Monday, March 31, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Emily Nussbaum on TV's original anti-hero, Archie Bunker, and the rise of the divided audience.

Don Felder Checks Out But Never Leaves

Don Felder was one of The Eagles' lead guitarists for 27 years before they went their separate ways in 2000. Since then, he's pursued a solo career, and has just re-released his second solo album, "Road To Forever." He'll kick off the Soundtrack Of Summer tour with Styx and Foreigner on May 14th.

On my America Weekend show, Don explained why he's enjoying being back on the road without all the tension of his final years with The Eagles. Since one of his most famous songs is "Hotel California," I asked him about the version he created with the flamenco guitar intro when the band reunited in 1994 for the "Hell Freezes Over" concert on MTV. He also talked about his early days in Gainesville, Florida, forming a band with Stephen Stills, teaching Tom Petty how to play guitar, and learning how to play slide guitar from Duane Allman.

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

College Players Union

With a landmark ruling last week, an NLRB regional director determined that the football players at Northwestern University are university employees, and thus are entitled to form a union if they choose. To analyze that decision, I asked Lester Munson of to join me on America Weekend.

He explained how far the door is now open for the Northwestern players and those at other universities, both public and private. We discussed the involvement of the Steelworkers Union (and how other powerful unions could help college athletes) in their efforts to gain more control over their working conditions, their medical care, and insurance coverage. I also asked Lester, if the ruling is upheld by the national NLRB board, whether the players could insist on being paid for their efforts, and whether he foresees a day in the near future when colleges employ football and basketball teams made up of players who don't even attend the school.

Full disclosure: in addition to his work for ESPN, Lester is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Medill School Of Journalism.

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

Teacher Quits Over Excessive Testing

Suzi Sluyter has spent more than two decades in classrooms teaching young children. But earlier this year, she sent a letter complaining that her job had become too much about testing and data, and not about the kids, so she was quitting her position as a kindergarten teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When I read her resignation letter, I invited Suzi onto my America Weekend show to explain what had gone wrong and when things took a turn for the worse. She explained the new systems that were constantly being introduced which forced more assessments of the children, but also took her away from the classroom so much that they no longer bonded to her -- and that led to increasingly extreme behaviors by some of her students as a result of the pressure from all that data-gathering.

I asked Suzi whether this was a result of No Child Left Behind, whether the pressure was coming from parents, administrators, or politicians, and whether -- in her long career -- she'd ever had trouble assessing students' progress and needs before all this additional testing.

I have spoken to other teachers who have told me similar stories. Like Suzi, they feel their passion for teaching slipping away, and they're angry, too. When a system is so overloaded with paperwork and training sessions that teachers don't get to actually teach, the result will be that more of our best educators will leave the field. And a new generation may not be there to replace them.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Virtual Pilots

In the Malaysian Airlines 370 mystery, much was made of the simulator that the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Shah, had in his home. Because there are so few facts, speculation has run rife, including questions about whether Shah had used the simulator to plot something evil before this flight. However, investigators who have checked the hard drives of his simulator say there is nothing on there that even comes close to a smoking gun.

It seems that Shah, in addition to being an actual pilot, was like hundreds of thousands of other virtual pilots who use software to fly the world without leaving their homes. To find out more about this culture, I invited Justin Friedland onto my America Weekend show. Friedland is a member of VATSIM, a platform for virtual pilots and virtual air controllers. He explained how Shah's setup is not at all unusual, why he and others love to pretend they're in real cockpits, where they go, and how it works.

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

Ellis Henican on Paying College Players

With March Madness in full swing, the question of whether NCAA basketball and football players should be paid is getting a lot of attention. Last week, I interviewed Jeffrey Kessler, who is bringing a class action suit on behalf of the players to gain free agency, as professional players have. This week, an NLRB regional director ruled that players at Northwestern University have the right to unionize.

On my America Weekend show, I talked this all over with Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, from the huge amounts of money floating around in college sports to the impact it would have if the players were treated as paid employees.

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

Ellis Henican is co-author of Charlie Crist's "The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat" and Dwight Gooden's "Doc: A Memoir."

Also on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/30/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include some crispy bacon, a tattooed receipt, and a forgotten yacht. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wiki Bravo!

Here's what Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said in reply to members of the alternative medicine community who don't like the way their pseudo-science has been portrayed on the info-site after they started a petition to make Wikipedia change its policies:

No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful. Wikipedia's policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals -- that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won't do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of "true scientific discourse." It isn't.
Bravo, Jimmy!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Today's Random Factoid

No team from another planet has ever made it to the NCAA Final Four.

Fifty Years Of Jeopardy!

Despite Alex Trebek and the current producers celebrating its 30th anniversary this season, "Jeopardy!" actually debuted 50 years ago today. Mental Floss has a good history of the show here.

I've been a fan of the show since I was a kid, when my mother appeared as a contestant in 1967 with Art Fleming as host and Don Pardo announcing. Unfortunately, there was no technology available at the time that would have allowed us to record the shows and save them for posterity, and NBC didn't save the old tapes. The show then aired in the middle of the day, so I would have missed it while at elementary school, but luckily, NBC broadcast her episodes in the week that we had a school vacation, so my brother and I could sit with her in amazement in front of our black-and-white TV as Mom kept coming up with correct questions and knocking off competitors.

She lasted four days until being stumped by a Final Jeopardy answer she didn't know: "T stands for this in Booker T. Washington's name" (Correct question: "What is Taliafero?"). At the time, the value of the clues ranged from $10 to $100, compared to today, when the cheapest clue is worth $200. So, the nearly two thousand dollars Mom won in 1967 would be equivalent to $40,000 today (not counting inflation!).

Another difference is that in the original version of "Jeopardy," contestants could ring in as soon as they knew the answer, rather than waiting for Fleming to finish reading the clue, as they must in the Trebek version. That meant you not only had to figure out the answer quickly, you had to be even faster on the button than today's contestants.

The cash Mom won is long gone, as is the "Jeopardy" home game she received, but I think she still has the other prize, Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia, on a shelf upstairs in my old bedroom. At the time, we needed an encyclopedia -- a luxury we couldn't afford -- so my brother and I could "research" things for school (remember, there was no internet at the time). I'm fairly sure that many of the paragraphs composed by Compton's writers ended up in essays I submitted to my elementary school teachers.

About 20 years ago, Jeopardy! producers rolled through town on a contestant search, where anyone who wanted to be on the show went to a hotel ballroom to take a quiz. I contacted them and asked if I could cover it as a member of the media, interviewing the crew and potential contestants. They gave me the okay, and allowed me to take the test, which was much harder than I expected. The clues were all from the $1600 and $2000 rows at the bottom of the Double Jeopardy! board. I got a little more than half right, not nearly enough to qualify for the top 10%, who were invited to stay for some mock game-play designed to let the producers see the personalities of the applicants.

It wasn't enough to be fast and smart, you also had to be good on TV. Most of the people understood that and pumped up their energy, but I remember one guy named Joe who got upset whenever someone else rang in ahead of him even though he knew the answer. And that's the difference between playing Jeopardy! at home and playing it in a competitive environment. At home, you shout out the answers and feel good about yourself. On the set, you may never get the chance if you're up against someone with better buzzer timing.

My wife and I still record the show every day and binge-watch a few later. We play by the Fleming-era rules, shouting out the answers as soon as we know them. We're pretty good, as long as the categories aren't Shakespeare, Opera, or anything to do with religion (I shout out "Deuteronomy," regardless of the context). We know we're not in the same league as Arthur Chu, who recently racked up $300,000 in winnings and upset some people with his unorthodox jumping-around-the-board style (I thought he was terrific), but we do pretty well.

I'm also happy to have had the chance to interview Ken Jennings a few times. He's always a pleasure to talk to, but despite being the game's longest-running champion, he's not my favorite Jeopardy! contestant of all time.

That will always be Mom.

Previously on Harris Online...

Superman's Story

Last summer, I talked with Larry Tye about his book, "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero." Since Larry is coming to St. Louis this week (appearing at The JCC on Thursday 4/3/14), I invited him to have an extended discussion about the man of steel on KTRS. We talked about the character's creators, the lawsuits over his rights, some of the actors who have played him on screen, how the causes Superman fought for changed over the decades, and why there were different colors of Kryptonite.

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I See Jail In Her Future

Another member of the Florida psychic con artist family has been sentenced for fraud. Sharon Hill at Doubtful News has the details.

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/29/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include some road rage karma, a fork in the throat, and a bank error in no one's favor. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 3/28/14

Today's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Bad News Week," "Foolish Questions for April Fool's," and "Checked Out Of General Hospital." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The True Story Of Noah

I don't have to see the movie version of "Noah" with Russell Crowe, because I've seen the definitive version of the story, as told by Ricky Gervais...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explains why Congress should cut funding for public welfare programs, but instead of taking food stamps away from hungry people, it should cut subsidies for millionaires and corporations, the real "takers" who get tax breaks for private planes, yachts, TIFs, carried interest, and more:

We talk about the unsustainability of government benefit programs and the deleterious effects these can have on human behavior, and these are real issues. Well-meaning programs for supporting single moms can create perverse incentives not to marry, or aid meant for a needy child may be misused to buy drugs. Let’s acknowledge that helping people is a complex, uncertain and imperfect struggle.

But, perhaps because we now have the wealthiest Congress in history, the first in which a majority of members are millionaires, we have a one-sided discussion demanding cuts only in public assistance to the poor, while ignoring public assistance to the rich. And a one-sided discussion leads to a one-sided and myopic policy.

We’re cutting one kind of subsidized food — food stamps — at a time when Gallup finds that almost one-fifth of American families struggled in 2013 to afford food. Meanwhile, we ignore more than $12 billion annually in tax subsidies for corporate meals and entertainment.

Sure, food stamps are occasionally misused, but anyone familiar with business knows that the abuse of food subsidies is far greater in the corporate suite. Every time an executive wines and dines a hot date on the corporate dime, the average taxpayer helps foot the bill.
Read Kristof's full piece here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Poker Stories: Know Your Opponent

Another in my continuing series of poker stories, this was originally published April 2, 2009.

The poker table was full of locals who all know each other, except one young guy. Late 20s, maybe 30. Not a top player, but doing okay, up a couple hundred from his $1k buy-in. A few hours into the session he gets into a hand with Pat, who beats him on the river by hitting a gutshot four for a straight.

The Guy (I never learned his name) looks up and says, "What a horrible play. I can't believe what a bad play that was." Pat smirks a little and shoots back, "You're talking about your bet on the river, right?" The Guy replies, "No, what you did. Horrible. You're a horrible player. I'd like to play you heads-up right now for $5,000." To which Pat immediately says, "OK, let's go." The Guy says, "I'm serious." Pat says, "So am I."

The Guy doesn't get it. You don't make a challenge like that unless you know who your opponent is.

The Pat I'm talking about here is Pat Walsh, who just recently made the final table at the LA Poker Classic and is generally considered one of the best players in St. Louis, if not in the time zone. While he's a good tournament player, he has a reputation for absolutely crushing cash games, wherever he goes, which means some of the biggest games across the country. NO ONE in this town would ever play Pat heads-up. His reading skills are amazing, he has no fear, and you'll never stack him because he makes amazing laydowns, too. Pat also has about the coolest temperament I've ever seen anyone display. Nothing fazes this guy, certainly not a dare from some punk.

At this point, another player at the table starts to say to The Guy, "Do you know who you're talking to?" before Pat shoots him a look that means don't say another word. The table is silent.

Pat looks up and calls to the floor guy, "Jerry, can you come over here for a minute?" He has every intention of asking Jerry to let him play The Guy heads-up. All of us at the table would gladly get up from our chairs right now to let them use this table so we could watch Pat destroy him. But before Jerry gets to the table, Pat asks The Guy, "Where's your five grand?" as he motions to his own stack, which has about $7k in it (and I know Pat has lots more in his pocket if he needs it, plus a roomful of people who would back him for any amount).

The Guy only has $1200 on the table, but reaches into his pocket and pulls out $400 more before saying, "This is all I've got." Pat replies, "You don't have five thousand?" The Guy says no just as Jerry arrives at the table. Pat waves him off with "Never mind."

At that point, it must have sunk in. The Guy didn't say another word the whole night.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Equal Time

Yesterday, I posted this on my Twitter feed...

  • Creationists want equal time vs. Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Cosmos." You can have it as soon as every TV preacher gives equal time to atheists.
Not long after, someone created the #CreationistCosmos hashtag, and the tweets rolled in...
  • Next on #CreationistCosmos: How God selects which sports team will win and which athlete to support.
  • Tonight on #CreationistCosmos: The Flintstones -- Fred and Wilma's challenges with raising Dino in a prehistoric world.
  • Next on #CreationistCosmos" Adam explains to Cain and Abel "How I Met Your Mother" - the story really IS legendary.
  • Tonight on #CreationistCosmos" Kirk Cameron notices that when you high-five someone, God has given you exactly 5 fingers with which to do it!
  • Did jesus REALLY just take MH370 into his heavenly arms? Don Lemon and Sean Hannity break it down on tonight's #CreationistCosmos.
  • Next week on #CreationistCosmos: Todd Akin explains the science behind women's ability to "shut that whole thing down."
  • Next on #CreationistCosmos: we explain why there has only been one talking snake ever.
  • Tonight on #CreationistCosmos: we'll make a woman out of some dude's rib.
  • On the next #CreationistCosmos: we'll examine how the stars were formed HAHAHAHA JK IT WAS GOD, GOD DID IT. BIBLE. SHUT UP.

Danielle Martin on Canadian Healthcare

Earlier this month, Canadian physician Danielle Martin testified before a Senate committee on health care led by Bernie Sanders. She made some headlines because of an exchange she had with Richard Burr, the anti-Obamacare Republican from North Carolina, in which Dr. Martin gave as good as she got, repeatedly pointing out what Burr got wrong about healthcare in Canada.

I was so impressed that I invited her to join me on America Weekend to talk about her experience with Congress, but also to help explain both the successes and pitfalls of health care north of the border (where nearly every resident is insured) and why it's not true that Canadians are running to the US for medical attention (she's backed up by this research).

Dr. Martin is a family physician, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and vice president for Medical Affairs and Health System Solutions at Women's College Hospital. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Here's the portion of the Senate committee hearing in which Dr. Martin calmly answers Senator Burr's questions. My favorite part is towards the end, when Senator Sanders asks if the Canadian prime minister -- who, like most in that country, strongly prefers the single-payer system -- is a socialist...

Iraq War Anniversary

This weekend marked the 11th anniversary of the Iraq War, an occasion that wasn't noticed by many in the media. Then again, most reporters and news executives weren't doing their jobs as objective observers in the run-up to the war in 2003. Instead, too many of them served as cheerleaders.

Greg Mitchell was editor of Editor and Publisher at the time, and remembers how many news outlets, including the NY Times and Washington Post, became part of the pro-war propaganda machine. He recently updated his book, "So Wrong For So Long: How The Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq." We looked back when he joined me on America Weekend.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/23/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a 48-year headache, an out-of-control spring break dad, and a drunken candidate for sheriff. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jamy Ian Swiss on Psychic Con Artists

Last summer, I talked with reporter Kyle Swenson about psychic con artists in south Florida, including Rose Marks who (with her family) scammed victims out of millions of dollars. Two months later, Marks was convicted of various crimes, and this week, she was sentenced to a decade in jail.

As my friend Jamy Ian Swiss pointed out on my America Weekend show today, these crimes are rarely prosecuted, so this is a victory. Jamy knows a lot about deception because he uses it every day in his profession -- he's one of the most-respected magicians and sleight-of-hand artists in the country -- as well as a leader of the skeptical movement and senior fellow at the James Randi Educational Foundation.

One of the aspects of the case Jamy found disturbing was the judge in the Marks case seemingly blaming the victims, not believing that well-educated people could fall victim to stories like this. But when skilled con artists exploit people in pain (like mourning the loss of a child), it can get vicious. We also discussed those storefront "psychic readers" who may seem innocent and fun but are in reality the front door of a large organized crime outfit.

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

Watch Jamy Ian Swiss' "The Honest Liar" videos on YouTube here, see his Amazing Meeting speech "Credit The Con Man" here, and see him on "Late Show with Craig Ferguson" here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Suing The NCAA

While you've been caught up in March Madness, wondering how your bracket was busted so quickly, have you thought about the fact that the athletes on the court aren't sharing in the tens of millions of dollars made by the colleges, networks, and sponsors? In the latest effort to change that status quo, attorney Jeffrey Kessler has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of four players (in the hopes others will join as a class action).

On my America Weekend show, I asked Kessler -- whose legal work helped create free agency in the NFL -- what he wants for his clients and how he responds to the NCAA's standard "they get an education for free" argument. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jesse Ventura, Off The Grid

The always outspoken Jesse Ventura -- who now has an online TV show called "Off The Grid" -- joined me on America Weekend today. We talked about Russia and Ukraine, the NSA and Edward Snowden, legalizing marijuana, and whether the former governor of Minnesota will ever run for political office again. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sounding The Alarm On Climate Change

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has sounded the alarm on climate change, with a new report that explains that 97% of climate experts have concluded human-caused climate change is happening -- and details the dangers of continuing to ignore the reality and the risk. I asked an AAAS member, Dr. Howard Frumkin to join me on America Weekend to discuss the efforts to inform people about the dangers of climate change, and whether the window in which we can do something about it is closing.

Dr. Frumkin is dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington and former director of the National Center For Public Health at the CDC.

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

Read the AAAS report on climate change here.

Also on Harris Online...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/22/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include Shakespearean revenge, a boat vs. a bridge, and a lot of missing quarters. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

His Extreme Homophobia May Have Helped

This morning on America Weekend, I talked about the death of Fred Phelps, leader of the anti-gay cult in Kansas which staged photo-op-ready protests at funerals across the country. I said that the campaign by Phelps and his family members, though horrible and painful to those who had suffered the loss of a loved one, may have had one upside. It showed the world the ugly face of homophobia, and in doing so, instead of convincing others to agree with them, may have actually helped some people accept gays and lesbians. People on the fence on the matter saw what Phelps did and thought, "I do not want to be on that side of the fence."

Combine that with the fact that gay marriage has become more accepted all across the country -- even states that voted to ban it a decade ago have moved towards majority approval -- and the growing number of young people who have grown up around homosexuals, and you have a very different environment than the one Phelps' cult portrayed. Moderates and non-extremists did not want to put a stake in the same ground as those offensive bigots.

After that segment on my show this morning, listener Dave Purcell sent me a link to a segment of Rachel Maddow's show last night, which I had not seen, in which she expressed similar thoughts on the subject -- although she refused to say Phelps' name...

How Demographics Are Changing America

I invited Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center to join me on America Weekend to discuss his new book, "The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown." In it, he explains what the changing demographics of America will mean for the country -- economically, politically, and technically. I asked him if millennials (like my daughter) should be worried, considering they are the first generation to be worse off at this time in their lives than any previous generation at the same point. We also talked about the young vs. old voting gap, the rise of political independents, and the impact on public policy of changes in views on social issues.

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

Not Every Kid Should Go To College

All American kids should go to college to have a successful life, right? My America Weekend guest Michael Petrilli says not necessarily. For some of them, because of their skills, vocational and technical training will be better than an educational path fraught with obstacles that often cause them to drop out along the way. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Kevin Roose on Wall Street's Young Money

Most of us only know the world of banking, investing, and high finance from movies like "Wall Street, "Boiler Room," and "The Wolf Of Wall Street" -- not to mention the bad taste still in our mouth from the execs at the too-big-to-fail companies that drove us into our current financial crisis and were never punished for it.

In his new book, "Young Money," Kevin Roose offers a different perspective by following eight Wall Street newbies, the people at the bottom of the financial food chain. When he joined me today on America Weekend, I asked him:
  • Did they get into the business with huge dollar signs in their eyes?
  • Did they get to live the Wolf Of Wall Street lifestyle or get chewed up and spit out?
  • How do Wall Street firms treat women and people of color?
  • How were they perceived by friends outside Wall Street?
We also talked about the one-percent-of-the-one-percenters who attend the secret Kappa Beta Phi dinner -– the very people who ruined our economy, who spent the evening laughing at the rest of us.

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

Paul Reiser on David Brenner

Paul Reiser remembers David Brenner as an inspiration to stand-up comics like him:

I've always felt that in the history of comedy, David Brenner has been a bit under-appreciated. And I think he felt that, too. A mutual acquaintance of ours once passed along to me words of appreciation from David for having mentioned him as a big influence of mine. He shared that for whatever reasons, he rarely got mentioned. Comics most commonly point to George Carlin, or Richard Pryor or Robert Klein -- but David much less so.

I'm not sure why that is. It could be the clothes. Look at any image of David in his prime -- mid to late 70's -- and chances are more than likely your first thought will be, "Man, look at that shirt! That is one crazy-ass collar!"

No question about it -- Brenner took some ballsy fashion chances. And while, yes, those crazy leisure suits and pants with bell-bottoms bigger than my first apartment went out of style, like, three weeks later, I am here to remind you that on the day he walked out on stage in them, he was pretty damn cool.

Or maybe he was under-appreciated exactly because he made it all seem so easy. David Brenner was a naturally funny guy who, in turn, reminded everyone of the Funny Guy In Your Office or your Really Funny Cousin. As is the case with many great artists, David's craft and artistry was not readily visible to the naked eye.

I remember another night at "Catch" when David dropped in to work out some material. As an eager student of comedy, I took the opportunity to sit in the back and watch and learn. I even sat with a pad of paper and pencil and took notes. I wanted to see how the "pros" did it.

He came on stage, launched into some observation, and said, "Now there are two things I really hate." I made a note of the construction. There were two things coming. He went into the first thing, and I got so caught up in the comedy of it, it wasn't till I got home and looked at my notes that I realized, "Hey... there was no second thing! He tricked us!" It wasn't trickery. It was skillful story telling. He got us hooked and then took us wherever the hell he wanted to. (That was also, I am happy to report, the last time I ever tried to take notes in a comedy club.)
Read Reiser's full appreciation of Brenner here.

Harris Challenge 3/21/14

Today's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "A Spring In Your Step," "You Don't Know Jack Nicholson," and "Above Us, Below Us, Around Us." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Poker Stories: Drawing Dead

This story originally appeared on Harris Online on October 8, 2006...

Inside the poker room at the Commerce Casino, as long as there are players at the tables, nothing stops the games. They go on 24 hours a day, all year long, and the only non-human sound you hear is the constant clicking, stacking, and shuffling of chips.

That changed just after 2:30am today, when gunshots rang out.

It took about a half-second for me to register what I'd heard and hit the floor, as did the other players and dealers in the room. The gunshots had come from right outside the main entrance of the casino, preceded by quickly approaching police sirens. We stayed on the floor, looking in the direction of the front door, wondering if some crazed nutball had burst into the country's largest poker room, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in play, in an attempt to rob and kill us all.

After five or six minutes, with the disturbance seemingly over, many tables quickly emptied, as frightened people used the back exit to head for their cars.

A few of us stood up to investigate. I talked to a casino security officer who was keeping people from leaving via the front door, and he told me what had happened:

The California Highway Patrol and LA Sheriff's deputies were involved in a high-speed chase on I-5 with a man in a black Scion, when the suspect suddenly pulled off the highway and into the entrance to the Commerce Casino. He headed for the front door, where he drove into the valet lane, with police right on his tail. When he smacked into the back of a Porsche and couldn't go any further, he jumped out and fired several shots at the police. They returned fire, killing him. His female passenger was taken into custody.

I had heard 5-7 shots, but the security guy, who had been right at the door and seen the whole thing, told me it was more like 15-20. Officers quickly marked off the area with yellow police tape, declared it a crime scene, and no one was allowed to leave through the front. That meant that everyone who had a car parked in the valet area couldn't leave, either -- many of them were given a hotel room, but most used it as an excuse to stay and play more poker.

Thankfully, no one inside the casino had been hit or hurt (although that Porsche owner was probably having a fit!). There was a new edge and electricity in the room, particularly as stories were passed around by people who had heard pieces of this, rumors of that. One guy leaned over to me and, after hearing that the suspect was dead, said, "He tried to out-shoot the cops? Talk about going all-in!"

But mostly, despite a corpse and a major police presence some 20 yards away, poker players did what they do best -- riffling chips and telling stories.

Side note: I couldn't help but wonder why the suspect thought this casino, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles, was a good place to try to escape. After all, a huge operation like this has hundreds of surveillance cameras, so it wasn't like he was going to find a safe hiding place. I've heard that more fugitives run to Las Vegas than anywhere else, despite it being the city with more security cameras than any other in the world. Ah, the criminal mind at work.

Update at 11am: I've gotten a few hours sleep and just checked the scene outside. The yellow tape is still up, with several patrol cars and CSI-types doing whatever they do eight hours after an incident like this. The valets are now walking customers to their cars, and new inbound traffic is being pointed towards the back, where the steady stream of another day of card players continues.

1001+ Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jonathan Keogh put together this supercut of movie clips that is so mesmerizing and fast-paced you'll have to watch it more than once.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Best Things I've Read Today

Billy Joel Forgets Where The Fire Is

Many years ago, I asked Billy Joel if there were any songs he was tired of singing. He named two.

The first was "Just The Way You Are," which he said had been sung to death at every wedding from 1977 to 1987. He had kept it as part of his stage show until he started to sound to himself like a sappy wedding singer, then dropped it.

The other was "We Didn't Start The Fire," where the problem wasn't sappiness but the lyrics he had written. They were a dense, fast list of historical events, and if he slipped up, the whole song fell apart. He solved this at many concerts by concentrating on a random teenage girl in the front row -- imagine that, a rocker checking out the young women near the stage! Billy said he watched them because they always knew all the lyrics by heart and sang along, so if he felt himself losing his place, he could see what they were singing and get right back on track.

Last week, in Toronto, while performing that song, he derailed after the first verse so completely that he stopped the band. After some banter, he said, "Let's go to the next song," but the crowd wouldn't have it, so Billy explained, "It's the same thing verse after of the worst melodies I ever wrote."

The irony is that for years, Billy used to keep a looseleaf on his piano with the lyrics to all of his songs. The guy wrote hundreds of tunes, so in case he got lost among them, he had the printed words in front of him. In the last few years, he started using a teleprompter like many other singers, from Springsteen to Bono to Beyonce, who have them as a safety net, just in case.

For several of his songs, Billy leaves the piano and moves center stage to sing, sometimes while playing guitar, and there's a prompter there, too. But as you'll see in this video shot on the night in question (March 9th), as he began "We Didn't Start The Fire," Billy looked offstage at his roadies while pointing at the monitor to let them know it was not working. Perhaps it was that distraction that made him lose his place. Moments after he stopped the band, a crew member walked to the front of the stage and fixed it.

At that point, Billy picked up where he'd left off and played the song through to the end, and then remarked, "Well, that'll be all over YouTube tomorrow. It's okay. It was an authentic rock and roll fuck-up! You don't see many of them anymore."

Previously on Harris Online...

We Are Experienced

Last week, my wife and I went to the "Experience Hendrix" show at the Fox Theater. We enjoyed most of the show, which had a stellar lineup of guitar greats doing Jimi's music, including Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Zakk Wylde, Eric Johnson, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepard, a couple of guys from Los Lobos, and a few others I've never heard of -- plus the legendary Buddy Guy, who I'm happy to see perform anywhere, anytime.

It was when I saw Buddy's name on the roster that I bought the tickets, because he's always so damned entertaining. As the biggest star on the bill, Buddy hit the stage last, and quickly taught everyone who'd been there earlier that guitar playing is not a race. While the others felt it was imperative to prove they could play faster than anyone else, Buddy took his time, played with precision, and kept grinning as if to say, "This is how I've done it for 60 years, boys!"

I doubt the others learned that lesson, but the most important thing I took away from the evening is that there is such a thing as too many guitar solos. While some of the Hendrix songs were reproduced fairly faithfully ("Purple Haze," "Angel," "The Wind Cries Mary," and in particular, Lang/Whitford/Wylde on "All Along The Watchtower"), there was the other extreme of Shepard doing a 20 minute version of "Voodoo Chile." No one wants a 20-minute version of "Voodoo Chile." If Jimi were alive -- he'd be just a few years younger than Buddy -- he'd tell Shepard to knock it off.

Again, we enjoyed ourselves, although we may have been the only people in the crowd of 3,000 who weren't adding to Anheuser-Busch's bottom line. On the other hand, I was surprised we didn't smell any weed during the first half of the show. My wife pointed out that the Fox is a non-smoking venue, but that didn't stop several people in our vicinity from lighting up after intermission. It's been awhile since I've inhaled marijuana smoke (first- or second-hand), but this stuff smelled awful, like the cheapest weed I remember from my college days. I mentioned this to a couple of friends who still toke, and they told me that the standard now is the worse it smells, the better the buzz. From the aroma that night, several people were inhaling flaming skunk glands.

The other annoying thing was the huge number of people using their smartphones to take video of the concert. To me, the idea of paying to go to a live venue is to see the performances as they happen on the stage, not to watch them on a four-inch-wide screen. But the guy in front of me had a different philosophy, as he regularly whipped out his iPhone to shoot a minute or two of the show -- he alternated between lifting the phone and downing a Bud -- which meant I, too, was forced to watch the show on his phone display.

It's been years since I went to a concert, but I remember most of them being preceded by an announcement that audio and video recording is prohibited. I suppose that's impossible to police in the smartphone age, but if this amateur videographer actually watched the footage he shot from 30 rows away and saw how small everyone and everything looked, maybe he'd knock it off.

Nah. Not this Video Chile.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dave Barry on Parenting

Dave Barry returned to my America Weekend show today to talk about his new book, "You Can Date Boys When You're 40: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About." He talked about enduring a Justin Bieber concert with his daughter, dealing with boys coming to the house, and whether she minds him writing about her. I also asked him about other chapters on grammar and why he read "50 Shades Of Grey."

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Paying For What You Don't Watch

If you have cable TV, you may have noticed that your bill has gone up about 4.5% every year for the last few years. With cable and satellite systems carrying a growing number of options (in the hundreds), that may seem like a good deal, but what you don't know is how much of that bill goes for channels you never or rarely watch. LA Ross of The Wrap did some digging and compared the most popular channels with the most expensive channels, with surprising results. I invited her to share those findings on my America Weekend show.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/16/14

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include the obit of the week, a driver's unique excuse, and a golf tee in a model's butt. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Best Things I've Read Today

  • Ken Levine on the state of sitcoms, which seem to have forgotten the importance of funny.
  • Nolan Dalla on getting conned by a fake rock star.
  • Karen Stollznow on why a "psychic medium" knew so much about her.

Twisted Twitter

I mentioned the other day that there are times I love Twitter, such as when its users verbally thrashed anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy. Then there are times when I wonder what the hell is wrong with the Twitterverse.

Here's a case in point.

A few years ago, Diane Lane starred in "Untraceable," a movie in which she plays an FBI agent in the cybercrime division trying to track down a kidnapper who puts his victims into torture situations and posts them on a website. The hook is that the more people who view the site, the worse the torture becomes. For instance, one victim is planted in front of a bunch of heat lamps, and the more visitors to the site, the more lamps come on. Of course, the overly curious online audience goes to the site -- it doesn't help that it gets reported on TV -- and the lamps ultimately scorch the victim to death.

Last Thursday, police in Los Angeles arrested Dakkari Mcanuff after he tweeted a picture of himself pointing a gun out his window at a city street, with the caption "100 RTs (re-tweets) and I'll shoot someone walking." The cops -- who monitor social media, probably for searching for keywords like "shoot" -- used the photo to figure out where Mcannuff was, and arrested him for making a criminal threat.

His friends tried to explain that it was all a joke, since a little while after his first tweet, Mcanuff posted a photo of a guy on the ground with the caption "Man down, mission complete." Then there was another one, showing him pretending to be arrested, sitting in front of a police car. His friends said it was all part of a prank, no shots were fired, no harm was done to anyone, and the LAPD "completely over-reacted."

Mcanuff will probably get off with a slap on the wrist, but that's not why I bring up the story.

The problem is that his original "I'll shoot someone" tweet was, in fact, retweeted over a hundred times! Call it virtual rubbernecking, as the sick, voyeuristic Twitterverse apparently wanted to see what would happen.

I worry more about the re-tweeters than people like McAnuff.

Cindy The Weather Dog

photo by Harry Naltchayan, The Washington Post -- August 8, 1988

I got a call a few days ago from Washington Post columnist John Kelly with some questions about Cindy The Weather Dog, who became famous on my morning radio shows in DC in the 1980s and 1990s. I filled him in on my memory of Cindy and those years on the air in Washington. He wrote it up in an Answer Man column that appeared in yesterday's newspaper:
“In the summer of 1987, the first summer I was there, I got a call one day from a listener named Doug Griggs, who said he had a dog that could predict the weather,” Paul told Answer Man. “I said, ‘Sure you do.’ He said, ‘Really, I do.’”

The dog was a golden-retriever mix named Cindy. In 1987, Doug and his then-wife, Nancy, lived in Alexandria and worked at the Federal Reserve in the District. Cindy loved being outside, but only on dry days. If the weather forecast called for sun, Doug would put her outside before the couple left for work. Cindy would frolic in her fenced dog run and nap in her dog house.

One morning, as Doug went to put Cindy out, she put all four paws down and refused to leave the house. He couldn’t shift her. He left her indoors, even though the forecast indicated only the slightest chance of rain. That afternoon, there was a tremendous thunderstorm.

“That got us thinking,” Nancy said. “What did she know that we didn’t know?”

They decided to let her choose each morning. If they opened the back door and Cindy went out, it meant it wasn’t going to rain. This was the news that Doug shared with his favorite radio personality.

“If you’re a good broadcaster, you recognize this is something you can play with,” Paul said. He added Cindy to his morning mix, telling listeners what the mutt-eorologist predicted. If Doug was late in making his daily a.m. call to the station, listeners would phone in demanding to know what the dog had said.

“Cindy was remarkably accurate,” Paul said. “I would say better than 90 percent.”
You'll have to read Kelly's full column to find out what happened to Cindy (and Doug and Nancy), who along with The Marching Weathermen made mine the only radio show in history to have both a marine and canine perspective on each day's forecast.

By the way, the photo above was taken August 8, 1988, for a story the Post did about Cindy's role in my WCXR morning show in its heyday.

David Brenner

I was sorry to hear about the death this weekend of comedian David Brenner at age 78. I hadn't seen him work in a very long time, but at the height of his career in the 1970s and 1980s, he was among the funniest storytellers in America. He was part of the wave of comedians who took the observational style created by Robert Klein, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor and adapted it for the next generation, which included Richard Lewis, Freddie Prinze, and Gabe Kaplan.

He made hundreds of TV appearances, but the only time I saw him in person was at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut, around 1984. At the time, I was the morning guy at WHCN, the leading rock radio station in town. The cool thing to wear in those days was a satin jacket. Ours were green, with the station's logo on them, and we wore them to every public appearance. That's how I had dressed when I'd introduced other comedians at the Bushnell, including Gallagher and Steve Landesberg, so it was only natural that I wore it the night Brenner came to town.

I got there a half-hour before showtime, went backstage, and introduced myself. He sat casually in a button-down denim shirt and jeans as we chatted in his dressing room. About ten minutes before showtime, he excused himself to get ready while I went off to talk to the promoter and see which upcoming events he wanted me to mention onstage. When the house lights went down, I stepped through the curtain into the spotlight, welcomed the crowd, plugged my show and the radio station, and made the obligatory announcements. There was no other comedian as an opening act, so I finished by introducing Brenner to a large ovation.

When I turned to see him come through the curtain with his hand extended to shake mine, I was shocked. Not at the gesture, but because he was wearing a tuxedo. The only times I'd seen a comedian in a tuxedo was on the televised Dean Martin roasts, and all of them were over 60 years old. But Brenner was a class act, and a suit wasn't good enough for a venue like this. He treated the Bushnell as if it were the biggest showroom in Las Vegas, or a Broadway stage. I felt like a schmuck in my satin jacket compared to him.

He then proceeded to do a 90-minute monologue that weaved story upon story. Having only seen him in short bursts on Carson or other talk shows, I laughed a lot but was also mesmerized at how thoughts seemed to occur to him that sent him on a tangent from one story to another, as if he were drawing concentric circles of comedy. What really amazed me was how Brenner wound his way back from each story to its predecessor, until he somehow returned to the one he had started the evening with. The rest of the crowd was as delighted and thrilled as I was to have taken that joke-filled journey, and we all leapt to our feet in appreciation as he said good night. He wasn't just classy, but a master of the art.

A couple of years later, Brenner got a syndicated late-night TV show called "Nightlife," which he used as a platform to feature up-and-coming comedians. He was well-known in the comedy community as a supporter and mentor to many other comics, but the show only lasted one season. The only thing I remember about "Nightlife" is that Brenner hired one of my childhood radio heroes, the legendary New York disc jockey and voiceover talent Dan Ingram as his announcer.

Not long after, Brenner cut down on his touring in order to stay home and fight for custody of his two sons. He lost some valuable career years until making a comeback with a live HBO show in 2000, but by then the business had changed and his style seemed almost old-fashioned because the next generation of comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, has changed the industry again.

Still, David Brenner deserves a place in the comedy pantheon, alongside the other greats. He's the one in the tuxedo.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Your Tax Dollars At Work

According to a story on, when US troops pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, they'll have some 4,000 vehicles left over -- trucks, Humvees, MRAPS, etc.

Why don't we give them to Afghanistan's security forces? The Defense Logistics Agency says the Afghans wouldn't be able to maintain them or handle the on-board computers -- which makes no sense to me. How is it possible that we have trained thousands of Americans to handle that over the last dozen years, but in that time, no Afghans learned those skills?

The story says the Pentagon has tried to find other countries to buy the vehicles, but apparently they're all too smart to get involved in a land war, so they have no need for them. Besides, the vehicles are being offered "as is, where is" -- in other words, if you want them, you have to go to Afghanistan and get them. No one in their right mind would do that.

So, if no one else wants them, our military will destroy the vehicles -- at a cost of $10,000 each, which is less than it would cost to ship them home ($50,000 each) and mothball them.

Perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger would like to buy some of the vehicles and use them in his "Will It Crush?" fundraising campaign.

Victories For Skeptics

Sometimes I love Twitter -- like a few days ago, when notorious anti-vaccine hype artist and "The View" co-host Jenny McCarthy asked her followers, "What is the most important personality trait you look for in a mate?" The Daily Beast took note of some of the responses the Twitterverse posted in response:

  • My ideal mate likes the idea of kids not getting polio. 
  • My mate knows that anti-vax catastrophizing rhetoric and fearmongering hurts autistic people like us IN ADDITION to killing children. 
  • Somebody who gets that refusing vaccines because of "toxins" and then shilling for e-cigs makes you a pathetic hypocrite. 
  • My ideal partner understands that "doing my own research" isn't cherry-picking blurbs from blogs. 
  • ISO tall, dark, handsome man with degree from somewhere other than Google university.
While we're kicking anti-science liars, let's not forget Kevin Trudeau, who conned people out of millions of dollars with infomercials and books like "The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You To Know About." Despite being fined $37 million by the FTC, he has continued to live a lavish lifestyle without paying a penny -- but tomorrow, he's going to be sentenced by a federal judge for criminal contempt, and will likely get 10 years in prison.

UPDATED 3/17/14 6:08pm...
Trudeau was sentenced to a decade behind bars today. Sharon Hill has details.

The Save Josh Campaign

Josh Hardy is a cute 7-year-old boy who is dying of a rare cancer. His doctors think an anti-viral medicine could help him, but it hasn't been approved by the FDA, so they couldn't give it to him. Then his family began a campaign via social media and shows like "Good Morning America" to convince the small pharmaceutical company that makes the medicine to give it to Josh anyway. A few days ago, Chimerix announced that Josh's story had convinced the FDA to allow it to launch a clinical trial for 20 patients, including Josh.

What about all the other people who need help but don't have the wherewithal to launch a publicity campaign like Josh's family? Should a small company like Chimerix just give its drug away out of compassion? How long do FDA trials take? Does this remind anyone else of "Dallas Buyers Club"?

On my America Weekend show, I discussed all of this with bioethicist Art Caplan. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Alternate Taxis

You're in a major American city and need to get somewhere. You don't have a car, and public transportation won't help, so you're going to take a taxi -- but why stand at the curb and try to hail a passing cab when you can use an app on your smartphone to request a ride from a non-professional driver in their own car? These alternate taxi services have become very popular over the last year. Why?

I talked it over with Geoffrey Fowler, personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who compared three of these services -- Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. We discussed the difference in cost, the safety issue, and the controversial "surge pricing" (in which prices can go way up at rush hour).

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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Malaysian 370 Update

Mary Schiavo returned to my America Weekend show today to discuss developments in the mystery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370. We discussed the new information about the plane changing direction, whether it could have climbed to 45,000 and then dove dramatically without falling apart, and how many people it would take to hijack a Boeing 777 in mid-air. I also asked her the two questions that have bothered me since this story started -- why don't we have a system that tells us where every plane is while in flight, and why are pilots allowed to turn off the transponder that reports its location?

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

Mary Schiavo is a former Inspector General at the US Department of Transportation who now represents victims of aviation crashes and other incidents.