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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Greg Hampikian, a professor at Boise State University, has a clever op-ed in today's NY Times entitled, "When May I Shoot A Student?"

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.

I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.

At present, the harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto capital crimes.

I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Piers Is Out, Who Is In?

I'm glad to see Piers Morgan is losing his CNN show. While Larry King had become a parody of his softball-questions self towards the end, Morgan was actually annoying to watch and his show quickly became Must Not See TV.

Coming from the gotcha world of British tabloids, he seemed to want to make headlines every night, but the key to doing a good interview show isn't having the host steal the spotlight. The key is to have a staff of producers who book great guests and a host who is prepared enough to ask great questions -- and then shut up and listen to the answers. Morgan seemed incapable of that.

All day, the web has been full of speculation over who will get that slot on CNN, and several have mentioned Jay Leno as a possibility. There's no way that will happen. First, CNN needs a new host now, and it's extremely unlikely NBC would let him do it while still under contract to them through September. Second, CNN is run by Jeff Zucker, who Leno detests after the primetime debacle during the "Tonight Show" host swap with Conan O'Brien. Third, Jay is a comedian and wants to tell jokes -- not do serious interviews with newsmakers.

I wish Bob Costas would get the job. I was a big fan of his NBC "Later" show, in which he proved his talents as a smart, informed, interested interviewer. Frankly, I'm surprised that we haven't seen DVDs of that series released yet, but there are probably huge rights issues involved. Would NBC (and MLB Network) let Bob do a nightly hour on CNN? Doubtful.

I fear that Ryan Seacrest will get the show. He was Larry King's regular fill-in guy for a couple of years, and would be the opposite of Morgan for one obvious reason -- Seacrest has no discernible personality whatsoever. He has proven that he's a workhorse between his morning radio show, his syndicated radio show, hosting "American Idol," hosting "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve," and shoving the Kardashians down the throat of a gagging America -- but that doesn't mean he'd be good for CNN. While Seacrest could handle the lightweight interviews, I don't see him pressing Chuck Hagel on why he's reducing the military budget, or moderating a debate over raising the minimum wage.

Of course, King himself said today that he'd be open to returning to his old slot, but it would be a mistake for CNN to take that step backwards. You don't reboot a show and attract younger demographics with an 80-year-old man as host.

It might be time for Zucker to consider some of the people producing great podcasts, perhaps giving four of them a one-night-a-week show in that time slot (with documentaries airing Fridays). Or trying to woo America's best interviewer, Terry Gross, away from her longtime role as master inquisitor on NPR's "Fresh Air." Or, he could stay in house with Don Lemon, whose profile has been on the rise for the last year and is both smart and quick-witted enough to handle whatever the producers throw at him.

Whoever gets the show will be fighting an uphill battle against Rachel Maddow and Megyn Kelly for cable news ratings, but there's also an enormous audience that isn't watching CNN, Fox, or MSNBC at that time of night because they're sick of agenda-driven lectures and arguments. CNN needs to bring some of those viewers back to the wasteland that has been the Piers Morgan Hour Of Boredom, and the sooner the better.

Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis -- who wrote, directed, or acted in some of the funniest movies ever ("Animal House," "Ghostbusters," "Stripes," "Groundhog Day") -- died today at age 69.

So I dug into my archives to find an interview I did with him about his then-new movie, "The Ice Harvest," starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. It was not an out and comedy like his earlier work, but fit more in the dark comedy mold of "Fargo" and "Blood Simple," with solid work from John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, plus wonderful comic relief from the always-entertaining Oliver Platt.

I talked with Ramis about how he directs, how he wanted Platt to play his drunk role, and how they shot a scene in which one character ends up in a frozen lake. I also asked him whether he cares about how much money a movie makes, what's different since he directed his first movie ("Caddyshack" in 1980), why "Caddyshack 2" was such an embarassment, and whether he'd ever agree to do "Ghostbusters 3."

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

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I'd give anything to discover that David Carr got his scoop about CNN firing Piers Morgan by hacking Morgan's phone.
  • The Post Office is considering issuing a Wilt Chamberlain stamp. Before you lick it, think of the 20,000 other people who already have.
  • The final day of the Winter Olympics means you can go back to not caring at all about figure skaters and snowboarders for another 4 years.
  • Where are all the NFL players and execs who don't want Ray Rice in their locker room because he'd be a distraction?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

License Plate Tracking

Last week, a Washington Post headline read, "Homeland Security Seeks National License Plate Tracking System." Within 48 hours, CNN reported that the "license-plate tracking plan was withdrawn amid an outcry about privacy." So it seemed that there wouldn't be any such system -- except for one little detail.

The license plate tracking system already exists.

As I discussed on America Weekend with Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are currently databases of license plates maintained by both law enforcement and private companies. Lynch explained the details of these databases, how they work, how the data is gathered wherever we drive and park our cars -- because someone somewhere must be doing something illegal, so everyone must be monitored at all times -- and where they get the legal authority to do so.

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

NCAA's Ridiculous Recruiting Rules

Ryan Aber wrote a great piece in The Oklahoman recently which reveals some of the NCAA's ridiculous recruiting rules. After reading it, I invited him to join me on America Weekend to highlight some of the picky infractions that resulted in fines -- including one that involved two players who ate too much pasta at a buffet.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/23/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include bad Mexican baby names, gas for a penny, and a woman who cut off a tattoo with her ex-boyfriend's name on it (below). Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Clapper Admission

Last week, in an interview with The Daily Beast, Director Of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that, from the beginning, the NSA should have disclosed some details about how it has been collecting telephone records for millions of Americans for years. He insinuated that public reaction would have been a lot more positive than it has been since Edward Snowden revealed the programs being used to track us without our knowledge.

On my America Weekend show, I turned to Patrick Toomey of the ACLU's National Security Project for reaction to Clapper's comments. We also talked about Clapper lying to Congress when he testified that the NSA was not spying on Americans' phone records, and what his recent admission says about Edward Snowden as a whistleblower.

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

Ban The Box

You've heard the expression, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." The problem is that the time you have to do as punishment for the crime doesn't always end when you're released from jail. Every time an ex-con applies for a job, or a loan, or housing, or insurance, they encounter a little check box next to the question, "Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?" Almost a third of Americans would have to say yes if they answered honestly, thus disqualifying them in the eyes of many and keeping them unemployed, homeless, and uninsured.

A group called All Of Us Or None is trying to change that by getting state governments to Ban The Box, so I invited spokeswoman Linda Evans to discuss it on my America Weekend show. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Why So Much Water?

You've probably heard that you're supposed to drink eight glasses a water a day to stay healthy, but where did that claim come from? My America Weekend guest Erika Janik (author of "Marketplace of the Marveloous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine") says it goes back to the 19th century when hydropaths and others were practicing medicine. This was a time when water was not a big part of people's lives -- not just ingesting it, but bathing in it. She explained those origins, and how that was the era when women first started getting involved in medicine in the US.

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/22/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include man vs. vending machine, a guy stuck in a cop car, and a burglar caught by selfie. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Harris Challenge 2/21/14

Here's today's Harris Challenge (the most fun you can have with your radio on), with categories including "American Geography," "Sports Potpourri," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Garrick Utley

Garrick Utley, who reported and anchored news over the course of 35 years for NBC, ABC, and CNN died yesterday of prostate cancer. He was a real pro, one of those solid story-telling reporters with a face and voice that were instantly recognizable.

I dug into my archives and found this interview I did with Utley in 2001 when he published a memoir, "You Should Have Been Here Yesterday." We had an extended discussion that ranged from his years covering the Vietnam War to the fall of the Berlin Wall to a little town in Belize that had never seen television until 1985, when someone put up a satellite dish.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Show Me Legal Weed

Missouri won't be joining Colorado and Washington as a legal-marijuana state anytime soon. The state's primary lobbying group, Show Me Cannabis, has decided not to pursue a referendum on this year's ballot because it's an off-year election, which means much lower turnout and much older demographics (it will take under-35 voters to swing the pendulum towards legalization).

Today, I talked with the group's executive director, John Payne, about how soon he thinks recreational weed could be legalized, whether the state legislature might permit medical marijuana, and whether more jurisdictions will join St. Louis city and Columbia in decriminalizing pot possession. We also talked about the economics of legal marijuana in Colorado (where tax revenue will be 20% higher than original expectations), the shocking number of Missourians busted every year for drugs, and whether there will be any movement on the federal level soon.

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

For the record, I quit smoking weed over 35 years ago, but fully support legalizing, regulating, and taxing it. Frankly, I'm shocked that some businesses that would profit from more marijuana sales aren't throwing their weight behind this effort. I'm talking about you, White Castle!

Harris Challenge 2/20/14

Here's today's Harris Challenge (the most fun you can have with your radio on), with categories including "Famous Musicians Day," "Hits Of The Eighties," and "Animal Moms." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/19/14

Here's the Harris Challenge I did Wednesday on The Big 550 KTRS, with categories including "Grab Your Instrument, It's Time For Music Class," "Sports Milestones," and "Animals Aplenty." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/18/14

Here's the Harris Challenge I did Tuesday on The Big 550 KTRS, with categories including "Vice President's Day," "Mr. Potato Head," and "That's History, Dude!" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/17/14

Since I'm filling in on the 3-6pm show all week at The Big 550 KTRS, I'm including my Harris Challenge each day, beginning with a special Presidents Day edition today. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Late Night Monologue

I watched the first two nights of Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show," and he seems to be doing fine. Those who liked him on "Late Night" will still like him an hour earlier, and time will tell if Jay Leno's fans will continue to tune in to NBC for Fallon in that slot (or at least set the DVR).

Normally, I wouldn't critique a host (TV or radio) based on their first week, because it always takes time to find the groove, to winnow down the big list of seemingly clever ideas the staff had before the debut to see what works and what doesn't. That doesn't apply to Fallon, who has five years of experience doing this kind of talk show, so what we're seeing now is pretty much what we'll get -- minus the nervousness brought on by the hype.

The most important thing for a host to remember is that, no matter how good or bad yesterday's show was, you have to do a new one today, and tomorrow, and so on. There have been days when I walked out of my studio as high as a kite from a show that was even better than I expected, and there have been days where I walked out depressed and pissed off. But I always try to remember that I'll have to do something new the next day. No one can be great every time, and no one in the history of broadcasting ever has. Fallon has to continue to prove that he's adept at the hosting duties, can come up with new material that goes viral, and will keep the traditional late night talk show landscape mostly undisturbed.

However, I think he's making a mistake by following Jay Leno's advice that he do a longer monologue. When Leno took over from Carson, his monologue was about the same length as his predecessor (5-6 minutes), but after a few years, he expanded it to about 10, and sometimes as many as 13 minutes. That did not make the monologue better. As good as Leno is as a joke-telling standup comedian, his expanded monologue always seemed like it was padded, and he relied too heavily on over-selling the jokes and playing to the band. It didn't help that audiences were so pumped up that they'd laugh at anything he said.

Letterman extended his monologue, too, when he moved from NBC to CBS, but that never yielded anything particularly memorable. Naturally, the hosts who followed them with their own shows at that hour followed the lead of the twin kings, so that on many nights, you have as many as five white guys telling essentially the same jokes about the same items in the news. Ironically, none of them are ever as funny and biting as the two guys who consistently deliver laugh-out-loud comedy in late night -- Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- without doing what can be considered a traditional monologue.

Bill Maher has been a standup comedian for decades, so he knows how to get the job done, and he has a staff that's quite good at writing in his unique voice. I enjoy him, although he has two very irritating habits. One is that he laughs at his own jokes more than anyone not named Arsenio. The other is that, when a joke doesn't work, or doesn't get the positive reaction he expects, he blames the audience. Last Friday night on "Real Time," he did a line that got no response at all and -- unlike his hero, Johnny Carson, who was a master at saving such situations -- Maher lashed out cursed at the crowd as if it were their fault. It's never appropriate to blame your fans when you blow it.

The biggest problem in Fallon doing an extended monologue is that he is not a standup. Yes, he's a gifted enough impressionist that he can imitate a comedian, but it's clear that his strengths lie elsewhere. Although NBC would no doubt have balked at the idea, it would have been refreshing to see him start "The Tonight Show" with a shorter monologue and then get on to parts of the show he enjoys more (and is better at delivering).

Last night, Jerry Seinfeld came out and did several minutes at center stage and killed. Then, in a nod to the past, Seinfeld stayed at the microphone and glanced over at Fallon, who waved him over to the guest chair. When he got there, Seinfeld acted the way he did the first time Carson made that same gesture. It was a nice tribute to "Tonight Show" history.

Fallon should give more standup comics that opportunity. Sure, Seinfeld is one of the greatest monologists of all time, so we can't expect that level of quality from everyone, but it would be nice to see the current generation of standups getting the same kind of big network platform that Carson gave Seinfeld so many years ago.

There would be plenty of time for that if Fallon cut down his own monologue.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Finished watching "House Of Cards" season 2 last night. Could not believe what happened to Walter White in the last episode.
  • Here’s the woman who removed a tattoo with her cheating boyfriend’s name from her arm -- with a scalpel!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Casey Kasem's Family Fight

The Hollywood Reporter has a big story about the battle between Casey Kasem's children and his wife, Jean, over visitation rights and who gets to make medical decisions for the radio legend, who is suffering from Parkinson's Disease. The piece also recaps Casey's career in-depth, from his earliest days in Detroit to the height of his "American Top 40" success to his departure from the airwaves a few years ago. It serves as a timeline of radio stations that played popular music over the last four decades.

In 2010, I wrote about my memories of Casey and the influence "AT40" had on my early radio career. You can read that column here.

Blazing Saddles At 40

If I asked you what was the most successful western movie of all time, you'd probably name a John Wayne movie like "True Grit," or Clint Eastwood in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," or Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves."

But you'd be wrong.

The movie at the top of the list -- and at the top of many comedy lists as well -- was Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles," released 40 years ago this month. It not only set box office records, but also pushed the envelope of movie-making, including the first time we'd ever heard farts on screen.

I saw "Blazing Saddles" on its first weekend and laughed so hard I missed some of the jokes. So I stayed in my seat and watched it again. Then I came back the next day and saw it a third time. That was a big commitment for a kid in high school. But unlike today (when you can download virtually any movie and watch it on demand as often as you like), if I didn't see it again in the movie theater, I might never see it again, or at least for a very long time.

The buzz on the movie was immediate, as if Brooks (and fellow screenwriters Richard Pryor, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Uger) had blazed a new comedy trail that everyone had to see. Between the clever dialogue, the outrageous characters, and the perfect performances by Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and Oscar-nominated Madeline Kahn -- not to mention the movie bursting out its western setting and onto the Warner Brothers lot -- it set a new standard for every movie parody that followed.

Hollywood was so taken with the success of "Blazing Saddles" that someone commissioned a pilot for a TV version, called "Black Bart." Unfortunately, it had neither the wit nor the the talent of the movie. Instead of Cleavon Little, the sheriff was played by Lou Gossett Jr., who's a fine dramatic actor, but not known for comedy. Instead of Gene Wilder, the sheriff's sidekick was played by Steve Landesberg, a mildly amusing comedian with no acting chops. There was also a woman doing a bad Madeline Kahn imitation, a horrible laugh track, multiple uses of the n-word (there's something you'd never see today!), and no sense of what made the movie funny in the first place.

The only good news about "Black Bart" (which had been the original title of the movie) was that the pilot bombed when it aired on April 4, 1975 on CBS, so it never became a series. But the half-hour was included on a 30th anniversary DVD of "Blazing Saddles" and has found its way to YouTube, so you can see how bad it was for yourself...

After the mega-success of the Broadway musical version of "The Producers" and the medium-sized success of a stage version of "Young Frankenstein," Brooks has tried to develop "Blazing Saddles" as musical, too, but the project has never gotten off the ground. That's probably a good thing, as the big screen was and is its only appropriate venue.

Monday, February 17, 2014

He's Glad She Quit

Here's the story I mentioned on KTRS today of a woman who thought she was being cute when she announced why she was quitting her job, but her boss got the last word.

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/16/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a very overdue video rental, a suspect's tracks in the snow, and a woman named Sexy. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gerald McRaney on "House Of Cards"

I'm already binge-watching the second season of "House Of Cards" on Netflix, so I was a little ambivalent about interviewing Gerald McRaney, who plays billionaire presidential adviser Raymond Tusk on the show. It wasn't a matter of ruining something for my listeners -- I didn't want anything spoiled for me.

So we didn't talk about the plot, but about whether he sees the series as a paradigm-shifter for the TV industry, and whether doing a series without act breaks changes how he acts. Since McRaney has directed episodes of other series he's done (including "Major Dad"), I asked how Robin Wright did when she stepped behind the camera for the first time to direct a couple of "HOC" episodes.

We also discussed why McRaney told Variety he doesn't want to star in another series, the possibility of "Simon and Simon" being rebooted, and the parody that Jon Hamm and Adam Scott did of that show's opening sequence for Adult Swim.

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

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cip's Morning Voice

My friend Joe Cipriano, the television voiceover guy you've heard for over 25 years promoting primetime shows and awards telecasts, stopped by "CBS This Morning" to talk about his book, "Living On Air"...

Previously on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/15/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a runaway snowball, a clever 10-year-old driver, and that's not deodorant!! Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Not A Spoiler

I just watched season 2 episode 1 of "House of Cards" on Netflix. It took me three hours to figure out FU was Felix Unger!

Ed Asner

Here's my conversation with Ed Asner, who you know from his starring roles in the movie "Up," the TV series "Lou Grant" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and hundreds of other projects. He has won 7 Emmy Awards -- more than any other man in history -- and been nominated for 13 more. This week, he appeared on an episode of the TBS sitcom "Men at Work."

We talked about his guest roles and whether he wants his own series again, his one-man FDR show that's touring the country, a couple of westerns he appeared in many years ago ("El Dorado" and "Skin Game"), and his work in animated TV shows and video games.

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

Ed Asner will bring his one-man show, "FDR" to St. Louis on April 27th. Get tickets here.

Breaking News: Meredith Viera Is A Woman

Much was made in the media last night about Meredith Viera becoming the first woman to host primetime coverage of the Olympics, when she filled in for pink-eyed Bob Costas.

Aren't we past pretending things like this are a milestone? Viera is a versatile broadcaster who has been on TV for decades as a reporter, anchor, talk show host, game show host, and now she's done the Olympics, which are nothing more than a big, long television show. She's had plenty of experience in that department and knows how to handle live television.

The media that covers the media -- which, by the way, includes plenty of women -- shouldn't pretend Viera was a pioneer last night. She's a broadcaster who handled an assignment like the pro that she is, and that's not groundbreaking.

Movies Awards Season

The Oscars are two weeks away, so I invited Rotten Tomatoes senior editor Grae Drake back to my America Weekend show to see if the other awards that have been handed out this season will influence Academy Awards voters. I also asked her if the recent noise about Woody Allen will impact Cate Blanchett's chances of winning for Best Actress in "Blue Jasmine" (a performance that I thought was a lock from the moment I saw it).

From there, we moved on to this week's new releases, including "Winter's Tale" and the remakes of "Robocop," "Endless Love," and "About Last Night." It will be interesting to see if box office attendance is affected by the Winter Olympics on TV and the second season of "House Of Cards" on Netflix, which plenty of people will stay home to binge-watch this weekend.

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

Grae Drake and Leonard Maltin co-host a Reelz Channel special called "Awards Season 2014 Winners and Losers" which begins airing today and will repeat for the next two weeks.

Prescription Painkillers And Heroin

Since Philip Seymour Hoffman's death a couple of weeks ago, there's been a lot of discussion of the rise of heroin use in the US (twice what it was in 2007), but there hasn't been enough of a conversation about the use of prescription painkillers as a gateway to heroin. On my America Weekend show, I talked with Dr. Stephen Lankenau, a sociologist at Drexel University, who has surveyed drug users and understands how those powerful legal pills get abused and can lead to illegal narcotics.

We also talked about how people like Hoffman, who hadn't used heroin for more than two decades, can fall back into their addiction, and why a new drug called naloxone is helping save the lives of users who overdose on narcotics.

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

Do Women Need Mammograms?

A new study published this week raises more doubt about the need for women to have regular mammograms to detect breast cancer. On my America Weekend show, I asked Dr. Russell Harris of the University of North Carolina School Of Health to explain the study's conclusions and the data. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 2/14/14

This week on my Harris Challenge (the most fun you can have with your radio on!), the categories included "Love Potpourri," "They Died This Week," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Road Trip: New Orleans

I made my first (and probably last) trip to New Orleans last week.

The town never held any appeal for me (despite my admiration for the movie "The Big Easy"), since I don’t drink, and I don’t eat fried food or fish of any kind. That's like going to Hershey, Pennsylvania, when you don't like chocolate. Or Italy when you don't like pasta. Or Los Angeles when you don't like traffic.

I was in New Orleans on business (which I'll reveal soon on this blog), but needed some exercise, so I walked over to the French Quarter, starting on Bourbon Street, which is exactly as tacky and touristy as I thought it would be. Every other building is a bar, most with swirling daiquiri machines and other slushy frozen alcoholic beverages. Since you can take your drink as you walk down the sidewalk, everyone on the street was carrying either a to-go cup or a yard-long glass filled with a green melon-flavored booze concoction called a Hand Grenade. In the first hour, I saw three sets of parents pushing strollers while holding Hand Grenades, a perfect metaphor for New Orleans and the people it attracts.

The rest of the businesses include shops full of schlocky crap to take home (beads are big, even when it's not Mardi Gras), restaurants of varying quality that all seem to sell oysters, and about a dozen strip clubs (they and many of the bars have employees in the doorways encouraging passers-by to come inside for the live show). In other words, a classy place to be.

After stopping for a couple of beignets (delicious), I got away from Bourbon Street and walked down some other streets with impressive architecture. None of the buildings are over three stories except for one senior citizen assisted living facility. Many have those wrought-iron balconies you’ve seen in footage of Mardi Gras, though the single family homes are very close together (they like their houses to have a big footprint on their property, so there's no such thing as a side yard).

I found my way to Frenchman's Street, which is pretty much the opposite of Bourbon Street, in that the restaurants and clubs are more authentically local. In one bar, The Spotted Cat, I enjoyed a terrific singer named Meschiya Lake, who was backed up by The Little Big Horns, comprised of men playing guitar, drums, sax, clarinet, trombone, trumpet and tuba (that's them in the photo above). I always wondered what those tuba players in marching bands did after high school and college if they didn't get into a symphony, and here was the answer.

Twenty ago, my wife and I saw the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Wolftrap but were disappointed when every song sounded like "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey." That wasn't the case with this band. Meschiya Lake has a helluva voice (see her in action here), and the musicians were terrific, too. It was the kind of real New Orleans jazz I'd hope to hear, unlike the cover bands that fill the places on Bourbon Street, where you can't go a block without hearing "Sweet Home Alabama."

The Spotted Cat was packed with an after-work crowd that kept the bartenders busy as the band started playing the first of three sets at 6pm. I stayed for the first, then went somewhere else to eat, then came back to discover that a female trombonist had joined The Little Big Horns for a few songs. One of the locals told me it's not unusual for musicians to wander in with their instruments and play along with their friends at various venues.

I saw another example of that spirit later when I left to walk back to my hotel and came upon a bunch of brass players standing in front of what looked like an abandoned business on a corner. A crowd of several dozen onlookers had gathered, and the musicians suddenly launched into a song. I asked around and discovered that this wasn't an official band, but was more like a pick-up basketball game, where whoever wanted to could show up and play, and it happened nearly every night. There were more than a dozen of them -- trumpets, trombones, saxes, tubas, and three guys with big bass drums. They all knew all the songs and would point at each other to decide who was going to solo next. People from the crowd dropped money into a box on the sidewalk, and some of them danced around, even as a light drizzle started to come down.

Some other observations from my stroll around the French Quarter:
  • There are a lot of homeless people, many of them with dogs. The reason? The cops will pick you up for loitering if you're just hanging around on the sidewalk, but there's no law against walking your dog, and no time limit either.
  • I saw several realtor signs for houses for sale that said the property was “Not Haunted.” I guess that matters in a town that believes in voodoo and similar nonsense.
  • There's a lot more smoking in New Orleans, even in restaurants, than I've seen in other US cities.
  • There are laundromats in bars. Apparently, many of the apartment buildings in the Quarter don't have laundry facilities, so since you have to spend a couple of hours somewhere while your clothes go round and round in a machine, you might as well toss back a few. You'd think that this odd combination would lead to a lot of drunks in very clean clothing, but you'd be wrong.
New Orleans is gearing up for big crowds for the NBA All-Star Game and then, of course, Mardi Gras. One of the locals told me that the big parades take place on Canal Street, with the floats and a family-friendly atmosphere. But when evening rolls around, the adults move over to Bourbon Street, which is where the breast-baring, bead-tossing drunken debauchery is almost redundant

I'm glad I'll miss it.

Why Wasn't Sid Caesar On TV More?

There are lots of obits of Sid Caesar this morning. Many of them quote people who considered him the funniest person ever on television, and wonder why he didn't work more after his heyday more than a half-century ago. My friend Mark Evanier, who knew and worked with him, has a pretty good explanation. Read it here.

Monday, February 10, 2014

McCartney's Myth

Last night on the CBS Beatles tribute, "The Night That Changed America," Paul McCartney told David Letterman a story about performing "Yesterday" on "The Ed Sullivan Show." He said that it was his first time without the rest of the band, so he was nervous as he stood alone and waited for the curtains to open. When a crew member asked if he was nervous, Paul lied and answered, "No." According to Paul, the teamster then said, "Well, you should be, because there are 73 million people watching." At that moment, Sullivan finished his introduction, the curtains opened, and he was on the air live.

Now, that's a good story, but I doubt it's true. First, there's no way a crew member would have known about the ratings in 1964. The 73 million viewers estimate became part of the lore of The Beatles' debut, but ratings info wasn't as easy to come by fifty years ago as it is today.

Secondly, Paul didn't perform "Yesterday" on their first appearance. He did it 18 months later, in a show taped in August, 1965, that didn't air until that September. It was The Beatles' fourth time on Sullivan. By then, Paul would have been a lot more comfortable with the studio, the crowd in the seats, the audience at home, and the teamster at the curtain.

I don't doubt that Paul believes it happened the way he told Letterman it did, but it seems like another case of faulty memory to me.

Two Olympic Thoughts

The TV audience for the Winter Olympics is predominantly women because so much of it is made up of figure skating. Want to get more men to watch? Have all the skaters do their routines on the ice at the same time. The more contact, the better. You're not going to draw the NHL crowd with a perfectly executed double-lutz unless it ends with the blade in another skater's thigh.

Speaking of the Olympics, after Dutch speedskater Ireen Wust won a gold medal yesterday, she got "a cuddle" from Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to an ABC News story which included this paragraph:

Some feared that gay athletes or fans could be targeted at the Sochi Olympics. Those fears may have been quieted by Putin's meeting with Wust, the first openly gay Olympic medalist.
Yes, I'm sure things will be completely different for the thousands of homosexuals in Russia who have been persecuted and prosecuted under Putin's anti-gay laws now that he has personally touched a lesbian.

Bridge Under Budget Waters

The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Mississippi River opened this week, on time and under budget. I've given MODOT and IDOT some grief over the years, but they deserve kudos for this project, as they did for the Highway 40 rebuild and the Page Avenue Extension -- which also came in on time and under budget. They used incentives to get contractors to complete the work on a deadline, and the construction crews responded.

It's a pleasure to see quality upgrades of our infrastructure, but I wish they weren't rare occurrences. There shouldn't be any place in America where the roads and overpasses are crumbling because politicians can't find the money to repair them. No bridge should ever fall down out of disrepair or budget cutbacks -- forget about the complaints over orange cones and think about the long-term benefits instead. We should not live in a fixer-upper nation.

Also, a note to the media: no one is going to call it The Stan Span, despite your repeated efforts to force that phrase into the lexicon. In fact, I don't know anyone who refers to a bridge as "a span" in normal conversation. Call it The Musial Bridge and we'll all know what you're talking about.

Michael Sam Comes Out

Leigh Steinberg, the veteran sports agent, was back on the air with me today to discuss the coming-out announcement by Michael Sam, the former Missouri Tiger who was SEC defensive player of the year and is about to be drafted by an NFL team. I asked Steinberg what impact the announcement will have on Sam's chances in the draft and his future earning potential. I was surprised by his answer to the latter, but we both agreed that the time may be right for an openly gay player in the NFL.

To those who claim teams will avoid him because his story will be a distraction, remember that Sam told his Mizzou teammates about his homosexuality last summer, and that didn't distract the Tigers from a 12-2 season that led them to the SEC championship game and a victory in the Cotton Bowl. While it's not quite equivalent to Branch Rickey adding Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, some smart NFL owner will step up and hire Sam because he can play football -- and seems to be strong enough to deal with the attention, thanks to the guidance of some savvy PR people.

He'll have to be strong to deal with the vitriolic idiocy of loudmouth Americans -- the same small-minded morons who were mad that Cheerios dared put an interracial family in its commercials, or that Coke had people singing "America The Beautiful" in languages other than English. If Sam is smart, he'll stay off Twitter for a few weeks. On the other hand, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel and his staff deserve some praise for supporting Sam 100% in the locker room, on the field, and in their public statements today.

The NFL shouldn't be held up as a league of perfect people. It is the league that lied to its own players about the dangers of concussions for decades. This is the league of Michael Vick, Aaron Hernandez, and Ray Lewis. Michael Sam shouldn't be compared to them, as he is not a criminal, but those who view his sexuality as a violation of something holy should consider the environment Sam is about to enter. Does the name Richie Incognito ring a bell?

I read one sports columnist this morning who said Sam may be passed over completely in the same way that the NBA's Jason Collins was after coming out last year. The difference is that Collins is 32, at the end of his career, and was unlikely to be picked up by another team regardless.

One unspoken aspect of this story is that homosexuality is not nearly as accepted in the African-American community as it is in others. Perhaps they should remember the struggle of black players like Warren Moon to prove, more than three decades ago, that they were smart enough to be a quarterback. Perhaps Sam can help demolish another hurtful stereotype and provide a lesson to other black, gay athletes. Perhaps he can be an inspiration to gay boys and girls who feel forced to keep quiet about their own sexuality. Perhaps he can be as valuable off the field as he has been on the field.

But none of that should play a role in what happens to Michael Sam in the next few months.

As seen this morning on KTRS-TV, here's my conversation with Leigh Steinberg, in which we also discussed whether the Rams might move back to LA (he was close with Georgia Frontiere and never wanted the team to leave California in the first place).

Here's the audio-only version...

Leigh Steinberg's autobiography is "The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals and Changing The Game."

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/9/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a runaway restaurant, pigs in heat, and a face full of butter. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Eat Fresh Plastic

This column by Will Durst is reprinted with permission.

No matter who you are or where you live or what you drive or whether you thought The English Patient or Anchorman 2 the funnier movie, it is time to take a stand on plastic bread. Here’s a hint: most of us are against it. Formaldehyde rinsed coffee beans? Not big fans. Flame retardants in our cupcakes? That’s a big old negativo, Breaker One. And pink slime should be featured in horror films, not meat.

These heartfelt proclamations result from the wake of recent revelations that the Subway sandwich chain uses the chemical, azodicarbonamide, in its bread. Azodicarbonamide is an additive whose principle use lies in the production of plastic foam products like yoga mats and sneaker soles. Not quite what you’d expect from the company that grew to 41,000 stores by being the healthy alternative. Hey Jared, when did you guys change the motto to “Eat Fresh Plastic?”

This culinary confession has prompted reactions just a wee tad less hysterical than a carload of pre- school Catholic girls flying off a roller coaster into the pigpens of the Nevada State Fair. “SUBWAY BREAD IS SNEAKERS, PEOPLE. YOU’RE EATING SNEAKERS.”

Settle down folks. You can find all sorts of stuff in our food. Cellulose, which is wood fiber. Hormones. Rodent hairs. Metal shavings. Dwarf goat beard trimmings. What part of the chicken you think the McNugget comes from? And don’t forget that most omnipresent chemical of them all: the dreaded dihydrogen monoxide, often nicknamed… H2O.

There’s a chemical known as castoreum that is used in raspberry and vanilla flavorings. The way castoreum is harvested is by extracting the juice from the anal glands of beavers. Nope. Not kidding. And you think your job sucks.

Now, who first discovered that the juice of the anal glands of beavers tastes like raspberries has been lost in the sands of time- probably a good thing. But it does lead one to suspect the trappers of yesteryear were a whole lot braver and infinitely more curious than first imagined and apparently had a huge amount of time on their hands. Not to mention a thin patina of something vaguely vanilla-ish.

Thing is, you take all the chemicals out of food, they’d be the wrong color, rot in 6 hours and that quarter-pounder would have to be marketed as a 2.5-ouncer. There’s only 2 ways to ensure your digestive tract is unsullied by tainted food. Grow your own or stop eating. The beauty of the latter is being able to fit into fashionably thin clothes. During that brief pre-dead period.

Both castoreum and azodicarbonamide are classified by the FDA as GRAS. Generally Recognized as Safe. Which seems a rather unexacting measurement where our children’s food is concerned. For years Rock Hudson was GR as straight. Pluto -- GR as being a planet. Trickle down economics -- GRABS.

This public relations nightmare couldn’t come at a worse time for Subway, whose foot long sandwiches were recently measured at 11 inches. Absent one angry inch. Or maybe the foot they’re referring to relates to the sneaker soles.

Rather than running away from the controversy, the sandwich maker needs to double down, by selling the American public (because they can’t use it in the bread of foreign countries) azodicarbonamide as a low-fat, self-cleansing miracle additive. “Subway: Home of the Shiny Clean Colon.”

Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed political comic. Go to willdurst.com to find about more about his new CD, “Elect to Laugh” and calendar of personal appearances including his highly lauded one man show, "BoomeRaging: From LSD to OMG."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Thought bubble over Yoko Ono's head during tonight's CBS Beatles tribute show: "This is way too melodic! It needs more atonal screeching."
  • My favorite part of the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was the salute to Anatevka.
  • Math Is Hard: I told the clerk at Einstein's bagels I would like a half-dozen. Her reply: "You know that means six, right?"
  • Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow is exactly right in excoriating this radio commercial, which qualifies as grade-A fertilizer.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today

Beatles historian Larry Kane -- the only broadcast journalist to travel with them on their 1964 and 1965 US tours -- has been a guest on my radio show many times over the years, so I invited him back today to talk about the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." He revealed what they told him about the experience, why they included a Broadway show tune in their set, how it was even crazier the next week when they did the show from Miami, and how Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler contributed to The Beatles' success.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Roger McGuinn on Pete Seeger & The Beatles

Roger McGuinn was back on the air with me today. His group, The Byrds, had a number one hit in 1965 with "Turn Turn Turn," written by Pete Seeger, so we talked about the folk legend's influence on Roger, the band, and banjo players everywhere, as well as the state of folk music in the 21st century. Since today is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," Roger explained the impact that event had on his career and his friendship with the Fab Four over the years.

Note: in our conversation, Roger referred to Bob Dylan going electric at Woodstock. I knew he was referring to the Newport Folk Festival, but didn't correct him on the air. However, he emailed me minutes later asking me to add the correction here. Done.

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

Previously on Harris Online...
Roger's latest project is "Stories, Songs, and Friends" -- a 2-CD collection that also includes a Bonus DVD that starts with The Byrds' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

"Jeopardy!" Game Theory

A "Jeopardy!" contestant named Arthur Chu -- who has thus far earned over $100,000 -- has created some waves with his playing style, which involves hunting for Daily Doubles, playing for a tie, and keeping the game going as fast as he can. There has been some ludicrous criticism, even calling him "a villain," but his style makes sense as game theory.

That's what Keith Williams, a former "Jeopardy!" College Champion, explained on my America Weekend show today. He explained why Chu's style is annoying to some viewers yet very effective, and how he's using strategies that both Williams and former champion Chuck Forrest were among the first to develop.

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

Previously on Harris Online...
Keith Williams blogs about "Jeopardy!" game theory on his site, The Final Wager.

Stem Cell Game-Changer

Last week, Japanese scientists announced they had developed a new way to create stem cells. On my America Weekend show, biologist Dr. Paul Knoepfler explained why this discovery could be a game-changer because it makes the stem cell process so much faster and could lead to a day in the not-so-distant future when, using our own blood cells as a starter kit, we can get replacement body parts out of 3-D printers. It also creates an end-run against those who complain about harvesting embryonic stem cells.

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

Dr. Paul Knoepfler is an associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy at the UC Davis School of Medicine and author of "Stem Cells: An Insider's Guide."

Peter Yarrow on Pete Seeger

Peter Yarrow was one-third of Peter, Paul, and Mary, the folk group that followed in the steps of Pete Seeger and others, scoring hits with their own material and with covers of songs like Pete's "If I Had A Hammer." After Pete's death, I invited Peter to join me on America Weekend to talk about his old friend and, in particular, being in his hospital room in the hours before Pete's death to sing songs with his family and friends.

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

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/8/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include two cases of cat trouble, a sleeping Taco Bell customer, and a bad school lunch choice. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Harris Challenge 2/7/14

This week on my Harris Challenge (the most fun you can have with your radio on!), the categories included "Goodbye Jay Leno," "Philip Seymour Hoffman Movies," and "Beatles On Ed Sullivan By The Numbers." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

More Bets You'll Never Lose

Professor Richard Wiseman is back with another in his series of bets you'll never lose...

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Healthy Step Forward

CVS Pharmacy has announced that it will stop selling all tobacco products. That's a good thing. Next, they should stop selling all homeopathic products, which cure no one of anything except a thirst.

Leno and Letterman and Seinfeld

With Jay Leno winding down his stint as host of "The Tonight Show" for the second time, Jerry Seinfeld put together some segments of his web series, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, that feature both Leno and David Letterman. In it, they discuss each other, their common history, and how easy it is to use "the board of health" as an ad-lib...

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Siri Is Not Samantha

Since seeing the movie "Her," my daughter has been asking Siri a bunch of questions about Samantha, the movie's artificial intelligence character voiced by Scarlett Johannsen, who interacts with Joaquin Phoenix. Kudos to the engineers at Apple who came up with some clever responses, like these:

Q: Are you her?
A: Is that you, Joaquin?

Q: Are you Samantha?
A: No, she is a fictional construct, whereas I am a virtual entity. But we can still be friends.

Q: Are you her?
A: No, I am me, and she is her.

Q: Are you her?
A: I'm afraid not. But she could never know you better than I do.

Q: Are you her?
A: No, but some of my best friends are fictional.

Q: Are you her?
A: No, her portrayal of an artificial agent is beyond artificial.

Q: Do you know Samantha?
A: No, but I'm hoping to do lunch with her soon.

Previously on Harris Online...