you're looking, too). We discussed the untrue horror stories that keep kids from trick-or-treating on their own, the media's misguided attention to stories of an abducted child while ignoring all the good things that happen to kids every day, the impact of eliminating recess in schools and outside play at home, and much more.

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

Here's the op-ed piece Skenazy wrote for the Wall Street Journal, which I referenced during our conversation.

Come Together

You're at the Mala Restaurant on Maui on New Year's Eve, and there's a pretty good band playing some classic rock. At one point, they launch into the Beatles' "Come Together," with a trio of singers you'd never expect to see together -- Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper, and Weird Al Yankovic. Naturally, you whip out your cell phone to record the moment for posterity...

Note that Weird Al is the only one who doesn't need a lyrics sheet, even though Tyler's the only one who recorded a version of this song -- he and Aerosmith did it 30+ years ago for the soundtrack of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" movie that Robert Stigwood produced with one of the oddest casts ever assembled: Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Donald Pleasance, Steve Martin, George Burns, Earth Wind & Fire, Billy Preston, and Carel Struycken, with dozens of cameos by people like Carol Channing, Dame Edna, Jack Bruce, Leif Garrett, Jose Feliciano, and Keith Carradine. I hosted the 1978 premiere and had to apologize to the audience the next day on my show.

There was no apology necessary for the ecstatic crowd in Hawaii that night, except perhaps to Mike Myers, who was also there (with Tom Arnold?) but didn't get to the microphone until the song was over.

Monday, January 02, 2012

In Case You Missed It

Tim Minchin's "Woody Allen Jesus"

Here's one of the ballsiest things I've ever seen on television.

It's a performance from Jonathan Ross' immensely popular UK television show, with a guest list that included Tom Cruise, the ladies from "Downton Abbey," and singer/songwriter/satirist Tim Minchin, who wrote this song specifically for that final show before Christmas. He played it, everyone laughed, the audience applauded, Ross complimented him, and then Peter Fincham (ITV's director of television) yanked it. The song never aired -- because we certainly can't have religious satire at the holidays. Fortunately, Minchin got a copy of the video and posted it on his site, along with the behind-the-scenes story...

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A New Year's Suggestion

If you're a business person, here's a suggestion that will make 2012 go better for you: before you make any decision that affects your customers, particularly involving higher rates or extra fees, take a moment to use Google News to look up how 2011 went for Verizon, Netflix, and Bank of America.

I was going to charge you an extra $5 for this advice, but after evaluating the feedback from my extensive database of listeners, readers, and barbers, I've decided to waive my fee. You're welcome.

Loathe The One You're With

In Frank Bruni's column, "The Iowa Caucuses' Bitter Harvest," he explains how the extremist candidacies of Santorum, Perry, and Paul are damaging both the Republican Party and the country on the whole:

As the hour of actual caucusing drew closer, Ron Paul’s campaign trumpeted his endorsement by a pastor who, as it happens, has spoken of executing homosexuals. Rick Perry pledged to devote predator drones and thousands of troops to the protection of the Mexican border, making the mission to keep every last illegal immigrant from crossing sound as urgent as rooting out terrorists in Pakistan.

And Rick Santorum, bringing his "Faith, Family and Freedom" tour to this eastern Iowa town on Thursday, promised never to be cowed by all those craven secularists who believe that a stable, healthy household needn’t be headed by a God-fearing mom and dad.

None of these three men is likely to win the Republican nomination. But before they exit stage right — stage far right, that is — they and a few of their similarly quixotic, similarly strident competitors will do no small measure of damage to the Republican Party and no great favors to the country as a whole. What happens in Iowa doesn’t stay in Iowa: it befouls Republicans’ image nationally, becomes a millstone around the eventual nominee’s neck and legitimizes debate about some matters that shouldn’t be debatable.
Why is the GOP field so beyond the beliefs of mainstream America? Because the more moderate among them (Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, etc.) didn't want to run against an incumbent president who won't have to spend a penny on a primary fight and will have a war chest of hundreds of millions to spend when the battle really begins this summer. That left the field open -- even after the press stopped falling for fake-outs from Sarah Palin and Donald Trump -- for every level of circus performer, from Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich. Thus Mitt Romney appears to be the only reasonable person in the field, but that's damning with faint praise.

It will also make voters about as excited in November as Democrats were in 1988 when they had to endure a carnival primary season that included ex-Klansman David Duke, soon-to-be-convicted-felon James Traficant, and sit-on-my-lap-advocate Gary Hart. In the end, they ended up with another boring Massachusetts governor who couldn't be president -- Michael Dukakis. And if you want to complete the Massachusetts can't-win trifecta, don't forget John Kerry, the 2004 candidate the Democrats settled for instead of womanizing John Edwards, lying Al Sharpton, and screaming Howard Dean.

Then, as now, the only voters ultra-motivated by their bland, robotic, fallback guy will be the party faithful who want the current White House resident thrown out at any expense. But more important will be whether Romney can pull in the Ron Paul activists who can't stand him, the evangelicals who don't accept Mormonism as a real religion, and the independents who like the health care reform law and wonder why Romney was for it before he was against it.

Maybe we should stop telling our kids that anyone can grow up to be President and start encouraging the really good ones instead.

Screen Spies

I've seen a couple of spy movies in the last week, and they couldn't be more different.

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is exactly what I expected -- lots of action, amazing stunts, Tom Cruise playing Tom Cruise, solid support from Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner, a breakout performance by Paula Patton, and a plot that barely matters. As with all movies of this type, some of the hand-to-hand fight scenes go on too long, because it's easier to get up and keep fighting when that kick to the solar plexus/head/groin has been choreographed and there's no contact. In real life, any one of those body shots or head-on car crashes would be enough to make you call Time Out until your insurance company could look over your claim. Still, I went into this knowing exactly what I was going to get, and director Brad Bird (whose "Iron Giant" is one of the most underrated animated movies of modern times) delivered it.

At the other end of the spectrum is "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." I didn't read John LeCarre's novel, and I wish I hadn't wasted two hours watching the movie version. Although, to be precise, I didn't see the whole movie -- it was so boring, I fell asleep in the middle, and I can't remember the last time that happened. As for explaining the plot, that's your impossible mission. There's something about a mole in the British intelligence service and....any more than that was a mystery to me. Worse, every actor in the movie -- from Gary Oldman to John Hurt to a half-dozen guys you've never heard of -- speaks in the same low, growly voice, no matter what they're trying to convey (including Colin Firth, who should have been able to give everyone elocution lessons after winning the Oscar for "The King's Speech"). To top it off, director Tomas Alfredson shot in a palette of grays that might well represent Hungary in the early 1970s, but it comes off as dark and unappealing, which doesn't make the indecipherable dialogue and mundane plotline any better. Nor do the many short scenes with nothing happening that leave you wondering what it all means. Perhaps those who've read the novel are intrigued by watching a document dumbwaiter move through a building, or two men sit and sip coffee wordlessly, but those shots (which often last just a few seconds and then smash-cut to another) add nothing for the rest of us.

Caveat: don't see "MI:GP" if you're afraid of heights, and don't see "TTSS" if you're afraid of a nap.

My First 2012 Resolutions

I don't really make New Year's Resolutions, but I'm committed to making a major effort in 2012 to:

  • Continue my lifelong record of never seeing any movies with the words "kung fu" in the title, particularly if they're followed by "panda";
  • Track down and then smack the person responsible for deciding that every Mexican food recipe would be better if it included cilantro, when the opposite is so clearly true;
  • Finally learn which switch in our bathroom controls the fan and which turns on the light (you'd think I'd be able to remember that after more than a dozen years in this house, but you'd be wrong);
  • Quadruple the amount of televised soccer I watch from zero games per week to zero games per month.