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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Foreign Policy Bites Again

The NY Times story on what really happened in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year won't change the minds of any Obama-Hillary haters on the right, because they never let the facts get in the way of their blind rage. But the investigation by reporter David Kirkpatrick does more than disprove conspiracy theories about whether Al Qaeda was involved (it wasn't) and whether an anti-Muslim video sparked some of the rage (it did).

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
It also proves once again that the US should stop getting involved in foreign matters, particularly in the Middle East.  We have a dismal record of taking sides there, without really knowing which way the wind of the new leadership will blow once we have helped depose the current leader. That was the case in Libya, as Kirkpatrick reports that some of those who attacked the consulate and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were from the very militia groups that the US aided in their fight against Qaddafi.

All you need do is look at prior foreign policy mistakes that we didn't learn from -- all from my lifetime:
  • We helped the Egyptians get rid of our former ally of thirty years, Mubarak, only to see him succeeded by the equally brutal and corrupt Morsi.
  • We helped the Afghan rebels fight off the Soviet Union in the early '80s, and they morphed into the Taliban, who eventually gave Al Qaeda a base from which it planned the 9/11 attacks. Then we had to go back into Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban who, according to a new National Intelligence Estimate report, will likely take over the country again once we leave next year.
  • We helped put Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq and he was our friend in the Reagan years, until he gassed his own people and invaded Kuwait and the neo-cons shoved him under the bogus WMD bus a decade ago. Then we had to stay there for too long and have too many members of our armed forces killed and injured while trying to rebuild Iraq (an impossible and still unaccomplished feat).
  • We fought a war in Vietnam that cost more than 50,000 American lives because we were told by our government that communism would ripple through southeast Asia (the "Domino Theory") without US intervention. We eventually withdrew in defeat, the communists in the north beat the south, the country has long been unified without any other dominoes falling over, and we now have both diplomatic and tourist relations with Vietnam.
What do these have in common? The use of force rather than diplomacy. We saw that preference rear its ugly head again recently with Syria, until cooler heads prevailed. The hawks keep talking about taking on Iran, too, although there's hope for a peaceful solution now that the leadership there is a bit more moderate.

In his final speech, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the march of the military-industrial complex. In the 5+ decades since, the US has repeatedly put its missiles and manpower on the line, but can anyone point to a single outcome we would call victory in hindsight?

More Movies You Might Not Know

I'm adding three titles to my Movies You Might Not Know list: "Brooklyn Castle," "The Sapphires," and "The Way Way Back."

"Brooklyn Castle" is a documentary about kids in a public school in New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, where 70% of the families live below the poverty line and the population is mostly immigrants and people of color -- but the school keeps turning out chess champions. The filmmakers introduce us to both the kids and their teachers as they travel to tournaments, fight against budget cuts, and impress even chess masters with their discipline, desire, and determination. As someone who played chess at that age, in the era of Fischer-Spassky, it was fun to watch the enthusiasm of both the kids and the community for the game. My wife, who has never played, was caught up in the drama, too. After you watch "Brooklyn Castle," get another one of the titles on my list, "Searching For Bobby Fischer," a fictional story of another young chess whiz, starring Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne, and Ben Kingsley.

"The Sapphires" is based on the true story of four Aboriginal sisters in Australia in 1968, a time when that country had its own racial problems. The sisters are pretty good singers, though, and after meeting a talent scout (played by Chris O'Dowd) who convinces them to sing soul music instead of folk, they get a gig singing for American soldiers in Vietnam. The soul music angle gives it a little bit of a "Commitments" feel, and the performances are almost as good. That soundtrack plus the winning personalities of the sisters make "The Sapphires" work.

"The Way Way Back" is the coming-of-age story of 14-year-old Duncan, who is dragged by his mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carrell) to a house in a New England beach town. He's bored there until he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), who runs the local water park with his wife (Maya Rudolph). Between working there, getting to know the girl across the street, and the other adults who populate the area (Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet), the adventures and social situations make for a lot of fun. "The Way Way Back" was written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who proved they have a knack for writing both sides of the adult/teen relationship in "The Descendants."


I'm very disappointed in Fox News for paying so little attention to the War On New Year's.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mystery Woman

I took my wife and daughter to the St. Louis Rep's production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" this afternoon. We enjoyed it, even though my wife figured out who the killer was before intermission, long before it was revealed in the plot.

She has a lot of experience with this because she reads a ton of mystery novels and usually unravels them fairly quickly. In fact, she's gotten in the habit of marking where she is in the book when she figures it out. It's always remarkably early and she's correct about 90% of the time. I remember when we both read Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent" and she had it nailed in chapter four. I didn't fully understand what happened until it became a movie.

I can never figure these things out, which is probably why I stick to non-fiction. In that way, I'm a bit like my father. He wrote ten non-fiction books for young adults, but always wanted to pen the Great American Novel. Unfortunately, though he was a brilliant historian, he didn't have the kind of mind that could invent the intricate web of deception necessary for a good crime story. Like me, he loved movies about con men, but both of us would always fall for the scam and get taken for the full ride, only to be surprised by the twist at the end.

When my wife and I watch a mystery together, the only thing I'm sure of is that she'll be able to explain it all to me afterwards.

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/29/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a disagreement over wedding colors, a face full of peanut butter, and several dumb drunk drivers. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • According to my math, if the Rams win this afternoon, they become eligible to buy tickets to any NFL playoff game they want to attend.
  • If the AFC Wild Card comes down to a 5-way tie, they break it based on ugliest throwback uniform. So, congratulations Steelers!

Psychics Fail Again

Every year, prominent psychics made predictions about what will happen in the next 12 months. These are the con artists who lie about being able to foresee the future, yet make money every year from media outlets and victims who don't bother checking to see how accurate they've been in the past. That's why I'm happy to see a piece like this that holds them accountable -- not only for predictions that were blatantly wrong, but for major events they did not forecast:

  • The Boston Marathon bombings;
  • The surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI;
  • The revelation of PRISM and the NSA spying scandal revealed by Ed Snowden;
  • The meteor which exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk;
  • The typhoon that killed more than 5,600 in the Philippines and Vietnam;
  • Iran agreeing to limit their nuclear development program in exchange for sanctions relief;
  • William and Kate’s royal baby, Prince George;
  • The Rob Ford crack cocaine scandal;
  • The recovery of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight from Ariel Castro's house of horrors in Cleveland.
The psychics didn't mention any of those, but take a look at the predictions they did make -- and got wrong.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/28/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a drunk on a spike, a man humping a window, and a surgeon who branded his patient. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge Year In Review

If you were paying attention to the world in 2013, you might do well on this week's Harris Challenge, which is the annual Year In Review edition. Even if you weren't paying attention, you can still listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, December 27, 2013

That Tarnished Dome

I went to visit my brother and his family for a few days last week at their home just outside DC in suburban Maryland. Since Seth has announced that he is leaving the Labor Department next month after almost five years as Deputy Secretary of Labor (including six months earlier this year as Acting Secretary of Labor after Hilda Solis departed and before Tom Perez arrived), I went downtown to have lunch with him and see his beautiful office one last time.

The walls of that office are filled with photos and mementos from his years in the Obama administration (plus seven years in a similar capacity under Clinton) that will soon have to be packed up and moved to, well, he's not sure where he'll store them, but he'll miss being surrounded by them. He'll also miss the magnificent view outside his window, over the entire the west front of the Capitol.

Since I spent 13 years on the air in Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, I've seen the Capitol dome in person hundreds of times, but still, every time I view it, I feel like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" -- somewhat awestruck by its beauty. But looking up at it that day, I was saddened. Not by the fact that it will be covered by scaffolding beginning in the spring as part of a two-year renovation. My sadness was due to what goes on under that dome and in the buildings adjacent -- or rather, what doesn't go on there.

My sadness simmered as I thought of the opportunities missed by this Congress, unarguably the worst group of legislators to have ever assembled in that town, with an approval rating just below that of swine flu. My disappointment was (and is) driven by the obstructionists who went there not to move our country forward, but to pull it backward into a morass of ignorance and intolerance. I was angered by the continuing corrupt influence of lobbyists and fundraisers and the bigger-than-ever impact of the almighty dollar, all of which lead to laws that grow the coffers of the ultra-rich at the expense of the rest of us. I was pissed off at the gerrymandering that allows incumbents to be re-elected in perpetuity and denies us the representative democracy that is supposed to be the basis of our republic's government.

Not everyone who works in and around the Capitol dome deserves scorn, of course. But the numbers of those who do has increased dangerously in recent years, and their voices now create such a ruckus of distraction and obfuscation that they should all be ashamed -- if they were capable of that emotion. Meanwhile, those who want to create a better America and care about its people are drowned out by the din of inanity in that den of inequity.

In the modern, real-life version of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," the system is so rigged against the little guy that he has no chance. The power of the Taylor machine has only grown bigger, Senator Payne is filibustering Obamacare, and the press plays along, afraid of losing access to the elected elite.  As for Smith, the Boy Ranger, his minions long ago stopped publishing their own newspaper and delivering it in little red wagons. The only thing they publish now are status updates on Facebook as they work for a minimum wage that doesn't keep up with inflation and wonder why those who've ascended the ladder to the top have pulled it up behind them rather than offering assistance to those below.

If that dome ever stood as a beacon of democracy to the world, its light has been so tarnished that no amount of renovation can repair it anytime soon.

The Anti-Comments Backlash Continues

Earlier this month, I explained why, several years ago, I stopped allowing readers to leave comments on this site. Now, some sites with a slightly larger readership -- Huffington Post, YouTube, CNN, many newspapers -- have decided that allowing anonymous vitriolic idiocy to run rampant is no longer a good idea, so they've taken measures to curtail it, too.

Nearly three-quarters of teens and young adults think people are more likely to use discriminatory language online or in text messages than in face to face conversations, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV. The poll didn't distinguish between anonymous comments and those with real identities attached.

The Huffington Post is also clamping down on vicious comments. In addition to employing 40 human moderators who sift through readers' posts for racism, homophobia, hate speech and the like, the AOL-owned news site is also chipping away at anonymous commenting. Previously, anyone could respond to an article posted on the site by creating an account, without tying it to an email address. This fall, HuffPo began requiring people to verify their identity by connecting their accounts to an email address, but that didn't appear to be enough and the site now also asks commenters to log in using a verified Facebook account.

"We are reaching a place where the Internet is growing up," says Jimmy Soni, managing editor of HuffPo. "These changes represent a maturing (online) environment."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • It's hard to believe it will only be 48 weeks until Fox News starts up with that War On Christmas nonsense again.
  • No one would have reported anything about Pussy Riot if the band's name was Cinder Block.

Space Reality

Watching TV coverage of the astronauts working outside the International Space Station yesterday, I wondered if some news executives were secretly hoping something would go wrong, and it would turn into a disaster a la the movie "Gravity."

No one -- even the most jaded journalist -- really wants tragedies to occur, but covering them does make news ratings go up. That's one of the reasons reporters travel with the President everywhere he goes. More than 99% of the time, nothing goes wrong, but when some lunatic takes a shot at the commander-in-chief, you want to be the person who can tell the story first-hand.

The live coverage of the spacewalk didn't offer any super-compelling pictures, although I always find it beautiful to see humans in the foreground with a wide shot of the Earth in the background -- particularly yesterday, on the 45th anniversary of astronaut William Anders getting the first photo of Earthrise as Apollo 8 came around the dark side of the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.

The irony is that most people have no idea that there are humans in space. Long gone is the era when liftoffs and splashdowns and landings were events that got worldwide attention. Occasionally, a video like Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in zero-gravity goes viral, but the public pays little attention otherwise.

Even with the popularity of "Gravity," that hasn't changed. There were probably some who came across yesterday's spacewalk on their television and, rather than being amazed by astronauts at work, were disappointed that the pictures weren't as good as the special effects in Alfonso Cuaron's movie.

TSA 12 Banned Christmas Items

Keeping you safe from pie filling and pool cues for over a decade...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Foreigner's Perspective On The NSA

The NSA keeps saying that it's not spying on Americans, only on foreigners. How's that going over with people from other countries? Here's a great perspective from Finnish computer security expert Mikko Hypponen...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Picture Of The Day

Like you, I have often wondered, "What would it sound like if Julie Andrews sang a Rolling Stones song?" Here's the answer, thanks to actress Jeanne Tripplehorn and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

John Hunter's World Peace Game

John Hunter is the kind of teacher every parent wants for their child. He works with gifted students at a public school in Charlottesville, Virginia. Thirty-five years ago, John created the World Peace Game, a political science simulation in which his fourth-grade class has to solve some 50 global crises. He is still working with them in the classroom to teach critical thinking skills, the balance between conflict and cooperation, and geo-political lessons that many adults never learn.

On my America Weekend show, John explained how the game works, whether he can ever predict what the students will do, whether they fall into gender stereotypes, and whether there's such a thing as "winning." He also shared a story about one girl who had remarkable vision and problem-solving skills. His amazing learning experience has been documented in both a book and film called "World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements."

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/22/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a panties-munching dog, a beer-for-alligator exchange, and a prize too expensive to win. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Ugly Reality Of Duck Dynasty

Andy Dehnart has been writing about reality television for 13 years on his site, Reality Blurred, so I invited him to join me on America Weekend to talk about the Duck Dynasty controversy -- which has nothing to do with free speech, by the way, because it's not the government punishing Phil Robertson for his dumb, intolerant, bigoted remarks. We also looked back at some of the highlights of the year in reality TV, including the Blood vs. Water season of "Survivor," which Andy had dissed before it began.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

The Lobotomy Files

Did you know that the VA lobotomized thousands of US soldiers when they came home from war? These weren't veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but from the World War II era, when mental health cures were much more primitive. Michael Phillips of the Wall Street Journal uncovered the story and discussed it with me on America Weekend.

He explained why the procedure was done even over some soldiers' objections, or with the approval of the families. We discussed the issues of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury affecting our modern veterans and how the VA dealt with their predecessors in the 1940s, what impact the lobotomies had on those veterans, and how the doctors viewed their work in retrospect.

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

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Is Your Webcam Spying On You?

A recent news story revealed how hackers can get into your MacBook and turn on the camera without your knowledge. There have been a couple of instances of young women being e-mailed nude photos of themselves by these hackers, including one who was prosecuted this fall. But according to my America Weekend guest Ashkan Soltani, it's not just Apple laptops that are vulnerable -- everyone with any device with a webcam (including smartphones) could be a victim. He explained how it works, what you should do about it, and why you shouldn't feel secure just because the LED indicator next to the camera isn't on.

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

If you want to scan your computer for malware, I suggest this free software.

Dan Lewis, "Now I Know"

Every day, Dan Lewis tells interesting stories about trivia and other facts in his e-mail newsletter called Now I Know, and he has compiled about 100 of them into a book with the same name. Today on America Weekend, we talked about some of those stories, including:
  • how carrots used to be purple;
  • why South Koreans are afraid of electric fans;
  • how mathematicians figured out how to beat the Massachusetts lottery;
  • where lost luggage goes.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/21/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a woman who walked off a pier, a bad case of dress rash, and prison time for meth dealer Walter White. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

How To Deal With Iran

On Thursday, a couple dozen senators introduced legislation that would toughen sanctions against Iran, but the White House says it would be vetoed by the President, who wants to give time for an interim agreement between UN Security Council members and Iran to work. On my America Weekend show, I discussed the question of how to deal with Iran with Reza Marashi, research director for the National Iranian-American Council, which recently published a report on how the West can weaken the hardliners in Iran and get to a comprehensive nuclear deal through collaboration, not confrontation.

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

Grae Drake on Movies

Grae Drake, senior editor at Rotten Tomatoes, joined me on America Weekend to talk about some of the big movies that are hitting theaters in these final days of 2013. We started with "American Hustle" (which I consider one of the best of the year), then discussed "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Anchorman 2," and "Saving Mr. Banks."

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Harris Challenge 12/20/13

After a brief mention of the Chinese man whose hand has been grafted to his foot, this week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "It's Christmas At The Movies," "I Didn't Know They Were In That," and "All-American Cities and States." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Carl Sagan on Skepticism and Science

Carl Sagan died 17 years ago today. In one of his last interviews, with Charlie Rose, he spoke about skepticism and the impact of scientific ignorance on public policy -- words that are even more true today...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

From The Archives: Paul Mazursky

Paul Mazursky was honored Saturday with a spot on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. The five-time Oscar nominee, now 83, wrote and directed such classics as "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," "An Unmarried Woman," "Moon Over Parador," "Next Stop Greenwich Village," and "Moscow On The Hudson."

In 1999, Mazursky did a book tour for his autobiography, "Show Me The Magic," and stopped by to spend a half-hour in the studio with me. Among the things we discussed:
  • making "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" with stars whose careers were in a lull at the time -- Bette Midler, Richard Dreyfuss, and Nick Nolte -- as well as problems on the set with Little Richard;
  • how difficult it was to convince a studio to let him make "Harry and Tonto," which won an Oscar for Art Carney (who thought he was too young for the role);
  • how he directed Robin Williams and cast Maria Conchita Alonso in "Moscow On The Hudson";
  • stories about Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Peter Sellers, Natalie Wood, and Dyan Cannon.
I have dug that interview out of my archives and was surprised to discover I have never posted it here, because it was one of my favorites of all time. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Eli Manning's having such a bad year Peyton won't even go near his locker at the Super Bowl.
  • Longhorn Steakhouse has an ad for surf and turf that says, "Lobster not available in ME, RI, and NH." Because those states don't like lobster.
  • Phil Plait is 100% right that Katie Couric's apology for her anti-vax show isn't enough to undo the damage.
  • Nice memorial tribute to NBC/Washington 50-year veteran Mac McGarry ("It's Academic") by 30-year veteran Wendy Reiger.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tech Companies vs. The NSA

Last week, eight giant tech companies teamed up to fight back against the NSA's surveillance. So I called upon Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation to discuss the campaign, the recommendations from a White House review panel, and whether President Obama and Congress might reign in NSA powers. We also discussed Edward Snowden being named one of Time magazine's Persons Of The Year, how the tech companies are looking past users like you and me in their efforts, and whether all that Silicon Valley money has any political influence.

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

Best and Worst TV of the Year

It's the time of year when critics compile their best- and worst-of-the-year lists, so I invited Hank Stuever of the Washington Post to join me on America Weekend to discuss the highs and lows of the year in television. We talked about the impact of Netflix, not just in its original shows like "House Of Cards" and "Orange Is The New Black," but also in people using the service to binge-watch series they hadn't watched when they first aired. We also touched on the lack of good sitcoms, the problem with Showtime's "Masters Of Sex," and why AMC's "Breaking Bad" is one of the best shows of its generation.

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

Read Hank Stuever's entire review of 2013 television in the Washington Post here.

Under The Arctic Ice

Photojournalist Randall Hyman joined me on America Weekend to discuss his recent trip to Norway, where he documented climate change with a group of scientists who dove under the Arctic ice. He explained the mission, their findings, the impact on Norwegians and what it means for the rest of us, and how our iPhones are connected to that ice at the top of the world.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/15/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a can of French air, a Bart Simpson-like punishment, and a clock with a death warning. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

School Shootings You Didn't Hear About

On Friday, life in Littleton, Colorado, was ruptured once again by gun violence at Arapahoe High School. It occurred one day before the first anniversary of the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

You may think these incidents are rare , but they've happened more often than you know, because not all of them make national news. Brandy Zadrozny of The Daily Beast investigated to see how often gun violence occurred in schools in the year since Newtown, and shared her findings with me on America Weekend. I was stunned at the frequency, not just of students and adults being shot, but of kids carrying weapons to school.

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

You Are Now Less Dumb

Here's my conversation with David McRaney about his book, "You Are Now Less Dumb: How To Conquer Mob Mentality, How To Buy Happiness, and All The Other Ways To Outsmart Yourself." We discussed concepts like the Post Hoc Fallacy, in which you believe that the traffic light changed because you pressed the button on the pole, even though it was disconnected long ago. That led to making fun of those Power Balance rip-off bracelets, gluten-free diets, and much more.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
David McRaney's podcast and previous book are both called "You Are Not So Smart."

Planet Of The Chimps

Recently, some animal rights activists filed writs of habeas corpus in court on behalf of four chimpanzees captive chimpanzees. One of them is owned by a private couple, another is at a primate sanctuary, and the other two are at a university. All of the writs were denied, but the activists have vowed to appeal, claiming chimps are enough like humans that they should be granted some legal rights of personhood.

Wesleyan University professor Lori Gruen, author of "Ethics and Animals," joined me on America Weekend to discuss these cases, the reasoning behind them, the chances of success, and whether this begins a slippery slope towards not allowing private ownership of any animals (including dogs and cats).

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

Worst Toys Of The Year

Every year, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood picks the worst toys of the year. Susan Linn, the group's co-founder and director, joined me on America Weekend to talk about the top five, including one called the iPotty and several others that will have you shaking your head in disbelief.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/14/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a wedding dress surprise, a naked wet man in a guitar case, and therapeutic cuddling. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Beatles At The BBC

You'd think that 50 years after their debut album, "Please Please Me," we have heard everything The Beatles ever recorded. And you'd be wrong.

From 1962 to 1970, The Beatles appeared dozens of times on the BBC, and historian Kevin Howlett has gone back to find many of those recordings for a new CD, "On Air: Live At The BBC, Volume 2." He has also compiled a huge companion book, "The BBC Archives," which contains information about every one of those appearances, transcripts of interviews they did at The Beeb, memos in the files about the the band, and much more.

Kevin joined me on America Weekend to talk about the project, some of the treasures he unearthed, and the history of The Beatles as on-air performers and broadcasters (they had their own show on the BBC for a time). He also shared the internal memo in which an executive explained why the BBC must ban the song "A Day In The Life."

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Harris Challenge 12/13/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Frequently Asked Fish," "Space Movies Before Gravity," and "Love Those Cheerleader Outfits." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Picture Of The Day

Animation doesn't get much more low-tech (or clever) than this...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Online Over-Reaction Is The New Normal

The Twitterverse went crazy last weekend after the above tweet went out from the SpaghettiOs account, with a picture of the pasta mascot and the words, "Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us."

For some reason, people were outraged that a canned pasta company would try to co-opt the anniversary of a national holiday to sell more product. Thousands of people re-tweeted it, replied with nasty comments, and so on, instead of doing what they should have done -- ignored it. By late in the day, another tweet appeared from SpaghettiOs: "We apologize for our recent tweet in remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day. We meant to pay respect, not to offend."

Ridiculous, but no longer surprising. We have reached a point in our world where hair-trigger rage has become the norm. We seem to have lost the capacity to see stupid things and simply move on with our lives. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media -- along with always-angry radio hosts -- every American feels they must comment on everything they see, and even a completely non-offensive item like this engenders the craziest responses.

That's one of the reasons why I stopped allowing comments on this site several years ago. At first, I allowed anyone to say anything, but that got out of hand almost instantly. Then, I moderated the comments, but that became both a burden and a headache because I still had to read some of the most obnoxious reactions you can imagine. Finally, I just turned off the comments option completely. I still have readers and listeners who offer opinions via e-mail, but even those that disagree with me have a different tone than the comments did. It's probably because the writers have to attach their own names, as opposed to the anonymity of a quickly-posted hate-filled comments. In most cases, I reply to those e-mails and have had some constructive conversations with consumers of my content. but that was impossible with the comments section.

I'm not alone in this backlash. A few months ago, Popular Science stopped allowing comments on its online articles. As editor Suzanne LaBarre explained:
It wasn't a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter....

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.
That's an even bigger problem. People who feel entitled to their own facts muddy the waters of public belief -- and thus, public policy -- by spreading not only vitriol but misinformation. Other readers then take that as the gospel and repeat it in sentences that always begin "I read online that..." and the modern version of the old game of Operator takes on a new life.

But there's one other aspect of the SpaghettiOs story that bothers me. At the time of the non-offensive tweet, there were about 11,000 people following the SpaghettiOs account on Twitter. Why? Who is so desperate for online content that they wait breathlessly for the next utterance from a canned pasta company?

Since you likely aren't among those followers, let me share with you some of what you've missed from that account -- these are verbatim from the last week:
  • There's nothing like a grilled cheese sandwich to go with your SpaghettiOs.
  • Whew! We're ready for a nice hot bowl of SpaghettiOs.
  • If you could fill an entire bathtub with SpaghettiOs and jump in, what kind would you use?
Pretty compelling stuff, huh? Remarkably, since the bogus Pearl Harbor Day controversy, there's been a 10% increase in followers to that Twitter account. I'll bet many of them are waiting to over-react to the company's upcoming Christmas tweet.

Hand Jive

My favorite story of the week is the fake sign language interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial, especially the fact that the guy had also done it a year ago at another event attended by current South African President Zuma. There must not have been any deaf people in that audience, because no one noticed that the guy was just making meaningless random gestures -- so he was invited back to do it for a global audience this week.

Until recently, I wasn't aware that there were different sign languages around the world. My niece, Isabel -- who has no hearing impairment -- has been studying American sign language in high school and plans to attend a college where she can make it her concentration. When she visited us at Thanksgiving, I asked why it was called "American" sign language, and she explained that there is no such thing as an internationally standard sign language, just as there is no internationally standard spoken language. The signs differ based on nationality and culture, to the point that they can even differ between nations that use the same words (e.g. England and Australia don't use the same signs as Americans).

I mentioned this on the air yesterday, and a woman who has a deaf child called to offer an example. In American sign language, to make the sign for "green," you make the symbol for the letter g and shake it. But in Spanish, "green" is "verde," so using the letter g wouldn't make any sense.

Another listener then said, "Well, at least we know one sign that's universal -- the middle finger." But it's not. When I was in England many years ago, I went to a pub with a friend. To order a couple of lagers (as they called them), I got the bartender's attention by raising two fingers. My friend immediately grabbed my arm and pulled it down, explaining that, because I had done it with the back of my hand facing forward, I had just told the bartender to fuck off. On the other hand, this did get the bartender to walk towards me, where he could hear me apologize and ask for the beers.

Perhaps someone should check the tape of the bogus interpreter again. He might have been ordering drinks for everyone in attendance.

Updated 8:38am...from the South African newspaper The Star:
The man who has been blasted on social networks and accused of providing “fake” sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service says he suffered a schizophrenic episode.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said his schizophrenia, for which he takes medication, has not only left many people angry and accusing him of being an impostor, but it was also the reason he was medically boarded a few years ago, resulting in him having to rely on a social grant now.

He doesn’t know whether it was the magnitude of what he was doing or the happiness he felt throughout the day that might have triggered the attack while on stage. Suddenly he lost concentration, and started hearing voices and hallucinating. Afterwards, it all went downhill and he just signed things that didn’t make sense.

“There was nothing I could do. I was alone in a very dangerous situation. I tried to control myself and not show the world what was going on. I am very sorry, it’s the situation I found myself in.”

Jantjie said that although he was having an episode and continued seeing things and hearing loud voices in his head, things that impaired his ability to hear well and interpret what was being said, he couldn’t leave, so he stayed on and continued to sign things that didn’t make sense.

“Life is unfair. This illness is unfair. Anyone who doesn’t understand this illness will think that I’m just making this up,” he said.

I'm Just Asking

Reports from Australia say scientists are close to developing a birth control pill for men. A researcher at Monash University in Melbourne says it "would block the transport of sperm and then if you’re a young guy and you get to the stage where you wanted to start fathering children, you stop taking it and everything should be okay. It would be like an oral medication probably taken daily just like the female contraceptive pill.”

Sounds like a good thing for guys who don't want to become fathers -- and I'm all for anything that cuts down the number of unwanted babies -- but what woman is going to believe a man who says it's safe to have unprotected sex because he's on the pill?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Damn! Just found out that I didn't make Time's Person Of The Year top ten -- again. Should have spent more on lawn signs and banners.
  • Great piece by Ken Levine on the ordeal that is going to the movies.
  • What’s it like to be a contestant on The Amazing Race?
  • When is Will Ferrell going to start promoting his new movie? I thought he'd have done 1 or 2 cross-marketing appearances by now.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Classic Rock Tale

An interesting piece of rock history noted in the NY Times obituary of artist Martin Sharp, who died last Sunday at 71...
It started with a beer at a bar in London in 1967. Mr. Sharp had arrived the year before to start London Oz, an extension of the irreverent Australian magazine Oz, for which he had been artistic director. At the Speakeasy Club on Margaret Street, he befriended two musicians. When Mr. Sharp mentioned that he had written a poem that might make a good song, one of the musicians said he had just come up with new music but needed lyrics. Mr. Sharp scratched out his poem and his address on a napkin.

A couple of weeks later, the musician dropped by and gave him a 45 r.p.m. record. He was a guitar player for a band called Cream. His name was Eric Clapton.

On the A side of the 45 was "Strange Brew." On the B side was Mr. Sharp’s poem put to music, "Tales of Brave Ulysses."

Mr. Clapton soon moved in with Mr. Sharp, their girlfriends and others in a group of studio apartments called the Pheasantry. By the end of the year, Cream had released the album "Disraeli Gears." "Strange Brew" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" were on the record, and Mr. Sharp’s psychedelic artwork was on the cover, one of the most recognizable in rock history: a lush sprawl of color that blended photographs of the band members with a fluorescent garden of feathers and flower petals.

The World According To Student Bloopers

My daughter brought this home and read it to us at Thanksgiving, causing me to laugh harder than I have in a long time. I'm not going to reproduce the entire thing, but here are some excerpts from a piece called The World According to Student Bloopers by Richard Lederer, who begins with an explanation:

One of the fringe benefits of being an English or History teacher is receiving the occasional jewel of a student blooper in an essay. I have pasted together the following "history" of the world from certifiably genuine student bloopers collected by teachers throughout the United States, from eight grade through college level. Read carefully, and you will learn a lot.

The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cul- tivated by irritation. The Egyptians built the Pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube. The Pramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments.

Without the Greeks, we wouldn't have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns - Corinthian, Doric and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable. Achilles appears in "The Illiad", by Homer. Homer also wrote the "Oddity", in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

One of the causes of the Revolutionary Wars was the English put tacks in their tea. Also, the colonists would send their pacels through the post with- out stamps. During the War, Red Coats and Paul Revere was throwing balls over stone walls. The dogs were barking and the peacocks crowing. Finally, the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay for taxis.
Delegates from the original thirteen states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin had gone to Boston carrying all his clothes in his pocket and a loaf of bread under each arm. He invented elec- tricity by rubbing cats backwards and declared "a horse divided against itself cannot stand." Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.

George Washington married Matha Curtis and in due time became the Father of Our Country. Them the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.

Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest Precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, "In onion there is strength." Abraham Lincoln write the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope.

Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian and half English. He was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. He reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplatory of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.
You can read Lederer's entire compilation here.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Danny Schechter on Mandela and Sun City

In 1985, Steven Van Zandt (of the E Street Band) and Danny Schechter put together an all-star roster to sing an apartheid protest song, including Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, U2, Jackson Browne, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Wolf, Pete Townshend, Gil-Scott Heron, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, and many more. They were collectively known as Artists United Against Apartheid, and the song was "Sun City."

Schechter was involved because he is a journalist, author, television producer and filmmaker who has made six nonfiction films about Nelson Mandela since the 1960s. His new book is called "Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela," which was published in conjunction w/the film "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom."

With Mandela's death Thursday, Schechter joined me on America Weekend to discuss the song, Mandela's legacy, how America was on the wrong side of apartheid for decades, and how Mandela was still on the US terrorist watch list as late as 2008 -- 15 years after he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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

Ex-Players Sue KC Chiefs

I have been talking for months about the NFL's concussion crisis and its impact on former players. This summer's $765 million settlement does not include every man who was lied to by the league about the effect of all those years of banging heads, and now five former Kansas City Chiefs (including Chris Martin, pictured above) are suing the team. Today on America Weekend, I talked with their attorney, Ken McClain, who explained the basis for the legal action, what the players want, the lack of response from the team and the league, and whether the NFL -- without admitting liability for previous problems -- is doing a better job of protecting current players.

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

Small Town Basketball

In 1986, Gene Hackman starred in a movie called “Hoosiers” about the coach of a high school basketball team in a small Indiana town. That film was feel-good fiction, but now there’s a documentary about what high school basketball is really like in a small Indiana town. It’s called "Medora," and it’s been getting raves at film festivals all over the country. The director is Andrew Cohn, who joined me today on America Weekend to discuss it.

Since he spent 9 months there with his crew, I asked Andrew what Medora is like, why people stay in such a depressed town, and how important basketball is to the locals. I also asked how Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci got involved as producers, and how he convinced the people of Medora to cooperate with him.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
"Medora" will air on the PBS "Independent Lens" series in March. For other viewing options, click here.

Iran and Nukes

This week, Congressman Duncan Hunter, an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran, made remarks calling for a US tactical nuclear strike on military targets in Iran. On my America Weekend show, I asked Laicie Heeley, Director of Middle East and Defense Policy at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, to discuss the impact of such an attack and recent diplomatic negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/8/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a hamburger surprise, an eBay ripoff, and a choice between a wife and a motorcycle. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

AJ Jacobs' Google Glass Experiments

AJ Jacobs has carved out a journalistic niche for himself with experiments in which he immerses himself in an experience and then writes about it. He spent a year living biblically, he read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica, he tried extreme diets and workouts to get healthy -- and now he’s written a piece for Esquire about what it’s like to walk around in everyday life wearing Google Glass.

AJ returned to my show to talk about his adventure and explain how he used Glass to cheat at poker, help a young intern meet women in a bar, and infuriate his wife.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Leonard Maltin on Movie Theaters

Leonard Maltin is one of our most respected film critics and historians, whose work you’ve seen on Entertainment Tonight and his own Reelz Channel show, and now he has his own channel on YouTube and his reviews appear on IndieWire.com. He’s also the author of a movie guide which he’s been publishing and updating every year since 1969 –- and the 2014 edition is available now in Paperback and as an iPhone app.

When he joined me on America Weekend today, we discussed about the movie exhibition business, including a sour experience he had recently in a theater where the employees weren't paying attention. We also talked about the upcoming "Saving Mr. Banks" with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, and our shared admiration for a movie that not enough people saw this year called "Mud."

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

Robert Hilburn on Johnny Cash

Robert Hilburn was a music critic for the LA Times for over 30 years and has written about thousands of musicians in his career, including books about John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. His newest is about a man he knew well because he reported on him at many different points in his career. The book is "Johnny Cash: The Life" and Robert joined me on America Weekend talk about it.

We discussed Cash's historic concert at Folsom Prison (which Hilburn was the only reporter to attend), how difficult it is to separate fact from fiction in Cash's life, how his addictions were exacerbated by life on the road, and about Cash's earliest days with Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!