Friday, November 28, 2014

Post Modern Jukebox

Post-Modern Jukebox is an ensemble led by Scott Bradlee that re-interprets pop and rock tunes (e.g. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Blurred Lines," "Call Me Maybe") in another style. Here's their take on Meghan Trainor's "All About The Bass" featuring Kate Davis on the upright bass and vocals...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • My daughter and mom spent 7 hours at LaGuardia, worst-airport-in-America, waiting to fly here Wednesday night. Even Dick Cheney calls that torture.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Wired has an oral history of the best movie ever about the US space program, "The Right Stuff," with quotes from writer/director Philip Kaufman, stars Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, and Fred Ward, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. It includes info on casting, how they did some of the low-tech special effects, and how they ran into some obstacles with the federal government...
WINKLER: We had trouble getting permission from the Pentagon and NASA to use their facilities. John Glenn was a senior senator and didn’t like the way he was depicted. They were talking about him running for president. He tried to stop the government from giving us cooperation. He went to the Pentagon and told them not to give us permission.

CHARTOFF: A month before we began, NASA withdrew their permission for us to shoot at their facilities. It was a disaster. I flew to Washington and met with the head of NASA. I called John Glenn’s office and arranged a meeting with them, as well. At NASA, I went in and argued that pulling our access wasn’t fair—we’re American citizens and should have the right to use the facility, and no one individual should be able to stop us. That was the only argument I could think of. The guy said, “Call me back tomorrow morning, 10 o’clock, I’ll give you an answer.” I had an appointment at noon the next day with John Glenn. The next morning I called NASA. They said, “We have no right to deprive you of use of our facilities, you’ve got them.” Then I called John Glenn’s office and canceled my appointment.

CALEB DESCHANEL: When we were at Edwards Air Force Base, we really had the run of the place. We'd be right along the runways. Some pilots would get ticked off because we were too close. But Yeager was with us a lot of the time. One pilot landed and was like, “Who the hell are you?! What's going on?! Who's in charge?!” Finally Chuck Yeager turns around, and the guy's face suddenly fell. He said, “Oh, General, I'm really sorry, I didn't realize that you were with these guys.” You could do anything you wanted at Edwards as long as Yeager was around.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Infrastructure Idiocy

On Sunday, "60 Minutes" ran this piece about how America's infrastructure is falling apart, and no one in Congress (or the White House) has the political will to do something about it. The problem is that fixing all the bridges that are on the verge of falling, all the roads that need repair, and the railroad tracks and shipping ports that need to be upgraded -- they all cost money, and the Federal Highway Fund is virtually gone.

The answer, which business and labor leaders agree on, is to raise the gas tax, which hasn't changed in over 20 years -- making the people and companies that wear out the infrastructure pay for its repair and upkeep -- but you can't put "raise" and "tax" in the same sentence around a politician without them breaking out in hives. If there were any true visionaries in Washington (I'll pause while you laugh yourself silly), this wouldn't be hard, because it's a bipartisan issue that's easy to frame for the public. The bottom line is that unless we want disasters to occur soon, we have to launch preventative action now. And there's a positive byproduct of taking such action -- it will create tens of thousands of jobs.

Sure, it would mean a decade of driving around orange cones, but I'd rather have that than have to avoid a section of major roadway because it fell down. Considering how reliant our entire economy is on our infrastructure (not just for moving people to work, but also for moving all the goods by truck, rail, and ship), this seems to be a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, so is Congress.

Changing Minds, One At A Time

This is the best e-mail I've received in a long while, from listener Matt Johnson:

Paul, just read your comments regarding Manson and the sanctity of marriage.

Several years ago I was listening to your show as you discussed gay marriage. At the time, if pressed for an answer, I guess I would say I was more or less on the fence when it came to gay marriage. As part of your show, you invited listeners to call in and give you an example of how their lives would be different if gays were allowed to marry. Of course, absolutely no one could come up with anything resembling a valid answer.

Listening to you and the callers, I started to question myself as to why I even had any doubts about it. And again, I couldn't come up with any real valid concerns. I was a little ashamed of myself for having harbored any doubts. From that day forward I have always been a vocal proponent of gay marriage.

I just wanted you to know that the simple little exercise you carried out on the air that day changed at least one mind on the issue. And I am grateful.
So am I, Matt. Thanks for writing, and for listening!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Live Tweeting Ferguson

After the announcement by St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch that the grand jury had decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson three months ago, I began live tweeting while things quickly went sour as the peaceful protesters lost the spotlight to thugs making trouble:

  • As predicted, instigators are doing exactly the opposite of what Mike Brown's parents requested.
  • Because of them, peaceful protesters with valid complaints get no TV attention. Fire + smoke = media coverage.
  • I'll bet that the looters and people attacking the police car are NOT Ferguson residents. Wish TV would show the quiet locals protesting.
  • TV outlets so predictable: Look, fire! How about zooming out on the copter cam to show us the whole area that's not aflame?
  • I don't understand why McCulloch made the announcement tonight instead of tomorrow morning. Visuals would be SO different.
  • Watching looters breaking into stores on CNN, I wonder what they would say to Mike Brown's parents. That's not protesting, that's stealing.
  • Authorities promised to protect lives and property in Ferguson. Why no Nat'l Guard along those storefronts?
  • I'll never understand how looting and destroying businesses in your neighborhood helps make anyone's case. What's that message?
  • To protestors shutting down I-44: congrats -- by inconveniencing innocent drivers, you're going to change what again?
  • Once again, I return to the requests for peace by Mike Brown's parents being ignored by looters and arsonists in Ferguson. Shame on you.
  • A lot of Ferguson residents will be out of work now that their businesses have been burned or looted. Happy Holidays from the instigators!
  • Ferguson and StL County police had months to plan for tonight, but have proven again they have no idea how to protect their small town.
  • FINALLY, TV outlets are showing footage of PEACEFUL protesters marching down the street in Shaw area. No violence, no looting.
  • Squirrel!!! And, just as I typed that, the cameras went right back to something on fire.
  • Mayor of Ferguson now asking Gov. Nixon to deploy Nat'l Guard in his city. What the hell took so long?
  • At least six businesses have been set on fire in Ferguson tonight. Why would their owners ever want to re-open there?
  • My last tonight: imagine what it'll be like for parents in Ferguson to explain tonight to their kids. Can a new day dawn there? We'll see.

In Case You Missed It

You can follow me on Twitter @PaulHarrisShow. This afternoon, I posted my 10,000th tweet:

  • Prediction: if anyone is arrested after the grand jury announcement tonight, they will NOT be Ferguson residents. (Update: of the 61 people arrested in Ferguson, 85% were not residents).

Grand Jury Media Memo

Joe Rozier e-mails:

Paul, to go with your Thanksgiving Media Memo list, how about another one for the day the Darren Wilson (not the Michael Brown) Grand Jury decision is announced? Here are some of my ideas:
  1. Interrupt regularly scheduled programming to announce that the decision has been made but you don't know what the decision is or exactly when it will be announced. Be sure to only cut in AFTER the commercials have played and the program is about to start.
  2. Cut to an on-site reporter so they can say the decision has been made but he/she doesn't know what the decision is and doesn't know when the accouncement will be made.
  3. Cut back to the studio and have the weather person tell you about schools that have closed because of the impending announcement. This has nothing to do with the weather but meteorologists are prone to getting bored unless there is a really bad storm happening.
  4. Cut back to the anchors so they can confirm a decision has been made but they don't know what the decision is or when it will be announced.
  5. Go back to the regularly scheduled programming just in time for the commercials to run.
  6. Once commercials complete, break back in and go back to step #1 above.
One alternative would be to insert a field reporter on the scene of past protests between steps 2 and 3 so the viewer can see you are covering all of the angles. Maybe a cut to a helicopter view would fit nicely in here somewhere as well. Be sure to show plenty of the exact same pictures we have seen of Michael Brown and the ONE of Darren Wilson (blurry and smiling) while you are telling your audience that you know absolutely nothing and have nothing else to report.
So far the media are carrying out Joe's instructions to the letter!

Do Podcasts Make Money?

In today's NY Times, David Carr writes about the success of "Serial," a podcast from Ira Glass and his colleagues behind "This American Life," which has become a runaway hit in terms of downloads and listeners. But Carr doesn't address the bottom line -- is it making money?

Here's why I ask.

I'm still on KTRS every Friday and occasionally fill in for other hosts when they need a day off, but have no desire to return to doing a show five days a week, fifty weeks a year. Since leaving full-time radio, I've been approached by several people asking why I don't launch a podcast. I have a home studio and the necessary equipment and could certainly come up with enough stuff to talk about -- but how much can I make? The fact is that I've been in the radio business since 1978, and have always received a paycheck in return for my work.

After all these years, I have no interest in continuing to do any form of radio as a hobby. I do offer podcasts via this website, or via iTunes etc., but those are from the over-the-air radio shows I've done (and been paid for). When I did The Final Table Poker Radio Show a few years ago with Dennis Phillips, we had a lot more listeners downloading the podcasts -- a million a year! -- than listening to the live radio show, but as soon as the sponsorship evaporated, we couldn't keep it going.

I also view this from the consumer side. I listen to several podcasts regularly, but I don't pay a dime to support them. Like radio itself, I'm willing to put up with the advertising messages necessary to keep those podcasts available for free -- but once they go to a pay model, I'd more than likely stop downloading them. I know several people in the radio business who, after losing their on-air jobs, tried to go the paid podcast route, but it didn't last long.

As for the advertising in podcasts I've heard, much of it is made up of per-inquiry commercials, in which the host gives you a special discount code to type in on a website when you order a service, akin to "Tell them I sent you for 5% off!" That's not some special deal the host worked out for you. It's a metric an advertiser uses to see how many listeners are converted to purchasers (i.e. does the commercial work?). It's the audio equivalent of click-and-buy-rates on website banner ads. I have no idea whether or not they work, but those per-inquiry commercials always sound cheap and cheesy to me, about as classy as the banner ads that expand when you don't want them to, or automatically start up some video and audio every time you open the page. In other words, they're more annoying than effective.

Some people who do podcasts are in it for brand extension. For example, they're already paid to write for a news outlet (e.g. Slate,, the Post-Dispatch), and get to do podcasts or videos, as well, probably for no extra pay. With the company name and distribution platform already set up, they podcast away and develop an audience. But would they survive without that platform? Unlikely.

There are a few podcasts which run spots for bigger national sponsors, and those might be making money, although I don't know how much of it filters down to the talent producing the shows. As a career-long content provider, I've never worked the other side of the business as a salesman who goes out and sells commercial time, and I'm not interested in doing it now.

So, that brings us back to David Carr's unasked question: "Is it making money?" If not, how can "Serial" or any other podcast survive?

Three Things

When you do a daily radio show, you wake up every morning hoping someone somewhere has done something stupid. I hosted morning radio shows in DC in the 80s and 90s, which meant I smiled every day I opened the Washington Post to see plenty of stupidity in headlines about one local scandal after another: from Oliver North and his assistant Fawn Hall to the regular antics of then-mayor Marion Barry. They all became fodder for our comedy and commentary mill -- especially Barry's arrest in a hotel room, caught smoking crack with Rasheeda Moore, followed by his explanation: "Bitch set me up!" But, bizarrely, he got the last laugh. After being driven from office, he was re-elected mayor a few years later and then spent several more on the DC City Council. His death this weekend reminded me of those crazy years, and that you can never count some people out.

I've been watching "Homeland" since episode one, making it through the weak second season and into this stronger third season. But I can't help but wonder if anything will ever go right for Carrie Mathieson et al. Week after week, they either blunder into another corner, or lose another battle at some level against the terrorists. By my score, there hasn't been a single victory this season, making them analogous with the Oakland Raiders -- except they actually won a game last week. When will Carrie?

When I heard that a 26-year-old woman, Afton Burton, is going to marry 80-year-old convicted murderer Charles Manson, I wondered what all those homophobes who argue against gay marriage thought. They didn't seem to have a problem with the legality of Britney Spears' 55-hour Vegas marriage to Jason Alexander a few years ago, and haven't raised their voices about a convicted murderer's right to marry another crazy young woman -- but when a gay couple that's been together for two decades wants to make it official, that's what hurts the sanctity of marriage?

Text Me Merry Christmas

I'm not a big fan of most Christmas music -- I completely avoid the radio stations that play nothing-but between Halloween and New Year's. About the only one I can stand is "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses, but this new one by Kristen Bell and Straight No Chaser is pretty cute (particularly the line "I'll be right here waiting for my pants to start vibrating")...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Media Memo

I wrote this in 2007...

To: All News Outlets
Fr: Media Control Central
Re: Stories That Must Be Done During Thanksgiving Week

Monday: Do's & Don'ts of Holiday Travel. Include important things that the public can't figure out on its own, like a reminder of how to pack clothes neatly in a suitcase.

Tuesday: Deep Fryer Turkey Scare Stories. Dig up video of that guy from last year who burned down his house and ruined the family get-together.

Wednesday: Live Shots From The Airport. Start this at 5am, and keep doing it until there actually is a crowd of anxious travelers lined up out the door. Do not mention that a great deal of their anxiety came from getting around the many live trucks blocking traffic outside the terminal.

Thursday: Parade. Include not just the local Thanksgiving parade, but also interviews with a few people who have to make a last minute run to the supermarket because they forgot cranberry sauce. Also report on how much more this year's average Thanksgiving meal costs, and interview the Butterball Hotline lady (who has likely been outsourced to Bangalore, India).

Friday: Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year. It doesn't matter that today is not the busiest shopping day of the year -- that's always the last Saturday before Christmas, because that's when men finally remember they have to buy something for their wife, who bought gifts for the rest of the family back around Halloween -- play up the hype, especially for your advertisers.

Saturday: Retailers Report. Based on exactly one day of shopping, but hundreds of analysts making predictions, report that retailers are having a tough holiday shopping season.

Sunday: Back To The Airport. Remind the public that if they haven't left for the airport already, they're screwed.

Monday: They're Dead. Report the number of people who died on the road during the holiday weekend, and how high gas prices didn't seem to keep Americans from traveling long distances to eat and argue with their families.

Future File (Upcoming Stories To Work On):
  • Fire hazards of Christmas trees.
  • Increased popularity of online shopping.
  • Find a Jewish family that can explain Hanukkah.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Random Thoughts On Ferguson

As I write this, no announcement has come from the grand jury about whether it will indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown on August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri. But that doesn't stop the rumor mill. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who heard this or that or whatever. It's like a game of operator, with help from social media and the usual fear-mongering media. Truth is, no one knows anything, and hasn't all week. That may change tomorrow. Or it might not.

Brown's father and mother have repeatedly called for calm, asking that there be no violence or looting if Officer Darren Wilson is not indicted by the grand jury. Even for people who hate the police, why would you disrespect the parents of the dead man who you're supposedly protesting on behalf of? Then again, I've never understood looting. It's a misdirected way to express your anger, taking it out on some mom-and-pop business -- that you often patronize in your own neighborhood -- that had nothing to do with the perceived miscarriage of justice you're pissed off about.

As for the "protesters" who have been out there every night since August 9th, there haven't been a lot of them -- 15 to 20 most nights, about the same as the number of media keeping an eye on them outside Ferguson police HQ. The other night, five people were arrested there. None of them were from Ferguson. They were from other municipalities in the county or from out of state. Media reports say that every night, they shout profanities and epithets at the cops, trying to entice a response so they can capture it on video and make it public. That has yet to happen, thankfully, but if that's what they're up to, they should be called instigators, not protesters. Their actions are counter-productive to any effort to get real changes in the system in Ferguson. Moreover, they have not affected anyone's opinion to the positive.

Question: is it possible -- just possible -- that two things are simultaneously true in Ferguson? One is that the police don't treat blacks equally because the laws aren't fair to the poorer members of the community. The other is that Michael Brown wasn't exactly a saint, considering he had just stolen cigarillos from a convenience store, shoving the owner aside on his way out. That's not a crime we punish with the death penalty, of course, but is it possible that when Wilson came upon Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson and told them to stop walking in the middle of the street, that Brown thought the cop knew about the shoplifting and attacked Wilson, who then overreacted by killing him? I don't know what happened that day, but it seems possible that the protesters in Ferguson, while they have valid reasons to be unhappy with the treatment of their community by law enforcement, may have chosen the wrong guy to get behind.

We now return to normality -- until someone hears something from someone else.

He Reported On Cosby's Accusers 7 Years Ago

Mark Ebner is an investigative journalist and author who wrote about sexual assault and rape accusations against Bill Cosby in 2007 -- but no one paid attention. At the time, news executives refused to run the story because they were worried about being sued for tarnishing Cosby's pristine reputation.

When Ebner joined me on KTRS, he revealed the information he had gathered seven years ago from three of the victims, and we talked about why the media wouldn't publish it, despite other complaints about Cosby (and a legal settlement) becoming public before then. We also talked about Camille Cosby's role in covering up -- or, at least, sitting by doing nothing about -- her husband's alleged attacks on women.

I asked Ebner what will happen to Cosby's career going forward, as the list of venues that don't want to be in business with him keeps growing. After NBC and Netflix killed projects they'd planned with him, his gig at Treasure Island in Las Vegas next weekend has been canceled, as have upcoming dates in Oklahoma, Illinois, and Arizona.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's a complete list of women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault (as of last night). Their stories are remarkably similar, and I won't be surprised when other alleged victims become emboldened to come forward with their own sordid tales.
My friend Mark Evanier has been thinking about Cosby's fans, particularly the ones who showed up at his concert in Melbourne, Florida, last night and gave him a standing ovation when he walked onstage:

I have no doubt what he did on that stage was very, very funny. Rape charges aside, no one's better at that than William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr. and before this new flurry of charges, he always got standing o's.

But I do wonder what, if anything, was on the minds of those who showed up that night, laughed and stood to clap. Presumably, they all purchased tickets before they heard about the fifteen or eighteen (or whatever it's up to now) women who say Cos drugged them then had his way with them and I do understand the feeling of "We paid for these, we might as well use them." Some of those people might even have thought, "Hey, this could be our last chance to see Bill Cosby on a stage."

Still, you can think all that and not give the guy an enthusiastic round of applause that would be interpreted as, "We don't care, Bill. We love you." One does wonder if Cosby hears that and thinks, "Hell, the public still loves me. All I need to do is stonewall and press on and this damn thing will blow over."
Read Mark's full post here.

On that subject, Variety's Brian Lowry tweeted:
Anybody surprised that Bill Cosby could perform a sold-out concert amid scandal clearly hasn't been paying much attention to the NFL lately.
But I doubt that Ray Rice would get a standing ovation if he returned to football.

Previously on Harris Online...

Glyn Johns, "Sound Man"

Glyn Johns helped create some of the seminal classic rock albums, including "Let It Be," "The Who By Numbers," "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out," and the first releases by The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and the Steve Miller Band -- plus hundreds of others, which is why he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2012. Johns joined me on KTRS to tell some of the stories from his memoir, "Sound Man," including:
  • how the process worked when a band came into the studio with a song;
  • how difficult it was to record The Beatles' final concert on the rooftop of a building in London;
  • how George Harrison and Mick Jagger reacted when he played the first Led Zeppelin album for them;
  • why he didn't like The Eagles the first time he saw them in concert.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 11/21/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Mike Nichols Movies," "Multiple Choice Thanksgiving," and "Who You Calling Turkey?"  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/21/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include some odd objections to Winnie The Pooh, two angry Saudi divorces, and revenge on a traffic app.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dan Pink, "Crowd Control"

Dan Pink returned to my show to talk about his new TV show, "Crowd Control," which debuts Monday night on the National Geographic Channel. We discussed the show's behavioral experiments, like trying to get people to use stairs instead of escalators by making the stairs musical, using pictures of people in wheelchairs to get non-disabled drivers to stop parking in handicapped spaces, and changing a road surface to play "America The Beautiful" for drivers who don't speed.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/21/14

The stories in this All-American edition of Knuckleheads In The News® include a drunk on a bulldozer, butt steaks on a scooter, and a bad day at the bowling alley.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nichols and May

In discussing Mike Nichols, the legendary director and EGOT winner, who died yesterday at 83, there hasn't been enough talk about his seminal stage work and unmatched chemistry with Elaine May. Here's a great example of their work, from an era when people put dimes in pay phones, phones had dials, and directory information was free...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More About Bill Cosby

I spent some time today on KTRS talking about the latest Bill Cosby revelations -- from Janice Dickerson to Netflix withdrawing his streaming special to NBC cancelling his proposed sitcom to Don Lemon's not-well-chosen question for one of Cosby's accusers.

I also discussed the story from my perspective as a father. Since most of the allegations against Cosby claim he put something in his victims' drinks that knocked them out, I remember conversations I had with my now-20-year-old daughter before she went away to college. My wife and I warned her to -- while out anywhere with a guy -- keep an eye on (and hand over) her glass, because we've heard too many stories about roofies or other drugs being slipped into drinks of unsuspecting women who were then taken advantage of.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Ken Jennings In Outer Space

It’s been a decade since Ken Jennings appeared on 75 consecutive "Jeopardy!" shows and won $2.5 million (and more in several return visits for special tournaments). He writes a weekly trivia quiz for Slate, compiles the Kennections puzzle for Parade, and is the best-selling author of "Brainiac," "Ken Jennings' Trivia Almanac," and "Because I Said So." His "Junior Genius Guides" for kids 8-10 have covered Greek Mythology, US Presidents, Maps & Geography, and his newest is about Outer Space.

He joined me today on KTRS to discuss how he's been interested in space since he was a kid and share some things about space that we don't know. I asked him about feedback he gets from his young readers, including his children, Dylan and Caitlin. He also discussed his recent appearance on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and how "Jeopardy!" has changed since his first time around.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • GOP leaders say Obama's immigration moves will make it difficult for them to work with him. Because they've been so cooperative up till now.
  • Media outlets keep saying that SNL's Cecily Strong will host the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Wrong! She will perform there. No comedians have hosted it.
  • On People magazine's new Sexiest Man Alive list, Chris Hemsworth was #1. I was  #3,452,993,017.
  • Happy to see that The CW will produce 13 new episodes of Penn and Teller's "Fool Us" next year.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

About Bill Cosby

I don't know.

That's what I tell people who ask what I think of the allegations about Bill Cosby -- that he raped/sexually assaulted more than a dozen women many years ago. I certainly hope those claims are false, because I've been a fan of his since I first heard "To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With" in 1968. But I don't know what, if anything, happened between him and these women.

Here's what I do know.

This is not the same as the Woody Allen question, because that involves a single incident with a single girl and, to my knowledge, no other women have come forward to make similar claims about him. I don't know what happened in that case, either, but it hasn't stopped me from going to see his movies and continuing to laugh whenever I listen to one of his classic standup routines from decades ago.

When there's a pattern of claims and legal settlements, as there are in Cosby's case, it doesn't help make the accused look innocent (see: Michael Jackson). That pattern makes me feel much more uneasy about Cosby than I do about Allen.

Barbara Bowman -- who has been making the media rounds after her op-ed, "Bill Cosby Raped Me. Why Did It Take 30 Years For People To Believe My Story?" was published by the Washington Post last week -- seems to have no motive other than telling her story. The statute of limitations has long run out on a rape committed three decades ago, and she has never made any financial demand of Cosby. She's told multiple interviewers that she doesn't want to be seen as a victim, but as a victim's advocate. Is she doing this to get attention? To what end? Does that mean she's telling the truth? Not necessarily, but why would she lie?

His attorney, John Schmitt, posted a statement on Cosby's website Sunday morning:
Over the last several weeks, decades-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment. He would like to thank all his fans for the outpouring of support and assure them that, at age 77, he is doing his best work. There will be no further statement from Mr. Cosby or any of his representatives.
That's not going to work. He has to say something. This story will have legs, at least for a while. At some point, protesters will show up outside a venue where Cosby performs, or perhaps even inside, where they might interrupt one of his shows. That could affect his loving fan base and might cause promoters to stop booking him -- business execs don't hire people with a cloud like this over their head. Which is also why NBC will likely back away from a new sitcom they were pursuing with Cosby to premiere next year.

As for "doing his best work," that's definitely not true. My wife and I saw Cosby at The Fox Theater several months ago, and he wasn't nearly as funny as when we'd seen him at that venue a few years back. Not only was the material not up to par, his performance was lackluster. Additionally, his recent TV appearances with Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert were more odd than humorous. The hosts treated Cosby with reverence, but he didn't seem to want to play along with whatever line of questioning they offered. Instead, he went off on tangents that made no sense. It was sad to see because he had a history of being a money-in-the-bank guest for so many shows, including Letterman's, where he was scheduled to appear tomorrow night, before they (or Cosby's people) un-booked him after the rape allegations reared their ugly heads again.

I don't know what the truth is. But if Cosby remains silent, he risks having a glorious career and reputation as America's Sitcom Dad washed away by the growing talk about the sexual assault allegations. That would be unfortunate.

On the other hand, if the allegations are true, then he's yet another rich, powerful celebrity who used his position and opportunity to take advantage of (mostly) young, vulnerable women whose claims were ignored or buried by authorities who couldn't believe that Cosby would ever do anything bad.

I don't know what to believe.

The only thing I do know for sure is that Bill Cosby slept with his brother, Russell.

And then there's this, a routine Cosby did in 1969 on the album, "It's True! It's True!" It's about Spanish Fly, the drug that would make a girl go crazy when you put it in her drink. Considering that some of his accusers say he raped them giving them a beverage that must have been laced with something, it's uncomfortable to listen to. It's not evidence of anything, of course, but, as Alan Scherstuhl of the Village Voice, who dug this up, points out:
Even when I heard this bit as a kid, I wondered: Why would famous TV stars need a drug to get women interested in them? Why is sex something to lie and cheat and scheme to get, rather than something to share? Hearing it now, it's positively chilling, especially the crowd's easy laughter, which suggests that Cosby was able to put over his fantasy of women stripped of their ability to say no as something near universal. Boys will be boys, hahaha, and then refuse ever to speak of it once they become rich and powerful men.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Do Hate Crime Laws Work?

Angela Giampolo, an attorney and LGBT activist, stirred up some controversy with a recent op-ed asking whether hate crime laws -- which add more punishment based on the victim's race, disability, or sexual orientation -- really deter violence. I asked her to talk it over with me today, and we delved into several questions:

  • Is there evidence hate crime legislation works?
  • Who are these laws used against?
  • Does the increased incarceration deter others from committing similar crimes?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

My Plan For Breaking The Internet

Have Bill Cosby do a benefit concert in Ferguson -- women only.

Picture Of The Day

This is one of the rare current "SNL" sketches to actually make me laugh. It's about how networks and broadcast outlets overreact to feedback from viewers (and listeners). It was bad enough when execs made content decisions based on focus groups, but now with instant reactions via social media, it can get out of control...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

The central character of "Nightcrawler," Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a creep, a desperate loser who lives on the edge of society, stealing and scamming his way through life, until he discovers a profession he's fascinated with.

Late one night he stumbles upon an auto accident, with cops and EMTs doing their thing, when a video crew rolls up and starts recording the gory scene. He asks the videographer (Bill Paxton), what he's going to do with the footage, and is intrigued when he's told it will be sold to one of the local TV stations for use on their morning newscast.

Bloom is drawn to this idea so much that he gets his own video camera and police scanner and starts racing to the scene of other accidents and crime, where he shoots some video, then takes it to the last-place TV station in LA to sell. News director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) writes him a check and encourages him to bring her more. She gives him a lesson in what she wants -- scenes of urban crime creeping into the suburbs, with blood and vivid images -- that she can use as lead stories, complete with fear-mongering graphics. Naturally, Bloom is driven to find more extreme footage for Nina, and the more he delivers, the more he forces her hand with demand after demand.

This is a side of the media that hasn't been shown on a movie screen before, although it's been a very big part of local TV news for decades -- if it bleeds, it leads -- and "Nightcrawler" gets it all right. Gyllenhaal's Louis is a combination of Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, while Russo's Nina is all about phony images, right down to the severe eye shadow she wears in a failed attempt to make herself more appealing. But she's drawn to him, and vice versa.

I enjoyed the hell out of "Nightcrawler." It's a story we haven't seen before, with a very different role for Gyllenhaal, and very good work by writer/director Dan Gilroy (Russo's husband), who also wrote the Jeremy Renner outing "The Bourne Legacy."

Eight out of ten.

Movie Review: Rosewater

"Rosewater" is Jon Stewart's directorial debut. If it weren't, there would be no reason to see it.

The story is about Maziar Bahari, a journalist for Newsweek, who was arrested in Iran in 2009 while covering the election and the "green revolution," which some thought would move that country from an autocracy to a democracy. It didn't happen. Along the way, Bahari took video of protests, wrote stories about the opposition, and appeared in a "Daily Show" piece with Jason Jones, who claimed he was a spy. All of that led to Bahari being arrested and held in prison for over 100 days.

Gael Garcia Bernal is fine as Bahari, and Stewart's direction (from his own script, based on Bahari's book about his experience) is more than competent. But it's not compelling. I was never invested in what was happening to Bahari. Perhaps that's because Stewart shows us the mental games of the interrogations Bahari endured, but not the physical torture. Thus, his situation never seems that dire, even though he spends most of every day in solitary confinement.

5.5 out of 10.

More Words About Words

After my post on grammar pet peeves, Bob Robinson e-mails:

Bad grammar is such an issue with me that I irritate my wife by yelling at people on TV! Here are just a few of the things that annoy the hell out of me:
  • Any commercial or person that says “x times (more, less, faster, etc)”, when the proper phrase is “x times as”: The new Tide is 3 times more concentrated than the leading competitor”. So, is the new Tide 4 times as concentrated, or only 3 times as concentrated. This could be the basis of a lawsuit for false advertising.
  • Anyone who says they are “more” anything when they should simply be using a word ending in “er”, as in happier, sadder, faster, etc.
  • News anchors who say “Next, our story about…”, and then proceed to tell us the story. I’m sorry, but that’s not “next”, it’s NOW.
Stuart Snyder adds five more:
  • Those who say, “I could care less” actually mean “I couldn't care less.”
  • Though “irregardless” is a word found in some dictionaries, it’s not a proper word. Use “regardless” instead.
  • An apostrophe is never used to form a plural.
  • “It’s” is short for “it is.” “Its” means “belonging to it.”
  • “Loose” and “lose” are two different words.
We need remedial classes in possessive vs. plural, as the misuse of the apostrophe has become more prevalent. Yesterday, I saw supermarket signs reading "Banana's on sale!" and "Order your Thanksgiving turkey's now!"

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Abridged History Of Comedy Abridged

Austin Tichenor and Dominick Conti -- two-thirds of the Reduced Shakespeare Company* -- were in the studio with me to talk about their latest production, "The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged). We took it from the beginnings (cave comedy) through Abe Lincoln's standup comedy and into modern times, and I had Austin perform his signature song from the show, "I Laughed Till I Cried," which references pretty much every important comedy figure of our lifetimes.

We also talked about the RSC having its Bible show banned earlier this year in Northern Ireland, what it's like to play in China, and how many venues are probably putting on one of the nine distinct RSC productions somewhere in the world tonight.

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

*Reed Martin, the other third of the RSC -- and co-creator of their shows with Austin -- couldn't join us because he was doing a theater workshop at Washington University this afternoon. FYI, in the photo above, that's me on the left, Dom in the middle, and Austin on the right.

Harris Challenge 11/14/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "I'm Freezing My Arch Off," "Showbiz and Sports Week," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?"  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/14/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a very big duck in a crosswalk, the wrong person to give counterfeit money, and some milkshake money.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Big Bowl Of Columbo

I was a big fan of the TV series "Columbo," thanks mostly to the way Peter Falk played the lead character, but also because of the cleverly intricate plots the writers developed. Michael Sheen, star of Showtime's "Masters Of Sex," loved "Columbo," too, and when he appeared recently on Jeff Garlin's "By The Way" podcast, he laid out the storyline for a fantastic "Columbo" episode he'd like to see. Listen to the excerpt, then click here for the full podcast.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Not So Much With The Words

One of my pet peeves is bad grammar. As a person who speaks for a living, the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I overhear mangled usage such as these examples...

  • A waiter asked us: "How's your guys food tasting?" Your guys? Stop adding modifiers to "your," which can be either singular or plural. And you're using the wrong form of the verb when you use the -ing suffix. What you meant to say was "How is your food?"
  • A person in a parking lot: "I forgot where I left my keys at." There's no need to add "at" to the end of that sentence -- or any other, for that matter.
  • In a similar vein, heard in an office: "Did you get that report ran?" Well, I completed the report and emailed it to you and printed a copy, but I didn't get it ran.
  • In an elevator: "Roger told her and I that he's going to be a few minutes late." There's a simple rule for when to use "I" and when to use "me" -- if you take the other person out of the sentence ("her and..."), you would never say "Roger told I that..." And stop substituting "myself" for "I," because it doesn't work, either.
I have a feeling this will turn into a series of posts on this topic. If you have a favorite, share it with me via the e-mail address on the right side of this page.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

I like many of Christopher Nolan's movies -- "Memento," "The Dark Knight," "Inception" -- but his latest, "Interstellar" is an epic-length grand effort that falls far short.

It starts with the severe miscasting of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. They're both very talented, but this is not the right vehicle for them. The other stars (Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and Matt Damon) all do the job you'd expect, but McConaughey and Hathaway are not believable as astronauts sent through a wormhole to find a new planet for Earthlings to move to once our planet becomes uninhabitable. That's all I can explain about the confusing plot without giving too much away -- and it's not enough.

A year ago, Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" amazed us by creating a new paradigm for space movies. The way it was shot, edited, and scored was as revolutionary as "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1969 and the first "Star Wars" in 1977. But "Interstellar" doesn't give us anything new. In fact, several parts flash back, as if in homage, to "2001," but what seemed so impressive 45 years ago is now flat out boring.

I watched Kubrick's space opera with my daughter this summer -- the first time I'd seen it in decades -- and nearly fell asleep. The pacing was so slow, especially compared to modern movies and television. The mind-blowing sequence of Keir Dullea encountering the monolith and entering Jupiter's space now seems overly long and drawn out, as if it were someone showing off what they could do with a new box of graphics tools. Like "2001," "Interstellar" goes on and on and on (running time: 2:47), and Nolan has at least two sequences that mimic Kubrick's effects exhibitionism, neither of which works.

Then there's the sound. Nolan has [purposely?] drowned out much of his own dialogue with an intense soundtrack of music and effects. It's not mandatory that we hear every bit of technical jargon, but when the plot is as confusing as this one, we need clarity, yet there are several times when we can't hear the main characters conversing because the score has been cranked to eleven.

If you want to see a much better space-themed movie with Matthew McConaughey, go watch "Contact," the 1997 film based on Carl Sagan's book, starring Jodie Foster as an astronomer who searches the skies for a signal from space, and when she receives one, all hell breaks loose. "Contact" has one thing in common with "Interstellar" -- the story of a girl trying to stay in touch with her long-lost father. But unlike Nolan, director Robert Zemeckis did a good job balancing the science and the humanity, with a cast that includes David Morse, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, Angela Bassett, Rob Lowe, John Hurt, and about half of the anchors and reporters at CNN.

For more specifics on problems with "Interstellar," read this piece by Nico Lang.

The Virus With No Cure

The graphic on "Good Morning America" read "Ebola-Free America," now that Dr. Craig Spencer no longer has the virus in his system and has been cleared. But I wonder if anyone in the media -- or politicians like Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Bill DeBlasio -- has second thoughts about the panic-level fear-mongering they used to create the impression that everyday Americans were at risk for contracting Ebola.

The fact remains that the only ones who contracted the virus in this country were nurses in Dallas who tried to save Thomas Eric Duncan's life. That's it. No one on public transportation, no one in a bowling alley, no one at Starbucks or McDonald's, or anywhere else.

As Frank Bruni pointed out last month, there are lots of things much more dangerous than Ebola: many thousands of Americans die every year due to the flu, skin cancer, automobile accidents, and guns. But I'm not concerned. I'm sure the media will return to fear-mongering on those and other subjects soon.

That's a virus there is no cure for.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Some blunt words about the wars the US has spent the last 13 years fighting, from a guy who should know. He's retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, who oversaw our efforts in Afghanistan, and says that, after the countless lives lost and blood spilled, all we have to show for it is two failed wars and a lot of historical revisionism:

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

The surge legend is soothing, especially for military commanders like me. We can convince ourselves that we did our part, and a few more diplomats or civilian leaders should have done theirs. Similar myths no doubt comforted Americans who fought under the command of Robert E. Lee in the Civil War or William C. Westmoreland in Vietnam. But as a three-star general who spent four years trying to win this thing — and failing — I now know better.

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.
Read Bolger's full piece here.

Two Showbiz Items

Disney has announced that its Pixar division will produce "Toy Story 4." It sounds like a bad idea because TS3 did such a beautiful job of wrapping up the tale of Andy's toys. Then again, TS3 didn't sound like such a good idea when it was first announced. What I didn't know (until my colleague Colin Jeffery told me) is that Disney has been producing Toy Story shorts over the last couple of years that show up on DVDs or before other Disney movies in theaters. The release date on TS4 won't be until 2017, which makes me think they'd better get Don Rickles into the studio soon to record the voice tracks for the hockey puck -- he's already 88-and-a-half years old!

After last year's live broadcast of "The Sound Of Music" starring Carrie Underwood, and the upcoming "Peter Pan" starring Alison Williams, NBC is developing a live TV production of "A Few Good Men." Hard to believe it's been 22 years since Rob Reiner's movie version, starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Bacon, etc. There's no word on who will star in it, but remember that Aaron Sorkin wrote it as a stage play first. My wife and I saw it in its pre-Broadway run at the Kennedy Center, with Tom Hulce in the lead role and, I think, Edward Winter (best known as Col. Flagg on TV's "M*A*S*H") as Col. Jessep. It was a very impressive production, as I'm sure the live TV version can be, even without the Hollywood star power of the movie.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

David Masciotra makes the case that we shouldn't honor everyone in the military or law enforcement just because they wear the uniform. He cites widespread examples of sexual harassment in the armed forces and police brutality across the country. His point isn't that everyone in uniform is bad, but that they're not all good, either.

Then he goes on to raise an even more important point:

One of the reasons that the American public so eagerly and excitedly complies with the cultural code of lionizing every soldier and cop is because of the physical risk-taking and bravery many of them display on the foreign battleground and the American street. Physical strength and courage is only useful and laudable when invested in a cause that is noble and moral. The causes of American foreign policy, especially at the present, rarely qualify for either compliment. The “troops are heroes” boosters of American life typically toss out clichés to defend their generalization -– “They defend our freedom,” “They fight so we don’t have to.”

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II – an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.
Read Masciotra's full piece here.

A Great Snopes Story

There was a time not too long ago when my email inbox would be filled daily with people sharing a link to some bizarre story, rumor, or conspiracy -- often the same one, as I was on lots of my listeners' mailing lists. The vast majority of the stories (95%+) turned out to be garbage, which I verified simply and quickly by checking, the website run by David and Barbara Mikkelson. For awhile, I had Barbara on as a regular guest to debunk the latest viral silliness, and I told e-mailers that before forwarding a story to me, they should first check it on Snopes themselves.

Those e-mails now come in much smaller numbers, but the Mikkelsons are still investigating and debunking. David recently did an interview with Cheryl Eddy of, which ended with the most outrageous story that turned out to be actually true:
Back in the early days of the Internet, there was this text that used to circulate via email that was supposedly a medical journal article. It had to do with a doctor who treated a patient whose scrotum was all swollen, and discolored, and had metal bits in it.

They eventually coax the story out of the patient: he worked in a machine shop, and when everyone else went to lunch, he would use the belt sander or some piece of machinery to pleasure himself. He ended up catching his scrotum in the machinery and it tore open, but instead of going to the emergency room like most other people would, he picked up an industrial stapler and stapled his scrotum back closed, and didn't seek medical treatment for several days after that.

So, since this was way back when, I had to track down the medical journal to verify that the article had actually been published — which meant trekking out to UCLA, because those things weren't online yet. But once I verified it was a real article, I still had to eliminate the possibility that it was just something published as a joke, or something like that. I had to track down the doctor who had written it, who was retired back in Pennsylvania. I sent him a letter and he replied, saying that yes, he'd treated that patient, and that he'd seen the article tacked up on bulletin boards all over the world. That was one of the ones I did not expect to be true!
Read the full interview with David Mikkelson here.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

A profile of James Randi by Adam Higginbotham in the New York Times Magazine...

Born Randall James Zwinge in 1928, Randi began performing as a teenager in the 1940s, touring with a carnival and working table to table in the nightclubs of his native Toronto. Billed as The Great Randall: Telepath, he had a mind-reading act, and also specialized in telling the future. In 1949 he made local headlines for a trick in which he appeared to predict the outcome of the World Series a week before it happened, writing the result down, sealing it an envelope and giving it to a lawyer who opened and read it to the press after the series concluded. But no matter how many times he assured his audiences that such stunts were a result of subterfuge and legerdemain, he found there were always believers. They came up to him in the street and asked him for stock tips; when he insisted that he was just a magician, they nodded — but winked and whispered that they knew he was truly psychic. Once he understood the power he had over his audience, and how easily he could exploit their belief in the supernatural to make money, it frightened him: “To have deceived people like that . . . that’s a terrible feeling,” he said.

He turned instead to escapology — as The Amazing Randi: The Man No Jail Can Hold — and feats of endurance. He broke a record for his 55-minute stint encased in ice, and bested the time his hero Houdini had spent trapped in a coffin on the bottom of the swimming pool at the Hotel Shelton in Manhattan. But Randi never forgot the believers, and how susceptible they were to exploitation by those who lacked his scruples. And so, as his reputation as a magician grew, he also began to campaign against spiritualists and psychics. In 1964, as a guest on a radio talk show, he offered $1,000 of his own money in a challenge to anyone who could show scientific evidence of supernatural powers. Soon afterward, he began broadcasting his own national radio show dedicated to discussion of the paranormal. He bought a small house in Rumson, N.J., and installed a sign outside that announced randi — charlatan. He lived there alone, with a pair of talking birds and a kinkajou named Sam. Although Randi had known he was gay since he was a teenager, he kept that to himself. “I had to conceal it, you know,” he told me. “They wouldn’t have had a known homosexual working in the radio station. This was a day when you had to keep it completely hidden.”

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, popular interest in the paranormal grew: There was a fascination with extrasensory perception and the Bermuda Triangle and best sellers like “Chariots of the Gods,” which claimed Earth’s ancient civilizations were visited by aliens. There were mystics, mind-readers and psychic surgeons, who were said to be able to extract tumors from their patients using only their bare hands — and without leaving a mark. Randi continued on his crusade. Few of his fellow illusionists were interested in exposing the way that conjuring tricks were used to dupe gullible audiences into believing in psychic abilities. “Everybody else just kind of rolled their eyes,” Penn Jillette, a good friend of Randi’s, told me. “'Why is Randi spending all this time doing this? We all know there is no ESP. It’s just stupid people believe it, and that’s fine.’ ”
Read the full piece here.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Snake Eats Man?

The Discovery Channel is going to run a show next month called "Eaten Alive," in which a man is supposedly going to be consumed by an anaconda. Whenever I hear about bizarre reality television events, I always turn to Andy Dehnart of, who joined me on KTRS to talk about whether this stunt is for real and what it says about the credibility of that network. We also discussed Nik Wallenda's latest highwire walk and what to expect next in that genre.

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

Harris Challenge 11/7/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day, " "Old Guys' Musical Marriages," and "You Named Your Child What?"  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/7/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a makeshift blowtorch, a box of beans, and a pregnant man.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, November 07, 2014

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Overcoming Space Obstacles

Regarding the explosion of Antares and the crash of SpaceShipTwo last week, Bob Robinson e-mails:

I was discussing the two latest tragedies related to space travel with a co-worker, and an article questioning whether the space program could survive two accidents in close succession came up. He and I are in complete agreement that this was a rather stupid question to ask.

When men first set out in boats, some of them died – and people continue to die in boating accidents and shipwrecks. When horse-drawn carriages were invented, there were failures of all sorts (wheels coming off, etc.) that resulted in serious injuries and death. After the invention of steam locomotives, some of them blew up, killing the crew. Eventually, trains derailed, killing crews and passengers. After the invention of the automobile there were, and continue to be (in great numbers!) wrecks of all sort – some caused by mechanical failure, but most due to human error. We have had passenger planes for nearly a century, with thousands of deaths resulting from crashes.

With every new mode of transportation comes the risk of injury and death from ‘accidents’ (I put accidents in quotes because I don’t believe in them. Incidents are caused by inattention and/or hurry). I’m sure there were always those who felt that each new transportation method was too dangerous, and should be abandoned. Fortunately, there were many more who knew that the correct response was to analyze the incidents and learn from the causes. We learned how to make boats more stable and sea-worthy, but the oceans and seas are incredibly powerful, making a truly unsinkable vessel a near impossibility (aside from rescue boats, apparently. Those things are amazing!), but we keep trying. Safety valves helped to prevent boiler explosions on locomotives, but they still can’t protect you from human error and negligence. We have improved the safety of motorized vehicles by several orders of magnitude over the Model T, but people continue to do stupid things behind the wheels of them and injure, maim, and kill their fellow humans – sometimes intentionally. We haven’t banned motorcycles, cars, buses, and trucks just because they can be used to mow people down. Our ability to analyze every available detail and piece of debris from plane crashes, along with the invention of flight data and cockpit voice recorders has allowed engineers to determine the causes of most crashes, and, in some cases, correct design flaws. In others, we have learned that the old bugaboo of human error was to blame, and in some of these cases improved training procedures can prevent these errors.

The point these "critics" fail to either realize or understand, is that we have never given up on an important new mode of transportation. We strive to improve upon them, and make them as safe as possible or reasonable. If this weren't the case, we would all either be walking, riding horses, or driving Model Ts that are horribly unsafe for large numbers of people. If we haven’t given up on other modes of transportation, why should we give up on space flight?
Bob is absolutely right -- and let's not forget all the mishaps that occurred in the space program before we got Alan Shepherd up there in 1961, with launch vehicles exploding on the pad or barely lifting off. Then there was the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger and Columbia explosions, and others. Fortunately, none of them stopped our efforts to explore -- although I wish we were doing more and going further -- and the latest two incidents shouldn't be obstacles we can't overcome.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Mr. Perspective On The Midterms

Once again I put on the hat of my alter ego, Mr. Perspective, to offer some things you may not know about yesterday's election:

Much is being made of the Democrats losing seven seats in the Senate, with pundits calling it a referendum on how unpopular President Obama is. But as usual, they haven't offered any historical perspective. So let's look at what happened to the last five two-term presidents in their sixth year in office...

  • In 2006, under George W. Bush, Republicans lost 6 Senate seats.
  • In 1986, under Ronald Reagan, Republicans lost 8 Senate seats.
  • In 1966, under Lyndon Johnson, Democrats lost 3 Senate seats.
  • In 1956, under Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans lost 13 Senate seats (!!).
We could go back further, but in the last century, there's only one president who didn't lose any Senate seats in his sixth year in office: Bill Clinton -- even in the midst of Republicans trying to impeach him!

Bottom line: seven seats lost by the Democrats under Obama isn't out of the ordinary. Sure, it means the GOP now controls both houses of Congress, which means more investigations over ginned-up charges by committee after committee (because that will make America a better place). And I'll bet it won't even take until the end of January before Mitch McConnell is whining that those damn Democrats keep filibustering all the important legislation he wants to pass -- which Obama's going to veto, anyway.

As Steve Roberts commented this morning on my KTRS show, one thing to watch is how few federal appointees are okayed by McConnell's Senate, including 63 federal judge openings that remain unfilled, not to mention the Surgeon General. And if something happens to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or any other Supreme Court Justice) in the next two years, there's going to be a hell of a fight.

Questions no one else in the media is asking today to challenge bogus claims from the pundit class:
  • If this election was about anger with Washington and a "throw the bums out" feeling from the electorate, why did more than 90% of the incumbents in Congress hold onto their offices?
  • If we were throwing the bums out, why were these six incumbents, all indicted for crimes ranging from tax fraud to ethics charges to embezzlement to tampering with evidence, re-elected?
  • If this election was confirmation that the country is now more conservative, why did four deeply red states (Alaska, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Arkansas) vote to raise the minimum wage -- while electing members of Congress who oppose that increase!).
  • While you're at it, note that marijuana is becoming legal in two more states (Oregon and Alaska) and the District Of Columbia. I doubt a single Republican candidate campaigned for that.
There's also a lot of back-patting over the fact that we now have 100 women in Congress. That's just under 19%, a sad figure compared to other countries. As Beenish Ahmed points out, that ties us for 85th in the world, behind such progressive nations as China, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia. Yes, we're behind Saudi Arabia, where women can't drive and are barely allowed out of the house without a male family member. They have more women in their legislature than the United States Of America.

Speaking of women, their turnout in this election was the lowest it's been since 1992. Numbers were also near record lows for minorities and young voters. Without those constituencies going to the polls, Democrats can't win. Unfortunately for Republicans, those folks will show up for the presidential election in two years.

There are many election modifications I'd like to see, beginning with better use of technology to make it easier to vote (I know this has no chance of passing while the GOP owns state legislatures that purposely keep the voting population suppressed). And, if you want more younger Americans to participate: 1) allow people to take selfies with their ballots and post them on social media; and 2) allow voters to use Tinder to find and then hit on other voters at the polling places.

Finally, I'd pass a law that says that the loser of any election must go out the morning after and pick up all the signs both they and their opponent stuck on lawns or any public place, by noon, or face a fine for littering. Talk about election consequences!

Here's my conversation with Steve Roberts. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!