Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/31/14


My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include poop on a plane, a very low-maintanence lawn, and a yearbook full of mistakes. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Why Did Apple Buy Beats?


Why would Apple spend $3 billion to buy a headphone company called Beats? That's what I asked Peter Kafka, reporter for Re/code, who explained that it's about a lot more than the headphones. We also discussed whether Apple has lost the mantle of "the cool tech company" to Google. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 5/30/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Voices In The News," "States That End In A Vowel," and "Music In The Movies." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Single Jingle

I have always loved great radio jingles. One of the highlights of my career was in 1986 when (after several years at rock stations that didn't use them), I moved to WYNY/New York to do mornings, complete with custom jingles made by Jonathan Wolfert's company, JAM. We're still using jingles on my syndicated show, America Weekend, and every time those singers say my name, it's a thrill.

Here's a piece Jonathan produced in 2006 (back in the days when the final product was sent to stations via CD) revealing how many people it takes to produce a single jingle...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Keep It In Perspective

I heard a guy complaining today that it's too hot and humid. It's not even June yet! I wanted to tell him that complaining about warm weather is not allowed this year, considering the incredibly horrible and long winter we went through. As long as there is air conditioning, summer can never be as bad as winter. After all, I have never had to shovel a foot and a half of humidity just to get out of my driveway.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Donald Prothero explains how Hollywood consistently gets the science wrong in movies -- "since nearly everything the general public thinks they know about science seems to come from bad Hollywood movies and TV shows, it’s not surprising that these myths are perpetuated, and our scientific literacy is so abysmal."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Road Trip: Italy, Part 3

Read part one, about our days in Rome, here.
Read part two, about our days in Florence, here.

I've written about some of this highlights of our trip, including amazing food in both Rome and Florence. But every vacation also has its aggravations -- these were a few of ours.

Near every tourist destination (the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Ponte Vecchio), there were guys trying to sell crap. I don't mean booths or kiosks full of key chains and magnets and Pope bobbleheads, but individual vendors accosting everyone who walked by to try to sell a rose or a shawl or a purse or a piece of acrylic stamped with a picture of the Colosseum.

I understand that. in a country with 40% unemployment, people need to do whatever they can to make money (e.g. posing for photos in a gladiator costume near the ruins, for the same reason there's a guy in Times Square sweating in an Elmo costume, and a guy in an Iron Man outfit on Hollywood Boulevard), but there was desperation in the street vendors' efforts. Many of them -- particularly the rose sellers -- would not take no for an answer. Even if we had just turned away two other guys in front of him, a third would approach and try to get us to buy from him. It almost got to the point where my wife and I were saying a strong "No!" to anyone who crossed our paths.

They were the bane of our existence, as were the guys selling laser pointers, which seem to have finally reached Italy. We saw guys set up a display on cardboard boxes on major downtown sidewalks, showing off what their laser pointers can do. Look, here's one that makes a pattern with multiple beams! Pretty impressive, if it were 1977 and they were advertising the Pink Floyd Laserium Show. In 2014, not so much.

Some of these vendors (I'm using that term very loosely) walk around with six or eight paintings -- not famous stuff like in the myriad galleries, but cheesy, mass-produced prints on heavy-duty paper -- and lay them down on the sidewalk or in the street, in the hopes that passersby will look them over and buy one. In three cities over ten days, we never saw anyone make a purchase. But we did see these guys pick up the "artwork" and move on as soon as they saw a cop, then quickly find another location to display their wares, often in a way that blocked pedestrian traffic.

Speaking of pedestrians, based on our experience, we concluded that Italians do not like to move out of the way, especially on narrow sidewalks. Normally, when a couple is walking in one direction and comes upon a couple walking in the other direction, one-half of each couple will step behind, into single file, so that the others can pass. We encountered this often, with me always moving behind my wife -- but the other couples rarely did the same. They'd just keep walking side-by-side as if we weren't there, forcing us to step into the street to go around them.

This was also reflected in much of the very crowded downtown driving, where scooters and motorcycles zip in between other vehicles while cars entering intersections and traffic circles tended not to yield to anyone, under any circumstances. We finally decided that there must not be an Italian translation for "No, please, after you!"

On the other hand, the cabbies were remarkable at finessing their way through the streets. Sure, they got very close to other vehicles (and some pedestrians), but if we were on "The Amazing Race," these are the guys we'd want behind the wheel. Our only complaint about them was in Florence, where there was no taxi stand at our hotel. So, we'd ask the front desk to call one, which the clerks could do by simply pressing a button. Within a few minutes, a taxi would pull up -- but his meter would already be running. Apparently, they drop the flag as soon as the call comes in, not when you get in the back seat. So we paid a premium, but considering the really narrow streets and alleys they managed to navigate in a city that was built long before there were any vehicles other than horses, it didn't bother us that much.

Besides, they helped us avoid the crowded sidewalks and street vendors.

Best Thing I've Read Today

James McManus on a recent court ruling that poker is a game of skill, not luck, and therefore can't be lumped in with "gambling."

McManus was a guest on my old Final Table Poker Show in December, 2009, when he published his book, "Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker." You can hear it here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/25/14


My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include an emergency pizza delivery, an ice cream attack, and an update on Mr. Cocaine. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Damon Linker on why he's not a Democrat -- he's an anti-Republican:

My revulsion at the Republicans doesn't begin and end with Iraq and Benghazi. It's spread to many other issues over the years. Frankly, the GOP increasingly looks like a party in the grip of some form of hyperpartisan madness that takes self-destructive delight in alienating everyone who isn't a far-right ideologue. What else can explain the up-is-down, black-is-white, counterintuitive perversity of the stances Republicans increasingly take in response to national news and trends?

Consider:
  • A gun-toting maniac slaughters 20 children and 6 adults inside an elementary school. The GOP response? Loosen gun restrictions.
  • Banks and the finance industry nearly topple the global economy. The GOP response? Oppose increased regulation of banks and the finance industry.
  • Well over 90 percent of climate scientists present research in favor of anthropogenic climate change. The GOP response? Suggest that the scientists have joined forces with liberals in a big-government conspiracy.
  • Economic inequality is increasing dramatically, especially at the very top of the income pyramid. The GOP response? Propose cutting taxes on the wealthy.
  • The food stamp program has grown since the economic meltdown of 2008, which led to millions of Americans losing their jobs. The GOP response? Cut the food stamp program.
  • Money is playing an ever-greater role in American politics. The GOP response? Cheer on the effort of the Supreme Court's Republican majority to increase the role of money in politics still further.
  • Wages have been stagnant or falling for many years, and raising the federal minimum wage is a broadly popular way of addressing the problem. The GOP response? Oppose raising the minimum wage.
If any of this makes sense to you, maybe the GOP is where you belong. As for me, I'll stay where I am: Voting against the Republican Party every chance I get — and hoping it soon receives the incontestable rebuke at the ballot box it so richly deserves.
Read Linker's entire piece here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mary Schiavo on Airplane Near-Misses


There have been four near-misses in the skies over major US airports already this year -- including one involving two United Airlines flights earlier this month in Houston -- and it's not because we have too many airplanes in the air, says my America Weekend guest Mary Schiavo.

The former Inspector General for the Department of Transportation, now an attorney for victims of air crashes, explained that the problem is with the air traffic controllers in the towers, and how FAA rules keep them from being fired or even disciplined when they make mistakes that could cost hundreds of lives. Schiavo reveals the details in a recent report from the IG's office about why there aren't enough new controllers coming up through the system to replace the veterans who are retiring, and how Congress doesn't seem to care.

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

Belle Knox


Belle Knox just finished her freshman year at Duke University, but that's not what made her famous -- it was her decision to make enough money to pay tuition by becoming an adult film star. She has appeared in dozens of sex scenes, been the featured act at strip clubs, appears in the latest issue of Penthouse, and joined me on America Weekend to talk about her experiences in the last year.

Among the topics we discussed:
  • which came first, the bill for college or her decision to do adult films;
  • how she was harassed and threatened on campus after a male friend outed her real identity;
  • why she was invited to lecture to Duke classes, and how professors have treated her;
  • whether working in that industry ever gets boring;
  • whether her new profession has made it impossible to date regular guys.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Three notes about this interview:

1) After it aired, I heard from a listener who was appalled I would have an on-air conversation with someone in the adult film business, asking "Would you want your daughter to do that?" My answer was that I don't book guests based on any criteria other than "Is this person interesting, or have a story to tell, or can speak about a topic they're passionate about?" My daughter's future employment doesn't enter into the picture. As a father, there's a long list of jobs I would not like her to undertake -- but I'm glad others do those jobs, so I can talk to them about it. I host a radio show, not a career counseling center. 

2) You'll notice that at no time do I mention Belle's real name, or the name of the guy who outed her. Why? Because it's irrelevant in both cases. Besides, there are lot of people in show business who don't use their real names.

3) Despite what Belle does for a living, I kept our conversation clean because that's how I conduct all of my interviews (it's also why I chose the photo above rather than some of the hundreds of more revealing images of Belle you can find on your own with a simple search). There are plenty of other radio hosts who want to get into salacious details because they're obsessed with the subject. Some of them, while thinking they're being clever, come off as rude jerks. In fact, Belle's publicist told me just before we went on the air that he'd had to terminate her previous interview after just a few minutes because the guy conducting it had gone down that path from the very start and it only got worse. It's not hard for me to imagine how that went, but knowing that she was recovering from that bad experience, I was glad I was able to get Belle comfortable quickly so we could have a good conversation.

Kim Goldman Will Never Forgive OJ


Next month will mark the 20th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman by OJ Simpson. As the anniversary approaches, Ron's sister Kim -- who was 22 at the time -- has written a book called "Never Forgive," which she discussed on my America Weekend show.

We talked about why she sent a letter to OJ requesting to visit him in jail, what she did when she spotted him in a parking lot after he was acquitted by the first jury, and whether she blames Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden for blowing his prosecution. I also asked whether the infamy of Ron's death makes it difficult for Kim to date, and whether she and her family have ever gotten any of the $33.5 million OJ was ordered to pay after they (and Nicole's family) won the civil case against him.

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

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/24/14


My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a stolen toilet, a sheriff's Facebook revenge, and a problem with some new trains. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 5/23/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Memorial Day," "The Cindy 500," and "Who Gets More?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Road Trip: Italy, Part Two

Read part one, about our days in Rome at the beginning of this road trip, here.


After several days in Italy's capital, we took a high-speed train to Florence to see some art and an old bridge. And eat a lot more.

The statue is Michelangelo's "David," which I've seen many pictures of, but to view it in person was overwhelming. David stands 17 feet tall, and is positioned in a perfect spot in the museum, Galleria dell'Accademia, to allow visitors to walk around and see him from every angle. I know nothing about art, but was awed by the attention to detail, showing every vein and muscle. How do he do that with marble -- 500+ years ago? In another portion of the Accademia, we found a video that tells the history of the statue and the continuing efforts to restore this important work. Breathtaking.

The gallery also has an exhibition of musical instruments from the 16th century (Medici era), including a Stradivarius violin, cellos, double bass, a hurdy-gurdy, and a piano-guitar (with six ivory keys to "protect the delicate fingertips of the ladies"). Also on display: several brass instruments including a "serpent," a long twisted horn, and a clarinet with a bend in it. Several of the earliest pianos were on display, as well as a dulcimer made of three different types of marble.

We were glad that we had listened to our travel agent's advice and purchased tickets for the Accademia well ahead of time, allowing us to walk right past the queue that stretched around the building and down the block, where people had to wait more than two hours. Our wait was less than ten minutes to enter.

One of Florence's other main attractions is the Ponte Vecchio (translation: "old bridge"), which spans the Arno River and dates to Roman times. It is beautiful and always packed with pedestrians checking out the gold and silver jewelry shops that line each side -- to the exclusion of anything else, so it held no attraction for me. So I walked slowly down the center while my wife stop to look at each little shop on both sides (fortunately, she didn't find anything to buy).

Observing the crowd, I noticed that all the other guys on the bridge were there with their significant other. There were no single, unattached, heterosexual men browsing the shops of the Ponte Vecchio. None. My only goal was to get to the other side, because I'd heard there was a bakery with terrific chocolate cannoli a half-block from the southern end of the bridge. I can now confirm that rumor as fact.

The other time we crossed the Ponte Vecchio was to get some wild boar. There's an animal you don't hear much about in the midwestern US.

When we took a tour of the countryside of Tuscany, our guide told us there were lots of wild boar free-ranging in the forests near Florence, eating chestnuts and pine cones, and that some local restaurants prepared various dishes with boar meat. We found one called Cinghiale Bianco (translation: "The White Wild Boar") and, for dinner, I had fresh pasta with a wild boar sauce -- outstanding! The next night, we went to a restaurant in another part of Florence, where my wife had that dish while I had the equivalent of wild boar pork chops. Also delicious.

Our record for restaurants in Italy on this trip was pretty good. We had a few meals that were just average, but most of the dinners exceeded our expectations. The two things that surprised us were the water and mealtimes.

In an American restaurant, you can drink all the water you want for no charge. In Italy, you pay for every sip of every beverage, including water, whether it's carbonated or not. There's no water pitcher to refill your glass -- you have to buy a bottle, and apparently there's no dominant brand of bottled water in Italy, because in ten days, we never saw the same brand twice. I wouldn't be surprised if the English translation of every bottle of water was "filled from the tap in the kitchen."

As for mealtime, like most Europeans, Italians eat dinner much later than Americans. Most restaurants don't even start serving dinner until 7:30pm (unless they cater mostly to tourists). We sat down in one restaurant at 8pm and, since we spent every minute of every day together on this vacation, and thus didn't have a lot of conversational catching-up to do, we were done with our dinner by 9pm.

That's when most of the other customers were arriving. And they weren't having the simple antipasto/entree/gelato that we were. No, they were loading up with course after course, complete with a different bottle of wine for each. My wife, who has a 9-to-5 job and needs a decent night's sleep, couldn't believe that all these people -- everywhere we went in Italy -- could stay out that late to eat and still get up and go to work in the morning.

In other words, our 8pm dinner was the equivalent of their early-bird special! Try going to an Italian restaurant in the US on a weeknight at 9pm to eat and carouse for a couple of hours. You'll be able to hear the staff's groans as daggers shoot from their eyes -- but at least they'll bring you more free water!

Read part three of this road trip diary here.

The Overview Effect

Four decades ago, astronauts on Apollo 8 were doing a live telecast while orbiting the moon, and turned the camera towards Earth. That gave us the very first pictures of our planet as a whole -- the home of every human and every animal that ever lived -- against the vastness of space.

That perspective affected a lot of people, not the least of whom were those astronauts and the many who have followed. This short film, "The Overview Effect," includes several of them talking about what that view from above meant to them, and includes some of the stunning footage shot from various missions over the decades. Click the full-screen button to take it all in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jeff Probst's Ego Survives And Grows


I have watched all 28 seasons of "Survivor," a show that still has the most fascinating strategy-and-social-interplay combination of any reality/competition, as well as the best nature photography and editing on network television. The season that ended tonight ranks among the series' best, with Tony The Cop playing a near-perfect game to win the well-deserved million dollars.

It was nice to see the jury, despite resenting Tony for eliminating each of them, recognizing that he played the game better than all of them, and not holding his lies and deception against him at the end. Too often the contestants who were voted off can't get past their personal grudges to recognize how strategically well players like Tony have worked to outwit, outplay, and outlast all the rest.

However...

The longer the show stays on the air, the bigger Jeff Probst's ego gets. He seems to believe that people tune in to see him, rather than the players and the game. He couldn't be more wrong. I'm not saying that Probst isn't part of the reason the show's been a success, but he's not the main reason people tune in. No one is sitting at home waiting for him to utter the same lines he's said dozens of times before, like "Immunity is back up for grabs", "Are you ready to get to today's challenge?", "Want to know what you're playing for?", and "I'll read the votes."

Tonight, we saw Probst's ego in overdrive, as he did live cut-ins during the 2-hour finale that were completely unnecessary and distracting from the plot line of a season that was building to an exciting finish. Then, during the "reunion" show (which should be called the "post-game" show), Probst spent more time on his personal likes and dislikes, plus interviews with audience members -- including Tyler Perry*, who added less than nothing to the proceedings -- than with the people who actually played the game. They are the ones who made this season so compelling, so hearing more from them about the experience, the rivalries, the strategies, etc. would have made for much better TV than turning it into The Jeff Probst Show.

Speaking of which, Probst's ego took him to daytime TV a few years ago, another classic example of some television executive making the mistake in thinking that someone who occasionally filled in for Regis Philbin on his morning show could helm a five-day-a-week daily hour of television. The problem with Probst's show was that it was nothing more than the usual daytime pablum, and he's not interesting enough as a personality to overcome that and entice viewership. Thus, the ratings sucked and the show's torch was extinguished when it was voted off the schedule.

In the 14 years "Survivor" has been on the air, Probst has risen from a hired-hand host to an executive producer of the show, with a say in many of the decisions of who will be cast, which twists will be added, and what each season's theme will be. He has earned that, certainly, and many of the decisions he and the other people behind the scenes have made were correct.

But the most important decision CBS and the "Survivor" showrunners should make now is to check Probst's ego and rein it in -- before he names one of the tribes after himself.

* Until tonight, I'd managed to avoid everything Tyler Perry has created for screens large and small, including his ridiculous Madea character. That string has now been broken, and for no valid reason, by Probst.

Google's Self-Driving Car


Google has been working on a self-driving car for about five years, and recently let Eric Jaffe sit in the passenger seat as the vehicle worked its way through the city streets of Mountain View, California (Google's hometown). On my America Weekend show, he explained what the experience was like, how far the technology has come, and how soon it could become a reality in other cars.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Eric Jaffe explains more about the self-driving car in this piece for Atlantic Cities.

Does Money Make You Mean?

That's the question social psychologist Paul Piff set out to answer with a series of experiments, including a rigged Monopoly game. The results are indicative of the income inequality crisis we're in the midst of...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

High Speed Trains


During our recent Italy trip, we boarded our first-ever high-speed train to get from downtown Rome to downtown Florence, making the 175-mile trip in 90 minutes. Although we were rolling at 150mph most of the way, we could hardly tell from our seats unless we looked out the window.

The ride was smooth and comfortable, and made me wonder why the US still hasn't caught up to most of Europe and eastern Asia, where high-speed travel is the norm. I understand that there are right-of-way concerns with existing tracks, and not enough available land to build high-speed-only tracks in many area without overusing eminent domain. I'm also sure that the airline industry lobbies against making train travel faster and easier.

But considering that St. Louis is a 4-5 hour drive from cities like Chicago, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Memphis, and Tulsa, being able to make those trips in under 3 hours would change tourism in the midwest. Not only would St. Louisans visit those places more often, but people from there would come here.

High-speed travel has been debated and held back long enough, considering the first attempt to get it rolling in the US was in 1965 -- nearly fifty years ago! There are some current high-speed rail projects underway, thanks to the 2009 stimulus act, but they're still years away from completion. Illinois is improving its tracks on the Chicago-to-St. Louis route in hopes of allowing speeds up to 110mph -- but with too many stops along the way, the train won't be traveling at that speed for very long. And the St. Louis end isn't actually in St. Louis. It's in the suburb of Alton, Illinois.

California is developing a high-speed system between Anaheim and San Jose, but it won't open until 2028. Amtrak's proposed high-speed rail between New York City and DC won't be ready until 2040. They say those trains will do over 200mph, which would be a great improvement over the paltry 79mph that is the current top speed.

Even if we did catch up to Europe, we'd still be behind China, which has jumped ahead technologically to mag-lev trains (using magnetic levitation, the trains hover above the tracks, still traveling at high speeds), and is working to make those even faster. We first saw a mag-lev train exhibited at the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver. Standing next to the tracks, the only audible sound was a quiet "whoosh" as the mag-lev train passed. That was nearly three decades ago.

Unfortunately, the "whoosh" we heard that day was still louder than the voices of support for high-speed rail in this country, yet another example of Congress' failure to invest in improving America's infrastructure with long-term thinking.

More Bad News For Anti-Vaxxers

Yet another report says there is absolutely no proof that vaccines cause autism. But there will still be parents who, instead of paying attention to scientists who have researched the question ad nauseum, listen to know-nothing celebrities who quote a long-debunked medical hoax and then refuse to vaccinate their children.

Inside A Sports Betting Operation


Marisa Lankester was part of the largest illegal sports betting operation in the world, which she writes about in "Dangerous Odds." When she joined me on America Weekend, I asked her how she got started in the billion-dollar outfit run by Ron "The Cigar" Sacco, how involved the mob was, how often she was busted by the FBI, and whether she can ever return to the US (she now lives in Switzerland).

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/18/04


My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a fish in the street, a guy suing a stripper, and a naked ATM deposit. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Road Trip: Italy, Part One


My wife and I just returned from a trip to Italy with a new perspective on age. Not our age, but the age of things we've observed.

We've been to Philadelphia, Boston, and other colonial cities, and have seen houses that were built 250 years ago. We've been to England, where we once had lunch in a pub that had opened 650 years before. But those seem young compared to such Roman structures as The Colosseum and The Pantheon, built almost 2,000 years ago.

They and others are still standing, although only The Pantheon is still in good condition. Its dome (still the world's largest un-reinforced concrete dome) remains a stunning architectural achievement, regardless of its era. Standing under it and looking up at the hole in the middle ("The Oculus") with a shaft of sunlight pouring in was one of the highlights of our visit.

The Colosseum is, well, let's call it a fixer-upper. There's scaffolding down one side where restoration work is being done. But when you get inside and see the scale of the place, and stand where gladiators fought, it takes your breath away. If you go, we suggest the Dark Rome "underground" tour, with a guide who can put it all in context (rather than just wandering through the ruins yourself).

It's a little odd to walk or drive through the city and see the ruins of ancient Rome on the other side of the sidewalk -- and archaeologists are still finding remnants of that era. The city has been trying to build a third subway line, but every time they excavate for a station or new tracks, they have to halt construction because they've uncovered more artifacts from two millenia ago, buried by the layers of civilization since. It's not as if the digging for history began this year -- it's been going on for decades, and they're still discovering new items.

Our Rome trip wasn't all about old buildings, of course. We also went for the good food, and found plenty of it, including the best spaghetti carbonara we've ever had. We were also introduced to "pizza a taglia," which doesn't come in slices or round pies, but is baked in long rectangles. When you go to the pizzeria, you tell the person behind the counter which flavor you want -- topped by prosciutto, spinach, or just mozzarella and sauce -- and they cut off as big a piece as you want, then charge you by its weight. It's a good thing the airline didn't charge us by our weight for the return flight.

One evening we took a food tour through the Trastevere neighborhood, which included stops at various restaurants and shops. We had fried artichoke at one place, then off to a wine cellar at another, then a cookie factory that's been run by the same family for generations. Next we went to a shop that sells cheese and cured meat, run by Signore Roberto, where we tasted some fantastic Pecorino Romano (there were several 35kg wheels of it stacked up in the very busy shop). Signore Roberto is so beloved in the neighborhood, so the story goes, that when one thief attempted to steal from his store, another thief thwarted the first by telling him, "we don't steal from Signore Roberto!"

Our next course was called "suppli" (rice, sauce, and mozzarella, in a fried dough ball) -- followed by another place that made pizza a taglia. Next was a famous local restaurant that specializes in pasta, and for the finale, a genuine gelato place -- just one of many we stopped at during our trip.

Okay, I'll admit it. We didn't let a day go by without gelato, pizza, and pasta. Why would we? You know the expression, "When in Rome, put on the pounds!"

In the next part of this road trip, we went to Florence to see The David, cross an old bridge, and eat wild boar. Read about it here.

Carl Reiner, "I Just Remembered"


Carl Reiner is, inarguably, a comedy legend. You may know him from recent movies like "Ocean's 11/12/13" or classics like "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." He created "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and has appeared on dozens of other shows, including as recently as earlier this year in a guest spot on "Two And A Half Men." He has won 9 Emmys, been nominated for 6 others, and been honored for lifetime achievement by the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, the TV Critics Association, the Emmys Hall Of Fame, the TV Hall of Fame, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I always enjoy talking with Carl, so when his new memoir, "I Just Remembered," was published last week, I invited him to talk about it and tell some stories on my radio show. For a man of 92, who has been in show business his entire adult life, he has a remarkable memory and his timing is still perfect.

Among the topics we discussed in our extended conversation:
  • Whether he and best friend Mel Brooks consulted each other on movies or other projects as they were making them;
  • Why his friend Julann Wright didn't get credit for co-creating "Jeopardy!";
  • How his career got an early boost from government programs under FDR;
  • Whether he resents not getting royalties or residuals from so many things in his career that appear on YouTube;
  • Why writers make the best television showrunners;
  • How he first met Steve Martin, who he directed in five movies;
  • How he first met "Your Show Of Shows" star Sid Caesar, who died earlier this year at age 91.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

My Favorite Story Of The Weekend

A group that hates President Obama held a rally in Washington on Friday. They claimed they'd get ten million people to show up, a popular uprising on par with the Egyptians in Tahrir Square for the Arab Spring.

Unfortunately, they fell a little short. They didn't get ten million. They didn't get one million. They didn't even get one hundred.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Michael Sam Reality Show


After Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams last weekend, becoming the first openly gay man chosen by an NFL team, the Oprah Winfrey network announced that it would do some sort of reality show or documentary about him. But by the end of the week, the project had been "postponed."

Why, and was it a good idea in the first place? On my America Weekend show, I talked it over with Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred. As Andy reported on his site, Sam would have been far from the first active NFL player involved in a reality show.

We also discussed the finale to this season of "Survivor," which will air Wednesday night on CBS. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Gay Marriage Update

This weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the first marriage license issued to a same-sex couple. Now, there are 17 states (plus DC) that allow same-sex marriage, and several others that are on the verge. Tomorrow, a judge in Oregon will rule on whether that state's ban is constitutional, and the laws in Arkansas and Idaho have been declared illegal, too.

On my America Weekend show, Justin Nordell of Giampolo Law Group explained what's happening in those states and how soon the question will be headed back to the Supreme Court. Since many of those bans were enacted after referenda 8-10 years ago, I also asked whether they'd still win today, considering the remarkable swing in public opinion.

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bill Courtney, Against The Grain


In March, 2013, I wrote a rave review of "Undefeated," a documentary about Bill Courtney, the owner of a lumber business who volunteered as football coach at an inner city school in Memphis, Tennessee. His unique leadership skills turned around a team that hadn't had a winning season in years. The movie won the Oscar for Best Documentary. When I tweeted a link to my review, Bill saw it and sent me a thank you note. I then asked him to come on my radio show, and we had a great conversation (which you can listen to here).

Since then, Bill has toured the country giving speeches and working on his book, "Against The Grain: A Coach's Wisdom on Character, Faith, Family, and Love." It was published this week, so he returned to my show to talk about it. We touched on his recent meeting/webcast with Pete Carroll (head coach of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks), the importance of daring to leave your comfort zone, and how you deal with players (and others) who can't do something vs. those who won't do something.

I also had Bill explain what a "turkey person" is. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It


What's more important when you go to work, the hours you put in or how much you get done? If the answer is the latter, you should work in what Jody Thompson calls a Results-Only Work Environment. She and her business partner Cali Ressler wrote about it in "Why Works Sucks and How To Fix It."

While it's hard to get bosses to stop putting value on time instead of the work, Thompson says that when they do give employees the freedom to work from home, or leave the office to take a child to the doctor, or wait until after rush hour to go to the office, the consequences are all positive. There is less turnover and fewer people going to work sick, productivity increases, and morale improves. At the end of the day, the question should not be about attendance, but about results.

Jody explained it all today on my America Weekend show. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/17/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a congressman eating ear wax, a restaurant owner eating a condom, and an odd gunshot treatment. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 5/16/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "That's A Hollywood Quickie," "It's Just Business," and "Everything In There Is Constitutional." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Unsubscribing Explained

Scott Hardie e-mails:

Mr. Harris, I'm a longtime follower of your blog. Thanks for sharing so many good stories and links over the years. Here's writing to shed some light on your "Unsubscribe" blog post from April 28, about how it takes ten days to be removed from a mailing list when technology should make it instantaneous.

I've worked on both web sites and promotional emails for years. The programming skills required for them are basically the same, but the mindsets are quite different: A mistake made on a web site can be rectified at any time, but an email is unchangeable once it's been sent. Thus, marketing emails are very carefully proofed and vetted, and scheduled days in advance with a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. Their servers generate many millions of emails, and most people open a message within minutes of it being sent, and serving millions of those embedded images all at once could overwhelm the servers, so the sending is usually staggered over a period of hours or days.

At a reputable marketing company, the list of recipients is subjected to the same rigorous proofing process as the content of the message: A data manager reviews it for unsubscribers and fake addresses and so on, before it's uploaded to the mailing service days in advance of the message going out. So when you click that unsubscribe link, you *are* instantaneously being flagged in the marketing company's system as not wanting more email, and sometimes that gets passed along right away to the sending service too -- but additional emails might already be in the queue to be sent to you over the next few hours or days. Depending on the sending service, it's not always possible to change a list once a message been scheduled, and even if it is, caching and other technical issues may prevent the request from being processed by every last server before that message goes out to you.

Thus, saying that it will take ten days to process the request is a form of CYA for the company: You probably won't get any more email from them, but just in case another message is already scheduled and it cannot be (or doesn't get) pulled from the queue in time, they don't want you to misunderstand and think that the unsubscribe request failed.

As for the follow-up email to confirm the unsubscription, you're right that it's redundant. It's sometimes a marketing ploy, one last opportunity to send you an ad in the hopes that you'll be lured back, but more often it's just the company not thinking it through from your point of view. I can't speak for every company of course, but where I've worked, the staff is conscientious and sincerely doesn't want to send messages to people who don't want them.
Thanks, Scott. I have used Constant Contact and found, from the provider side, that their unsubscribe function was quick and unobtrusive. I wish the rest of the industry did it as well.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Another Complaint About Standardized Tests

In recent weeks, I have talked to several educators who are not happy with the quality of standardized tests that are being used in schools all over the country. There is a brewing discontent among students, parents, teachers, and administrators on this subject. Last week, Louis CK took to Twitter to complain about the tests his daughters have had to take.

Today on America Weekend, I spoke with Rebecca Steinitz, a literacy consultant in urban high schools in Massachusetts, who recently wrote an open letter to President Obama about the exams (which her daughter Eva has to take in public school, but his daughter Sasha and Malia don't take in private school). She explained that it's not the fault of Common Core standards, but of the companies that are being paid millions to provide poorly-written tests that are not a good gauge of how students are doing -- with many questions which are not even appropriate for the grade in which they're being applied.

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

Ric Edelman's Truth About Retirement Plans


Ric Edelman, one of the country's top financial advisers, was back on my America Weekend show today to talk about his new book, "The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs." We discussed the biggest mistake most people make (not saving enough, early enough), how to generate income in retirement, and whether you should invest in where you work. I also asked Ric about media hype over stories like Michael Lewis' claims in "Flash Boys" about Wall Street supposedly being rigged.

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

Saturday, May 03, 2014

My Brother Explains The Jobs Report


When the Labor Department announced yesterday that the unemployment rate had fallen from 6.7% to 6.3%, with 288,000 jobs created in April, it sounded like good news. But there are many layers to these reports, so I asked my brother Seth (former Acting Secretary Of Labor) to join me on America Weekend to dissect the information. He discussed the groups that are still not part of the work force, those who have given up looking altogether, and what the future trend must be in order for us to be optimistic about the US economy.

We also discussed raising the minimum wage, which suffered a setback Tuesday when Senate Republicans blocked an effort by Democrats to increase the federal standard to $10.10 hour -- in the same week that the city of Seattle announced that it will raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, the highest in the nation.

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

Seth is now a Distinguished Scholar at Cornell University and Counsel at law firm Dentons.

Richard Wiseman's Sleep Tips


Richard Wiseman, Britain's only professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology, was back on my America Weekend show to discuss his new book, "Night School: Wake Up To The Power Of Sleep." He revealed why you should sleep in multiples of 90 minutes, why you shouldn't check your phone or tablet right before bed, whether power naps are helpful, and whether you can control your dreams.

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

Previously on Harris Online...
Check out Richard Wiseman's Quirkology videos on his YouTube channel, including this...

Don't Worry, Just Click "Agree"


Do you ever read the Terms Of Service for an app or website or software before you use it? If you're like the vast majority of us, you just click "Agree" without knowing what you're agreeing to.

Casey Fiesler and Amy Bruckman at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently published the results of their research into what those TOS agreements actually say and what rights we're giving away by using those services. I invited them to join me on America Weekend to explain what they uncovered -- and whether they understand the legal verbiage in that fine print.

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

Molly Schuyler, Competitive Eater


A few months ago, I told the story of Molly Schuyler, who took a restaurant's challenge to eat a 72-ounce steak in less than 10 minutes. Although Molly is not a large woman, it was no challenge at all -- she finished it off in 2 minutes, 44 seconds. Today on America Weekend, I finally tracked down Molly, who has taken part in several competitive eating events since then, including the Wing Bowl in Philadelphia (363 wings) followed the next day by the IHOP Pancake Bowl and the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival (5 pounds of bacon).

How does she do it? Why does she do it? Does she let her kids indulge in large quantities of food? What's the rest of her diet like? Is there big prize money at these events? Those are just some of the questions I asked Molly. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

You can see Molly devouring pizza, burritos, burgers, and more on her YouTube Channel.

Knuckleheads In The News® 5/3/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include an attempt to ban Dr. Seuss, a squirrel-selfie gone bad, and the free chicken lady. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Harris Challenge 5/2/14

Today's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "I'm A Little Horse," "I Thought You Said Whores," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Comparing Comedians

To be a successful standup, you have to have a unique voice. I don't mean the audio quality of the sounds that come out of your mouth, but your own take on the world that's unlike anyone else's. You should have an act that wouldn't sound right if it were done by someone else.

That's what has made the observational comedians of the last two generations so different from those that preceded them. Until the early 1960s, most standups didn't write their own material. They hired joke writers, and much of their stuff was interchangeable -- any Jackie, Tony, or Morty with a tuxedo and a sense of timing could do it. But that changed when the likes of Robert Klein, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and David Steinberg came along. Suddenly, the joke wasn't as important as the joke-teller. None of the material Pryor did would have worked for Carlin, and vice-versa. Elayne Boosler and Joan Rivers couldn't do the same act. Neither could Jerry Seinfeld and Bobcat Goldthwait.

A couple of nights ago, Ray Romano appeared on Arsenio Hall's show. They're about the same age and know each other from their years struggling to make it on the comedy club circuit. So, as a gag, they did a segment in which they did each other's old routines, and it proved my point about how important it is to have your own voice in comedy. The interesting thing was how much better Romano's timing and performance were than Hall's. The latter looked like he was reading something he'd never seen before off a teleprompter, and the material suffered from his poor delivery. Meanwhile, the former not only knew the lines, he performed them perfectly.