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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/22/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a boy who called 911 so he wouldn't have to go to bed, a police station that wouldn't arrest a murderer, and a fired employee who couldn't handle the stress. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/22/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes two categories about the Oscars. one each about snow and "The Big Bang Theory," plus "Have Been Paying Attention?" Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Airport De-Fence

The story of the heist at Brussels Airport the other day caught my eye. According to reports, eight men dressed up as cops drove an armored truck and an Audi sedan through a hole in the perimeter fence, brandished some machine guns to keep passengers at bay, then got into the cargo hold and took $50 million worth of diamonds -- all in less than five minutes.

If that's not the plot of a major motion picture within two years, Hollywood isn't doing its job. Actually, it's reminiscent of David Mamet's 2001 screenplay for "Heist" (with Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sam Rockwell, Delroy Lindo, Danny DeVito, and Ricky Jay) in which a SwissAir jet is stopped on the tarmac and a huge cache of diamonds is unloaded. But if there's one thing we know about Hollywood, the fact that it's been done before doesn't mean it can't be done again.

What's most shocking about the crime is the ease with which the real-life thieves were able to get through the airport perimeter without being noticed by security. But as Justin Peters points out on Slate.com, this is far from the first time that someone has been able to gain access to an airport by breaching perimeter security...

For all the money and attention that in-airport screening gets, the back doors to airports are, comparatively, wide open—and people go through them all the time. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey paid Raytheon at least $100 million for a perimeter intrusion detection system, only to be embarrassed last year when a stranded, dripping-wet jet skier hopped a fence at John F. Kennedy International Airport and walked across the tarmac and into the Delta terminal without attracting any attention.

In March 2012, an Adderall addict named Kenneth Mazik crashed his Jeep through a fence at Philadelphia International Airport and drove it up and down various runways before being stopped. In November 2012, an employee at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, having forgotten his lunch or jacket or something, had a friend toss a bag containing the item over the perimeter fence. Unfortunately, the bag got stuck on the fence, and a video shows the employee actually climbing up on the fence to get it down. Security didn’t notice.

There’s more. In July 2012, a pilot named Brian Hedglin used a rug to cover the razor wire at the perimeter fence at Utah’s St. George Municipal Airport; he then climbed the fence and attempted to steal a SkyWest Airlines jet. (After crashing the plane in a parking lot, Hedglin shot himself in the head.)
Think about those precedents next time you're waiting in a long line at a TSA checkpoint with your shoes and belt and coat off, submitting to a virtual naked scan of your body. You could have saved time by going around the back with some wire cutters.

Ben Goldacre, "Bad Pharma"

Ben Goldacre is a British physician and skeptic whose 2008 book, "Bad Science," debunked pseudoscience like homeopathy and alternative medicine. It sold over a half-million copies, so he's back with a followup, "Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients."

He joined me today on KTRS to talk about two troubling aspects of the industry -- how Big Pharma withholds negative data from clinical trials about drugs that reach the market, and how regulators aren't doing the job necessary to keep those dangerous drugs from reaching consumers.

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

Goldacre still blogs about these topics on his Bad Science site.

Hacking Pistorius

Here's my conversation with ABC News crime and terrorism consultant Brad Garrett about US efforts to stop Chinese hackers from getting into computer systems that run our infrastructure and house corporate secrets. We also delved into the Oscar Pistorius story, which has taken an odd turn with revelations about the involvement of a police officer who could turn out to be this case's equivalent of Mark Fuhrman (not in a racial sense, but in undermining the prosecution due to incompetence on the job -- not to mention his own murder charges!).

There's also an audio-only version here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/21/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a town that wants to put underwear on statues, a woman shot by an oven, and a restaurant fining customers who don't clear their plates. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • If this huge diamond heist in Belgium isn't a major motion picture within 2 years, Hollywood isn't paying attention.
  • More than you ever thought you'd want to know about Bill Cosby's sweaters on The Cosby Show (with classic video). 
  • Master interviewer Bill Zehme's conversation with Jimmy Kimmel is this month's Playboy interview. 
  • Riveting video: Elizabeth Warren holds regulators' feet to the fire for not being tough enough with Wall Street banks. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

SI's Strippers

You won't find many parents who hope their daughters grow up to be strippers, but you'll find plenty who hope they grow up to be supermodels. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference.

In an interview to promote the 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (which should be subtitled More Women Who Would Never Talk To You), cover model Kate Upton said her shoot took place in Antarctica in 20 degree weather, with a wind chill of -1. And yet, in most of her shots, she's almost completely naked. There's no swimsuit, just a scarf or a pair of boots. She was willing to take off all of her clothes in a place that cold because there was a large payday involved.

So, how is she different than a dancer at any strip club? True, Upton made a lot more money than those women, although I've read articles about some of the strippers in the top clubs in Vegas who make more than a thousand bucks a night. She didn't have drunken men stuffing dollar bills into her non-existent g-string, but the strippers didn't have to undress in frigid climates. In both cases, the women are doing essentially the same thing, willing to get naked at the behest of men who will pay them, regardless of the conditions.

Yet, you don't see many strippers invited to sit down and chat with David Letterman on his show, as Upton did last week (exception: ex-stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody). Nor does he invite ten of them to do a Top Ten list, as he did the night before with some of the models from the swimsuit issue.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against any of these women doing whatever they want with their bodies. I just don't understand the hypocrisy of those who would denigrate one profession while hailing the other.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Good Day To Diss Hard

Joe Hipperson is the movie reviewer on my Friday afternoon KTRS show, and he is a huge fan of the "Die Hard" movies. He had been really looking forward to the fifth in the series, "A Good Day To Die Hard," but after I went to a screening and hated it, I thought we'd end up having a knockdown debate about it on the air. Fortunately, that didn't happen, but we did spend a full 17 minutes (!) dissing the movie. Here's a partial transcript...

Joe: This is really difficult for me. "A Good Day To Die Hard" is one of the most disappointing experiences I've gone through in a very long time.

Paul: That's the problem with expectations, but I'm relieved to hear you say that, because this movie sucked.

Joe: Yes, it does, because there's no real threat. John McClane shows up, his estranged son murdered somebody, and McClane's gonna see if he can save the kid and re-bond with him. Well, the kid is freed, and he's with his dad, and it's all good. Who cares if some Russian guy's gonna get bumped off? You got your kid, get on the plane, and go! There's no urgency. We've had his wife in peril in Parts 1 and 2, the entire city of New York was in danger in Part 3, and in the fourth film his daughter was kidnapped -- there were real reasons for him to do what he was doing. Now, if his son had gotten nabbed by the bad guys in this one, then I could see...

Paul: No, because then it becomes like the last season of "24" and we just don't care anymore.

Joe: True.

Paul: When they came up with the idea for this movie, they spent maybe 35 seconds on the plot. Okay, we'll put it in Russia and we'll have twists and turns about who the villain is -- which is always a bad idea because the key to a great action movie is a great villain. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in "Die Hard" was one of the greatest villains of all time. The Bond movies, the ones that work, only work because they have a good villain. Any action movie hangs on that. The hero's gotta be good, but the villain has to be better. In "A Good Day To Die Hard," they keep switching who the villain is, with these twists that do not work.

Joe: And we stop caring after awhile.

Paul: The rest of the time, it's just explosions and car chases and crashes, and here's the problem with that. The director, John Moore, shot the scenes too close. In the opening car chase, he had the camera zoomed in so far on the vehicle that we have no perspective on what's happening. Watch the car chase in the first Bourne movie, in the Mini Cooper, with the camera pulled back so you can see how he's weaving through traffic. In this one, the shot is right up on it, so all you see is that he's pounding through one car, then another.

Joe: That's not the only problem. There's a big tank-type vehicle that goes down the street knocking everything out of its way, and it's clear that they used the same shot over and over again and digitally changed the colors of the cars! They kept re-using the same shot! They also lifted a line from "Live Free Or Die Hard," where John McClane yelled, "Is that it? Is that your best shot?" That exact line of dialogue was lifted and inserted in this film during the car chase! You couldn't get Bruce Willis to do some ADR and put a different line in there?

Paul: While we're on the car chase, the villain is in that tank-like vehicle and McClane is in a smaller crossover SUV. The tank-like vehicle is crushing everything in its path, but John McClane in this tiny SUV is able to run it off the road. What is that?

Joe: Not only runs it off the road, but this is after John McClane has already flown off the road in another vehicle, rolled about 20 times, fallen down, and gotten back up.

Paul: While talking to his daughter on the phone!

Joe: It was laughable!

Paul: So, let me ask you, the "Die Hard" enthusiast, does this movie kill the series?

Joe:  No, there's still a good movie to be made.

Paul: Let's compare the "Die Hard" movies to the "Rocky" movies. For both series, number one was good, number two was good, number three was okay, but four and five sucked. Then, Stallone waited several years and came back with "Rocky Balboa," and it ended the saga on a high note. Can you see them doing the same with "Die Hard 6?"

Joe: Yes, there is a way to end it properly.

Paul: If they want to do it in Russia again, they could have it take place during a meteor attack.

Joe: Which is material Bruce Willis is already familiar with.

Paul: Call it "Die Hard 6, Armageddon 2: The Final Score."

Joe: One more thing I have to say about "A Good Day To Die Hard."

Paul: Okay.

Joe: They go to Chernobyl. Okay? McClane and his son go to Chernobyl. And when they get to Chernobyl, everyone's wearing the same hazmat suits as when they were trying to grab ET. The McClanes don't have those suits. In what realm of reality would you look at all these guys in these suits and think, okay, let's just walk in?!? One of them even takes his shirt off! In Russia, where it's freezing!!

Paul: And what happened to all the bad guys who were outside the nuclear plant when McClane and son got there? There were a hundred of them, but suddenly they're nowhere to be seen!

Joe: Even the cliche muscular Russian villain guy, who has CCCP tattooed on the back of his neck, built like Schwarzenegger, with his shirt off looking like he's doused in grease -- where'd that guy go?

Paul:  I don't know.

Joe: We never see him again.

Paul: So, what's your number for this disaster?

Joe: I'm giving it 3 out of 10, and that's being very generous.

Paul: It sure is. There's not a good thing about this movie. Instead of calling it "A Good Day To Die Hard," they should have called it "A Bad Day To Go To The Movies." Here's how bad it is: when it comes on cable, you should go out that night.

Of course, nothing we said affected the box office numbers for the movie's first weekend, but both Joe and I can't help but wonder how many others walked out of the theater feeling as we did. Which leads us to this musical review by Fortress Of Attitude...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/15/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a mayor who gambled away a billion dollars, a guy who swallowed his brother's ear, and a restaurant that lived up to its fatal name. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/15/13

With so much in the news this week, there are TWO rounds of "Have You Been Paying Attention?" in this edition of The Harris Challenge. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Phil Plait Explains The Meteor and Asteroid

With a meteor crashing into Russia and an asteroid coming within 17,000 miles of Earth, I asked Phil Plait to join me today on KTRS to explain the last 24 hours of astronomical headlines. Phil writes the Bad Astronomy column for Slate, and his book "Death From The Skies" starts with a chapter all about the danger asteroids pose to humankind.

He explained how the meteor exploded and its pressure wave caused most of the damage in Chelyabinsk, whether the asteroid that missed us today might orbit around and come back to hit us in the future, and whether there's been any progress in developing a plan to keep big space rocks from hitting us and causing large-scale devastation.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Brother's Big Night

My brother Seth is currently serving as the Acting Secretary Of Labor, which entitled him to join the other members of the cabinet in attending the State Of The Union address Tuesday night. Since I love first-person stories, I invited him to come on my KTRS show today to talk about his rookie experience, including:
  • Who did he watch to know when to stand up during the speech?
  • What’s it like walking the gauntlet down that center aisle knowing the C-SPAN cameras are on you?
  • Why did President Obama come right over to where Seth was standing immediately after the speech?
FYI, Seth has served as the Deputy Secretary of Labor (the #2 person in the department, effectively its COO) since day one of Obama’s administration, and also spent 7 years as a Senior Advisor to the Secretary Of Labor in the Clinton Administration. When a new Secretary is vetted, appointed, and confirmed, he’ll return to his role as Deputy Secretary and probably won’t attend another SOTU.

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

Previously on Harris Online: Seth and former President Bill Clinton celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mustn't See TV

There was a time when the 9pm CT hour of NBC's Thursday night lineup was filled with some of the best dramas of all time, part of what was once billed as Must See TV. As Alan Sepinwall pointed out tonight on Twitter, between 1981 and 2009, that time slot was filled by "Hill Street Blues," "LA Law," and "ER."

That's 3 ground-breaking shows in 28 years. Since then, Sepinwall adds, the network has tried 10 different shows and none of them have stuck: "Southland," "The Jay Leno Show," "The Marriage Ref," "The Apprentice," "Outsourced," "Prime Suspect," "The Firm," "Awake," "Rock Center," and "Do No Harm" (the latter didn't even make it to a third episode).

Now NBC has a new show, "Hannibal," that's ready to take a shot. The network has given it a 13-episode order, but whether America wants to see a show based on the character made famous in "Silence Of The Lambs" remains to be seen. It's ironic that a show about a human who eats humans would get a slot on a network that eats itself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Seth At The State Of The Union

You can have your Marco Rubio water bottle moment, or President Obama's moving "...deserves a vote" appeal to Congress on gun control. For me, the highlight was seeing my brother Seth, the Acting Secretary Of Labor, getting some screen time with the president before and after the address last night...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Picture Of The Day

Richard Wiseman has yet another collection of ten bar bets you can't lose...

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Dear Catholic Church: if you really want American media to go crazy, make the next pope a guy from Kenya.
  • Today's Must-Read Story: all about the Seal Team 6 member who killed Bin Laden, the mission, & his tough post-war life.
  • Paul Krugman on The Ignorance Caucus of the GOP & its refusal to live in an evidence-based world.

The Chapins

An e-mail I received this weekend has me thinking a lot about Harry Chapin, the storytelling singer/musician/humanitarian who had a big impact on my life for about a decade.

I first heard Harry's music in 1972, when his song "Taxi" started getting airplay on some FM stations. I went out and bought his album, "Heads and Tales," and wore it out.  A couple of years later, right around the time Harry hit #1 with "Cat's In the Cradle," my friend Bill Sobel produced a concert with him at our high school, and I wrote a rave review for our school newspaper. Not long after, Bill and I went to see a musical Harry had written called "The Night That Made America Famous," which ran on Broadway for a few months.

The next year, I was in the crowd as Harry did a show in the giant gym at my college. When he asked for volunteers from the audience to come up and sing the high parts on "Taxi," he chose several women,  but when saw me waving my hand enthusiastically, he thought it would be funny to bring this big, bearded guy up to try it. All modesty aside, I nailed it and received a big ovation from the crowd. Afterwards, I interviewed him for the college radio station, where we mostly talked about his work on behalf of World Hunger Year, a charitable organization he had recently formed.

Over the next few years, Harry did hundreds of fundraisers for WHY, some of them with his full band, others with just his guitar, in all sorts of venues, from arenas to clubs to open-air performances in parks. I saw several of those shows, and also had the more intimate experience of having Harry and his guitar just a few feet away when he was nice enough to sit down with me a few times at WRCN, the first commercial radio station I worked for. I wish I still had those tapes.

By 1981, I had moved to a station in Hartford and lost touch with Harry, until that horrible day when word came in that he had died in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway. I devoted my entire show that night to his music and told stories he'd told me.

Many years later, we introduced our daughter to the music of Harry's brother, Tom Chapin, who did several albums of songs for kids (several of which she can still sing from memory). Tom had been entertaining children since 1971, when he hosted a Sunday morning ABC series called "Make A Wish," which included several songs written by Harry. Taking her to see Tom in concert was a nice way to continue our family's connection to theirs.

This weekend, a friend sent us a link to this clip, released by Reelin' In The Years Productions, rights holder to "The Merv Griffin Show," which is looking to merchandise its material for DVD box sets and TV specials (thus the logo stamp, etc.). The clip shows Harry performing on "The Merv Griffin Show" in 1965 with his brothers Tom and Steve.

The boys were in college (Cornell) and trying to get signed by a record label. When that didn't pan out, Harry spent a few years as a documentary filmmaker before returning to music and launching his solo career. But in 1965, they looked and sounded like lots of other clean-cut shirt-and-tie folk acts doing gigs on college campuses, in coffee houses, and an occasional slot at a club in Greenwich Village. The guy on drums is Jim Chapin, their father, who had a long career with Woody Herman and other big band leaders. To my knowledge, the Chapins never recorded this song, so this would be the only public record of it...

[thanks to Jan Walker for the link]

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Carl Reiner, "I Remember Me"

It is always a great pleasure to talk with Carl Reiner, and I was very happy to welcome him back to my show to help promote his new book, "I Remember Me," an autobiography in which he shares essays about his career, his family, and some of the famous people he's known.

His show business experience has been a remarkable one, spanning more than seven decades, including as a performer and writer on "Your Show Of Shows," creator of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," director of "Oh, God!" and Steve Martin’s first 4 movies, and acting in "Ocean's Eleven" movies,  "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,"and "It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World." He has also written several books and plays -- and as if that wasn’t enough, he’s now on Twitter!

Some of the topics we covered today:
  • His friendship with Mel Brooks and their love of "Jeopardy!";
  • His appearances as both panelist and host of TV game shows;
  • What he learned from working with directors like Stanley Kramer and Norman Jewison;
  • What is was like to direct George Burns in "Oh, God!";
  • His appearance with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews on a 1974 British TV special;
  • A 1966 movie trailer he made with Alan Arkin for "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming";
  • How he made sure no one else could read a Scientology book that was given to him.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

I haven't digitized all of my previous interviews with Carl Reiner, but here are 3 more you can listen to:
  • We discuss his involvement in the "Ocean's Eleven" movies (6/12/07)
  • An extended discussion of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (5/10/04)
  • We talk about his relationship with Johnny Carson, and he tells his "cream cheese cookies emcee" story (4/25/03)

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/8/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a an eye-popping witness, a woman who flipped off a judge, and truckers vs. the Russian mafia. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge -- Mardi Gras Edition

This week's Harris Challenge has a Mardi Gras theme, with categories like "Things Around Your Neck Besides Mardi Gras Beads" and "Other Tuesdays That Aren't As Fat." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • A college radio station's list of 53 band names that can't be mentioned on the air.
  • The CBS memo reminding Grammy attendees not to expose bare fleshy under curves or visible "puffy" bare skin.
  • Damn! A new prime number has been discovered that's 17 million digits long. I thought I had calculated it, but I forgot to carry the pi.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Retro Picture Of The Day

Here's a clip from a 1967 episode of "The 21st Century," a CBS primetime news hour hosted by Walter Cronkite, in which we're shown the home of the future.

The show gave us a peek at how technology would change our lives -- from big-screen 3D television to robots to clean up your mess to a kitchen device that not only prepared your food but also molded plastic plates for each meal. This segment highlights the home office of the future, from a time when doing your job without leaving your house was as alien a concept as women having a job in the first place (all of Cronkite's work references are to men).

This all seems remarkably primitive, but the educated guesses by scientists and futurists of the time weren't far off from our eventual reality. I laughed when I saw the simple monochrome text on these screens, until I remembered that's pretty much what the Tandy 1000 that I bought in January, 1986, looked like....

There's more from Cronkite's show on the Smithsonian magazine site.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Family and Medical Leave Act

There was a ceremony at the US Department of Labor yesterday marking the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a landmark law that requires employers to allow workers to take unpaid leave for medical and family reasons, with a guarantee that their job will be there when they return.

The ceremony began with a speech by my brother Seth, who is the Acting Secretary Of Labor. There's not enough bandwidth on this site for me to tell you how proud I am of Seth, who, as Deputy Secretary under Hilda Solis, has essentially been the Chief Operating Officer of a cabinet department with 17,000 employees. When Solis stepped down from the top spot after President Obama's second inaugural, Seth moved into the big office on an acting basis until a new Secretary can be vetted, appointed, and confirmed (of course, I think Obama should give it to him permanently!). He also worked as a top adviser to Labor Secretaries Robert Reich and Alexis Herman during the Clinton presidency.

Seth talked up the FMLA's success and taking a shot at the critics who said it would kill jobs -- a claim as false as the same whines we hear today. Other speakers at the FMLA anniversary event included former President Bill Clinton (who made the FMLA the first bill he signed into law in 1993) and former Senator Chris Dodd (who fought for the law in Congress over seven years).

When Clinton came to the microphone, he had this to say about my brother:

Seth worked for me in the Labor Department for seven years, for Alexis [Herman] and Bob Reich. I was thrilled when he became Deputy Secretary Of Labor, but if I had known he could give a speech like that, I would have urged the President not to appoint him, and instead to force him to run for office, because that was a terrific job.

The Fear Industry

Of all the smart things said in our nation's history, few are more true than FDR's most famous quote:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
There are entire industries devoted to exploiting fear in this country. If you can be convinced that something or someone is going to harm you in some way, you're more likely to buy a product that you're told will keep you safe. That's why so many Americans own guns -- and bought more when they were told "Obama is going to take your guns away," all evidence to the contrary.

Fear is the reason we forsake our Fourth Amendment rights and put up with security theater at airports. It's why the pharmaceutical industry tells you to "ask your doctor" about medication for conditions you didn't even know you could contract. It's why home security companies continue to thrive.

Next time you fly, browse through the SkyMall catalog and be amazed at how many items are offered that will supposedly make you more secure, from a keychain breathalyzer (because you should be afraid of your own drinking and driving) to a lung exerciser (you're not going to let your lungs get all flabby, are you?) to a clip you wear around your neck to hold a napkin in front of your shirt to make sure it doesn't get dirty (note to guys: chicks dig that look) to a covert alarm clock camera (so you can watch the people breaking into your house when you're not there and re-setting your alarm to go off at 6pm instead of 6am).

Fear-based claims are often irrational, but not always. When your parents taught you to look both ways before crossing the street, you learned how not to get run over by a bus. Your computer password should be slightly more complex than "123456." Teenagers shouldn't rent a cabin in the woods next door to the guy in a hockey mask with a chainsaw.

Fear is also a factor in political beliefs, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Political Science, which begins:
Fear is a pervasive aspect of political life and is often explored as a transient emotional state manipulated by events or exploited by elites for political purposes.
It explains how fear can play a role in influencing political attitudes on hot-button issues like immigration and how individuals who are genetically predisposed to fear tend to have more conservative opinions, which play out politically as support for policies like anti-immigration and segregation. The researcher, Brown University professor Rose McDermott, says:
It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative.
That's why there's so much fear-based right-wing media in this country. If you listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, or Fox News, you constantly hear about how some liberal politician or a group is coming to get you, hurt your kids, take your stuff. They are experts at exploiting emotions and exacerbating paranoia, usually over stories that have no bearing on most people's lives, such as convincing viewers that two supposedly-menacing black guys standing outside a polling station represented a dangerous threat by the nonexistent New Black Panther Party. The whole "redistribution" argument is to convince paranoid white people that the government is going to take more of their money and give it to minorities. Fear mongering is why a Muslim community center several blocks away from the former site of the World Trade Center was turned into ginned-up rage over a "Ground Zero Mosque."

Exposure to those constant messages from right-wing blowhards becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They tell you that you can't trust any other news sources, that they alone speak the truth, that the others ("the mainstream media") are purposely keeping details about this plot or that conspiracy from you because of a secret agenda to destroy America.

There's no denying these fear-mongers are good at what they do, but that's not a positive for society at large. What they specialize in is no more to our mutual benefit than Wall Street's greed was good for our financial meltdown, or a quack doctor is to our health, or this Congress is to progress.

On a larger scale, fear is why we went to war with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist. And why we stopped building nuclear power plants after Three Mile Island despite decades without another accident in other existing plants. And why ill-informed parents aren't having their children vaccinated.

If our ancestors hadn't overcome their fears, they never would have crossed oceans to get here. Humans would never would have set foot on the moon. Your child would never have left home to go to school. You never would have quit one job to take another.

Being afraid is no way to go through life. It's corrosive, an impediment to moving forward as a society. It's no way to greet the future.

Get over it.

Less Mail, Less Often

After August, you won't be getting letters on Saturdays, because the US Postal Service is cutting back to save $2 billion.

How will America survive? Easy. Polls show 70% of us won't miss Saturday delivery one bit. By September, you won't even remember to check your mailbox on the weekend. 

As I have written before, the no-Saturday-mail idea isn't radical enough. We don't need daily residential mail service anymore, so cut it back to every other day.

With e-mail and texting and cell phones, who writes letters anymore? So much of our life has moved online that the only mail I get these days is pure junk, and there's no urgency in getting that to my mailbox, just so I can carry it inside and throw it in the trash. The only mail I get that doesn't get tossed immediately is a Netflix DVD I'm probably not going to watch for a couple of days and a few birthday cards -- nothing particularly time-sensitive. Even the few bills that still come with a stamp on them give me enough of a grace period to pay that the delayed delivery would have no impact.

Wouldn't this mean lots of letter carriers and other postal employees being laid off? Yes, but the way the USPS is going, they're going to lose their jobs anyway.

Want to save more money? Instead of raising the postage rate by a penny every couple of years, why not make postage stamps free, underwritten by corporate sponsors?

There are plenty of major corporations who would like that space on the envelope to promote their products, and would happily partner with the postal service to expand the brand. Imagine being able to get company-logo stamps not just at the post office, but at any McDonald's restaurant or 7-11 store or Starbucks outlet. Then, when the USPS costs go up, they'd pass along the expense to their clients, not their users (the same model used by radio, TV, and the rest of us who live at the whim of advertisers).

Under my plan, you'd never again see this on an envelope: "Affix stamp here. The post office will not deliver without proper postage."

As if anyone who doesn't already understand the stamp concept would know what "affix" means.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Saturday Night Complainers

The website Government Attic has posted a treasure trove of indecency complaints the FCC received in the last five years about "Saturday Night Live." The reasons are about what you'd expect -- words or ideas the viewer was offended by -- with spelling and grammar mistakes galore. For example:

The show was a re-run hosted by Will Ferrel and contained a skit with Usher, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberwolf, etc. It was the most graphic and vulgar display I have ever witnessed on Public TV. NBC should not only be ashamed of the content, but should be held accountable to any violations committed. If this kind of garbage is allowed by the FCC, then shame on you for contributing to the downfall of common decency and respect.
I'm always amazed that someone would be so incensed by a simple television (or radio) broadcast that they'd stop what they were doing and take the time to file a formal complaint with anyone. I'm also amazed how ignorant these viewers are of the fact that the FCC has no authority over NBC's broadcasts of "Saturday Night Live," because it airs in the Safe Harbor hours, which are explained on the commission's website:
Congress and the courts have instructed the Commission only to enforce the indecency standard between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., local time. -- when children are more likely to be in the audience. As a consequence, the Commission does not take action on indecent material aired between 10 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. In this way, constitutionally-protected free speech rights of adults are balanced with the need to protect children from harmful content.
As a parent, I've never needed a Nanny Government to protect my child from anything on television or radio, nor to keep my adult eyes and ears free of material that might be offensive to my sensitive nature. And I'd bet (yet again) that many of those complaining to the FCC are the same folks who claim they want government to do less, except when they're bothered by something or someone.

Here's another:
I don't typically watch SNL because of it's offensive material. In this instance, we had company over and it happened to be on. Unfortunatley, our 2 children were also in the room. They had a spoof of Clint Eastwood's Superbowl commercial for Chrysler. In the spoof the 'Clint Eastwood' character was talking about the presidential candidates and clearly said the word 'pus*y' in the clip. I was taken aback at the crude and offensive remark especially on REGULAR TV, not cable. I hope the FCC can start taking back the airwaves and bring back just plain common decency.
Well, that's some damned fine monitoring of what's on the TV while your children are in the room. You're already offended by the show, but you don't turn it off? Sorry, your fault. And by the way, the word "pussy" isn't banned from the airwaves, even outside the Safe Harbor hours.

Another (with original punctuation and case):
under the sea skit depicting Osama Bin Laden floating in the sea. Shocking and inappropriate. totally tasteless and upsetting. unAmerican. will boycott advertisers.
That will probably shut the show down. Meanwhile, the network appreciates you watching all the way through so you can make a list of all the advertisers you're going to stop doing business with. Do you have any idea how many viewers have threatened to boycott "Saturday Night Live" in its 38 years on the air?

And then there's my favorite comment from a complainer to the FCC:
Lome Greene ought to be ashamed of what he has allowed his show to deteriorate into.
Government Attic acquired the complaints from the FCC through a Freedom Of Information Act request. You can browse through them here.

Another Movie You Might Not Know

One of this year's Oscar nominees for Best Documentary, "Searching For Sugar Man" seems like the story of yet another American pop star who was a big hit for a few years but then died at the peak of his career, leaving behind a legacy of what-could-have-been, a la Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Selena, Tupac Shakur.

The difference is that this singer/songwriter, Sixto Rodriguez, isn't dead.  And he was never a star.

At least, not here in the USA. He released two albums on a small record label, and no one bought them. Not in his hometown of Detroit, nor the rest of Michigan, nor the rest of America or, for that matter, the entire Northern Hemisphere.

But somehow, halfway around the world, he became the voice of a generation. This guy from an American inner city had, completely without his knowledge, become a huge star in South Africa. This was in the late 1960s, when the oppressive apartheid government restricted information and banned Rodriguez' songs from the airwaves. Still, kids were buying Rodriguez' music, although he remained an absolute mystery to his fans. They never knew anything about him, and he never knew they'd bought a half-million copies of his albums.

It's that mystery that is the core of "Searching For Sugar Man," a documentary that follows a couple of South Africans on their quest to find out more about Rodriguez. They don't have many clues -- the liner notes on Rodriguez' albums don't offer much information -- but they keep digging until they uncover the man and his story, and it's fascinating.

My only problem with the movie is that Rodriguez' music, hailed by his fans as Dylanesque, isn't really that good. Most of his songs sound the same, with folky lyrics over not-very-interesting guitar accompaniment backed by some schlocky production. It's hard to see why anyone latched onto these tunes as world-changing.

Whether I like Rodriguez' material is immaterial. It's the unraveling of the mystery that makes "Searching For Sugarman" work, and that's why I have added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

Monday, February 04, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I heard two St. Louis radio stations simultaneously play Manfred Mann's "Blinded By The Light." Afterward, one station said, "It's all about the variety." And irony.
  • Five years ago, I debunked the lost-productivity Super Bowl sidebar story, but the media keeps falling for it.
  • My favorite story of the day: the monkey that Iran "sent into space" isn't the same monkey that "returned from space."
  • I just backed a documentary about one of my heroes, "An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi Story," on KickStarter.
  • How are we winning the war on drugs? By keeping a guy away from the Super Bowl for a 2-gram pot bust 32 years ago.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Netflix Plus And Minus

I have watched the first four episodes of the Netflix original series "House Of Cards," which began streaming yesterday. Like other series I've binge-watched on DVD (e.g. "The Sopranos" and "Breaking Bad"), I like being able to watch as much or as little of the show as I want, on my own schedule.

Is it a great, must-see show? The plots are resolved a little too simply in each episode, rather than over longer arcs, but Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are always solid, and Anna Kendrick lookalike Kate Mara does a fine job. The show is also a little too close in tone to "Boss," the Kelsey Grammer drama series that Starz tried for a couple of seasons (a powerful but devious politician, a driven but icy wife, a young reporter willing to trade integrity for access, etc.). Still, I watched every episode of that series, and probably will do the same with "House Of Cards."

It will be interesting to see if Netflix's foray into original programming translates into enough new subscribers for the company to then develop other new series. It will take several months for the numbers to become apparent, and to see what kind of viewing patterns emerge from the release of all 13 episodes of the show simultaneously, but at the very least it's a win for consumers, who end up with another source of fresh content.

I've been a Netflix subscriber for a long time. It was over a decade ago that the company's in-house movie reviewer, James Rocchi, started doing movie reviews on my radio show to help promote Netflix, and I even conducted one of the early interviews with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Along the way, my family has consumed hundreds of hours of its DVDs and streamed video (the reason we bought an internet-ready TV several years ago), and while we haven't loved all of the content it has provided, we've rarely been disappointed by the company's service.

One of those exceptions is that Netflix still doesn't have a smartphone app that allows members to manage both their DVD and streaming queues. Those functions are easily handled via the company's website, but we're forced to use a third-party app like Flikster or iQueue (to add DVDs, edit the list, etc.) when we're on the go. In an increasingly mobile world, where the key is giving consumers what they want, when they want it, there's no excuse for a tech company like Netflix to not have developed its own user-friendly smartphone application.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

America Works

Here's a statistic you may have missed in yesterday's monthly employment report from the Department Of Labor: the jobless rate dropped for people with a bachelor's degree to 3.7% in January from 3.9% in December (two years ago, the number was above 5%).

Along with increased housing starts and other indicators, that's a great sign of an improving economy. In what other element of American life do we have such a high success percentage?

We regularly hear scaremonger media reports about how tough the market is for recent college graduates (has it ever been easy to find a job right out of school?), but I find it impressive that more than 96% of the people who earned a college degree are now earning a paycheck. It may not be exactly the job they want, it may not pay them as much as they like, it may not be the job they'll hold five years from now, but they're working. And a portion of that other 3.7% might not be employed because they're still in grad school or law school or medical school.

I'm just asking for a little media perspective, instead of the bland, only-the-top-line-of-the-fact-sheet repeating of the overall unemployment statistics.

In case you're interested, the unemployment rate for those with no high school diploma is around 12%. That may seem like a lot, but consider what it means -- 88% of the people who dropped out of school somewhere along the way still managed to find a job.

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/1/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a judge asleep in court, an unsuspecting getaway driver, and a woman who got four speeding tickets in one afternoon. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/1/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes categories about Super Bowl success, Super Bowl failure, and the Super Bowl halftime show. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!