Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lynsey Addario, War Photographer

“While covering war, there were days when I had boundless courage and there were days when I was terrified from the moment I woke up.”
Those are the words of Lynsey Addario, who has spent most of this century in some very dangerous places (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, the Congo, and Libya) taking pictures for the NY Times, National Geographic, Time magazine, and more. She has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Genius Grant, and has written about her experiences in "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War." When she joined me on my show, I asked her:
  • about being taken captive by Qaddafi's forces in Libya;
  • how she gets pictures back to her editors from war-torn areas;
  • whether she was ever treated as badly as Lara Logan was in the Middle East;
  • about her pre-9/11 visit to Afghanistan to photograph women under Taliban rule;
  • whether she has seen anything getting better in any of the countries she worked;
  • how long it took to get used to the blood and ravages of war;
  • whether, as a mother, she would want her child to do what she has done.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Barbie Is Listening

As a followup to my comments a few days ago about Mattel's new interactive Barbie -- the doll that listens to your child and uploads the audio to the cloud before responding a la Siri on an iPhone -- I invited Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to share her thoughts. She expressed concern about the privacy issues of having a corporation having a secret conversation with your daughter, and I renewed my objections about the removal of a child's imagination from the equation. Susan also revealed the online petition tens of thousands of people have signed asking Mattel to not put the product on sale later this year.

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

Sexually Speaking With Dr. Ruth

When I worked for WYNY/New York in 1985-86, the biggest star on the radio station wasn't me or my morning show partner, nor the guys who did middays and afternoons. WYNY's most well-known personality was a petite sex therapist with a German accent named Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who started with a 15-minute weekly show (on an adult contemporary music station!) and worked her way up to national syndication.

Our paths didn't cross very often -- I was on in morning drive and her show aired at night -- but when I ran into her in the office once a month or so, she was always gracious and happy, which is why the entire staff loved her. I'm happy to say that Dr. Ruth is still around, and still dispensing valuable sexual advice. Here's an interview with her.

William Daniels on "1776"

In an interview with The AV Club, William Daniels discusses several projects he's done in his career, including "The Graduate," "St. Elsewhere," and his role as John Adams in one of my all-time favorite musicals, "1776" (which I have written about many times)...
Somebody sent me a script, and it was in the middle of the Vietnam War, and I thought, “This is ridiculous, doing a play about our country and waving a flag when we’ve invaded a place where we shouldn’t have gone and lost all those lives.” But Bonnie [Barlett, Daniels’ wife] said, “But Bill, you can play this part,” and I suppose, without admitting it, that I probably subconsciously knew I could. So reluctantly I went in, because they wanted to hear me sing, and I went to the 46th Street Theatre… and the door was locked. So I thought, “Oh, well, that’s that!” And I went to get on the M104 [bus], but I thought, “Bill, listen: You really ought to call your agent.” So I called my agent, and she says, “Where are you? They’re waiting for you!” She was up in arms. It turned out they were at the Ziegfeld Theater. So she said, “Take a taxi, I’ll pay for it!”

So I get there, and they just laughed it off and said they wanted to hear my voice. I think they knew they were going to be using me anyway, but they wanted some reassurances for the composer and so forth. I had done a musical called On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, and there’s a song in there called “Wait ’Til We’re 65,” so I sang about four bars of it. And then I said, “You know, I can’t remember the rest of it!” [Laughs.] But they said, “It doesn’t matter, Bill.” So, indeed, I was cast, and on the first day of rehearsal—of course I’m still thinking this is a bad idea—I get there, and here were all these gentleman who were [playing] the members of Congress. I’m reading through the script, and I read, “By God, I have had this Congress,” which is the little monologue Adams does in front of the curtain before it goes up. And suddenly, after I finished it, this huge sound of male voices—in harmony—sings “Sit Down, John.” And I thought, “Jesus, guys, this sounds good. This may be something.”

We went to Boston, and the critic had reservations about the show. Then we went to New Haven, and there was a huge snowstorm, so we never did see any reviews. It wasn’t until Washington, D.C., when I guess the entire Congress came out that we had something on our hands here, because we played to packed houses. Ted Kennedy came backstage with his kids, and it was a big thing in Washington, naturally, because of the flag-waving. So we went to Broadway and I actually didn’t realize what good reviews we had until just recently. So that was the beginning of it, and I stayed with it, perhaps too long. Over two years. Maybe a couple of months over two years. And it was the best role I’ve ever had. And the most satisfying, because of the way it was appreciated by the audience.
Read Daniels' full interview here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Roger McGuinn Returns

Roger McGuinn, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and founder of The Byrds, returned to my show today to talk about his upcoming show at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, where he'll tell stories about his career and sing some of his classics. Among the topics we discussed:
  • Why The Byrds didn't back him up on their hit version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" -- it was a group of LA session musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew";
  • Why David Crosby didn’t like the song when he first heard Bob Dylan’s original version;
  • Why he hasn't reunited with former Byrds members David Crosby and Chris Hillman;
  • How David Crosby became a member of The Byrds;
  • Roger's recent European tour, which took 17 weeks, 54 trains, 61 hotels, and 2 big ships;
  • Which modern bands are keeping folk music alive.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Meerkat and Periscope

This weekend, I read about two new apps that are exploding in popularity, Meerkat and Periscope, which allow users to live-stream video from anywhere using their cellphone. I had lots of questions about them, so I turned to digital goddess Kim Komando for answers. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Hiding Bigotry Behind Religion

You've probably heard about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Indiana governor Mike Pence signed last week, which allows companies to discriminate against gays and lesbians by refusing to sell them services or products because of the provider's religious beliefs.

It's nothing more than hiding anti-LGBT bigotry behind religion, forced into law by small-minded people for whom tolerance is not an everyday virtue. They see that the courts have repeatedly said there's nothing wrong with same-sex marriage, and that so offends their sensibilities that they have lashed out with laws like this.

On my show today, I asked Professor Steve Sanders of the Indiana University Maurer School Of Law to explain how the law works, and whether the same discrimination could be applied to unmarried heterosexual couples or other groups the business person disapproves of. I also asked him how Indiana's RFRA differs from the versions passed by 19 other states (and the federal government), whether a religious exemption could also be applied to Muslims with strict religious beliefs, and whether the backlash from the public -- and especially the business community -- might change the minds of the GOP legislators and governor who passed the law (with no Democrat support).

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

The New Daily Show Host

With Jon Stewart planning to leave "The Daily Show" later this year, who will the new host be? We know it won't be Jason Jones or Samantha Bee, as they're leaving for projects on TBS that start this fall. It won't be any of the alumni, and the talent bench isn't very deep (Jessica Williams has been there the longest, but that's only a couple of years, and says she doesn't want the job). Other names from the comedy universe have been tossed around, but none of them will get the job.

The producers and Comedy Central execs have chosen...Trevor Noah.

Who? Noah is the South African comedian who joined TDS in December and has been on to do commentary a total of three times. He's been fine in his limited role, but will he be good enough to guide the ship, not just as host but as the driving force of the show? That remains to be seen, as does the question of whether TDS viewers, who have tuned in for years to see Jon Stewart's intelligent snarky take on politics and media, will continue to watch.

Comedy Central has already gone through a big change with Larry Wilmore replacing Steven Colbert, and though I haven't seen the ratings, I bet they're down. Though we like him, and it's nice to see an African-American hosting a late-night comedy show, my wife and I abandoned Wilmore after a couple of weeks because the show didn't live up to our expectations (e.g. the panel segment still has too many guests who don't get enough time to establish themselves or say anything much).

At least Wilmore was well known to Comedy Central audiences because he'd appeared so often on TDS. Noah is essentially an unknown, and breaking in a new guy (there's still a pronounced lack of female talent on all the late-night shows) will be tough.

We'll give him a chance, but he has some mighty large shoes to fill.

Skill vs. Luck in Poker

Is poker a game of skill or chance? It's not a one-or-the-other proposition. Even the best poker players in the world will tell you that there is an element of luck, but their skill is what keeps them at the top -- in the long run, better players will win more often than worse players.

Now there's more research to prove it:

Drawing on a database of 456 million player-hand observations from a year’s worth of online games, we first investigated how consistent player performance was. This revealed substantial evidence of the role of skill in successful play.

For instance, players who ranked in the best-performing 10% in the first six months of the year were more than twice as likely as others to do similarly well in the next six months. And, players who finished in the best-performing 1% in the first half of the year were 12 times more likely than others to repeat the feat in the second half. Meanwhile, players who fared badly from the start continued to lose and hardly ever metamorphosed into top performers.

The point here is that performance is predictable. In a game of chance there would be no correlation in the winnings of players across successive periods, whereas there would be in a game of skill. So we know for sure that poker can’t be a game of pure chance.
Read more about the researchers' conclusions here.

Barbie Is Not Siri

Mattel is getting some attention for its new "interactive" Barbie, which has a microphone that listens to your child and uploads the audio to a server, which then replies a la Siri on an iPhone. A Mattel spokeswoman said that girls "want to have a conversation with Barbie," who will be "the very first fashion doll that has continuous learning, so that she can have a unique relationship with each girl."

There's been some blowback over privacy concerns, but that's not my problem with it. I hate the way this new doll removes a kid's imagination from the equation. My daughter didn't have a lot of dolls, but she had plenty of stuffed animals. She gave each one a name, and could sit in her room and provide both sides of a conversation with them, because she was using her brain to make stuff up.

That kind of creative play is a skill set every kid needs to develop early on -- not a reliance on a device that's going to tell them what they should be when they grow up, or what kind of clothes they should put on the doll, or what kind of activity they should engage in (e.g. buying other Mattel products?). Let them pretend -- giving any voice they like to the doll or stuffed animal or crayon picture, rather than a manufactured response unit designed to have only the kind of relationship a toy company decides is right.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hotel Insider Secrets

George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog.com recently interviewed hotel front desk clerks and managers to learn some insider secrets. I asked him to join me to share some of them, including how to get a room upgrade, why you might get bumped out of a room if you paid the lowest price for it, how to avoid noisy guests in neighboring rooms, and what happens to the leftover soap.

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

Read George's full piece on hotel insider secrets here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Symphony Movie Night

Last night, my wife and I went to see the St. Louis Symphony perform the soundtrack to "The Godfather" as the movie was shown on a big screen over their heads. We've done this before when they've played along to a compilation of Pixar movies, as well as Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" and "City Lights." We've also attended the Symphony many times in non-soundtrack performances, and it's always a thrill to hear its brilliant musicians playing flawlessly in such an acoustically perfect environment.

We were also happy to see a younger audience enjoying it -- many of whom may have been watching it for the first time -- along with the Symphony's usual demographic of folks like us (middle-aged and older). The challenge for me was not to speak the dialogue out loud along with the movie, which I've seen more than a dozen times, though probably the first time on a big screen since its original release in 1972. It was a terrific experience, but I was annoyed at something.

When the final scene in "The Godfather" ended and the credits rolled, a lot of people got up and left -- while the Symphony was still playing!

This wasn't a screening of a movie at the Megaplex Theaterplex Movieplex. You weren't there just to see the movie. You could have stayed at home on your couch and watched "The Godfather" on your TV without bothering anyone. This was at Powell Symphony Hall, where you paid a pretty good sum of money for the unique experience of hearing world-class musicians play along with the movie, and you leave before they're finished?

I don't know what your rush was, but there was no excuse for interrupting the experience for the rest of us as we were forced to stand up and let you get to the aisle as you blocked our view of the orchestra. Some of these rude idiots even pulled out their cellphones along the way. While the Symphony was still playing!

Fortunately, the early-departers were in the minority. The rest of us (the ones with manners) waited until the final note, then gave the Symphony a standing ovation as the conductor pointed out various players whose talent had been featured -- including some on instruments that are rarely part of a Symphony performance, like the mandolin and accordion.

If you've never been to Powell Symphony Hall to hear them, you should. But if you go on one of the nights they're playing along with a movie -- including tonight, when they will reprise their play-along performance of "The Godfather" -- stick around through the credits and give the musicians the acclaim they deserve.

Harris Challenge 3/27/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "People Named Cruz But Not Ted," "Monopoly-ology," and "The Name Is Fleetwood, Mac." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/27/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a bad counterfeiter, a Snapchat burglar, and a woman in a suitcase. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bruce Schneier, "Data and Goliath"

Here's my conversation with Bruce Schneier, who has been writing about privacy and security issues for years, including his new book, "Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Control Your Data and Control Your World." We discussed:
  • Are we giving up too much information voluntarily in exchange for free services?
  • What are data brokers gathering about us, who are they selling it to?
  • Are private companies doing enough to shield our data from government?
  • How companies and law enforcement can use your cell phone to know where you’ll be tomorrow.
  • Whether the NSA can process the huge amounts of surveillance info it is gathering on all of us.
  • The war on terror as an excuse to get into anyone’s computer, and its chilling effect on free speech and thought.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Colson Whitehead, "The Noble Hustle"

Colson Whitehead and I have three things in common: 1) we have both played in the World Series Of Poker Main Event; 2) we didn't pay our own $10,000 entry fee; and 3) neither of us won. Now that Colson's book about his experience, "The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death," is in paperback, I invited him to join me to talk about it. We discussed:
  • How different it is from playing in a low-stakes, social game in someone's basement or living room;
  • Why the country he chose to represent was The Republic Of Anhedonia;
  • What he learned from a coach who helped him develop strategies for everything from how to play to what to wear;
  • How he was profiled by other players, and how he profiled them;
  • How he practiced for the Main Event in Las Vegas by playing smaller tournaments in Atlantic City;
  • What it's like to walk into the Rio for the first time and encounter the sights and sounds of the WSOP;
  • Whether it changed the way he has played poker since then.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

News Translator

What they said: “The Germanwings plane crash wasn’t terrorism.”
What they meant: “The pilot wasn’t Muslim.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Angelina Jolie's op-ed was so powerful, I had my ovaries removed today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gerald Posner, "God's Bankers"

Investigative journalist Gerald Posner was back on my show today to talk about his new book, "God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican."

He revealed that the Vatican bank rivals those of Wall Street investment banks, except that its long history includes some rather sordid details (e.g. the Vatican's connection to the Nazis during WWII, helping war criminals flee to South America, and hiding millions of dollars of mob money). We discussed how much the various popes have known about the goings-on inside the Vatican bank, how contributions in the US were affected by the pedophilia scandal, and whether the Catholic Church is trying to clean it up under Pope Francis. Posner also related the remarkable story of American archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who ran the Vatican bank for two years -- while also spying for the US State Department.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ian Millhiser, "Injustices"

Here's my conversation with Ian Millhiser, author of "Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting The Afflicted." We talked about some of the court's historically horrendous decisions regarding voting rights, campaign finance, and gerrymandering. We also discussed the difference between "activist judges" and real jurists, and the role of the court vs. the role of Congress. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

James Grady, "Last Days Of The Condor"

Forty years ago, James Grady wrote "Six Days Of The Condor," which was turned into a hit movie starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway called "Three Days Of The Condor." Redford played a CIA researcher who came back from lunch to find everyone else at his office dead and then had to figure out who killed them and avoid being offed himself.

Since then, Grady has written several sequels, and has just published the final chapter, "Last Days Of the Condor." On my radio show, he explained why he's ending the series, how he's had to keep up with changing spy-tech over the last four decades, and whether the new book will become a movie, too. I also asked why the movie cut six days down to three.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Kroenke Blackmail Saga Continues

St. Louis media was in a tizzy today about an LA Times article about the new stadium complex that Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to build in the LA suburb of Inglewood. The complex itself isn't news, but two parts of the updated story got lots of attention.

One is that the stadium will have two home-team locker rooms and owners' boxes, indicating that Kroenke would like to have another team co-habitate the facility. This might be in response to the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers announcing a few weeks ago that they want to build a stadium to house both of their teams in another LA suburb, Carson. Since Kroenke owns the architecture firm that designed his new stadium, it couldn't have been hard for him -- after hearing about the Raiders/Chargers plans -- to simply order new blueprints showing dual home team setups in his building.

Why would Kroenke want someone to share his stadium? Simple answer: income. The other team would have to pay him rent to use the place and he'd have more dates on the stadium calendar filled with fans who will spend lots of cash on concessions, which he also owns. Remember, this is the stadium Kroenke has said he will build with his own money -- unlike the Carson proposal, or the one that's trying to keep the Rams in St. Louis (which I still predict will fail, much as the Rams have done on the field for the last decade). Besides, if the NFL does want to move two franchises to Los Angeles, they can both live in Stan Stadium.

The other aspect of the story that's getting overblown attention is the roof of Kroenke's stadium, which will be made of super-strong glass, with projectors that can cover the roof with a corporate logo which millions of airline passengers would be able to see from planes landing at nearby LAX. But that's not that big a deal. Here, anyone landing from the east at Lambert Airport can glance at downtown St. Louis to see The Arch and The Edward Jones Dome, which has its corporate sponsorship logo clearly visible on its roof. Same for Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and the Mercedes-Benz Dome in New Orleans.

So Kroenke's roof ad isn't groundbreaking, but I wonder whether the glass on top will have a magnifying effect on a sunny day, turning the field and some sections of the stands into an Easy-Bake Oven. They had that problem at the Vdara hotel in Las Vegas five years ago. On a sunny day, the glass reflected and magnified the solar rays so much that guests complained of singed hair and melted plastic.

On my show today, I talked with Joe Holleman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about whether Kroenke will be able to convince the other billionaires at the NFL owners meetings this week that they should vote in favor of his move to Los Angeles, and how little appetite I have for St. Louis to buckle to his blackmail by allocating hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to build a new stadium for the Rams.

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

Making Voter Registration Easier

Much was made last week of President Obama saying he thinks voting should be mandatory.

One problem: he never said that.

Despite the headline on the CNN video below, Obama never said Americans should be forced to vote. He mentioned that it is mandatory in Australia (along with 25 other countries), and said if everyone in America voted it would be transformative, but he did not suggest that we should have a law forcing you to vote. See for yourself...

Considering how many people ginned up negative public opinion about the idea (mostly because Obama supposedly said it), I'm in favor of fewer people voting -- or at least removing that right from those who base faulty opinions on incorrect information from some political/media loudmouth.

It's mostly Republicans who want to dissuade people from voting, because that party does best when turnout is low (see the 2010 and 2014 midterms, or most statewide elections). But when large numbers of people do show up, Democrats do better (see every presidential election in the last 25 years except 2004). That's why the right is in the voter disenfranchisement business, including reinstating voter ID laws despite no evidence of widescale election fraud.

In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown just signed a new law that makes it incredibly easy to register for vote. All you have to do is go to the DMV and get a driver's license and, boom, you're automatically eligible to take part in the next election. How does it work, what were the politics behind it, and how effective is Oregon's vote-by-mail system? I put all of those questions to Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter for The Oregonian...

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Ted Cruz Will Not Be President

Ted Cruz is not going to become President Of The United States. He's not even going to be the GOP candidate in November, 2016.

When Donald Trump recently starting making his quadrennial noises about running for president, I said I'd be willing to bet that he gets the exact same number of electoral votes that I will: zero. In fact, I promised that if Trump gets even one electoral vote, I will eat his toupee. Although Cruz has officially announced he's running (unlike Trump), I'll extend my prediction to him, and add one more. Having Cruz in the race will force the GOP field to pander to the extreme right-wingers who support him, which will cause them to say things they can't take back if and when they win the nomination and have to attract votes from more moderate Independents and Democrats.

Meanwhile, Cruz will get lots of media attention and spew all sorts of ridiculous statements that won't get much fact-checking. Even when they are proven false (Politifact says he has the second-highest percentage of falsehoods at 56%, behind only Ben Carson), that won't matter to his evidence-ignoring faithful. For instance, this one from Slate's Jordan Weissman:

My personal favorite, which he mentioned during his speech today, is Cruz's oft-repeated conviction that we should eliminate the Internal Revenue Service—or, as he now likes to half-jokingly put it these days, "abolish the IRS, take all 125,000 IRS agents and put them on our southern border.” Cruz says this would be his second priority, after repealing Obamacare (of course). And it's kind of fun to contemplate. The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long. Assuming we rotated those 125,000 newly reassigned agents on three separate eight-hour shifts (gotta guard the border 24/7, after all), we could install one agent roughly every 250 feet. That's less than a football field, people. We could basically handle border security like the world's largest game of Red Rover. Weekends would be a little more porous, but that's what overtime pay is for.

Anyway, getting rid of the IRS would still leave the small matter of collecting taxes up in the air. Because, no, Cruz does not want to eliminate taxes altogether. Borrowing from Rick Perry and Steve Forbes before him, he wants to create a low, low flat tax that everybody could submit on a form the size of a postcard. Even that light level of taxation would require some enforcement, and his spokeswoman has previously acknowledged that the senator thinks there would need to be "a small department that would enforce the tax code.”
Right. A small department to handle tens of millions of postcards and then go after Americans who didn't sent theirs in. Good luck with that, Ted. By the way, the IRS has 82,000 employees, and only 14,000 of those are "agents." But, as always, don't let math or reality intrude upon your Tea Party fantasies.

Cruz couldn't even police the crowd at his own campaign announcement today. He spoke at Liberty University, the school started by Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the venue was filled with college students -- who were required by the university to be there. Apparently, not all of them are Cruz fans, as evidenced by the Rand Paul supporters standing up with clear-as-day "I Stand With Paul" t-shirts in the CNN screen grab I've posted above.

He and his staff apparently aren't very good at domain claims, either. Take a look at TedCruz.com. Or type TedCruzForAmerica.com into your browser and you'll be redirected to Healthcare.gov, the front page for Obamacare, which Cruz swears he'll repeal immediately upon election, just as Mitt Romney did (and which neither of them would be able to do -- only the Supreme Court will be able to reverse the progress of the Affordable Care Act).

While you're at it, read Kay Steiger on why Cruz won't change the GOP's continuing problem attracting support from female voters.

Billy Gardell

Billy Gardell co-stars with Melissa McCarthy on CBS' "Mike and Molly," and is about to start hosting a syndicated game show, "Monopoly Millionaires Club." He joined me to talk about why hosting a game show was on his bucket list, his stint as a temp-host on "The Late Late Show," and what he learned from working with George Carlin.

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

Twenty Grammar Mistakes

Stop saying these phrases incorrectly.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

As Starbucks backs away from its Race Together campaign, Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune writes:

First McDonald's advertised that people working the register would be urging us to make sure our relationships with our loved ones were on solid footing. Then Starbucks asked its baristas to engage us on racial issues in a bid to patch up America's great divide.

Affection and racial harmony aren't the issue here. We are pro affection and racial harmony. No one is arguing against loving and caring for our fellow humans, but we came in to feed our faces, not our souls. A lot of us just want to get what we ordered and go.

That's not running away from serious issues. It's wariness about being drawn into a major corporation's marketing campaign through a discussion about an important but sensitive subject with someone we barely know.
Read Rosenthal's full piece here.

The News Dissector

Danny Schechter, known as the News Dissector when he worked in radio, later winner of two news Emmys for his work in TV, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer at age 72. Schechter was also an author and human rights activist who was a close confidant of Nelson Mandela, writing the definitive biography and making six movies about him. When Mandela died in December, 2013, I had this conversation with Schechter about him.

Bad Day At CBW

I'm mad at Crazy Bowls And Wraps, a fast-casual restaurant chain in the St. Louis area.

I used to go in there at least once a week, usually to order a bowl full of dark meat chicken, brown rice, and garlic-ginger sauce. But when I went in yesterday, I was informed that the company no longer offers dark meat, only white.

Boo! While I have nothing against chicken breasts, I prefer the taste of the leg and thigh meat. Unhappily, I ordered something else -- a wrap with white meat, spinach, brown rice, and pesto sauce. Still delicious, but not as good to my palate.

While munching on my lunch, three people sat at the table next to me. After a minute, it became apparent that their conversation included a fourth person who wasn't there -- they were talking to her via the speaker on one of their cellphones. Normally, when you're in a restaurant (particularly one that has music pounding throughout) you don't hear your neighbors' conversations, because everyone talks at the appropriate volume level. But when using the speakerphone, everyone in this group felt the need to speak much louder. Not just the three at the table, but the woman at the other end, too -- apparently unaware that modern technology will amplify your voice to anywhere in the world with no extra strain on your vocal chords (or the ears of anyone nearby).

Thanks to this display of rudeness, I was no longer simply sitting next to my fellow lunch diners, I was in the middle of a conference call against my will. And it wasn't something quick like, "I'm running a few minutes late. Be right there!" No, this conversation went on during their (and my) entire meal. It was so loud that I could hear every word, and the trio was oblivious to the impact they were having on me and everyone else in the place.

It would have been nice for a CBW employee to go over and tell The Loud Family that they were disturbing other customers, but I don't expect minimum wage clerks to engage with the clientele once they've left the counter to remind them to be respectful of other human beings nearby. It's not in their job description, just as they didn't decide to stop selling dark meat chicken.

Perhaps I should have protested in a louder voice. Over a speakerphone.

A Survivor Conundrum

Something occurred on "Survivor" last week that I've seen on several previous seasons, and I'm always confused about.

One of the tribes won a reward of three live chickens -- two hens and a rooster. When they got back to camp, several members of the tribe (which hadn't eaten much besides rice, coconuts, and a crab or two) wanted to eat one of the chickens. So they cut the head off a hen, plucked its feathers, and boiled it.

One of the hens? Why?

Hens produce eggs. Roosters do not. Its only useful purpose would be to fertilize the eggs, but you're not going to be on "Survivor" long enough to hatch some baby chicks and start a petting zoo. So if you're going to execute and eat any of the three fowl, why kill one of the protein-producing hens?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ernie Anderson

I recently listened to an interview with director Paul Thomas Anderson about his latest effort, "Inherent Vice," which I did not like at all -- I'm talking about the movie, not the interview. I have enjoyed some of Anderson's previous work, particularly "Boogie Nights" and his debut, "Hard Eight" (which is on my Movies You Might Not Know list) because of the great lead performance by Phillip Baker Hall, and solid supporting work by John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson, all of whom had yet to become household names.

In the interview, I learned something about Anderson I did not know -- that his father was famed TV voiceover guy Ernie Anderson. Ernie was the voice of ABC from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, recording all of the promos for that network's primetime lineup in a style that became so popular it launched a raft of imitators. Here's the original at work...

Anderson was best known for the way he pronounced "The Love Boat," with his voice dropping a full octave between the first and second words. I always admired the way he could segue from talking about a wacky sitcom -- with almost a giggle in his voice -- and then shift gears to plug a serious news story on "20/20," all in the same thirty-second promo.

David Letterman was also an Ernie Anderson fan, so he was invited to guest on Letterman's NBC show in 1983. After discussing his early days as half of a comedy duo with Tim Conway, followed by his stint as Ghoulardi (1960s host of a horror movie show on local TV in Cleveland), Dave got Ernie to clear his throat and show off the voice that launched a thousand promos...

[thanks to Jeff Olsen for the video link]

Back To The Future Plus Thirty

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Back To The Future," Jason Aron has been working on a documentary about the movie (and its sequels) called "Back In Time." He joined me to explain:
  • how hard it was to get the principals (stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, director Robert Zemeckis, writer Bob Gale) to sit down for interviews;
  • why Crispin Glover was replaced by Jeffrey Wiessman as George McFly after the first movie;
  • how much of the film was shot with Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly before he was fired;
  • the culture of "BTTF" fanatics, including hoverboard and tricked-out Delorean subcultures.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jason is still raising money on Kickstarter for the film, which is scheduled to be released on October 21, 2015 (the futuristic date Marty McFly travels to in the second movie). Here's the trailer...

Harris Challenge 3/20/15

To celebrate the vernal equinox, this week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "First Day of Springfield," "First Day of Springsteen," and "First Day of Offspring." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/20/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about drunk walking, rolling in feces, and a fire extinguisher fire. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ah, March Madness

It's the only time of the year when men across the US simultaneously ask, "Honey, do we get TruTV? What channel number is that?"

Dale Hansen on Greg Hardy

I have linked to Dale Hansen's sports commentaries before, and the one he did last night deserves a spotlight, too. Hansen is on the CBS affiliate in Dallas, where the Cowboys just signed an $11.3 million dollar contract with Greg Hardy, the defensive end who was kicked off the Carolina Panthers and temporarily out of the NFL because he beat up his girlfriend. That got under Hansen's skin, as do the Cowboys fans who will cheer Hardy -- but hope he doesn't date their daughters...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Illinois Schocker

I'm shocked by the Rep. Aaron Schock resignation story because Illinois has such a long history of honest, un-corruptible politicians.

Poker Stories: Bad Beat Bad Beat

Every poker player has a bad beat story, where their opponent caught one of the few cards in the deck they needed to win -- a four-outer, a three-outer, a two-outer. Every poker room is filled with people telling bad beat stories, to the point where we've all heard every possible permutation. One guy in town used to wear a hat that read, "I will listen to your bad beat story for $5." I often want to interrupt the storyteller to ask, "Let me guess -- he hit it on the river?" 

But there are some bad beat stories that are so good I can't resist them. This is one of them.

Most poker rooms have a bad beat jackpot, for those rare instances where a monster hand -- four of a kind or better -- is beaten by an even bigger monster hand. These usually occur in games played at smaller stakes, where it's not too expensive to stick around to see another card ($3-6 limit, $1-3 no-limit hold'em). 

The jackpot is built by the casino taking $1 out of every pot, and putting it into a special fund which can eventually grow to six figures. When a bad beat jackpot hand occurs, the player who came in second (thus suffering the bad beat) gets 50% of the jackpot. The player with the winning hand gets 25%, and the remaining 25% is split between the other players at the table who were dealt into the hand.

At the stakes I play, since two giant hands like those heads-up in a pot is an even more rare occurrence (I can't remember seeing it for several years), we don't want to contribute to the jackpot pool when we're the least likely to win it, so we arranged with the casinos to not take a buck out of each of our pots in exchange for not being eligible for the jackpot.

The jackpot at Ameristar St. Charles was up to about $180,000 when the following hand occurred recently in a $1-3 no-limit game. I was not in the game, but heard the details from someone who was.

Several players were involved pre-flop, but the ones to focus on were Player A with two sixes and Player B, who held the eight and five of spades. The flop came out 966 with two spades. Player A bet right away (surprising since he's flopped four of a kind!), and Player B raised with his flush draw and inside straight draw. The others folded, and Player A just called. The turn was the 7 of spades, giving Player B a straight flush, which is better than four sixes.

Since the $1-3 players don't have much money in front of them (the maximum buy-in is $300), it all ended up in the middle at that point. They both recognized that this could be a bad beat jackpot hand, as Player A said, "I hope you have a really good hand" and Player B replied, "Oh, I do!" Everyone started getting excited.

That's when the dealer put out the river card: the 10 of spades. The players both revealed their hole cards, and everyone at the table went nuts, thinking they'd hit the jackpot -- the table share alone would have been $5,625 each. But Player B wasn't celebrating. His head hung low, because he understood what had just happened.

In order to qualify for the jackpot, players must use both of their hole cards to complete the hand. For Player A, the guy with sixes, that was no problem. But for Player B, his 9-high straight flush using his eight and five of spades on the turn had turned into a 10-high straight flush on the river, using only the 8 in his hand with the ten-nine-seven-six on the board. 

There was nothing he could do about it -- his hand no longer qualified for the jackpot. So, he won the pot, and his opponent's money, but nothing more. 

Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions in one hand. For Player B, when the 7 of spades hit the turn, it was the only card in the deck that could make his hand a winner -- and then the only other card in the deck that could counterfeit his hand for the jackpot came on the river. That ten of spades had cost him $45,000, and it cost Player A $90,000. 

Ironically, the Ameristar poker room also has a high-hand jackpot, so Player A (who had lost $250 in the hand) earned back $200 for his quad sixes, while Player B's one-card straight flush didn't get him any bonus money.

Now that's a bad beat.

Quitting Football

Last week, in discussing the St. Louis Rams trading Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles, I suggested that Bradford consider not playing professional football any more because of all the concussions and head trauma he's suffered due to the inability of the Rams offensive line to protect him. I wrote, "I were him, after seeing all the traumatic brain injury stories of NFL veterans whose gray matter was turned to oatmeal from the pounding they took on the field, I'd take my tens of millions earned in the last five years and go live the rest of my life in one piece while I still could."

Last night, another young NFL player came to that conclusion. San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired because he's concerned about the long-term effects of having his head knocked around repeatedly on the field. Unlike Bradford, Borland isn't a multi-millionaire from playing football -- last year was his rookie season in the NFL -- but at age 24, he already sees the groggy future and wants to avoid it.

This is not good news for the league, which still pretends that the game is safe. But, as Cindy Boren writes,

For now, sky-high TV ratings and the obscene revenues they generate continue and for every player that quits, a hundred more will take their place —- until children whose parents won’t let them play grow up and the pool of players shrinks precipitously. The real effects on the game might not be felt for a few more years, but they’re going to be devastating. “Obviously, guys will continue to play football,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit tweeted, “but I guarantee the Borland early retirement gets the attention of a lot of moms and youth football.”
The irony is that it will take several years to see the impact of the new focus on head trauma in the NFL, about the same amount of time it takes for former players to realize the impact all that contact had on their brains.

A March Madness Joke

I spent all morning working on my brackets. Next: my ellipses, parentheses, and ampersands.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ethical Spending

The NY Times has a weekly column called The Ethicist, which answers questions from readers, like this one that appeared yesterday:

I am an inveterate crafter — I have a crafting room — but ever since the Hobby Lobby decision, I have studiously avoided its stores despite my deep and abiding love of the place. I know there are some decent retail substitutes out there, but none that can match the giant warehouse of glitter and balsa wood that is Hobby Lobby. Would it be ethical to shop there if I were to make a donation to Planned Parenthood every time I did, sort of like buying ethical carbon offsets? If so, what percentage of my total purchase price should I be donating?
The answer seems simple -- no, if a business engages in practices you vehemently disagree with, you can't shop there anymore. Trying to offset your purchases with a contribution to a cause you support does nothing to send a message to the business you disapprove of.

I try to apply this principle with my spending, since I don't want any of my money going directly to support any person or organization that works against the things I believe in. That's why I won't play poker at The Venetian, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who writes huge checks to right-wingers he wants elected. He may have wasted $100 million in the 2012 election cycle, and will probably spend more next year on candidates who will do his bidding if elected -- yet another indictment of the corruption endemic in our political system -- but none of that was my money.

For similar reasons, I won't get pizza from Domino's (not much of a sacrifice, as I was raised on real New York pizza) or sandwiches from Jimmy John's (too bad, because I did like their food).

In Oklahoma, the legislature considered a bill that would allow a religious exemption for companies that want to discriminate against gays (e.g. a bakery could refuse to make a wedding cake with two men on top). Last week, Rep. Emily Virgin, who opposes the law, proposed an amendment making it mandatory for those businesses to put a sign on their front door telling the world about their bigotry. She said, "If you want to discriminate under this law if it passes, then you’re legally allowed to do that, but you need to own it. You need to fess up to it." Her amendment wasn't voted on because the entire bill was pulled, but there are others still under consideration across the country which may pass. I like Virgin's idea -- which also would allow gays and lesbians to avoid the embarrassment of being refused service.

Sometimes, my opinions about companies change as they alter their stances because their images have been damaged after a company executive made inappropriate public remarks. Remember what happened when Chik-Fil-A's anti-gay-marriage activism went viral a few years ago? LGBT groups called for a boycott, and there was backlash as thousands of defiant people lined up to get Chik-Fil-A's food and stand up for prejudice, but after a couple of days, the number of chicken-sandwich-buyers dwindled and, eventually, Chik-Fil-A stopped giving money to anti-gay-rights organizations. Similarly, Italian pasta maker Barilla turned itself around after one of its top execs made some bigoted remarks about gays -- it now gets good marks from LGBT advocates like Human Rights Campaign.

There are few big corporations that don't have someone mad at them about something, but sometimes, the question of how to spend your money ethically runs into a quandary.

After BP's negligence led to the huge oil spill in the Gulf Of Mexico, I avoided buying their gas for a long time, just as I did with Exxon after the Valdez spill, but eventually realized that it's impossible to find an ethical oil company. While I abhor human rights violations here and abroad, that hasn't stopped me from buying Apple products that are made in Chinese factories by overworked, underpaid employees -- but the products made by Apple's competitors are produced the same way. And good luck wearing nothing but clothing that isn't sewn together in outsourced sweat shops around the world.

Is that hypocrisy, or practicality? I'm not going to look into the political or cultural leanings of every single company I do business with, but whenever possible, if I discover that their publicly-expressed values clash with mine, I spend my dollars elsewhere.

That's all I can do.

Vaccine Denier Must Pay

From Mother Jones:

Four years ago, vaccine-skeptical German biologist Stefan Lanka posed a challenge on his website: Prove to him that measles is, in fact, a virus. To the first person who could do that, he promised a whopping 100 thousand Euros (about $106,000).

Despite loads of long-standing medical evidence proving the existence of the measles virus, Lanka believes that measles is a psychosomatic disease that results from trauma. "People become ill after traumatic separations," he told a German newspaper.

German doctor David Barden took him up on the challenge. Barden gathered six separate studies showing that measles is indeed a virus. Lanka dismissed his findings.

But today, a district court in southern Germany found that Barden's evidence provides sufficient proof to have satisfied Lanka's challenge. Which means Lanka now has to cough up the promised cash.

This issue has taken on new urgency due to a measles epidemic in Berlin that began in October. Health officials announced last Friday that 111 new cases had been reported in the previous week, bringing the total number to 724. The majority of those affected are unvaccinated; last month an 18-month-old died of the disease.
Note that last sentence -- last month an 18-month-old died of the disease. Can Wanka seriously believe that the measles that ravaged that child were all in its head? I'm glad that the court ruled that Wanka must pay Barden, but I worry about other uninformed people who believe the denier, not the scientist.

The Blues Brothers' B Movie

In my review of Delbert McClinton's concert this weekend, I mentioned that my introduction to him was through the Blues Brothers' version of his song, "B Movie Boxcar Blues." Here they are performing it on New Year's Eve 1978 at the last concert at Bill Graham's legendary Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco -- a show that opened with New Riders Of The Purple Sage and closed with a six-hour marathon by The Grateful Dead...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Do You Smell Your Hand?

A new study says that, after a handshake, more than 1 in 5 people smell their hand. According to New Scientist:
The volunteers were filmed as they greeted a member of the team, either with or without a handshake. The researchers recorded how often the volunteers lifted their hands close to their nose, and how long they kept them there, the minute before and after the greeting. Before the greeting, both men and women had their hand near their nose 22 per cent of the time, on average. Airflow in the nose more than doubled at the same time, suggesting they were smelling their hands.
After shaking hands with someone of the same sex, on average volunteers sniffed their shaking hand more than twice as much as they did before the handshake. If the person was of the opposite sex, they smelled their non-shaking hand twice as much as before the handshake. This usually happened once the experimenter had left the room.
Read the full piece here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Delbert McClinton

Delbert McClinton came to St. Louis last night. The first time I saw him perform was in 1979, but he's now 74 and I figured this might be my last chance, so my friend Bob Russell and I went down to the Sheldon Concert Hall to see him -- and we were not disappointed. Delbert performed in front of his six-piece band, which made for a tight fit on the Sheldon's small-ish stage, but they made it work, and the always-perfect acoustics in that room allowed us to bask in the sound of one of the best shows I've seen in awhile.

I first became aware of Delbert through The Blues Brothers, who did one of his songs, "B Movie Box Car Blues" on their debut album. Last night, when someone shouted it out, Delbert turned to the band, nodded his head, and they launched right into it.  Throughout the two-hour show, he didn't seem to have a pre-arranged set list. Rather, he seemed to call out each song as he went along, culled from his nearly 50-year career, and the band kept right with him. They were tight all night, taking turns playing solos and fitting together like a group of real pros should.

I could sit all night and listen to Delbert and his great Texas-roadhouse band, complete with guitar, bass, horn section, and a Hammond B3 organ. Halfway through the set, Delbert left the stage and let the band take over for a few songs, including a blazing rendition of Buddy Miles' "Marbles" led by saxophonist Dana Robbins. Then he returned to sing a few more before finishing to a standing ovation and a two-song encore that left all of us walking out with a smile.

Andy Dehnart: Survivor, TAR, and more

Andy Dehnart, who writes about reality TV shows on his site, Reality Blurred, was back on my show to talk about recent developments on "Survivor," "The Amazing Race," and "The Bachelorette." He discussed how Jeff Probst is inserting himself into "Survivor" more and more while some of the players still don't understand how to play its social game. We also talked about whether the blind date aspect of "The Amazing Race" is good for the show, and what the controversy is about the upcoming season of "The Bachelorette."

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

Harris Challenge 3/13/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Have Some Pi Day," "Green Stuff for St. Pat's," and "Friday The 13th." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/13/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a groom rejected over math, a vacation ruined by GPS, and a car in a train station. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rip Off Riffs

In light of the courtroom victory for Marvin Gaye's family about Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke plagiarizing "Got To Give It Up" for their song "Blurred Lines," my colleague Frank O. Pinion played this video on his KTRS show yesterday. It's full of examples of other musical ripoffs through the years:

My favorite of those is #5, in which John Fogerty was accused of stealing his own riffs.

In that vein, here's one that's not on the list because there was never legal action, but it's clear that Steve Miller copied a guitar riff from his own 1969 song "My Dark Hour" (which Paul McCartney played on, but was never a hit) when he wrote "Fly Like An Eagle," which was a smash in 1976...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ramming Through A Trade

Most St. Louis Rams fans I've spoken to in the last 24 hours are happy with the quarterback trade the team made yesterday, sending Sam Bradford to Philadelphia for Nick Foles -- but it will be interesting to see if that happiness turns into season ticket sales. Those numbers were already affected (downward) by the team's lame duck status here, as owner Stan Kroenke has all but come out and said he's going to move the Rams to the new stadium he's going to build in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood in a year or two.

There are plenty of questions yet to be answered. Will Foles be able to come back from last year's broken collarbone to lead an offense that has struggled for the last decade? Now that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is gone, will he be permitted to throw the ball more than four yards downfield? Will the Rams put together a good enough offensive line to protect their quarterback or will he be the latest in a long line to be repeatedly helped off the field with yet another concussion? 

The Rams investment in Bradford never paid off -- except for him, to the tune of $65 million. That's a helluva lot of money for a guy who played just 49 games out of a possible 80 since being chosen first in the draft in 2010. Even in the games Bradford did start, he only won 18 of them. I never thought he was going to be the team's savior (and I'm not sure about Foles), but if I were him, after seeing all the traumatic brain injury stories of NFL veterans whose gray matter was turned to oatmeal from the pounding they took on the field, I'd take my tens of millions earned in the last five years and go live the rest of my life in one piece while I still could.

If Bradford thinks St. Louis fans were occasionally unkind to him, booing whenever the offense limped off the field after yet another three-and-out series, wait until he gets a load of the crowd at Eagles games (the people who once booed Santa Claus). My friend Dave told a story of going to a game in Philadelphia and sitting in front of a fan who spilled beer on him, cursing and yelling constantly while smoking a big, smelly cigar -- and her husband was worse!

As for the post-Bradford Rams, if Foles stays healthy and does what he's supposed to, and coach Jeff Fisher can finally instill some discipline in his young players to cut down on stupid penalties, and the defense can stay as strong as it was last year, and Roger Saffold can manage to stay on the field for an entire game without an injury, and the receivers can get open downfield, and on and on and on...then the Rams might pull off a winning season, which would certainly make the fan base happier and more hopeful than it's been in years. 

Just in time to have Kroenke pull the rug out from under us.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council has issued a report concluding that:
There is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions. The conclusion is based on the findings of a rigorous assessment of more than 1800 papers. Of these, 225 studies met the criteria to be included in NHMRC’s examination of the effectiveness of homeopathy. The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.
The report goes on to press insurance companies to stop subsidizing homeopathic treatments and pharmacies to stop carrying the useless products. I'd like to see a pharmacy giant in this country -- like CVS -- be as proactive in clearing its shelves of homeopathic remedies as it has in no longer selling tobacco products.

Of course, reports like this won't chance the minds of millions of people who have bought and swallowed the homeopathy industry's garbage for years, but that shouldn't stop scientists and other rational thinkers from trying to undo the damage done by pseudo-science.