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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Harris Challenge 2/27/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Did You Ear About Spock?", "Government In Action," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/27/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a closet full of nickels, a Nutella fire, and a stripper with back problems. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Muppet Whiplash

A nice mash-up of JK Simmons, in his Oscar-winning role from "Whiplash," with Animal, drummer for Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem on "The Muppet Show"...

Don't Lose Your Head

There were a few headlines this week about a neuroscientist in Italy, Sergio Canavero, who wants to perform a human head transplant. But Art Caplan, a bioethicist and frequent guest on my radio show, says not so fast:

Scientifically what Canavero wants to do cannot yet be done. It may never be doable.

To move a head on to someone else’s body requires the rewiring of the spinal cord. We don’t know how to do that. If we did there would be far fewer paralyzed people who have spinal cord injuries. Nor, despite Canavero’s assertions to the contrary, is medicine anywhere close to knowing how to use stem cells or growth factors to make this happen....

Ethically the big obstacle is what will happen if I stick an old head on a new body. The brain is not contained in a bucket -- it integrates with the chemistry of the body and its nervous system. Would a brain integrate new signals, perceptions, information from a body different from the one it was familiar with? I think the most likely result is insanity or severe mental disability.
Read Caplan's full piece here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Andrew Napolitano on how our leaders have subverted the Constitution and, in particular, the Fourth Amendment, under the guise of keeping us safer:

What if the Bush folks took Reagan's idea of spying on foreign spies and twisted it so that they could spy on not just foreign spies, but also on foreign persons? What if they took that and leapt to spying on Americans who communicated with foreign persons?

What if they then concluded that it was easier to spy on all Americans rather than just those who communicated with foreign persons? What if they claimed in secret that all this was authorized by Reagan's executive order and two federal statutes, their unique interpretations of which they refused to discuss in public? What if the Reagan order and the statutes authorized no such thing?

What if The New York Times caught the Bush administration in its massive violation of the Fourth Amendment, whereby it was spying on all Americans all the time without any warrants? What if the Times sat on that knowledge during, throughout, and beyond the presidential election campaign of 2004? What if, when the Times revealed all this, the Bush administration agreed to stop spying? What if it didn't stop?

What if President Obama came up with a scheme to make the spying appear legal? What if that scheme involved using secret judges in secret courts to issue general warrants? What if the Obama administration swore those judges to secrecy? What if it swore to secrecy all in the government who are involved in undermining basic American values? What if it forgot that everyone in government also swears an oath to uphold the Constitution? What if Edward Snowden violated his oath to secrecy in order to uphold his oath to the Constitution, which includes the Fourth Amendment, and spilled the beans on the government?
Read Napolitano's full piece here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

From My Twitter Feed

  • In Sen. James Inhofe’s science class, a helium balloon on a string proves gravity is a hoax.
  • Today's runaway animal story reminds me of The Motels song from the early 80s, "Take the L out of llama and it's lama..." (Hat tip to my former colleague Irv Goldfarb, who said it on his highly-rated afternoon show at the time on WHCN/Hartford).

Living Together

Two members of the Florida legislature have proposed a bill that would repeal a law that's been on the books since 1868 which prohibits unmarried couples from living together. We're not talking about unmarried gay couples here, but heterosexuals in love sharing an apartment or home. Sounds preposterous in modern day America, but a Florida TV station says that almost 700 people were charged with the misdemeanor -- punishable by a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail -- between 2006 and 2011.

My wife and I encountered an identical law when we moved to the DC suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, in 1986, a story I told on this site two years ago.

I'm also reminded of a story from 2007 in which an unmarried couple with three kids were denied an occupancy permit for a five-bedroom house by the town of Black Jack, Missouri, where the mayor and city council thought they were the morality police. I told that story, and interviewed the woman who eventually won the case, here.

Lawsuit Of The Day (Year?)

I dare you to read this timeline of a crazy lawsuit filed by a guy in Kansas against Edward Snowden and "Citizenfour" director Laura Poitras without rolling your eyes in disbelief.

Picture Of The Day

After students at a high school basketball game in Texas held up signs saying "White Power," WFAA-TV sportscaster Dale Hansen -- who a year ago went viral with his defense of Michael Sam playing in the NFL -- gave this perfect editorial, in which he harked back to the racism that was present in his own home while growing up...

A Sack Of Shack

Radio Shack, now bankrupt, wants to sell you its name. The bidding begins at $20 million, but if you buy it, you have to provide your home address so it can keep sending you sales flyers for eternity.

I don't know why anyone would want to use the name of a business that's been belly-up for years. It's not like you're going to resurrect the brand, so why be associated with it? I can see other retailers competing for the real estate taken up by Radio Shack stores (Sprint has already bought half of them), but the name?

While you're at it, why not start selling a new diet candy called Ayds (an actual product from the 1980s)? Personally, I'm saving up my money to buy the SkyMall name, because I'm all about quality merchandise.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Glenn Greenwald writes about the arrest this week of three young American men who supposedly were going to fly to Syria to fight for Isis -- despite their lack of money or, in the case of one of the guy, the inability to travel internationally because his mother had taken away his passport. It appears that none of the three would have been able to carry out their threats, or even planned anything dangerous, without being manipulated by the FBI.

Greenwald details how that FBI trickery works, and then adds:

We’re constantly bombarded with dire warnings about the grave threat of home-grown terrorists, “lone wolf” extremists, and ISIS. So intensified are these official warnings that The New York Times earlier this month cited anonymous U.S. intelligence officials to warn of the growing ISIS threat and announce “the prospect of a new global war on terror.”

But how serious of a threat can all of this be, at least domestically, if the FBI continually has to resort to manufacturing its own plots by trolling the internet in search of young drifters and/or the mentally ill whom they target, recruit and then manipulate into joining? Does that not, by itself, demonstrate how over-hyped and insubstantial this “threat” actually is? Shouldn’t there be actual plots, ones that are created and fueled without the help of the FBI, that the agency should devote its massive resources to stopping?
It's important that Greenwald (and a sadly small number of others) ask these questions, because the rest of the news media continues to simply report what the FBI and other law enforcement agencies tell them in official press releases or well-timed internal leaks. That's not journalism, that's stenography.

Greenwald's point echoes what I have said for years -- that this country runs on fear more than anything else. A populace that's afraid of inflated-out-of-proportion threats from terrorism, disease, immigrants, and home break-ins is easily manipulated into supporting bad public policies that do nothing more than increase funding for the homeland security business and the military industrial complex. One former president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned us about the latter, and another, Franklin Roosevelt, told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

But Americans don't know that history, so we are doomed to repeat it. Today, it's not just fear we must fear -- it's a government that creates things to be afraid of in order to get more and more money to fight them.

Read Glenn Greenwald's full piece here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

From My Twitter Feed

Donald Trump is starting the "I'm going to run for president" crap again. If he gets even 1 electoral vote, I will eat his toupee.

Updated 2/26 9:00am -- Responses from Twitter users:

  • @DimeStoreNinja: In order to eat it, you'll have to catch and kill it. Good luck with that. And make sure your shots are up to date.
  • @SusanDanzig219: The day Trump wins is the day I sign up for that #OneWayTicketToMars.
  • @MarketPirate1: I want to see his Birth Certificate first. Rumor has it it's a forgery.

Daily Speculation

Jason Jones announced this week that he's leaving "The Daily Show" to do a sitcom for TBS. That's good news for my wife, who can't stand Jones because most of his segments are essentially dick jokes. In fact, we're both bothered by the fact that Jon Stewart still allows "TDS" to dip into the dick joke well far too often. It's not that we're prudish at all, it's just that we perceive Stewart (and most of his other correspondents) as better than that.

The first stories of Jones' impending departure all said that his wife, Samantha Bee, would also leave "TDS" to help write and co-executive-produce the sitcom. Now a Variety story says otherwise. That's also good news because Bee has been one of the best contributors to the show for nearly a decade.

A friend who saw that Bee was staying wondered if this might mean she'll replace Stewart in the anchor chair when he departs later this year. Of all the correspondents remaining on the show, Bee not only has seniority, but would seem best-suited for the job (Jessica Williams has already said she's not up for it, Jordan Klepper is probably still too new to get it, Aasif Mandvi isn't around much anymore, and none of the other correspondents is likely in the discussion).

But I don't think they'll put Bee in the anchor chair.

Taking over for Stewart will require an enormous amount of work, which Bee can't commit to if she's also helping Jones get his sitcom off the ground. There are only so many hours in the day, and the person who replaces Stewart will have to be singularly-minded about the task of not just anchoring, but running "The Daily Show." So, expect Bee to continue doing pieces and occasional desk spots with whoever the new host is, but not sitting in The Big Chair.

So, who does that leave to replace Stewart? I have no idea, nor does anyone else. They could go with someone like John Fugelsang, who's a comedian and a broadcaster and a liberal, three qualities that make him similar to Stewart. Maybe they move Chris Hardwick up from his "At Midnight" show, but his sensibility might not match what "TDS" now stands for. There are plenty of podcasters who'd love a shot at a national TV show, but again, which of them would fit into the "TDS" aesthetic?

It would be nice if they could find a woman who could do the job (since the other late-night slots that have opened up in the last year have all gone to more men) but who would that be? Forget about Tina Fey or Amy Poehler -- never gonna happen. It won't be Chelsea Handler, whose tone isn't right for "TDS" (she has a deal with Netflix, anyway). It won't be Kathy Griffin because, fer chrissake, I still wanna watch this show. Perhaps Comedy Central is talking with radio talk show host Stephanie Miller, a progressive whose LA-based morning show is syndicated to a bunch of stations around the country. She's funny, topical, and edgy, so she should at least be in the discussion.

Bottom line: I don't know, and I doubt Comedy Central knows yet. They have a few months to figure it out, but what all of this speculation proves most of all is that Jon Stewart will be a very tough act to follow.

Two More Movies You Might Not Know

I've added two titles to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

First is "Pride," based on the true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help British miners who went on strike in 1984. They couldn't get the national union to accept their donations (gay rights were no more evolved 30 years ago in the UK than they were in the US), so they instead chose to send their donations to Onllwyn, a small mining village in Wales. Most of the people in that town had never met a gay person, and there was conflict at first before some of the women of the town accept their unlikely visitors and convince the miners to overcome their homophobia and accept their help. The cast includes the always-worth-it Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, who play residents of Onllwyn, as does Paddy Considine (who I first spotted in "In America" in 2002, but you may know as the reporter Matt Damon tries to save from a sniper in a train station in 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum"). I haven't seen any of the actors who play the young gay activists before, but they're uniformly good.

Second is "The One I Love," starring Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass as a married couple having problems. Their marriage counselor, Ted Danson, suggests they spend the weekend at a secluded estate they'll have to themselves. That's all I can tell you about the plot because there's a surprise waiting for them on their retreat, and if I gave away any of it, it would ruin the movie -- but I will tell you it's not a horror movie, so nothing gory goes down. This is a film that was barely shown in theaters, but got good reviews and then disappeared. It's nothing historic, but it's fun.

Both of these movies are available via streaming and DVD. To see the rest of my Movies You Might Not Know list, click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Even More Things They'll Never Say About Me

Ten more phrases no one will ever use to describe me:

  • He always referred to animals as "varmints."
  • He had an extensive collection of tuxedoes and wore them often.
  • He enjoyed "Parks" but was so-so on "Recreation."
  • His favorite sound was the noisy modem handshake of the dial-up AOL days.
  • His favorite vacation destination was the Mall Of America.
  • He loved to boogie oogie oogie till he just couldn't oogie any more.
  • He spent up to 10 hours every day doing Hot Yoga.
  • He longed to have John Travolta paw his face during an awards show.
  • His favorite snack was a bowl of lentils.
  • He was once horribly addicted to Sorbitol artificial sweetener.
From the earlier lists:
  • He loved cold weather and couldn't wait for winter.
  • He enjoyed his years as a featured dancer in "Riverdance."
  • He loved websites with video/audio that started as soon as a page loaded.
  • He was known in the industry as "The Eighth Wayans Brother."
  • He loved making jars of preserves and home-brewing beer for friends.
  • His handwriting got better as he got older.
  • He had just two sports passions: cricket and curling.
  • He longed for more of the brilliant comedy of Mr. Pauly Shore.
  • He preferred the taste of lentils above all other foods.
  • He was the world's foremost expert on monster trucks.
  • He referred to friends as "peeps."
  • He often spoke of the pompatus of love.
  • He wished more foods included cilantro in their ingredients.
  • He regularly turned heads with his impeccable fashion choices.
  • He regretted not listening to more bagpipe music.
  • He was this close to being inducted into the roller derby hall of fame.
  • He enjoyed spending his free time on plumbing and auto repairs.
  • He was jealous of Boxcar Willie being named America's Favorite Hobo.
  • He would have been a masterful interior designer.
  • He lived to surf.
  • He enjoyed being surrounded by large crowds of drunken people.
  • He loved every second of every "Sharknado" movie.
  • He was one of the world's greatest soccer enthusiasts.
  • He was an early adopter of many Microsoft hardware products, particularly The Zune.
  • He never missed a moment of the Monday 8am physics lab in his freshman year of college.
  • He couldn't get enough of debates about how to achieve peace in the Middle East.
  • He enjoyed working on actuarial tables in his free time.
  • He once got stuck on a roller coaster that stopped in the middle of a ride.
  • He yearned to spend more time in the deep south.
  • He once considered a career as a clergyman.

Midnight At The Oasis

Could this song be a hit today? I first heard "Midnight At The Oasis" performed by Maria Muldaur on NBC's "Midnight Special" in 1974. That summer, it went to #6 on the charts and was Grammy-nominated for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. But when I heard it again yesterday for the first time in a long while, I wondered if it could make it today, in a country where anything that sounds remotely Islamic or Arabic generates blowback from loudmouths on TV and radio.

Take these lyrics for example...
You don't have to answer
No, there's no need to speak
I'll be your only dancer, prancer
And you can be my sheik
Wait, what's that about a sheik? Alert the xenophobes! And then there's this:
I know your Daddy's a sultan
A nomad known to all
With fifty girls to attend him, they all send him
Jump at his beck and call
That's going to get the Islamophobes and the women's rights groups upset. But there's also the most confounding lyric:
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
In what world was some guy choosing a camel over Maria Muldaur?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Better Call Paul

Nice tribute to "The Sting" during the drunk-fat-guy-in-an-alley con on tonight's "Better Call Saul." On his driver's license, the drunk's name is Henry Gondorff and he lives on Luther Street. In the movie, Henry was played by Paul Newman, and Luther Coleman was played by Robert Earl Jones (yes, James' father).

Changing The Movie-Going Experience

I agree 100% with everything Conor Knighton says in this CBS "Sunday Morning" piece about how theater chains are trying to upgrade the movie-going experience, but they're actually making it worse...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Oscars Tweets

From my Twitter feed during the Oscars...

  • Nice of Lady Gaga to have the exact same tattoos in the same places Julie Andrews had in the original movie version.
  • There are no good roles for women over 40 in Hollywood? Julianne Moore (54) and Patricia Arquette (46) just won Oscars.
  • Eddie Murphy was exactly as funny on the Oscars as he was on SNL40. Yeah, he's a comedy genius.
  • For those upset Joan Rivers wasn't in the Oscars In Memoriam segment, "Rabbit Test" + "Spaceballs" do not equal a movie career.
  • Neil Patrick Harris appeared throughout the Oscars, unlike other hosts who did the open and close and were nowhere to be seen in between.

DVR Alert

I'm thrilled that "Citizenfour" won the Oscar for Best Documentary. If you haven't seen it, it debuts on HBO tomorrow night. Truly important work. Here's what I wrote about it in December.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Peter Mehlman, a former writer for "Seinfeld," on how living as a Hollywood insider changes the way you view movies...

Before moving here, I loved the movies. The sheer joy of rapt focus on a story in the dark, my natural gift for playing hooky and sinking into the Baronet on Third Avenue.

Well, so much for that. Five, 10, 20 years in L.A., and you suffer the -itis or -osis of knowing too much. You’re so inside baseball, you know all about script structure, studio notes, budget overruns, star quakes, fired directors. It’s like you’ve seen the movie before its release.

Funny, I only vaguely remember the green me who absorbed movies so deeply. A year or so ago, I tried to reawaken that me by seeing “Lethal Weapon” at a revival house but couldn’t stop noticing all the lines looped in during postproduction. Mel Gibson must have slept in that sound booth!

I vividly remember, however, the moment my cinema innocence ended. Year 3 of show business employment on an aisle seat in Westwood, amid killer Jack Nicholson acting and whip-smart Aaron Sorkin dialogue in a movie I actually liked, a rogue thought arose: Boy, this movie should have been called “A Few Good Close-ups.”

It was the kind of involuntary thought that infuses Hollywood movie viewing, the kind of low-impact snark that signaled the end of leaving myself behind in a movie. Permanent antennas grew out of my head, signal catchers that beep at the first blip of ham-handed exposition, in-your-face character development or feel-emotion-now screen tricks.
Read Mehlman's full piece here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Random Thoughts

The Chinese New Year started yesterday. It's the Year Of The Ram, which St. Louisans must celebrate in Los Angeles.

I saw some cable news loudmouth yesterday complaining about Wal-Mart giving its minimum-wage workers a pay boost from $7.25 to $9 this year. He said something along the lines of "That's a 24% pay raise! Who else in America is getting a 24% pay raise this year? I know I'm not!" And you shouldn't, if that's all you can offer as a TV pundit -- but I bet you're making a nice six-figure annual income, while those Wal-Mart employees will now take home a whopping $18,000 this year, which isn't enough to keep anyone clothed, fed, healthy, and housed in America (let alone a family).

I saw two disappointing movies this week. First was "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," because I was in the mood for something stupid and funny (two adjectives that described the first HTTM movie), and I expected more of the same. Wrong! This would have to get a whole lot smarter to be stupid while being completely devoid of funny. The movie runs 93 minutes, and I think 85 of those minutes are dick jokes. Kudos to John Cusack, star of the original, for bailing on the sequel. Rob Corddry, who moved up a notch into the lead position, simply tries too hard -- and while I like Craig Robinson's laid back style, the script fails them both, big time.

The other was "Kingsman: The Secret Service," which I'd heard good things about, which might have led to unrealistic expectations. After all, the idea of Colin Firth as a gentleman-superspy with Samuel L. Jackson as the villain sounded intriguing. All of the best spy movies have succeeded because they had a great villain, but in "Kingsman," someone made the bad choice to have Jackson speak with a lisp, which is too distracting from his usual pay-attention-to-me voice. Moreover, the director ruined the action sequences with way too much quick-cutting and over-the-top cartoonish violence. Disappointing.

Good to see that "Better Call Saul" is already a certified hit for AMC. On Monday night, episode three was the #1 program on cable (adults 18-49), and the only show on broadcast that beat it was "Castle." My wife and I are hooked on the Bob Odenkirk prequel and already have the DVR set to catch every episode.

Alec Falkenham, a PhD student in Halifax, has invented a cream that removes tattoos. Imagine an entire generation of people who thought tattoos were a great idea in their 20s who discover that their bodies -- and the art -- look radically different when they hit middle age. With a market that large, if his cream works, Falkenham is going to be a billionaire.

Lastly, while the Oscars will be handed out Sunday night, the Razzies (for the worst in film) will be announced Saturday night. Now would be a good time to go back an listen to my interview with Razzies founder John Wilson on the day he announced this year's nominees.

Michael Weiss Explains Isis

Here's my conversation with Michael Weiss, author of "Isis: Inside the Army of Terror," a book that should serve as a primer on the terrorist group for everyone. Among the topics we discussed:
  • President Obama's claim that Isis is not about religion, it's about terrorism;
  • Why declaring a holy war against Isis would be playing right into their hands;
  • How Isis seems more violent than Al Qaeda because it's better at propaganda;
  • Why we can't just "bomb them to smithereens" as some have suggested;
  • Why he writes in the introduction that "this book is personal."
Watch the video above or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/20/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a cop's Facebook post, a nude woman in the street, and a very sorry burglar. Watch the video above, or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Dr. Seuss Forever

Dr. Seuss died in 1991, but he has a new book coming out this summer, "What Pet Should I Get?" The publisher says the material was found by his widow and secretary while they were cleaning out his office space 22 years later, and it included his full text and illustrations. Considering that "Cat In The Hat" and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" are still among the best-selling children's books, there will be a lot of interest in the new volume. Personally, I prefer this audio version of his classic "Green Eggs And Ham" from 1991.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Norm Macdonald and Eddie Murphy

I was never a big Norm MacDonald fan, but I liked his Burt Reynolds impression and was happy to see him reprise it as part of the "Celebrity Jeopardy" skit on SNL's 40th anniversary show Sunday night. What I did not know is that MacDonald wrote the skit with Steve Higgins, who is not only an SNL producer, but also announcer/sidekick for Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show."

MacDonald has written about that experience, with lots of behind-the-scenes details, including the fact that they wanted Eddie Murphy to play Bill Cosby in the Video Daily Double cameo (which Kenan Thompson ended up doing). MacDonald writes:
We see Eddie from 100 yards away. Rock says, "There he is. Like Ali in Zaire." Eddie, Bomaye. It's my job to talk him in to doing Jeopardy. We talk in his dressing room a good hour. When it's over, I'm convinced he'll do it. He doesn't. He knew the laughs would bring the house down. Eddie Murphy knows what will work on SNL better than any one. Eddie decides the laughs are not worth it. He will not kick a man when he is down. Eddie Murphy, I realize, is not like the rest of us. Eddie does not need the laughs. Eddie Murphy is the coolest, a rock star even in a room with actual rock stars.
Problem is, Eddie Murphy is not a rock star any more. On "SNL40," Chris Rock gave Murphy a huge buildup, the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he entered, and then Murphy did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a single funny remark. This was not the Eddie Murphy who once saved the show. This was not the Eddie Murphy who owned the box office in the 1980s with breakout hits like "48 Hours," "Trading Places," and "Beverly Hills Cop." This was the Eddie Murphy whose only quality work in the last 15 years was "Dreamgirls" in 2006 (except for voice work for the umpteenth "Shrek" spinoff project).

If, as MacDonald wrote, Murphy doesn't need the laughs anymore, he certainly proved it Sunday night. And I can't imagine any producer/writer/director watching his tepid appearance and thinking, "I want to be in business with Eddie Murphy!"

Read more of Norm MacDonald's "SNL40" story here.

Maggie Wants To Go To Mars

Maggie Duckworth of Bridgeton, Missouri, is one of the 100 people still in the running for the MarsOne mission, a one-way trip to the red planet planned for 2024. When she joined me on the air today, I asked her why she wants to go, what her friends and family think of her leaving Earth permanently, and why she's qualified for the ride. We also talked about the logistics of the trip, including the physical and psychological needs of the first four Mars-bound astronauts, as well as whether the project will get the nearly $100 million some experts say it will need to, um, get off the ground.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/19/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about beer in kindergarten, a very warm marijuana farm, and the reason you should never take a Bostonian's snow-free parking space. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Snow Plow Toilet

David Goldberg created this snow plow made from a motorized toilet to clear the sidewalk in front of his hardware store in Bethesda, Maryland...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Philip K. Howard, "The Rule Of Nobody"

Several years ago, attorney Philip K. Howard wrote a fascinating book, "The Death Of Common Sense," in which he described how law is suffocating America. He's written several since then, and was back on my show to discuss his latest, "The Rule Of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government," which is about to be published in paperback.

Howard's books aren't political, and he doesn't argue that government is bad. Rather, we discussed how many laws are written in a way that no one can understand, including the legislators who approve them, and that too often both time and words are wasted, getting in the way of good things that should be done. We also talked about how, in the private sector, fear of litigation has removed the ability for anyone to use their own discretion, because policies and rule books are so needlessly over-written.

Watch the video above, or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

FAA Shoots Down Drone Delivery

Earlier this week, the FAA announced its proposed regulations for drone use in the United States, and companies like Amazon -- which hopes to use drones for its Prime Air delivery service -- aren't happy. I asked Michael Drobac of the Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Coalition (which represents Amazon, Google, GoPro, and other companies) to explain what their objection is, what it means for individuals who want to fly drones, and how soon I can get a pizza delivered by air.

Watch the video above, or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

A-Rod Apologizes, Bosch Goes To Jail

Yesterday, Alex Rodriguez tried to get back on baseball fans' good side by apologizing for getting banned from baseball last year for using steroids and other performace-enhancing drugs. On the same day, Tony Bosch, the man behind Biogenesis, who provided A-Rod and other pros with those PEDs, was sentenced to 4 years in prison. That was more punishment than lawyers on both sides expected the judge to hand down, so I called upon Tim Elfrink to explain. Tim is the managing editor of Miami New Times and author of "Blood Sport," the book that dug into baseball's steroids scandal.

Watch the video above, or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/18/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about Krispy Kreme's Facebook mistake, Drunk Hulk vs. airplane, and how "ugg" became "argh!" To enjoy these stories fully, you may want to watch the video above, or you can listen to the audio-only version -- then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Privacy Matters

Glenn Greenwald, who helped Edward Snowden reveal the NSA's secret spying-on-everyone programs to the world, gave this TED Talk last fall. In it, he responds beautifully to those who say the only ones who should worry about intrusions on our privacy are those who have something to hide...

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Gaping News Hole

One thing that's not being discussed much in the wake of Brian Williams' exile -- from which I'm not sure he can ever return, as we learn more revelations about his Pinocchio side -- is something those newscasts should have learned from Jon Stewart's "Daily Show." That is the value of confronting politicians and others with their own words.

The greatest contribution "The Daily Show" has made to our modern info-media was hiring researchers who can sift through thousands of hours of videotape to find a clip showing someone saying something in the past that's 180 degrees from what they're saying in the present. Stewart and his team had no hesitation in pointing out that kind of hypocrisy, whether it was from someone on the left or the right or from Fox News or CNN.

Why haven't the larger news organizations -- the ones that are on the air for more than thirty minutes four days a week -- hired some of those researchers away, or found others who can dig up those soundbites, or quotes in a Lexis/Nexis database, and then confronted any number of loudmouths with the stupidity they've spewed (or are spewing)? That seems to me to be one of the most important functions of journalism, to challenge those in authority and hold them responsible for both their deeds and their words.

Perhaps Williams, while managing editor of "NBC Nightly News," was too busy pumping up his own ego by telling stories and playing around with Letterman and Fallon to recognize this huge gap in his own news division's role as a fact-checking operation. But what excuse do the others have?

And then there's this from Andrew Tyndall, who monitors and writes about television news, and says that the suspension of Williams from the "NBC Nightly News" desk for six months is not that big a deal. He points out that the real work of generating content for that (and the other networks' evening newscasts) is done by the reporters and editors who put together the four or five pieces that make up the first segment, so those broadcasts are much more reliant on the work of others than the anchors.

Traditionally on broadcast news, the importance of the nightly introductory Teleprompter-reading role of the anchor has been a placeholder position for those times when he truly has to play the News Anchor proper. When major stories break (a 9/11 attack, the outbreak of war), or giant set-piece events are staged (such as a State of the Union speech or a Presidential election), that is when his skills kick in: the ability to be facile on live television, to evaluate the importance of events instantly as they arrive, the image of calm in a crisis and concern over calamity.

In the meantime there are two reasons that the anchor reads the Teleprompter each night: to become a familiar and reassuring face in advance of that crisis, and by immersion to acquire a thorough familiarity with the news of the day so that he will be prepared, whatever the source of the crisis might be.

Now comes Williams' suspension -- and a six-month experiment to test whether a celebrity anchor is as dispensable to those newscasts as I believe he is. Although the suspension is unprecedented, the experiment is not. This is its third occurrence and I have been vindicated both times before. CBS News made a bet on the indispensability of the celebrity anchor when it hired the Katie Couric to boost its evening newscast ratings; she did more harm than good. ABC News made the opposite bet when it delinked the role of evening newsreader from lead anchorman when it hired David Muir to replace the celebrity anchor Diane Sawyer; so far Muir has suffered few audience defections, in fact, if anything, he has attracted viewers.
Read Tyndall's full piece here.

Inside The New York Times

The internet has made it a lot easier to know what's going on, but I still love reading a great newspaper, which is why we get the New York Times delivered to our home every day -- and why I was fascinated by this piece by Reeves Wiedeman in Popular Mechanics on how that newspaper is assembled, from the reporters to the editors to the people who run the presses to those who deliver it to those on the digital side, all playing a role in distributing information around the clock, around the world...

Tonight, like every weeknight, the plant will print more than 300,000 copies—double that on the weekend—which by 3:25 a.m. have to be loaded onto dozens of trucks. The straight trucks, which are already at the loading docks, can fit eight pallets each, holding a total of 14,000 individual copies. The trailer trucks carry twenty-four pallets, a load of 50,000 copies. The trucks will make about eighty departures from the plant by tomorrow morning, fanning out to other distribution points, from which the copies will be delivered to grocery stores, bodegas, office buildings, and newsstands from New Haven to Albany to Trenton. Booth used to spend his nights waiting for the trucks to arrive—he had a Times paper route in the Riverdale section of the Bronx starting in 1986, when his daughter was born and he needed extra income.

Booth got here at 4 p.m. and will work until the last truck leaves. "Sometimes we'll get out at 3, sometimes we'll get out at 7," he says. "You're dealing with night people—we're vampires here." Tomorrow morning, most readers will think nothing of the fact that the paper was at their door at the same time yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. They may also think nothing of the fact that, at the moment they bend down to pick it up, some of the stories in the print version have already been updated on their phones and tablets, and new stories have been added, too: the score of a double-overtime game that ended too late, or news out of India that broke overnight. And all of these stories, the total daily and nightly output from all the desks at the Times—news from Washington and Ukraine and Sacramento and St. Louis and Staten Island and Mexico City, reviews of movies that open tomorrow and of TV shows that aired last night, opinion pieces, recipes, weekly sections on home design and science and real estate and style and books—feed a larger world of news that never stops consuming. The growing universe of digital news outlets includes a great many amalgamators, recyclers of other people's reporting. Some report their own stories, but it is the Times that provides by far the most coverage of the most subjects in the most reliable way. The Times is a monster, a sprawling organization, the most influential print newspaper and digital news site in the world.
Read Wiedeman's full piece here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My SNL40 Tweet

I just realized that the lame comedy and bad timing of tonight's SNL40 is Lorne's subtle tribute to the Jean Doumanian season.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Can’t wait to see onetime host Brian Williams on SNL40 remembering being in the Not Ready For Primetime Players. Or was he Tommy Flanagan?

A Player Removed

Last week, at a poker tournament in Niagara Falls, Ontario, one of the players was arrested at the final table. The Globe and Mail has the details -- which do not include cheating or any other charges related to that tournament.

At the time of his arrest, he was the chip leader with five players remaining. Although he was taken out of the room in handcuffs, he was still considered an active player, so his chip stack wasn't removed. Rather, it dwindled slowly as antes and blinds were taken when play continued. Still, he had enough chips to outlast the two short-stacks. By that point, the two remaining players had more chips than the arrested guy, so they made a deal to split the prize money for first and second place (about $150,000 each), while the guy who wasn't there won the third-place prize of $80,000.

The tale reminded me of a tournament I played several years ago at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (just outside Cincinnati). The event, which drew hundreds of entrants, began on a Saturday, and I did well enough to make it to day two, along with a few dozen others. We were down to two tables with 13 players when one of them called over a supervisor to explain that he had to leave to attend his daughter's birthday party. He asked what his options were, and the supervisor explained that he could move all-in on a hand, lose, and be paid the 13th-place money. Or, as in the Niagara Falls tournament, he could leave but his non-insubstantial stack of chips would remain until he was blinded off.

The guy clearly wanted to stay and play, but he did the right thing and went home to his daughter's party. You wouldn't be wrong to ask, as I did, why he'd enter a two-day tournament knowing it might conflict with his parental obligation. Who knows? I didn't care at that point. I just didn't want to be eliminated before he was.

Once he left, the supervisor announced to the remaining dozen that there could not be any deals made while the absent player still had chips, because he couldn't be party to the deal-making. That was fine with everyone, since it's rare that a dozen players would engineer a chop (I've only had it happen once, but that's another story for another day). Thus, play resumed, and when three more players were eliminated, the remaining ten (including me and the absent Dad) were moved to the final table.

At this point, play slowed considerably, as no one wanted to be eliminated before a guy who wasn't there, and his stack was getting so small that he'd only last another round or so before the antes and blinds took his last chips. Before that happened, however, the other small stack moved all-in with a pair of queens and was called by a bigger stack with ace-king. When an ace came on the board, we had our tenth-place finisher.

A few hands later, absentee Dad's last chips were pushed into the middle and he was eliminated in ninth place, which meant he'd earned a couple of hundred dollars more than he would have if he'd stuck around and finished in 13th place. The next guy eliminated was....me. I have no particular memory of the hand, other than the fact that I was short-stacked, too, and had very few options at that point.

I wished the remaining players good luck and went to collect my 8th-place prize money. I wasn't thrilled at being knocked out after playing for more than 18 hours, but at least I hadn't lost to a guy who wasn't there.

And at least he didn't have to explain to his daughter why he'd gotten a pair of handcuffs for her birthday.

Best Thing I've Read Today

In Newsweek, John Walters says something I've been thinking about Jimmy Fallon, who has turned "The Tonight Show" into the biggest late-night party since Arsenio Hall's heyday:

Jimmy Fallon is the most versatile talk-show host since Steve Allen. There’s just one thing this talk-show host is not very good at: talking.

Watching and listening to Fallon interview a guest is simply more painful and awkward than every conversation that ever took place between Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper. Everything a guest has ever done, including the film, TV show or album he or she is there to promote, is either “amazing” or “awesome.” Usually, both. A Fallon interview is like watching a tennis match with all aces. There are no rallies, no service returns back across the net. There is no honest to goodness badinage.

Fallon is fawning. Compared to Fallon, Arsenio Hall was Sir Laurence Olivier’s sadistic Nazi dentist asking Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe?” in Marathon Man. At the mere suggestion of whimsy or wit by a guest, Fallon claps or convulses into laughter. Giddiness is a default mechanism. If I wanted to see someone awestruck—and dumbstruck—at the prospect of interviewing a celebrity, I’d save NBC $12 million a year and just watch old clips of The Chris Farley Show.
Read Walters' full piece here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why, Vegas, Why?

I was in Las Vegas for a few days earlier this week, and returned with several questions and notes...

Why do some hotel bathrooms put the towel rack on the wall furthest away from the sink? When I'm finished washing my hands, I don't want to have to walk across the room. It's not the distance that's the problem, it's the dripping on the floor. Both of the places I stayed this week had this odd design, but at least they didn't put the towels on a shelf in the shower. When I turn off that shower head, I want a nice dry piece of terry cloth, not one that's been pre-moistened before drying my skin

Why don't hotel rooms use fitted sheets? I've been over six feet tall since high school, so my feet always dangle over the edge of the bed when I sleep. But that means the sheets can't be tucked in -- I can't stand being swaddled like an infant with my feet cocooned at the bottom. Because hotel maids uniformly tuck the top sheet in, I always have to untuck it, which pulls out the bottom sheet, and I have to re-tuck that, essentially re-making the bed. If they used fitted sheets for the bottom, this problem wouldn't exist.

Incidentally, the bottom flat sheet they use now is never long enough to cover the end of the mattress, where my feet are sticking out and being exposed to who-knows-what. While not as disgusting as the bed cover you should only lie on while wearing a hazmat suit (we've all seen the TV news exposes using ultraviolet light to show the effluvia other guests have left behind), that exposed mattress end can't be too hygienic, either.

In Vegas, all the big hotels charge a $25/night resort fee (gotcha!) that covers wi-fi, access to the pool and gym, and free local calls from the phone in your room that you never use now that you travel with a smartphone at all times. When I made one of my reservations online, the email confirmation said the hotel had added the resort fee "for your convenience."

No, there's nothing convenient about being charged extra for these amenities, which used to be included in the price of the room. When I go into a store to buy something, I'm not told "and we've added the sales tax for your convenience." By the way, you can't get out of the resort fee by promising not to swim, sweat, call, or browse. You'd have a better chance of getting the casino to pay you 5-1 when you're dealt 21 in blackjack.

Why would hotels limit wi-fi access to one device per room? If I have to pay that resort fee, I want wi-fi included for all of my devices -- phone and tablet. Sometimes, if I have writing to do, I bring along my laptop, too (I find it easier to write on a full keyboard than a touch screen). And what about when two people, or a family, are sharing a room? Why does only one of them get wi-fi access included, while the others have to pay for it? I know that it's part of the gotcha-again fee policy, but it's another abuse of the customer, especially since it won't mean much of an increase in bandwidth use.

Speaking of multiple devices, finding a place to plug in their chargers can be a pain, particularly bedside. The outlets behind the night table are usually occupied by the plugs for the lamp and the clock radio, so I always unplug the clock radio to plug in my phone (which serves the same purposes, and more). But that leaves nowhere to plug in my tablet.

Solution: I recently bought an adapter that has two USB ports, so they can both charge via one plug. There are similar adapters with four, and even eight, USB ports, in case you're traveling with the family and everyone has to recharge both their electronics and their bodies overnight.

Is there any thing more irrelevant in Las Vegas than a Hooters restaurant? There are plenty of other places in that town you can visit to see more exposed female flesh than on a Hooters waitress. After all, Vegas is the town where a rolling billboard goes up and down the strip all day and night with pictures of scantily clad women who "want to meet you" and will come to your room, for a price. It's a town with strip clubs advertised on the taxi cabs. It's a town where several resorts have topless pools. It's a town where the women going to dance clubs wear dresses so short they have to constantly tug at them to avoid looking like they're visiting an ob-gyn. What's so titillating about a waitress in a tight white t-shirt and orange short-shorts carrying a tray of buffalo wings?

It's not like she's going to join you in your room at the Hooters Hotel next door (yes, there really is one!).

Friday, February 13, 2015

Harris Challenge 2/13/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Valentine's Day," "Not Just The Sports Pages," and "The Name Is Love." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/13/15

It's an All-Florida edition of Knuckleheads In The News® with stories about a garbage truck surprise, a bra full of cocaine, and a very loud snore. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Late Night Ratings

Here's a remarkable graphic from the Wall Street Journal that shows how the audiences for various late night shows have changed over the last five years when it comes to viewers 18-34.

Notice how NBC turned things around by dumping Jay Leno and installing Jimmy Fallon, while the numbers for David Letterman have kept getting worse (to the point where he draws the fewest young viewers). It remains to be seen whether CBS can get a young-demo bump when Stephen Colbert takes over "The Late Show." Meanwhile, Comedy Central has to be concerned about whether its slides in the last year will continue once Jon Stewart is gone.

Side note: once Stewart gives up his "Daily Show" desk in a few months, Jimmy Kimmel will become the host with the longest-running show in late night. Conan O'Brien (who should have been included in this chart) has been at it longer, but with three different shows and one long interruption.

Remembering Gary Owens

We have lost three legendary broadcast voices in the last year -- Casey Kasem, Don Pardo, and now Gary Owens, who died last night at age 80. Owens had a long career in radio and cartoon voiceovers, plus his on-camera work as the announcer for NBC's "Laugh-In" in the late 1960s. He also had a reputation for helping out young writers at an early stage in their careers. Two of them have written wonderful tributes to him. One is by Mark Evanier, the other by Ken Levine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Unique Jingle Package

Yesterday, I wrote about how I loved radio station jingles when I was growing up. Composing that piece, my mind flashed back to the late 1970s when I heard an interesting variation on regular jingles that I've never heard anywhere else.

I was in college on Long Island at the time, and although I spent many hours in and around the school's radio station, it had an eclectic format where jingles would have sounded completely out of place. When I was in my dorm room, when I wasn't listening to my own music collection, I usually tuned to the album-oriented-rock stations whose signal we could pick up (and later got my first commercial radio job at one of them, WRCN/Riverhead).

But when I was in the car, I would still listen to AM top 40 stations, including the legendary MusicRadio 77 WABC out of Manhattan and a well-run outfit from across the Long Island Sound, WICC/Bridgeport. One day in 1978, WICC started playing Carly Simon's "You Belong To Me," but instead of the jock talking up the intro to right before the vocal started, I heard Simon's voice singing lyrics about WICC, which led perfectly into the usual first line of her song.

I was flabbergasted. Was it possible that a station in a small town in Connecticut had some sort of connection to Simon, and she had agreed to record a special version of her song for them? That seemed highly unlikely. Might the record company have put her in a studio to do custom versions for stations around the country? Also not likely, considering how many Top 40 stations there were across America and that, even if they'd tried it, the effort would have been made only for the biggest markets, which surely wouldn't include Bridgeport.

Before the song was over, I decided this wasn't what it appeared to be. It had to be someone doing a vocal impression of Carly Simon as part of a new kind of jingle package. After all, jingle companies customize their work for stations every day. So while Simon herself wouldn't sit in a studio and do individual versions for different broadcasters, a talented mimic could be hired to do exactly that, and for a lot less money. That week, I listened to WICC as often as I could and heard that, as I suspected, it had customized intros for other hits, recorded to sound exactly like each song's singer espousing the virtues of listening to WICC.

What was so cool about this was that, unlike other jingles that could be played for years in between all sorts of songs, this custom piece of production only worked with one hit, and could only be used for as long as that song remained in the Top 40 (or a while longer if the station moved it into "recurrent" rotation). In other words, jingles with built-in planned obsolescence!

After a few months, that package disappeared from WICC -- probably as those hits faded from the charts and the station would have had to pay for new jingles for the new songs that were now in the Top 40 -- so I never heard them, or anything like them, ever again.

Unfortunately, I never knew who was responsible for that jingle package. If anyone in the industry can provide some of the back story, I'd love to hear it and give credit where it's due.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Dear NBC

If Brian Williams goes and Lester Holt replaces him, I'm available to step in as Chief My House Correspondent with very little notice.

Jingle All The Way

Growing up, I was a fan of great radio jingles like those produced by legendary production houses JAM and PAMS, which were heard on hundreds of radio stations across the country (and around the world). From hyper-fast name-shouts to shotguns to full-length theme songs about their cities, they all intrigued me. In my basement, along with thousands of hours of my own radio shows, I have several demos jingle companies sent out to stations to entice them to buy their packages.

In high school, I was not alone in my love of jingles. My close friend Bill Sobel was even more of a media freak than I was. Bill started our high school radio station, WRHR, after convincing the principal to allow students to do the morning announcements during homeroom, and then later got permission for us to play music over the speakers in the cafeteria during lunchtime. Bill was (and still is) a serious go-getter. He printed up stationery with our call letters and contacted record companies to ask them to send us free albums to play on WRHR -- and some of them did. I remember that he had such good rapport with the MCA Records rep that our little station was playing Elton John's "Rocket Man" before any of the bigger real radio stations ever added it to their playlists.

At one point, Bill wrote to one of the jingle companies to ask for a demo. He knew that we had no budget at all, so we were never going to be able to buy jingles, but he got the demo anyway and we listened to it over and over at his house on his reel-to-reel-machine. We would break down how each jingle was produced, and how they'd sometime change tempos to help DJs segue from a fast song to a slow song or vice versa. We dreamed of one day having our own jingles.

The demos included samples that had been produced for stations all over the country, including WABC/New York, WLS/Chicago, and KSD/St. Louis. When we heard that one, we looked at each other in shock. It was the first jingle we'd ever heard from a station west of the Mississippi, so its call letters started with a K! We were even more surprised because we knew of a Top 40 station in St. Louis where two of the jocks we listened to on WABC, Dan Ingram and Ron Lundy, had once worked -- but its call letters were WIL.

We realized that St. Louis must have stations on both sides of the Mississippi, some of which started with W and some that started with K. Not only did that turn out to be the case all those decades ago, but it's still true today. And, we later learned, there were exceptions to the rule allowing a station in Pittsburgh to be KDKA and one in Philadelphia to be KYW.

And to bring the story full circle, the station that once called itself KSD-AM eventually morphed into the station I still work for, KTRS! Unfortunately, we don't have any jingles -- but I have been fortunate enough to work for two places that did.

The first was WYNY, which was NBC's FM station in New York (in the days when NBC was still in the radio business). As the morning guy, it gave me a major thrill every time I pushed a button and heard those ultra-talented singers shout out my name. The other time was a couple of years ago when I was doing the America Weekend syndicated show and executive producer Kipper McGee, knowing of my love of name-shout jingles, ordered one especially for me.

I used it every hour.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

In a January 30th entry on this site, I wrote:

The other night, Larry Wilmore was discussing the subject on his "Nightly Show" and one of the panelists was a woman who doesn't allow her children to be vaccinated. At one point, she said, "Do you know that the companies that make these vaccines have made over $40 billion from them?" To which I responded by yelling at my television, "Good! I’m sure the people who make brakes for cars have made a lot of money, too, but that’s not a reason to let your kids get in a car without brakes!"
Now a blogger named Robert Moore Jr. has run with that idea in a post on his site, "I'm An Anti-Braker"...
A few weeks ago I saw a car accident - two people went through an intersection at the same time. Both slammed on their brakes at the same time and collided. Fortunately no one was seriously injured. But then it occurred to me - if they had just gone through the intersection, they wouldn’t have collided. The brakes CAUSED the accident!

So, I decided to do my own research and what I found was *staggering*: Hundreds of people every year are seriously injured by unnecessary braking. One time, I was driving in the snow and I just lightly tapped my brakes and it caused my car to COMPLETELY LOSE CONTROL. My brakes could have very easily gotten me killed. Even more astoundingly is how often brake pads will warp and distort rotors, causing bumpy rides and squeaky wheels.

And you know what? I also found that decades ago brakes weren’t even used! People would control their vehicle’s speed with downshifting and engine braking. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but back when engine braking was used there were almost no automotive fatalities. There were NEVER brake-caused car accidents.

After doing some more digging, I found a nefarious plot -- Mechanics: The very people who we trust to work on and care for our cars -- get PAID to install and change brakes! You might THINK they care about our safety, or our cars - but they’re just in it for the $49.99 brake pad installations.
Read Moore's full and very clever piece here.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

I Won't Watch Bill Maher Again

Although I've enjoyed some of Bill Maher's act for years, there were parts that drove me crazy, like the way he berates his audience when they don't laugh at one of his lines or, more importantly, his occasional stupidity on anti-science matters. Yet I looked past that and continued to watch his show because there were (usually) interesting guests having interesting conversations, and his New Rules segment more often than not left me with a smile on my face.

But I won't watch Maher anymore.

With the measles spreading across the country, Maher has recently doubled-down on his anti-vaccination stance, and has finally gone too far for me -- as he has for David Gorski, a surgeon who is one of the best science bloggers online, under the nom de plume Orac. In a piece posted two weeks ago (well before Maher went off on a long anti-vax, anti-science rant last night on "Real Time"), Gorski wrote:
My first acknowledgment of Bill Maher’s antivaccine proclivities was nearly ten years ago, when Maher promoted the myth that Louis Pasteur had “recanted” on his deathbed, adding to that a statement that “I don’t believe in vaccination, either” because it’s a “theory that I think is flawed.” Indeed, he’s been promoting the lie that vaccines don’t work and that the influenza vaccine causes Alzheimer’s disease since before I started blogging (although it’s been nine years since I first noticed it) and proclaiming his lack of belief in “Western medicine” to the point of telling David Letterman after his heart surgery that maybe he could come off his medications.

A few years ago, though, Maher seemed to have made a strategic decision not to spout off so much about vaccines and his belief that, if you just eat the right foods and keep the body “pure,” you will be magically immune to the flu. Maybe it was because his pseudoscientific invocation of “will” was so ridiculous that Bob Costas mocked him for it on his very own show, dismissing his claim that he wouldn’t catch the flu on an airplane sarcastically by saying, “Oh, come on, Superman!” Or maybe it was the flak so justifiably aimed at the Atheist Alliance International for giving him the Richard Dawkins Award in 2009, which inspired me to liken giving Maher such an award to giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award. Back then, when he tried to defend himself, he just dug himself in deeper and deeper, to the point where Chris Matthews even compared him to a celebrity Scientologist like Tom Cruise denouncing psychiatry. Or perhaps it was Maher’s foolishly ignorant attempt to refute Michael Shermer’s open letter to him urging him to reconsider his antivaccine and anti-“Western” medicine views. Or maybe it was his endorsement of cancer quackery.

Whatever the reason, for the most part, Bill Maher has been relatively quiet about vaccines and medicine of late. Sure, I saw him or heard of him reverting back to form briefly on various occasions, letting loose with a sarcastic joke or two about big pharma or the like, but quite infrequently. He seemed to be sticking to politics and pop culture and laying off of medicine for the most part. Actually, I was grateful. It made Real Time With Bill Maher actually watchable for me, as in general I could compartmentalize and appreciate Maher’s other humor, as long as I wasn’t having his quack-friendly tendencies shoved in my face every episode. Too bad it couldn’t last. Or maybe it did, but Maher just can’t resist every so often letting people know he’s still antivaccine.
I agree with Gorski about compartmentalizing and appreciating Maher's other humor, as I too brushed off the comedian's comments in that realm because I enjoyed his biting political and topical remarks. But the Bad Bill has shown his face once too often for my taste, and I worry that he's now replaced Jenny McCarthy as the most-watched-least-informed celebrity-with-a-big-audience and that too many of his viewers will believe his vehement anti-science garbage to the detriment of all of us.

So I'll never watch Maher again.

Read Gorski's full piece here.

Harris Challenge 2/6/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Grandmas Who Won Grammys," "Pictures and Publishing This Week," and "TV Spinoffs." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 2/6/15

It's a brand-new edition of Knuckleheads In The News® with stories about an obituary that blames the Seattle Seahawks, a wrong-number call to a cop, and a thief who left evidence behind. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Rick Newman, "Liberty For All"

Yahoo Finance columnist Rick Newman has a new book, "Liberty For All," so I invited him back to my show to talk about it. We started with the spread of measles thanks to parents who refuse to have their kids vaccinated, then moved on to the job market, the middle class, and how Americans need to take more personal responsibility for how they make it through life.

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

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Really Impressive Harris Brother

This is a wonderful profile of my brother, Seth Harris, the former Deputy Secretary of Labor, written for a public policy journal at his alma mater, Cornell, where he now teaches as a Distinguished Scholar (in addition to his work for Dentons law firm, TV appearances, and public speaking)...
Harris signed on with then-Senator Obama in January 2007 – a full two years before the inauguration — and advised his Senate office and presidential campaign through Election Day. He began working to build the administration in August 2008 as a member of the agency review working group of the Obama-Biden transition planning team, and was tasked with overseeing the transition in 15 federal agencies, including the Labor, Education, and Transportation Departments. After the President’s swearing in, he was asked to manage the Labor Department as deputy secretary, assuming the position after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in May 2009.

So why did he leave? “After 7 years I was pretty tired,” Harris says. “Folks who work in government at the level of which I was fortunate enough to work really owe it to the country to make an assessment about whether or not they are contributing as much value as they did when they entered the job.” But there was also another reason – the intuitive political operator realized that incoming secretary and good friend Tom Perez, after finding his feet with help from Harris, “needed space to operate…and I gave him that space”.

Harris returned to ILR in January 2014 as a distinguished scholar and is teaching the undergraduate labor and employment law class he once took as a freshman. A respected law professor and author, he made more than a dozen television appearances last year, is regularly quoted in the news media, and keeps up a steady barrage of blog posts. Most of them are on the issue du jour of economic inequality, especially the falling wages of the bottom quintile of wage earners, a situation Harris calls “unfair, unjust, bad for our country, and bad for our economy.” But his advice to the White House on how to tackle the problem remains strictly off-the-record: “As a public commentator I’m trying to elevate the issues I think are important to the country and to the people….but when I offer my advice it’s private and it’s carefully and reasonably phrased, it’s a different function.”
Read the full Cornell Policy Review piece about Seth here. 

The Incredible Candles

The latest video from Dr. Richard Wiseman and his Quirkology team...

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Clutter Radio

Clutter has always been a problem in the radio business. Stations want to give you lots of content, but still get in all the commercials and sponsorship messages that pay for the rest of the programming you want to hear, hopefully without making you tune out.

Why, then, would a radio station publicize the fact that, in between its sixty-minute music sweeps, it's going to play commercials for nine minutes in a row? That's what the new Top 40 station in St. Louis is doing.

In an age of ADD listening, where people will punch away the moment they hear something they consider clutter, nine minutes is an eternity. And a nine-minute commercial block isn't necessarily limited to nine 60-second commercials. There could be some :30's or :15's in the mix, which only add to the clutter perception.

With so many people listening to streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, where the commercial breaks are really short (or non-existent for users who have paid for the premium service), its seems suicidal to drive listeners away for that long. I'm sure the station is willing to take that risk in the hope it can keep more ears tuned in for the hour of music between breaks -- which is fine, as long as they like every song you play. As soon as you play one they don't like, they'll be gone, commercials or not.

Of course, tune-out due to clutter is always a problem, regardless of how many spots a station plays in one stopset, but to overload it to that extent seems counter-productive to me. Moreover, what does that station tell its advertisers? If I'm paying for commercial time, I don't want to be buried in the 7th or 8th minute of that much clutter, for fear that no one would hear it!