Monday, August 31, 2015

Conversational Colbert Continued

I mentioned last week that my hopes for Stephen Colbert's upcoming "Late Show" debut were buoyed by the announcement of his non-showbiz guests in his first week, including Jeb Bush, Elon Musk, Stephen King, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Now we can add to that his second week guests, which -- in addition to actors Emily Blunt, Kevin Spacey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, and Lupita Nyong-o -- will include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Bernie Sanders, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. I can't imagine Jimmy, Jimmy, James, or Seth even trying to engage those people in intelligent conversation.

Fallon would probably have Breyer playing beer pong in black robes.

Murdered For Being Rational

Two years ago, I wrote of my tremendous respect for Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian rationalist who was forced to leave his country under a death threat from the Catholic Church because he had exposed the fakery behind one of its iconic religious statues. Not long after, another Indian rationalist named Narendra Dabholkar was killed after trying to get legislation passed that would ban superstitious scams and black magic.

Now comes word that yet another Indian rationalist has been murdered. Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, a scholar and college professor who had angered some religious groups by denouncing idol worship and superstition as meaningless rituals, was shot dead by two men at his home over the weekend.

Religious zealotry knows no borders. It abhors critical thinking, rational thought, and doubt. Every religious belief proves its weakness in its inability to withstand questions and criticism. Kalburgi, Dabholkar, and far too many others have been the victims of that closed-minded denial.

Previously on Harris Online...

Might Be A Record

I just realized I didn't watch a single minute of the MTV Video Music Awards show for the every-year-it-has-been-onth time in a row.

Three Movie Stinkers

August is typically a bad time for movies, and as it comes to a close, here are three in particular that fouled the entire month for me:

1) "Ricki and the Flash." Meryl Streep is Ricki Randozzo, leader of a cover band in small town California, with Rick Springfield as her lead guitarist/lover. Ricki moved to Los Angeles many years ago to to find fame, leaving behind a husband and three small kids, and it didn't work out so well. She's broke, so she works as a cashier at Total (not Whole) Foods, but barely makes ends meet.

One day, ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) calls to say their daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep's real-life offspring) tried to commit suicide after her marriage failed. Ricki flies to Indy, where she stays in the guest room of the huge upper-class house of successful but boring Pete and second wife/supermom Maureen (Audra MacDonald) to help out. There are also two adult sons, both walking stereotypes: one about to be married to a straight-laced fiancée, the other gay, just to give Ricki something to disapprove of.

It's the kind of movie where Ricki finds a bag of weed in the refrigerator in the first hour, so you know she and Pete will smoke it later and collapse in stoned middle-aged hysterics (which aren't funny for anyone else, including the audience). Didn't Kline already do that scene three decades ago in "The Big Chill"?

Diablo Cody's script was a disappointment, because it doesn't rise to the high standard she set right out of the box with "Juno" and "Young Adult." "Ricki and the Flash" was directed by Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs," "Something Wild") who proved he can film a rock concert in the Talking Heads movie "Stop Making Sense," but here left in way too many full songs, as if to prove that Streep can sing. Okay, we get it, Meryl can do anything, but in a movie that's barely 90 minutes, five tunes performed in their entirety seems more like filler -- and it is, because the plot is so thin.

One positive: Streep's band includes a couple of real veteran musicians: drummer Joe Vitale, who played with Crosby Stills and Nash on their first album and many other projects, and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who was a longtime member of George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic. But even though they sound great, they can't make "Ricki and the Flash" worth your time.

Rating: 2/10.

2) "The Man From UNCLE." I'm old enough to have watched the original show on NBC in the mid-60s, when I enjoyed the weekly stories of secret agents involved in global espionage. Hey, I even watched the Stephanie Powers spinoff "The Girl From Uncle." Okay, I was only 8 at the time, but what was I thinking?

I happened to catch an episode of the original series on MeTV a few weeks ago and, boy, does it not hold up. The story was asinine and the performances by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum redefined the word "stiff." Apparently, someone in Hollywood thought that defunct series was worth reanimating as a big-screen adventure. Whoever that was should be forced to go back and binge-watch every episode -- not as inspiration, but as punishment.

Since no one under 50 has even heard of the series, this movie starts at the beginning, with the story of how American agent Napoleon Solo and Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin were forced to work together. As Solo, Henry Cavill (who I hated as the new Superman) displays even less personality than Vaughn did. Meanwhile, Armie Hammer overdoes it as Kuryakin, with a Russian accent nearly as bad as John Malkovich's in "Rounders." The female lead is Alicia Vikander ("Ex Machina," in which she was better than the movie), and Hugh Grant has a small role as Mr. Waverly, who seems to have been given random authority over Solo and Kuryakin while waiting for someone, anyone, to write a decent rom-com script for him.

You don't need to know the details of "The Man From UNCLE" plot, but suffice it to say that the two agents have to save the world from someone with a nefarious plot to blow up and/or take over the world. Yawn.

Director Guy Ritchie tries to squeeze a few laughs out, but fails badly, especially in a scene where the two male agents argue over fashion while helping Vikander shop for clothes. Why? I have no idea. Moreover, he made the mistake of setting the story in 1963 during the cold war, when it would have worked better -- and been more relatable -- if they had been two modern-day secret agents working together.

My worst criticism is that the action sequences -- which should be the main selling point of an action movie -- don’t grab you. They're all too predictable, and "The Man From UNCLE" comes off as nothing more than a bad ripoff of a bad Bond film.

Rating: 3/10.

3) "Hitman: Agent 47” is based on a video game, which already flopped once as a feature movie in 2007. Oops, make that twice.

The plot is so convoluted that the easiest way to describe it is as the bastard son of "Terminator 2" and any Jason Bourne movie. Agent 47 (played by Rupert Friend, he has no name, just a number) is one of a group of hit men who have been engineered to have no fear, emotion, or attachments – they're only interested in killing their targets.

As the beginning, Friend is stalking Katia, who’s being protected by Zachary Quinto. Then it turns out that Rupert's the good guy and Zachary’s the bad guy -- a rival hitman, but with a poly-metal layer under his skin, so shooting him is no good. There's your "T2" ripoff. Then we learn that a "syndicate" wants to get Katia because her father invented the agents in a program that’s been disbanded, but the syndicate wants to start running again. And now we're in Bourne's arena.

I didn’t care about any of the characters. The action sequences are okay but totally predictable (good guy fires one shot, hits everyone, bad guys miss with dozens of shots). Like "The Man From UNCLE," this was probably supposed to be the start of a movie franchise, but I'd be surprised if there's even one sequel -- to either of them. Rating: 2/10.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Showbiz Show 8/28/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan in "No Escape" and Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke in "Mistress America." We also talked about the new Netflix series "Narcos," Christopher Guest's next movie, a TV version of "Galaxy Quest," and other showbiz news. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 8/28/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Katrina Ten Years Later," "That's Their Business," and "The Sports Pages." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/28/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a potato salad fight, a bottle of cognac, and the house next door. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Onion's Story Of The Day

Since I started following The Onion on Twitter, I've often found myself chuckling at its headlines, including this one from today: Everyone Who Started Watching "Mad Money" In 2005 Now Billionaires. I'm sure Jim Cramer and his CNBC crew enjoyed it, too.

Worth Watching: Sneaky Pete

Amazon has several pilots available for streaming that, if they get enough viewer support, might be picked up as series. One that I recommend strongly is "Sneaky Pete," developed by "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston and "House" creator David Shore.

"Sneaky Pete" stars Giovanni Ribisi as Marius, a con man about to get out of jail who owes a lot of money to a mob figure -- cash he doesn't have. When his cellmate Pete shares stories about rich grandparents he hasn't seen in 20 years, Marius decides that, once released from prison, he'll pretend he's Pete and scam his way into their money. Things don't go exactly the way he plans them, though, and the complications make for a very interesting plotline, thanks to Margo Martindale and Peter Gereghty as the grandparents and a slew of unknowns as the rest of the extended family.

I'm always a sucker for a good con man story, particularly one that has the feel of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" mixed with a touch of a short-lived series I enjoyed called "Terriers." I enjoyed it enough to tell Amazon I want to see more episodes. Check it out and see if you agree.

Flashback: UIGEA Online Poker Ban

As a followup to yesterday's post exposing the hypocrisy of online poker opponent Sheldon Adelson, here's a column I wrote on October 13, 2006, after Congress snuck the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into a completely unrelated homeland security bill...

Today, President Bush signed the ports safety legislation, which also includes a ban on internet gambling. What one has to do with the other, or why an online poker game might be a threat to national security, I have no idea.

The problem with the online gambling ban is hypocrisy of our politicians criminalizing betting in one form, while promoting it in so many others. Every state in the country has a lottery, and several take part in multi-state lotteries like Powerball and MegaMillions, which means the gambling crosses state lines. No one is suggesting we shut those down. Nor would they ever tell churches to knock off their bingo nights, and we know about the growth of all those brick-and-mortar casinos across the country.

Obviously, our nation has embraced gambling -- or rather, allowing adults to gamble if they like. Even now, in the midst of the baseball playoffs, we have mayors like Slay and Bloomberg making very public wagers on the Cards vs. Mets, with the payoff coming in toasted ravioli, pizza, and lemon ices. They not only made the bet, but they publicized it to the press and on their websites. But if you wanted to make a bet on that series, the only place you could do it legally is Las Vegas. God forbid you place that wager with an online sports book. What's the difference? Why is it okay for politicians to make these bets out in the open, but not the rest of us?

Opponents of online gambling always throw up the classic red herring, "we have to protect the kids." This kind of protection is not the government's job, it's the job of parents -- just as I have to make sure my daughter is not giving out a lot of personal information on, and you have to ensure that your son isn't running up your cellphone bill by sending 10,000 text messages to his friends.

If my daughter were to somehow use my credit card or bank information to start playing poker or betting on sports online, she'd feel plenty of consequences right here in our own house -- there would be no need for an FBI agent to get involved. If she's old enough to have money of her own and ends up losing it, well, that's one of life's lessons, which she could just as easily learn in a real-world casino.

Don't tell me it's about gambling addiction, either. No law prevents a gambler from going to a local casino and losing several hundred dollars every single day. And there's no restriction on the number of lottery tickets they can buy, either -- even though the odds of winning are worse than being hit by lightning. What message does that send, that the worse you are at math, the less you should be restricted?

The new legislation won't stop online gambling. It will make it a little more difficult to transfer money in and out of those accounts for awhile, but eventually, the offshore sites will figure out a way to bring their customers back, because there's just too much money at stake.

All that money is another part of the argument, because the government isn't getting its share of taxes from the revenue. But legalizing it would kill two birds with one stone. One, they could monitor and regulate the gaming, taxing the revenue of both the online operators and the players. Two, the large corporations that run the biggest brick-and-mortar casinos would be encouraged to enter the business, and customers would be much more likely to do business with brand names they know and trust, like Harrah's and MGM Mirage and Wynn. Those publicly-traded companies would make sure that things are on the up and up, because any cheating or other scandal would endanger the billions of dollars they could be raking in. Thus, it would be safer for the gambling consumer. Making it illegal may have the opposite effect, driving the business underground even more and allowing it to be run by the shadiest and least-secure organization -- akin to what happened with alcohol sales during Prohibition.

It will be interesting to see if this legislation has an effect on the World Series Of Poker next year. Nearly three-quarters of the 8,773 entrants in this year's Main Event got there by winning satellite tournaments in online poker rooms. If the legislation is successful, those numbers will drop off dramatically.

Ironically, poker has been played by people at every level, including even the most conservative politicians -- Richard Nixon used the money he won in the Navy to finance his first run for Congress. George W. Bush played lots of poker at Harvard Business School. The late William Rehnquist used to host a weekly poker game, even when he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

One of the parties that was pushing Congress for this law is the NFL, which supposedly detests the notion that anyone might bet on football. I can understand their concern, worried about how gambling might influence how games are played. Yet every newspaper in America prints the point spreads every day, every office building in the country has some sort of fantasy football league, and the league forces its teams into full and timely disclosure of any injuries or other roster changes. Who is that for, if not for the sports bettors? The NFL is an enabler, and another gambling hypocrite.

The most offensive part of this online gambling legislation is the presumption that the government has the right to tell us how to spend our hard-earned money. It most certainly does not. They don't place a restriction on the number of shoes my wife can buy, nor the number of songs I can download from iTunes, and they can't shut down some eBay addict who is bidding on some ridiculous tchotchke at three in the morning. If they tried that, they'd start a revolution. So why is it their business if some poker player (whether it's a med-school student, an auto mechanic, a Fortune 500 CEO, or your favorite radio personality) is playing no-limit hold'em for a few hours in an online poker room?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sheldon Adelson Exposed

I've made it clear that I am no fan of Sheldon Adelson, billionaire bank roller of GOP candidates and efforts to keep online poker illegal in the US. In fact, I no longer patronize any of his casinos because I refuse to give him a penny of my money just to see it used to support his corrupt causes.

This is a video by Tim James in which he shows up Adelson for the hypocrite he is.

Adelson has said publicly (and paid lobbyists and congressman huge sums to say) that online poker is bad because there's no way to keep underage players off the sites. So James took some undercover underage players into Adelson's prime Vegas casinos (The Venetian and Palazzo), and they had no trouble playing slots, table games, and live poker. They also ordered and were served alcohol. James was even able to solicit a prostitute at one of Adelson's casino bars.

You'll see all of that in this video, although it gets a bit repetitious -- James isn't the most subtle guy, and he makes his point with video proof in the first 3 minutes -- but stick with it until 5-6 minutes in, when James shows Adelson claiming that allowing Americans to play poker online is the equivalent of putting a casino in everyone's pocket. Smash cut to the PocketCasino device that Adelson encourages players to use in his own casinos, encouraging them to gamble from their rooms without the hassle of actually going down to the casino floor. Why, that's almost as convenient as playing from home!

I must add that Adelson's remarks about underage online poker players are true to a certain extent. For the last dozen years, plenty of under-21-year-olds have been playing poker on the internet, even after the so-called Black Friday of April, 2011, when major poker sites were forced offline in the US by the Department of Justice.

Ironically, while Adelson has been ranting against online poker, I can remember just a few years ago -- before Black Friday -- when he allowed PokerStars to hold one of its North American Poker Tour events at The Venetian. Perhaps it was at that point that Adelson realized this was a corner of the gambling market that he could not control, even with all his money, because someone else was already doing it so well he could not compete. So, since he couldn't beat them, he'd instead use his riches to shove them out of the marketplace (at least in the US).

So far, Adelson's efforts are working, and it remains unlikely that online poker will be legalized nationally in the US anytime soon. However, there are still sites like Bovada where online poker is available to Americans, and three states (NJ, DE, NV) that allow residents and tourists to play online against each other, but only within their borders and not in global player pools like those on PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Party Poker, which no longer allow US players to access their sites.

I was never a big online poker player, and I'm not yearning for the day when it's legal again. I prefer playing live at a table full of players I can see and talk to, discerning who to target and who to stay away from, reading their tells and engaging in the social aspects of poker. None of that is possible while sitting alone in front of a laptop. But just because I don't want to do it doesn't mean no one else should have the right to. Each individual should be able to freely decide when, where, and how to spend their recreational dollars, not politicians and hypocritical billionaires.

[hat tip to Mike Budenholzer]

Previously on Harris Online...
You can read more of my poker stories here and listen to 181 podcasts of my Final Table Radio Show here.

Conversational Colbert

Stephen Colbert has announced that the guests on his first week of "The Late Show" will include celebrities like George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, and Amy Schumer -- but he's also going to talk with Jeb Bush, Elon Musk, Stephen King, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

That makes me hopeful that Colbert's show will contain actual conversations, rather than the game-playing and viral-video-wannabe segments that make up most of the other current network late night shows. Colbert proved on his Comedy Central show that he can engage with authors, politicians, scientists, and other smart people in a way that's entertaining and informative. If that's the basis of his new CBS show, it will be must-view television in our house beginning September 8th.

Wrecking Crew Followup

Bob Robinson e-mails:

I read about the The Wrecking Crew book on your blog, bought the Kindle version, and just loved it. I thought you had also mentioned the Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds necessary to get the movie into theaters. I contributed to it, and now have the move on Blu-Ray (which has a lot that wasn't included in the theatrical release -- and that we haven't had the time to sit down and watch, yet). The Kickstarter campaign allowed Denny [Tedesco, the director] to pay all the royalties and licensing fees.
I hadn't mentioned the Kickstarter campaign because I didn't know about it, so thanks for the heads-up, Bob.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Wrecking Crew Movie

Three years ago, I wrote about Kent Hartman's biography of The Wrecking Crew, the studio musicians who played on thousands of hit records in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Denny Tedesco -- whose father Tommy was one of the leads guitar players in the crew -- had also made a movie about the group, but except for a couple of film festivals, it hadn't seen the light of day because of royalty and music clearance concerns.

Fortunately, Tedesco either came up with the money to satisfy the rights owners or made deals with them so that his movie could finally be released earlier this year. I saw it in a theater and loved it, but forgot to write about it here. Stuart Snyder emailed me yesterday to say that "The Wrecking Crew" is now streaming and on DVD, he enjoyed it a lot, and wondered why it wasn't on my Movies You Might Not Know list.

That oversight has been rectified today.

The movie is full of great stories from the musicians and many of the stars, producers, and record executives they played with. One of my favorites is from Herb Alpert, who used The Wrecking Crew in the studio and another band for his live tours. Those touring musicians would occasionally come into the studio while Alpert was recording new songs with The Wrecking Crew so they could learn the parts they'd have to play on the road. At one point, the touring guitarist pleaded with Tommy Tedesco not to make the guitar part so complex because he couldn't recreate those licks in concert.

For music lovers, "The Wrecking Crew" is as important a documentary as "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown" (about The Funk Brothers who played on all of that label's huge hits), "Muscle Shoals" (about the Alabama studio musicians who played with Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, and more), and "Twenty Feet From Stardom" (about Darlene Love and other famous backup singers).

I have added those to my MYMNK list, as well.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Dr. Aaron E. Carroll explains -- again -- why you don't have to drink eight glasses of water a day. He first wrote about this in a paper in the British Medical Journal in 2007 on medical myths. Two years later he expanded it into a book, again debunking the eight-glasses-a-day myth. Yet it still persists today, despite no evidence to prove its effectiveness.

Many people believe that the source of this myth was a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that said people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. But they ignored the sentence that followed closely behind. It read, “Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”

Water is present in fruits and vegetables. It’s in juice, it’s in beer, it’s even in tea and coffee. Before anyone writes me to tell me that coffee is going to dehydrate you, research shows that’s not true either.

Although I recommended water as the best beverage to consume, it’s certainly not your only source of hydration. You don’t have to consume all the water you need through drinks. You also don’t need to worry so much about never feeling thirsty. The human body is finely tuned to signal you to drink long before you are actually dehydrated.
Read Dr. Carroll's full piece here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Serious Seinfeld

Here's a very clever editing job that turns "Seinfeld" into the sad story of George Costanza's love and loss...

Josh Helps Students Win Again

Last week, my friend attorney Josh Schindler was on my show for an update on how the Normandy school district was still making it difficult for some students in that unaccredited district to transfer to schools in accredited districts nearby. This week, after Josh went to battle for fourteen of those families, Normandy reversed its decision, according to Elisa Crouch of the Post-Dispatch:

Students were given authorization this past week to leave the district for more successful schools under the Missouri school transfer law. Normandy is giving latitude to parents who had either moved into Normandy after the transfer application deadline passed, didn’t have the required documents to prove residency last winter, or had missed a deadline to file paperwork.
Hopefully, Normandy will stop putting up these obstacles for kids to get the education they deserve (and are entitled to under state law). If they don't, the district can probably expect to hear from Josh again -- and it usually goes his way.

Conversion Recommendation

A couple of days ago, I asked Twitter followers for a recommendation for rm-to-mp3 converter software I can use on some old radio audio in my archives. I got several suggestions, but none of them were free. Then my KTRS colleague Ian Geisz said I might not need software -- there was probably a website that offered that service.

Sure enough, he found Zamzar, which does everything I needed. It has an up-sell option for more services, but I was able to convert those Real Audio files to mp3 format with no problem. It also converts pretty much every other audio and video format. If you need a converter, I recommend it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Showbiz Show 8/21/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, I reviewed "Hitman: Agent 47," "Jimmy's Hall," and "The End Of The Tour" and Colin Jeffrey reviewed "American Ultra." We also talked about the trailer for Matt Damon's next movie, "The Martian," and other showbiz news. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 8/21/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Forbes' Highest-Paid Actresses," "Hawaii Five-Six," and "Multiple Choice Week." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/21/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a man in a washing machine, a parrot detained, and a bite on the subway. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bye Bye Batgirl

Sorry to hear of the death of Yvonne Craig, who was the first actress on television to make my young male body tingle.

I was ten, and she was playing Batgirl on the original "Batman" ABC-TV series. I told her about my youthful affection when she guested on my radio show about 25 years ago, and she replied that I wasn't the first guy to say that. I looked through my archives and couldn't find the audio, but I remember her being cheerful and funny in talking about that role, as well as the time she played a green-skinned alien on "Star Trek," how often Elvis Presley hit on her when she appeared in two movies with him, and her role as a Russian ballet dancer opposite James Coburn in "In Like Flint."

My friend Mark Evanier also had a boyhood crush on Yvonne, which he also got to express to her in person, which led to a great anecdote he just recalled on his site.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kevin James on Phone Number Rhythm

When I first watched Kevin James' standup special, "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff," in 2001 on Comedy Central, I had to hit pause multiple times because I was laughing so hard. I recently showed it to my daughter, and the same feeling hit both of us. It is one of the best hours I've ever seen from any comedian. You can find the entire thing on YouTube, but here's just a piece...

Monday, August 17, 2015

John Oliver on Televangelists

John Oliver has taken on some serious subjects on his HBO "Last Week Tonight" show, from net neutrality to payday loans to gay rights in Uganda to Dr. Oz's ridiculous science-free endorsements of nutritional supplements. Oliver infuses them with just enough comedy to make them interesting to a mainstream audience.

The big segment on his show last night was about televangelists who have gotten wealthy by preying on the desperate people who watch their TV shows and attend their disgusting faith-healing con job events. It's not only a ballsy piece of television, it's also an eerie descendant of James Randi's expose of Peter Popoff. While Oliver doesn't debunk the televangelists' faith-healing claims directly, he does focus on their greed -- their efforts (disturbingly successful) to squeeze every last dollar out of every poor believer -- and the fact that their bank accounts grow essentially tax-free because of loophole-filled vague IRS policies. It also reminds me of when Stephen Colbert exposed the laws regarding Super PACs, which permit the free flow of tens of millions of dollars in unregulated money...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Showbiz Show 8/14/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, I reviewed "The Man From Uncle" and Colin Jeffrey reviewed "Straight Outta Compton." We also talked about the HBO "Sesame Street" deal, a new "Inside Out" short from Pixar, and the presidential candidate who appeared in a movie with Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon.

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

Harris Challenge 8/14/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "So You Want To Be President," "Forbes' Highest Paid Athletes," 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® 8/14/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about counterfeit poker chips, an internal glow, and a bag full of steaks. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

In a piece for Glamour, Stephen Colbert respects women:
I love women. I'm married to one, I was birthed by one, and I played one in my high school production of Romeo and Juliet. No one else could fit into the bodice.

Women today have so many smart, resourceful, and intuitive role models. Look no further than Marissa Mayer, Michelle Obama, Sacajawea, and the green M&M.

And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women outnumber men. Fellas, technically this does make you a minority, but it's probably best not to say so on your college financial aid application.

It has been pointed out to me that I, like other late-night TV hosts, am a man. And while I'm happy to have a job, I am surprised that the world of late-night TV lacks a female presence, unlike sitcoms, which are packed with smoking-hot wives who teach their doughy husband a valuable lesson when he slips on a pizza and falls headfirst into a porta-potty full of beer. Check your local listings.
Read Colbert's full piece here.

You're A Clerk, Not God

County clerks in Kentucky are still refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying it violates the clerk's personal religious freedom, even after a federal judge ordered them to, explaining that the clerks have the right to exercise their religions in their own lives, but not to impose it on anyone else.

If they could, they could also deny a business license to a store that's open on Sunday. Or an Orthodox Jewish police officer (granted, not a large group in Kentucky) could ticket someone for driving a car on Saturday.

If your beliefs make it impossible to properly carry out the responsibilities of your job, that's on you -- get another job. The irony is that politicians in southern states have made a lot of noise in recent years worrying about the imposition of extremist Sharia law. But extremist Christian law? No problem.

How To Raise An Adult

We've all heard of helicopter parents, the ones who are always overseeing everything their children do -- hovering, scheduling, imposing their presence at every opportunity. That can cause big problems for those kids once they go to college or join the workforce. Julie Lythcott-Haims spent a decade as Dean of Freshman and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University, where she encountered teens and young adults who weren't ready for the real world because of their parents' smothering, and offers suggestions on how to avoid those traps in her book, "How To Raise An Adult."

On my show, she talked about parents who continued hovering over their children even after they'd left the nest, did college admission essays (and more) for their kids, structured their kids' lives so much that they had no chance to think or play, and even provided attention-deficit pharmaceuticals to kids who hadn't been diagnosed with that disorder.

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

Katrina Ten Years Later

This month marks ten years since New Orleans was flooded when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, causing $135 billion in damages, killing 1,800 people, and displacing tens of thousands. A decade later, Gary Rivlin -- who covered the story for the NY Times -- looks back at the disaster and its aftermath in his book, "Katrina: After The Flood." On my show, Gary discussed how the city has rebuilt, how its racial makeup has changed, how the US Army Corps of Engineers failed, and much more. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Normandy Students Update

Here's my conversation with attorney Josh Schindler, who continues to represent the children in Normandy, Missouri, who are having trouble transferring out of its unaccredited schools and into neighboring districts. This battle has been going on for quite some time, and it's the adults -- including Governor Jay Nixon and the legislature -- who are failing these students. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

As I Said On Twitter...

Let's end speculation AND make pre-season count: the winner of Friday's Rams-Raiders game gets to move to Los Angeles. And loser must help them pack.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Facebook Post Of The Day

From a guy riding the tube in London.

Why Teller Stays Silent

Penn and Teller's limited run on Broadway has been a big hit, and their CW show, "Fool Us," has just been picked up for another season. Here they are with Erik Piepenburg of the NY Times, beginning with Teller explaining why he doesn't speak onstage...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

In a piece by Tim Keown for ESPN The Magazine, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster explains what it's like to not believe in god when you play in the NFL:

Foster sits at his locker before every game, facing the wall, the music in his headphones internalizing his preparation. At some point before the Texans come together to take the field, he can feel the men behind him congregating to form a circle. There is no tap on the shoulder or invitation to join. Through the headphones he can hear the low murmur of a teammate asking Jesus to keep them safe from harm, and afterward the collective hum of the group reciting the Lord's Prayer. Before the game, he nods along to the ubiquitous God-bless-yous that register as white noise to everyone but him, and afterward he hears the postgame shoutouts to God, a standard reflex in most interviews with the triumphant.

But if God is helping you win, Foster wonders, isn't he by definition ensuring that the other guy loses? As is the case with Foster's street, the water must choose a side. "If there is a God and he's watching football, there are so many other things he could be doing," he says. "There are hungry children and diseases and famine and so much important stuff going on in the world, and he's really blessed your team? It's just weird to me."
And there's this:
Foster, who has run for more than 6,000 yards and been named to the Pro Bowl four times, understands the sensitivity of the topic and how telling his story might be perceived negatively within the conservative, image-obsessed league. "They're going to stay away from anything taboo, which makes sense," Foster says of the NFL. 
He also acknowledges the possibility of backlash in heavily evangelical Houston, home of Joel Osteen and the city that helped put the mega in megachurch. "You don't want to ruin endorsements," he says. "People might say, 'I don't want an atheist representing my team.' Now, though, I'm established in this league, and as I'm digging deeper into myself and my truth, just being me is more important than being sexy to Pepsi or whoever. After a while, what's an extra dollar compared to the freedom of being you? That's the choice I made."
Good choice, Arian. I'm now a fan.

Read the full Arian Foster piece by Tim Keown here.

Ted Knight Loves Wuh-Tay

In 1982, a company that made TV commercials for radio stations hired Ted Knight to do some of its spots. At the time, Knight was still red-hot after his seven-year run on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and the movie smash "Caddyshack," and was starring on another hit series, "Too Close For Comfort." Here he is being goofy for three spots promoting a powerhouse AM news/talk station in Pittsburgh that fall (they should play in order in the embedded player below)...

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Occam's Champagne

I heard from a few people wondering about yesterday's Picture Of The Day, asking how many takes it took to get it right. If you assume it's a fake, you'd also have to believe that there's a guy in the world who is so good at throwing champagne bottles that he can make the cork end hit the target first, causing the top to break, and then be at the perfect angle for the rebound to come back and hit him in the hip -- on purpose. Someone even speculated that the whole thing was photo-shopped as promotion for a champagne brand. In that case, wouldn't that brand name be visible in the video?

I prefer to apply Occam's Razor -- the simplest explanation is usually correct. In other words, you're thinking too hard.

Showbiz Show 8/7/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, I reviewed Meryl Streep in "Ricki and the Flash" and Colin Jeffrey reviewed "Fantastic Four" and "Shaun The Sheep." We also talked about a new Bryan Cranston series from Amazon, Chris Farley's original voice work as "Shrek," and my 91-year-old mother's review of "Trainwreck."

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

Harris Challenge 8/7/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "The Ferguson Anniversary," "The New NFL Hall Of Famers," "Forbes' Highest Paid Actors." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/7/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a sheep in the backseat, a One Direction tattoo for Dad, and some drone droppings. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Picture Of The Day

The lesson in this video from Yakutsk City, Russia, is that when you're throwing a champagne bottle at a concrete monument, don't hit it cork-first...

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Electile Dysfunction

Because the GOP is having its first big debate tonight, every media outlet keeps reporting that Donald Trump is ahead in every poll. What they don't say is that, because voters aren't paying attention yet (and won't until the new year begins, at the earliest), presidential campaign polls at this point are not a valid indicator of who will be our next president -- let alone the nominee of each party.

Want proof?

In August 2007, every single poll showed that Hillary Clinton was ahead. Not one of them had Barack Obama in the lead until six months later. On the Republican side, pollsters were sure it was going to be Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson. John McCain wasn't the top pick until, again, February 2008.

Can anyone cite a poll done in August 1999 that predicted George W. Bush would be the nominee and defeat Al Gore by an Electoral College squeaker in 2000? Or from 1991 that predicted Bill Clinton’s win in 1992? Perhaps we should go back in history and ask other candidates who were leading in the polls 15 months before the election, such as presidents Gary Hart and Mario Cuomo.

Unfortunately, the media will continue to breathlessly report the results of every poll because they are much more interested in the horse race, the gaffes, and the numerical impact of every dumb remark candidates makes than in analyzing the issues and fact-checking the claims of the presidential wannabes.

While I'm on the subject, did you know that election day was this week? Yes, in the city of St. Louis and some other municipalities, there was an election on Tuesday (August 4th). In each case, there was only one issue on the ballot, such as the bond issue that would have raised $180 million to fix our crumbling infrastructure. It lost for two reasons: 1) people are short-sighted and don't understand the need to fix streets, bridges, and buildings long-term; and 2) only 7% of eligible voters showed up to cast a ballot.

Why? Because no one knew they were supposed to vote that day! I consider myself a pretty well-informed person, but if I hadn't been doing a morning radio show this week, and therefore paying extra close attention to what was going on, I wouldn't have known the polls were open or what was on the ballot.

If you ask any American when election day is, 99%+ will tell you it's in November. That's when we're attuned to politicians and special interest groups trying to get our attention to vote their way by running campaign commercials on radio and TV ad nauseum. Nobody is thinking about that in the middle of the summer.

Other than presidential primaries, which by definition have to be earlier in the year than the general election, we should never be called upon to vote on anything on any day other than that Tuesday in November. It's hard enough to get people to the polls every four years when the presidency is up for grabs, but in the odd years when there's little else to consider, officials should do all they can do avoid premature elections.

Dennis Wolfberg

This summer, I have been showing my daughter standup performances from some of my favorite comics of the 1980s, including Paul Reiser, Carol Leifer, Elayne Boosler, and Harry Anderson. The other day, I remembered this bit that Dennis Wolfberg did on his first appearance with Johnny Carson. Years later, Wolfberg guested twice on my radio show and was not only hysterical on the air, but a very nice guy off the air, too. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he developed melanoma and died in 1994 at age 48. Here he is doing one of his trademark routines...

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

What Is Jon Stewart's Legacy?

With Jon Stewart walking away from "The Daily Show" tomorrow night, I asked comedian Dean Obeidallah to explain what Stewart's legacy will be. We also talked about his media criticism (particularly regarding Fox News Channel and CNN), Stewart's odd-couple friendship with Bill O'Reilly, and what will happen when Trevor Noah takes Stewart's anchor chair. Watch the conversation above or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Frozen Embryo Controversy

Here's an interesting legal case that looks like something out of a contracts class in law school. My guest, Jasha McQueen, wants to use two frozen embryos to have a couple more children. He ex-husband doesn't, but when they conceived and stored the embryos in a cryobank, he signed a piece of paper giving her the right to them in the event of a divorce. However, when Jasha went to court to enforce that contract, the judge wouldn't agree.

On my show, Jasha laid out her case as I asked her whether it's right to make him a father again when he doesn't want that, and why she wants to bring into the world two more children genetically connected to the man who abused her. As you'll hear, she was very convincing in her answers. Watch the conversation above or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The College Choice Illusion

Here's my conversation with Kevin Carey, who makes the case that, in most cases, it doesn't matter which college your child attends, because there's no way to judge the entire institution. Rather, he says, it's the individual professors and departments that determine whether a university is right for any student. Carey is the education policy director for New America and author of "The End Of College." Watch the conversation above or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Best Thing I've Read Today

Jens Rushing, an EMT in Arlington, Texas, wants his fellow workers to stop complaining about fast-food workers who want to be paid $15/hour...

Look, if any job is going to take up someone’s life, it deserves a living wage. If a job exists and you have to hire someone to do it, they deserve a living wage. End of story. There’s a lot of talk going around my workplace along the lines of, “These guys with no education and no skills think they deserve as much as us? Fuck those guys.” And elsewhere on Facebook: "I’m a licensed electrician, I make $13/hr, fuck these burger flippers."

And that’s exactly what the bosses want! They want us fighting over who has the bigger pile of crumbs so we don’t realize they made off with almost the whole damn cake. Why are you angry about fast food workers making two bucks more an hour when your CEO makes four hundred TIMES what you do? It’s in the bosses’ interests to keep your anger directed downward, at the poor people who are just trying to get by, like you, rather than at the rich assholes who consume almost everything we produce and give next to nothing for it.
Read Jens Rushing's full Facebook post here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Benny Binion's Wild Ride

Here's my conversation with Doug Swanson about his book, "Blood Aces: The Wild Ride Of Benny Binion, The Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas." We discussed Benny's origins in the Lone Star State and why he had to leave, how he set up Binion's Horseshoe as a place to gamble -- not to see shows, and how he and other gangsters ran that town for decades. I also asked him about the myth of the high-stakes heads-up poker match that Nick The Greek and Johnny Moss supposedly played over five grueling days, how Benny created the World Series Of Poker, and how his legacy changed from bad guy to beloved citizen of Las Vegas.

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

Creating The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become the most-visited memorial in Washington, DC. That's saying something in a city that's home to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the MLK Memorial, and the Washington Monument. I visited it often when I worked in DC, and was always moved by the names on its granite walls -- and the people who were uniformly overwhelmed with emotion while there.

Robert Doubek was one of the vets responsible for creating the memorial, getting Congress to approve the land for it, and raising private money to fund it. As he told me today, they had to overcome quite a few obstacles, including opposition from then-Secretary Of The Interior James Watt and billionaire Ross Perot. We also discussed the backlash from choosing Maya Lin (an Asian-American) as the designer of the memorial and other stories from his book, "Creating The Vietnam Veterans Memorial."

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

Joe Biden For President?

Here's my conversation with Josh Kraushaar, politics editor at National Journal about whether Joe Biden will enter the presidential race. I asked Josh what differentiates Biden from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, how he can catch up to her in the campaign finance race, and how his results could be different from his two previous failed attempts to win the White House. Watch the conversation above, or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Coffee Comedy

The inventor of Mr. Coffee, the home automatic coffee machine, has died. I don't drink that beverage, and never have, so the only way I know about it is from the commercials that Joe DiMaggio used to do. Ironically, the baseball legend rarely drank coffee because he had ulcers, but in one of the spots he claimed, "It's the best I've ever tasted." Which led to this classic line by the comedian Gallagher: "Come on, Joe. You were married to Marilyn Monroe!"

Picture Of The Day

Clear Eyes, Cellphones Off

An inspirational message from Kyle Chandler (as Coach Taylor, his role in "Friday Night Lights") for moviegoers at the Alamo Drafthouse...

Monday, August 03, 2015

The High Cost Of Cancer Drugs

If your doctor diagnosed you with cancer, you'd be devastated. But you'd be doubly devastated when you found out how much cancer drugs cost -- over $100,000/year! That's why 118 of the nation's leading cancer experts have proposed ideas that would reduce those costs. One of them, Dr. Victor Rajkumar, joined me to spell out those ideas and to explain why prices are so high in the first place. One of the reasons is that Congress prohibits Medicare, the largest purchaser of pharmaceuticals in the country, to use its leverage to negotiate prices.

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

If Fast Food Workers Earn More, Is The Food More Expensive?

If we pay fast food workers a higher minimum wage, what will that do to the price of burgers and fries? That's the question I discussed with Washington Post reporter Roberto Ferdman, who has delved into the economics, as well as how those outlets wouldn't have to fire people -- instead, they'd end up with more productive employees. That's not what the restaurant lobby wants you to believe, but Ferdman has run the numbers and checked the research. Watch above or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Nadia Hashimi, "When The Moon Is Low"

Nadia Hashimi's novel, "When The Moon Is Low," is about a family that escaped Afghanistan as the Taliban was coming to power, only to become refugees trying to start a new life in the streets of Europe's cities. I asked her to join me because we haven't heard much about the Taliban recently, even as it reclaims power in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We talked about the Taliban's impact on Afghan women and girls, the refugee crisis in several regions of the world, and whether the US has been a welcoming place for refugees of Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries at war in the Middle East.

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

Uber Chaos

Instead of deciding on the fate of Uber in St. Louis, last week's meeting of the Metropolitan Taxi Commission devolved into chaos. Joe Miller, policy analyst from the Show-Me Institute was there and joined me today to describe how ridiculous it is that this group of adults can't come together to do anything -- including voting on whether they should vote! Watch above or listen to the audio-only version, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 8/3/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a spray tan baby, chewed-up fingerprints, and a woman who gave her man's bacon to the cat. Watch 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.

Movie Review: "An Irrational Man"

It would be impossible for someone who produces a new movie annually to keep making good ones, but Woody Allen had settled into a solid good/bad alternating pattern in the last few years. In 2011, "Midnight In Paris" worked. In 2012, "To Rome With Love" didn't. In 2013, he created "Blue Jasmine," one of his best in a very long time, for which Cate Blanchett won an Oscar. But in 2014, he was back on the down side with "Magic In The Moonlight." So I figured Woody's pendulum would swing back to quality this year.

Wrong. “An Irrational Man” is the second-worst movie of 2015, right behind "Hot Tub Time Machine 2."

Once again, the story revolves around an older man and younger woman, played by Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone. Stone, a college student, falls for Phoenix, the new philosophy professor on campus. One day at lunch, they overhear a woman lamenting the trouble she's having in court with a judge who won't let her have custody of her kids. Phoenix and Stone discuss how much better the woman's life would be if the evil judge was dead. After they part ways, Phoenix continues to obsess over that notion, until he decides to follow through and kills the judge with poisoned orange juice.

I know.

Now that he's carried out the murder, he simply goes on with his life, but once the story makes the newspaper, Stone and Parker Posey (as another professor) begin to suspect that Phoenix had something to do with it. It's typical of Allen that, in 2015, the only way people get their news is from the newspaper. No one in his movie world ever has an iPhone, an iPad, or any kind of computer. There's no email, no Twitter, no Facebook. In fact, I don't think there's even a television in this movie because, of course, no one on a college campus would ever watch TV or use the internet.

I feel like I should say something good about "An Irrational Man," so here it is: Joaquin Phoenix is more believable as a philosophy professor than Mark Wahlberg was earlier this year as an English professor in "The Gambler," which will also be on my Worst Of 2015 list. Still, Phoenix's performance is lackluster and his onscreen chemistry with Stone is non-existent. They (and Posey) are solid actors, so I have to blame their misfires on Allen as the director. Even the soundtrack is boring -- he uses the same Ramsey Lewis Trio song over and over again, to the point where I never want to hear it again for the rest of my life.

Worst of all, Allen's script is lazy and badly plotted. And he knows it. In an interview with NPR, Allen said:
I'm lazy and an imperfectionist. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o'clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.
It's not that Allen is incapable of creating clever criminal mischief when he puts his mind to it. I just showed my daughter "Manhattan Murder Mystery," which holds up nicely, as does "Crimes and Misdemeanors." But "An Irrational Man" just sits there for 90 minutes.

Because it's online, this review will never enter Woody The Luddite's universe. I wish I could say the same for his movie in mine.