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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Frank Bruni:

Go ahead and laugh at Donald Trump’s claims that he was foiled by a finicky microphone on Monday night, but I can relate. When I write a bad column, it’s all my keyboard’s fault.

The other columnists have reliable keyboards. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but they do. Reach your own conclusions. When one of them taps out a beautiful sentence, a beautiful sentence appears on the computer screen, just the way it’s supposed to.

When I try to tap out an even more beautiful sentence — and my sentences are amazing sentences; you can’t believe these sentences — I have to press and bang and hunch closer to the desk and bang even harder and still you never know.

The sentence winds up mangled. It lacks a verb. Or it sprouts an adverb (“bigly,” anyone?) that sounds ridiculous, though I’m not. Readers experience a rant where, really, there was eloquent reflection — or would have been, if not for my keyboard. A “sniffle” sneaks into the equation when there wasn’t any “sniffle” at all. It’s just a nasty trick of that keyboard. A defective keyboard, which the other columnists don’t have.
Read Bruni's full column here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Scott Bateman's chart: What Trump Lied About At The Debate Monday Night.

Theater Review: The Front Page


Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's "The Front Page" is one of the most beloved scripts of the 20th century, and a remarkable group of talented people have performed it. It was a hit in its first incarnation 88 years ago, directed by George S. Kaufman and produced by Howard Hughes. It has been revived five times. It was also turned into a 1931 movie starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien, then remade into a fast-talking gender comedy as "His Girl Friday" with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell directed by Howard Hawks in 1940, then back into its original form with a Billy Wilder version starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in 1974.

Now it's back on Broadway, and while my wife and I were visiting my daughter this weekend, we managed to score three tickets to what is already the hottest show in town because of its all-star cast: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor, and Robert Morse. Those are the big names, but the character actors who fill the supporting roles are impressive, too, including Lewis J. Stadlen, Christopher Macdonald, Dann Florek, Dylan Baker, Halley Feiffer, and Sherie Rene Scott. Aside from the last two, you'd probably recognize any of them as soon as you saw them.

"The Front Page" takes place in an era when newspapers were king, when most big cities each had half a dozen dailies, and they competed with each other for every tabloid-ish story they could cover. Here's the Wikipedia summary of the plot:
The play's single set is the dingy Press Room of Chicago's Criminal Courts Building, overlooking the gallows behind the Cook County Jail. Reporters from most of the city's newspapers are passing the time with poker and pungent wisecracks about the news of the day. Soon they'll witness the hanging of Earl Williams, a white man and (supposed) Communist revolutionary convicted of killing a black policeman. Hildy Johnson, cocky star reporter for the Examiner, is late. He appears only to say good-bye; he's quitting to get a respectable job and be married. Suddenly the reporters hear that Earl Williams has escaped from the jail. All but Hildy stampede out for more information. As Hildy tries to decide how to react Williams comes in through the window. He tells Hildy he's no revolutionary and shot the police officer by accident. The reporter realizes this bewildered, harmless little man was railroaded — just to help the crooked mayor and sheriff pick up enough black votes to win re-election. It's the story of a lifetime. Hildy helps Williams hide inside a roll-top desk. His daunting challenge now is to get Williams out of the building to a safe place for an interview before rival reporters or trigger-happy policemen discover him. The Examiner managing editor, Walter Burns, is a devious tyrant who would do just about anything to keep Hildy with the paper. Nevertheless, Hildy has no choice but to ask for his help.
Slattery plays Hildy, and it's a little odd seeing him in this role after he was part of the great ensemble in "Spotlight," last year's Oscar-winning movie about newspaper journalists. And there's an unintended laugh when Hildy announces that he's quitting reporting to move to New York for a job at an advertising agency -- yes, he's off to become one of the "Mad Men." But Slattery handles it all very well and is more than up to the part.

In any other production, he'd have top billing, but Nathan Lane is the King Of Broadway and, even though his Walter Burns doesn't appear until late in the second act (of three), he's the one many theatergoers want to see on stage. In fact, there's a moment in the middle of the play, when Lane has yet to make his entrance, that Jefferson Mays (Tony-winner for playing multiple characters in "A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder") re-enters the newsroom unexpectedly, and several audience members applauded thinking it was Lane finally getting on stage. Once Lane does appear, it's essentially a two-man show -- he and Slattery engage in the kind of rapid-fire dialogue you'd normally see in a British farce, complete with door slamming and other physical shtick. Their timing is impeccable.

Goodman plays Sheriff Hartman as a gravel-voiced buffoon who's always at odds with the newspapermen. Goodman looks to have lost quite a bit of weight for the role, but he can still throw it around on stage and hold his own. He's particularly good in an extended scene with "Law and Order" veteran Florek as the Mayor of Chicago -- two dumb politicians plotting Williams' execution to advance their own careers with election day approaching.

As a stage play, "The Front Page" has always been a little bit too long at 2 hours 45 minutes. A lot of the setup in Act One could be done away with -- there's too much time spent with the other newspapermen before Hildy Johnson shows up. The movie versions (particularly "His Girl Friday") are a lot tighter, but director Jack O'Brien has everyone working at a crackling pace, and the special effects of shattered glass and gunshots ringing around the newsroom during one key scene were very well done.

This was only the fourth preview night for this production, which will officially open on October 20th, so there were a few slip-ups, but they were barely noticeable with a cast this extraordinary. All of us who left the theater Friday night walked away happy, as will anyone lucky enough to get seats for the guaranteed-to-be-sold-out limited run of this American classic.

Monday, September 26, 2016

As I Tweeted

  • Surprise! I thought everything on Twitter today would be experts predicting what will happen at tonight's debate, but it's only 9 out of 10.
  • Looking forward to tomorrow, when all those experts apologize publicly for their predictions turning out to be wrong and accept accountability.
  • Here's the only prediction guaranteed to be 100% right: no Clinton or Trump spokesperson will admit the other candidate made any good points.

Movie Review: Queen Of Katwe


Until now, there has been exactly one great movie about chess, "Searching For Bobby Fischer," the 1993 drama about Josh Waitzkin, a real-life chess prodigy played by Max Pomeranc, with Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen as his parents and Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne as chess teachers with very different methods.

Now comes "Queen of Katwe," another real-life story about Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a girl from the very poor Ugandan village of Katwe who develops an extraordinary talent for chess. She's coached by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo, who should have been Oscar-nominated for playing Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma"), who introduced to the game to several of the boys and girls in the village. When her abilities become more apparent, he wants to take her to regional, national, and then international competitions, but money is a severe problem.

Her mother, played by Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar-winner for "12 Years A Slave"), is barely keeping a roof over their heads for Phiona and her brothers and sisters by selling corn in the marketplace -- their father is long gone. Her daughters don't have much of a future in the town unless they take up with a man with money (as Phiona's sister Night does), but with Katende's urging and his clever politicking with the chess authorities, Phiona grows from a child of the slums to a teen with a talent that can help her rise above her surroundings.

Director Mira Nair doesn't let "Queen Of Katwe" fall into Disney's underdog-wins-in-the-end cliches. She gets wonderful performances from Nalwanga and all the other child actors. Nyong'o is just right as the mother overwhelmed by her circumstances, and Oyelowo is perfect as the chess mentor who teaches Phiona about the game and how to overcome life's obstacles. Nair also uses a color palate that keeps the scenes vibrant even when the drama is at its most intense.

"Queen Of Katwe" is a wonderful family movie. It would be nice to see it inspire more kids of color (as well as Caucasians) to take up chess, to learn its strategies and its disciplines, to understand how to plan ahead and consider the consequences of their actions -- both on and off the board.

I give "Queen of Katwe" an 8 out of 10.

Watching it, I was reminded of two other chess movies that, while not as great as "Searching For Bobby Fischer," are both very good. One is "Brooklyn Castle," a documentary about a public school in New York's poor BedStuy neighborhood that keeps turning out chess champions. The other is "Pawn Sacrifice," with Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer taking on Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in Reykjavik in 1972.

Previously on Harris Online...

Best Thing I've Read Today

An essay by nearly-one-hundred-year-old Kirk Douglas on the rise of Trump.

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven


The original 1960 "Magnificent Seven" starred Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn (and 2 other actors you've never heard of) as the good guys. It was directed by John Sturges, who also made "Bad Day At Black Rock," "Ice Station Zebra," and "The Great Escape" (McQueen, Coburn, and Bronson starred in the latter, too). Plus, "The Magnificent Seven" contains the greatest theme song ever written for a western -- it got an Oscar nomination for Elmer Bernstein.

The 2016 remake stars Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio (and three actors you've never heard of) as the good guys. It was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who has made two other movies starring Denzel ("Training Day," "The Equalizer"), as well as "Shooter" and "Olympus Has Fallen." It also has music by James Horner that you will not remember -- until the end, when Bernstein's original theme plays over the credits.

Both movies are about gunmen in the old west who are hired by the people of a small town to protect them from the bad guys. In the original, they were a bunch of Mexican banditos led by Eli Wallach, overacting with a bad accent. In the remake, they're the enforcers for a ruthless businessman played by Peter Sarsgaard, underacting with a constant snarl.

Denzel plays Chisolm, a gunfighter who recruits a multi-cultural group of defenders at the behest of Haley Bennett, a woman from the town who hires them. Bennett's previous claim to fame was her 2007 debut as a Britney Spears-like singer in the underrated Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, "Music and Lyrics." You'll see a lot of her this fall, as she also stars with Emily Blunt in next month's "The Girl On The Train," followed by Warren Beatty's "Rules Don't Apply," and she's fine in this.

It's fun to see Denzel on a horse, dressed all in black, sporting a weapon on his hip (am I the only one who had a flashback to Cleavon Little riding into Rock Ridge in "Blazing Saddles"?). As in most of his movies, he's the authority figure everyone else looks to, and he's more than up to the task. The rest of the cast is okay, although they're not given anything original to do. Unfortunately, Fuqua follows the lead of so many other action directors by cutting too quickly, so it's hard at times to see the impact of the bloody gunfights that make up the bulk of the movie.

There's not much more to say. If you've seen the original, you know how "The Magnificent Seven" is going to end. If you haven't, you can probably guess anyway.

The remake pales in comparison, but it's not a bad two hours of predictable big screen entertainment. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Friday, September 23, 2016

No Show Today, But Dolly

Ian, Dan, Colin, and I are still too depressed about the end of Brangelina, so we won't be on the air this afternoon. That means I won't be posting any podcasts this weekend, but in the meantime, you can enjoy Dolly Parton doing a beautiful a cappella version of her 1973 hit "Jolene" with help from Pentatonix...

Best Thing I've Read Today

I can't post the chart here, but go check out the graphics Scott Bateman makes under the heading, "What Trump Has Lied About In The Past 24 Hours."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Designated Survivor


I liked the first episode of ABC's "Designated Survivor," in which Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who suddenly becomes President after everyone else above him in the line of succession is killed when the US Capitol is bombed during the State Of The Union address.

That's a compelling start to a story, and one that we'd joked about in our family when my brother, Seth, became Acting Secretary Of Labor in 2013. During his six months in that office, he went to cabinet meetings, had a large security detail that protected him as he traveled, and was officially the eleventh person in line for the presidency.

I asked Seth how he felt about that, and he told me that if I ever saw him on TV from the Oval Office telling the world that everything is okay, well, everything is most definitely not okay.

Which brings me to the end of the "Designated Survivor" premiere, when Sutherland sits down and is about to do exactly that -- reassure the country from behind the presidential desk. Just before airtime, his speechwriter (played by Kal Penn, who gave up acting for a few years to work in the Obama administration) tells Sutherland to remove his glasses because "they don't look presidential."

That's when I called bullshit, for two reasons: 1) there's nothing wrong with a middle-aged man needing glasses; and 2) when the man is about to make the most important speech of his life off a teleprompter and needs to be confident and authoritative, you can not take away the glasses that make it possible for him to read that speech!

I'm looking forward to next week's episode, in which the presidential optician has to make an emergency house call.

I Want Candy


On the way to work the other day, I needed a sugar fix. I was coming up on a supermarket, so I pulled over, went in, picked up a bag of M&M's, and walked to a cashier. He scanned the bag, and told me it cost fifty-two cents. I handed him a dollar bill. He put the M&M's in a plastic bag, counted out my change, then handed both of them to me along with the receipt.

Now, I know that's how a supermarket cashier is supposed to handle every transaction, but let's break this one down.

First of all, when I'm buying M&M's, you don't need to put them in a bag. They're already in a bag.

Second, I don't need the receipt. There is exactly zero chance that I'm going to come back to the supermarket to lodge a complaint about candy and demand my money back. Even if it's stale and tasteless, I'm going to write off the fifty two cents and go on with my day.

Have I ever returned something to a supermarket? Yes, when my wife told me I bought the wrong brand of cheddar cheese or detergent or whatever -- but not because it was faulty, and not if it cost under a buck.

While I'm off on this returning-items tangent, I've often thought about taking cantaloupe or watermelon back once I got them home, opened them up, and found them not nearly ripe enough for consumption. But if I started doing that, I'd be at the customer service counter every day, because the produce department of supermarkets no longer sells ready-to-eat melons. They've all been picked-and-shipped prematurely, several days away from being close to ripe. Same thing with their bananas, which are consistently green with nary a yellow one in the bunch, as if no one could possibly want a banana now. If they sold bread the same way, you'd end up with unbaked dough every time.

Back to the M&M's. After they fulfilled my need for a sugar buzz, I noticed two things on the package I'd never seen before. One was the apostrophe in the trademarked name -- they are M&M's, not M&Ms. Since there's nothing possessive about the candy, and its name is not a contraction, that seems wrong.

The other thing that caught my eye, right next to the mandatory nutrition information rectangle that seems moot on a bag of candy, was the box that read:
This product should reach you in excellent condition. Satisfaction guaranteed or we will replace it.
Then it gave a phone number to call with questions or comments. What must it be like to answer the M&M's customer service line and hear complaints like these?
  • There was only one blue M&M in the bag! You ripped me off! 
  • I found a half of an M&M in the bag along with the whole ones. Do I get a refund?
  • I put a handful of M&M's in my mouth and almost choked to death! Where do I send the lawsuit?
  • I'm trying to limit my dextrin intake. Exactly how much is in a single M&M?
  • What's the record for longest toss of an M&M across the room into a stoned guy's mouth?
Again, we return to the idea of returning candy. Let's say you were in my situation -- you wanted a snack, chose M&M's, then were dissatisfied with them for some reason. If you call to complain, you're not going to get anything to satisfy your craving at that moment. It's going to take a few days for them to mail you a coupon for a new bag. Meanwhile, you're going to go somewhere else to purchase some other sugary thing to stick in your mouth, right? 

Is it worth the time? And what are the chances you still have the receipt?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Polling Chasm Followup

After my piece earlier this week wondering how accurate polls (presidential preference of otherwise) can be if so many of us don't have landlines, and we can easily ignore calls from numbers we and our smartphones don't recognize, Dennis Hartin e-mailed:

Read your post with interest, and have wondered the same thing, thanks to a feature of our landline phone. Our phone recognizes robo-calls, or calls that are coming from a call center, and only rings once on such calls. As you might expect, we only pick up after the second ring. How many other people have this feature, and how do the pollers factor that in?
I hadn't heard of this, so I asked Dennis for more information:
The service we use is not from our landline carrier, but a web site with the euphonious name of nomorobo.com. You register your phone number with them, and it screens your calls. If its program sees an incoming call that's a telemarketer or robocall, it answers the call for you -- hence you hear only one ring.
I checked the site, and found the service is not available for traditional landlines -- only for VoIP, which is what you probably have if you get your phone service from a cable company like Charter or something like AT&T U-Verse. In that case, it's free. If you want it for your smartphone, it $5/month.

I'm happy with the call-blocking technology already built into my iPhone, and we don't have a landline, so I wouldn't use NoMoRobo and can't speak to its efficacy, but I pass along the information in case you're interested. Neither I nor Dennis has any financial interest in the company (in fact, I have no idea how they make money on the landline-blocking service).

To get back to the point of my original piece, everyone who uses services like this would also be among the un-poll-able public, creating yet another demographic of Americans whose opinions are never tallied.

On a related subject, Timothy Noah has a terrific piece in Slate about the death of the phone call:
Calling somebody on the phone used to be a perfectly ordinary thing to do. You called people you knew well, not so well, or not at all, and never gave it a second thought. But after the Great Texting Shift of 2007, a phone call became a claim of intimacy. Today if I want to phone someone just to chat, I first have to consider whether the call will be viewed as intrusive. My method is to ask myself, “Have I ever seen this person in the nude?” The sighting doesn’t have to be (indeed, seldom is) recent. Nor is it necessary that I remember it. I need only deduce that, sometime or other, I must have seen this person naked. That clears phone calls to a wife or girlfriend, to children, to parents, to siblings, to old flames, to former roommates from college, and very few others.

I make exceptions to the naked rule now and then, but always with trepidation, because when a friend you’ve never seen naked sees your name pop up on his smartphone he’s liable to think you lack boundaries. If you aren’t on this never-naked person’s contacts list, forget about connecting at all. Nobody answers a cellphone that blinks an unfamiliar phone number, and nobody has the patience to listen to voice mail. (The final voice mail that anybody actually heard was recorded sometime around 2009.)
Read Noah's full piece here.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Julie Stahl lost her 18-year-old son two years ago when he was hit head-on by another driver who was high on drugs. She was (and is) devastated, of course, but found no comfort in the religious platitudes she received from people -- things like "God has a plan for us all" or "He's looking down on you and keeping you safe" or "Your son will be waiting for you in heaven."

That led Julie to write a powerful piece entitled, "Don't Inject Your Religious Beliefs In My Grief"...

To an atheist like me, these aphorisms are loaded with offense. They feel presumptuous, taking for granted a shared belief in a higher power and an afterlife. They are also condescending. After all, if I believed in a god and/or a heaven, wouldn’t it have already occurred to me to take comfort from my faith in these? They insult my intelligence, all of them being childishly simplistic and illogical. No. 5, for example, would have me believe my son has become an angel who will watch over me. I guess I’m not supposed to wonder where his angel was (my mother, for instance, who adored him and died 10 years ago), when he needed one. Why would I get one, but he would not? As for him waiting for me in heaven, if I thought that were the case, do you think I’d still be here? I would have committed suicide days, perhaps even hours, after he was killed.
Julie goes on to include a list of things you can say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one...
If you can’t say any of these things, it’s OK to say nothing. You can even say, “I realize there is nothing I can say.” That is profoundly more helpful, honest and comforting than the empty, “God has a reason for everything.” Life is random. Death is random. And unless you die painlessly in your sleep at a ripe old age, it rarely makes sense. Nothing you can say to me in the wake of my child’s death is going to have it make sense.

The bottom line is you can’t fix me, no matter what you say or do. There are no magic words that will ease my sorrow. If I’m lucky, the passage of time and the loving, happy memories I have of my son will rise to the surface of my heart and crowd out the anger at the man who killed him, the guilt for not being able to protect my child from harm, the remorse for not doing something I might have done that could have changed the course of events that day. If you really want to help, then offer to help, or say something that draws on your humanity, my humanity, and the fact that we are all in this thing called “life” together.
Read Julie Stahl's full piece here.

Two Things Only

Clicking around the channels on TV the other night, I came upon the last 15 minutes of Rob Reiner's "An American President." It was right at the point where President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) bursts into the press room to respond to some of the attacks his opponent, Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), has been making on the campaign trail. I couldn't help noticing how well Aaron Sorkin's 1995 script would still play in today's political environment, particularly the "two things only"...

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I've known Bob Rumson for years. And I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it!

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she's to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

As I Tweeted

There are men and women in this world who heard about the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt divorce this morning and thought, "Now I have a chance!"

I wonder who gets custody of the tattoos.

The Polling Chasm

Every day, it seems, a new presidential preference poll is released. Some are national, some are state-specific. Some survey registered voters, some survey likely voters. But all of them are conducted by telephone, which I find problematic.*

How can those polls-by-phone truly represent the American populace when so many of us no longer have landlines? Once my daughter entered high school and we gave her a cell phone -- which my wife and I have had since the 1990s -- we no longer needed a "home phone." Now that she's out of college, she shares an apartment with friends, but none of them had to wait around all day for the phone company installer to show up and put in a landline since they each have their own numbers.

They're part of a large generation that will never have a home phone, so how can pollsters who can't reach them assess which candidates they support? You could argue that they're also in the demographic that's least likely to vote, and there's truth in that -- the older you are, the more likely you are to fill out a ballot and have a home phone. Still, that's leaving out a lot of people, and we're not all millennials.

Of course, those of us with just a cell phone are still reachable, but we use technology to ignore lots of calls. When my iPhone buzzes with an incoming call, I always check the screen to see who it's from, and if it's not someone on my contact list -- and thus recognized by the phone -- I don't answer it. I assume that if I do know the caller but my phone doesn't, they'll leave me a voicemail and I can get back to them. Thus, if there's no voicemail, I pay no attention to that call.

Occasionally, one of those automated calls ("Hi, it's Rachel from card services!") will end up on my voicemail. In those instances, I'll delete it and then block the number it came from, thus reducing the odds of future annoyance from that company.

Even if I did accidentally answer a pollster's call, I can't imagine spending more than 10 seconds before I said, "no thanks, goodbye" and hanging up. I have no more interest in sharing my electoral preferences with an anonymous caller than I do in filling out the inevitable survey-by-email I receive from every company I do business with (no, I'm not going to rate your turkey sandwich on a scale of one to ten!).

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not claiming that all polls are invalid because my opinion isn't included. I know there are plenty of people who willingly submit to surveys and questionnaires about all sorts of things, including the presidential race. I just wonder how representative the results are if so many of us are off the pollsters' grids to begin with.

Maybe we're the margin of error.

*Polls conducted online rather than by phone tend to be self-selecting and about as informational as the vote-by-text questions asked during a Monday Night Football game ("which team will throw the ball more often?"). In other words, they're meaningless clutter.

Movie Review: The Hollars


I would watch Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale read a menu. They are two of our best character actors, and their presence elevates "The Hollars" considerably.

Jenkins and Martindale play Don and Sally Hollar, parents of John, who lives in New York with his very pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), and Ron (Sharlto Copley), a divorced mess who has moved back in with his parents while still trying to win back his ex-wife Stacey (Ashley Dyke), who is now involved with a pastor (Josh Groban).

As "The Hollars" opens, Sally tumbles to the floor of the bathroom in their Ohio home. Don doesn’t know what to do, but he and Ron get her to the hospital, where she's diagnosed with a brain tumor. She’s hospitalized, Krasinski comes in from NY, and from there on, it could easily turn into a weeper like "Terms Of Engagement" or yet-another-dysfunctional-family-movie (a la "August: Osage County," "Home For The Holidays," "This Is Where I Leave You," etc.).

I'm happy to tell you it's neither. It's funny, warm, and has both Jenkins and Martindale, who are forces of nature on screen. "The Hollars" doesn't wallow in anything. As director, Krasinski keeps it very relatable, the pacing is perfect, and there’s some really funny stuff going on, and let's the rest of the cast shine. Charlie Day ("Horrible Bosses," "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia") has some silly scenes as a male nurse at the hospital who's now married to John's ex. We even get a short scene with Mary Kay Place!

It's rare to see a movie that combines comedy and emotion so well. "The Hollars" had me both laughing and tearing up a couple of times. It’s a very pleasant surprise. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Many of these cast members also appeared in titles that are on my Movies You Might Not Know list, where I recommend lesser-known films that are worth finding for streaming or on DVD. From "The Hollars" cast, you might want to check out:

  • John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph in "Away We Go";
  • Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor";
  • Margo Martindale in her Emmy-winning role on season 2 of "Justified";
  • Sharlto Copley in "District 9";
  • Anna Kendrick in "Up In The Air."

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Day With June Foray

June Foray, the most famous female voice artist of all time -- check her Wikipedia page to see the astounding number of characters she's played since she started in 1937! -- turned 99 years old yesterday.

My friend Mark Evanier, who has known June for a long time (and hired her many times, in addition to helping her write her autobiography) posted another entry about her on his blog for her birthday, and I realized it was about time I shared my own June Foray story.

On September 23, 1988, I had the honor of having June in the studio of the morning show I then hosted on WCXR/Washington, DC. She was in town to appear at a local animation gallery that was selling some cels from the original run of the series. I knew the store owner, who called and asked if I wanted to have June stop by. It took but a micro-second for me to answer yes.

On the morning in question, June was accompanied by a voice artist from Alexandria, Virginia, named Kerry Joels. They brought a copy of one of the original "Rocky and Bullwinkle" scripts from the early 1960s to do on the air. June was going to read the parts of Rocky and Natasha, while Kerry would be Bullwinkle and Boris (originally voiced by Bill Scott and Paul Frees, respectively). Since I'd seen all the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" shows over and over while growing up, I was thrilled -- even more so when June told me I could read the part of the narrator (originally voiced by William Conrad).

I chatted on the air with June about her career for several minutes (sadly, the audio of that conversation is lost), took a commercial break, and then we launched into the script. We didn't have a chance to rehearse, but I knew that, to maintain the spirit of Jay Ward's original productions, our pacing would have to be quick if the bit was going to work. Fortunately, I saved that portion of the show in my audio archives, and present it here for the first time since we performed it live on that memorable morning 28 years ago.

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

Movie Review: Snowden


As a writer, director, and public personality, Oliver Stone has a reputation for conspiracy theories, so the tale of a government worker who worries he's being spied on because he knows some secrets seems like it's right in his wheelhouse. The difference between Stone's earlier work (particularly "JFK") and "Snowden," is that this one's about a real person, Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who told the world that the NSA and CIA were listening in on everyone’s phone conversations, emails, texts, etc.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as Snowden. He clearly studied his subject to master his voice and speaking style. I was impressed with Gordon-Levitt in the Phillippe Petit bio-drama "The Walk," and he's just as good as Snowden. The movie tells Snowden’s story over nine years, 2004-2013, from his volunteering for the Army to his developing leg problems that kept him out of the armed forces to him getting a job with the CIA to his discovery that the agency was gathering a lot more info than the public knew. You learn that he was a conservative who was inspired by the 9/11 attacks to serve his country.

Shailene Woodley is very good as Lindsay Mills, his girlfriend (I think she'll be nominated for an Oscar for supporting actress), who falls for him despite their political differences. She's a liberal who's not sure what he does for a living until she traces one of his emailed messages to her to figure out where it came from. When she confronts him about working for the CIA, he says, “You know how to run an IP trace?” For him, that’s a heartfelt expression of love and respect and they become a serious couple.

"Snowden" bounces back and forth between his years at the CIA and NSA to his 2013 meeting in a Hong Kong hotel room with documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and investigative reporters Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen McAskill (Tom Wilkinson). All three of them are very good in their roles, as is Nicholas Cage in a small part as an early mentor to Snowden.

Stone shows us how Snowden's distaste for the government's data-gathering grows. He is shocked to see Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lie to Congress, answering "no" when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asks "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" (Clapper was never prosecuted for lying under oath). Snowden is also so disturbed to learn that the NSA can turn on your laptop camera and microphone to record you anywhere that he puts a piece of tape over his so that no one can watch Lindsay and him at home (I've done the same).

What happens in that Hong Kong hotel room before Snowden leaves and ends up exiled in Russia was covered by Poitras' "Citizenfour," which won the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary). If you haven't seen that, see this. If you did, see this anyway, as "Snowden" fills in more of the story from outside the Hong Kong hotel room. It's also Oliver Stone's best film in at least 20 years.

I give "Snowden" a 9 out of 10.

Coincidental with the release of "Snowden" are some legal appeals to try to get President Obama to pardon him, but that's not going to happen -- nor will he get that relief from whoever the next president is, since both Clinton and Trump have a different view of Snowden than the ACLU and I do. I consider him a hero for revealing details of an unconstitutional invasion of everyone's privacy -- both in the US and globally. I don't fall for the "we have to keep you safe" defense as an excuse for violating our rights. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem like Edward Snowden will be returning to the USA anytime soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Picture Of The Day

David Letterman will return to TV next month on a National Geographic show called "Years Of Living Dangerously." He'll be one of the celebrity correspondents (along with Ty Burrell, James Cameron, Cecily Strong, Olivia Munn, Jack Black and others) who will explore climate change around the world. Letterman's segment will include an interview with India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. And yes, Letterman is still as neurotic as ever...

Best Thing I've Read Today

Gary Legum says while polls may indicate Trump is closing in on Clinton, he's actually still miles away:

Yes, the polls have tightened in some of the swing states and may still tighten more. Yes, this is affecting the down-ballot races to the point where it may impact the Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate. Yes, that will hurt Clinton’s legislative agenda if she wins. Yes, if you assume everything lines up perfectly for Trump, he still has a slightly less narrow path to victory than he did last week.

But the presidential race was always going to be competitive, much as liberals might have laughed like stoned hyenas when it became clear the GOP was going to nominate Donald Trump. The electorate is so polarized and the parties so ideologically rigid that any Republican candidate always starts with a floor slightly north of 40 percent of the vote. Any Democrat was always likely to be just a few points higher than that. The onus was always going to be on the GOP candidate to run a perfect campaign to catch up, something Trump has proven incapable of doing.
Read Legum's full piece here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Kelly Carlin On George Carlin


In the two days before 9/11/01, George Carlin was performing in Las Vegas and did a routine about how much he liked it when a lot of people die. It was supposed to be part of an HBO special to be broadcast live that November, but after the attacks on America, that bit wasn't released -- until now.

With the release of a new CD, "I Kinda Like It When A Lotta People Die," containing that material and some other unheard stuff of his, I invited his daughter, Kelly Carlin, to discuss her father's work and legacy on my show. Last year, St. Martin’s Press published Kelly’s memoir, “A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George," which comes out in paperback on October 18th.

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

Showbiz Show 9/16/16


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "Blair Witch," "Snowden," and "The Hollars." We also predicted the winners of the Emmy Awards. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Note: in reviewing "Snowden," I said that former CIA director Michael Hayden lied under oath to Congress about the NSA gathering data on Americans' phone calls, emails, etc. I should have said that was Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (details here).

Harris Challenge 9/16/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Not Gonna Win An Emmy Award, Oliver Stone Movies Not Named "Snowden," and Today In History. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/16/16


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a french fry thief, a urinalysis bomb scare, and a fish in the face. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

As I Tweeted

National polls are to presidential elections as shots on goal are to hockey scores -- in the end, they're meaningless. #electoralcollege

Picture Of The Day

ImprovEverywhere set up microphones on the street and waited for passers-by to stand before them. Then, a gaggle of reporters appeared and asked silly questions. What's remarkable about this is how the answers sound exactly like real soundbites from politicians...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Movie Review: Complete Unknown


I mentioned last week, in reviewing "The Light Between Oceans," that I'm a big fan of Rachel Weisz, who was wasted in that movie but so good in "Confidence," "The Bourne Legacy," "The Whistleblower," and "Runaway Jury," to name a few. I've also enjoyed Michael Shannon's work, most recently in "Elvis and Nixon" (one of my favorites this year), as well as "99 Homes," the Superman movies in which he played General Zod, and "Iceman," an under-appreciated movie about a real-life hitman named Richard Kuklinski.

With Weisz and Shannon in the lead roles, I was looking forward to "Complete Unknown," which has an intriguing story line at its core.

As the movie opens, we see a montage of the different personalities Weisz's character has undertaken in her life — a hippie student, a magician’s assistant, an ER nurse. She's a chameleon who lives whatever life she wants to live, then sheds all those connections and moves on to something else. In the current day of the movie, she’s Alice Manning, a scientist who makes a connection with another scientist who takes her to the birthday party of his friend, Tom (Michael Shannon). At the party, Alice tells stories of her biological research in Tasmania and her new work with an undiscovered breed of frog on Long Island. Everyone at the party is taken with her except Tom, who recognizes that Alice is actually Jenny, who left him and disappeared 15 years ago -- and no one had seen her since.

That’s a pretty good premise, and the interaction between Weisz and Shannon is good, as he gets drawn into her world of pretend personalities, particularly in a segment in the middle involving Kathy Bates and Danny Glover. But then writer/director Joshua Marston doesn’t know where to take the story, and it kind of just lays there towards the end. We're left with a disappointing mess.

The movie distributor may regret the title, as this one won't be around long, and to most moviegoers, will remain a Complete Unknown.

I give it a 6 out of 10, and hope Weisz and Shannon both find better projects soon.

Picture Of The Day

Keith Olbermann has begun a twice-weekly video commentary for GQ. To start, he merely lists all of the lies, deceptions, and ridiculous claims Donald Trump has made while running for president -- there are only 176 of them...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Best Thing I've Heard Today

I didn't watch the Rams-49ers game last night, but I was happy to wake up today and discover that the team that abandoned St. Louis got pounded. In fact, the Rams were the only team in the NFL to get shut out this weekend. However, there was one highlight -- when a drunken fan ran out on the field. ESPN pretty much ignored him, but Kevin Harlan did the play-by-play on Westwood One radio, and it's classic.

In the accompanying video, notice Rams coach Jeff Fisher watching the guy run around, no doubt thinking, "I wish one of my players could do that!"

Monday, September 12, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Ben Hochman on the love-hate relationship with the NFL:

I start thinking about all the good times we had, the early stages of our relationship, with APBA Football or Tecmo Bowl. I can hear the echoing voice of John Facenda from NFL Films and the melodic Al Michaels on big games. I remember a fresh-faced Favre. I hum along to the networks’ NFL pregame music. I recall the bigness of my first game. I cherish that ride of following favorite players into the draft and into the league and into fame. I also get a strange kick out of the busts. I love that random player that just seems to make a team every year. I get nostalgic thinking about at whose house I watched which Super Bowl.

OK sure, but then I think about what a football game really is: 22 men treated as gladiators for our entertainment, brainwashed into believing that being an athlete completes one’s self-worth, but in the meantime having their brains washed by the very sport. They make their money and achieve fame and then waft off, some into a life of luxury, but many into a life of brain damage and chronic pain and second-guessing and forgetting some of the very memories they once lived to accomplish. Then throw in the NFL’s lack of respect for Native Americans. And how for generations, teams swept domestic violence cases under the Astroturf. And how seemingly every week some player is arrested for something. And how Leonard Little got that second DUI. And how the commissioner of the league comes off as a big pile of (insert whichever word you’d like here — feel free to be creative).
Read Hochman's full piece here.

Movie Review: Sully


In January, 2009, Chesley Sullenberger became the most famous pilot in the world when he landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River after its engines were knocked out by a flock of birds, saving the lives of all 155 people on board. The story was destined to become a movie, and now it has, with Tom Hanks as "Sully." After "Apollo 13" and "Captain Phillips," Hanks is our go-to real-life disaster bio-movie guy, and he's as good as ever in this one.

Some reviewers have compared "Sully" to "Flight," the Denzel Washington movie of a few years ago. The trailers for the latter all showed Washington as the pilot of a big jet in trouble, which he saved by doing a barrel roll and landing the thing on its back in a field. If you only saw the trailer, you would have thought it was an action movie about an exciting, heroic pilot. In fact, it was a character study of an alcoholic -- Washington's character was drunk when he flipped the plane, drunk off duty, even drunk when he was called on the carpet to answer for his actions. If you'll excuse the pun, it was a very sober look at a man with an addiction problem who happened to fly for a living.

"Sully," on the other hand, is about a pilot with four decades of experience who is completely in control of the situation and makes the proper decisions under pressure. The only similarity is the remarkable footage of a plane doing something it's not supposed to do, and director Clint Eastwood and his CGI team got it right. Like "Apollo 13" and "Captain Phillips," I knew this story had a happy ending, but that didn't keep me from gripping the armrests the first time the plane headed for the water.

Every movie needs conflict, so Eastwood has made the NTSB investigators the bad guys. They (Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn) put Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart in his best role in years) through an investigation to see if they could have turned back and landed on a real runway instead of a river. As that inquiry progresses, we see the 208 seconds of US Airways flight 1549 from several perspectives -- inside the cockpit with Sully and Skiles, inside the cabin with the flight attendants and passengers, and through the eyes of New Yorkers who were shocked to see the plane coming down on that winter day seven years ago.

There are complaints from some of the real-life NTSB investigators who aren't happy with their portrayal in "Sully," but I notice that every interview with them includes an admission that they haven't seen the movie yet, so their perspective seems moot. There's also been some whining about Eastwood including scenes from Sully's nightmares in which the plane crashes into buildings in New York, which is supposedly insensitive to everyone who remembers 9/11. Nonsense. That's exactly the reason why those bad dreams were so vivid, and they're presented beautifully on the screen.

The other member of the cast I have to mention is Laura Linney, who has the thankless task of playing Sully's wife, Lorraine. We only see her when she's talking to him on the phone, reminiscent of Sienna Miller as Chris Kyle's wife in "American Sniper." Neither of them were given much to do, which is often the case in Eastwood's movies, and their presence adds nothing to the plot.

Walking out of the theater, I laughed as I thought of the announcement made on every flight, where the attendants demonstrate the life vest we should use -- along with our seat cushions as flotation devices -- "in the event of a water landing." They make it seem like it's a routine event that we can easily live through. Yet I can't remember another story of a big jet coming down on any body of water without sinking and/or killing many of the people on board. That's what made Sully's accomplishment so remarkable, and its big-screen version so enjoyable.

I give "Sully" an 8 out of 10.

One last thing. On the night before the movie opened, Tom Hanks appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and Chesley Sullenberger made a special appearance to announce that he had turned the tables on the man who played him in a very special theatrical trailer...

David Bromberg, "Mr. Bojangles"

Forty years ago today, I was first introduced to the music of David Bromberg when he did an open-air concert at the college I attended. I was mesmerized, became an instant fan, and have since worn out the compilation of his best songs, "Out Of The Blues." One of the tunes he's famous for is his cover of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" (a hit for both Sammy Davis Jr. and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), which Bromberg knew well because he played in Walker's band for a few years. Here he is performing it five years ago...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Keeping 9/11 In Perspective

Here's a piece I wrote in 2003 on the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks...

Remembering the past while getting on with our lives. That's what today was about.

This morning, my daughter saw me smiling at her and said, "Daddy, you shouldn't be smiling today! This is September 11th!" I had to remind her that, while it was the anniversary of a horrible event we should never forget, we can't let ourselves be so maudlin that we can't enjoy the tremendous number of good things we still have. For instance, those frozen cinnamon toast waffles she enjoys for breakfast, hot from the toaster oven! I'm proud that, at nine years old, she understands the significance of this date (and hopefully always will), but she shouldn't let it overwhelm all the positive aspects of our daily American life.

There are adults who take today far more seriously than need be. The major airlines canceled over 3,000 flights today because so many people refused to fly on September 11th. Whatever their reason, their fear is misguided. If there's one thing we can predict about Al Qaeda, it's their unpredictability. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the 9/11/01 attacks, and other dastardly deeds were not done on dates with any significance. They may be thugs, but give them credit for understanding that you don't confront an enemy when it is most prepared, you attack when their guard is down. They're smart enough to know not to come after us on a major holiday or anniversary, or at a huge event like the Super Bowl. I remember being at work on the day of 9/11/01 when someone asked, "Is today an important date in history?" We checked every source we could and discovered the day was nothing more than a Tuesday. The only irony was that the date matched our national emergency number, 911.

On the website of the magazine Reason, Matt Welch has a good piece today, entitled "The Day Nothing Changed." He points out how, two years after the attacks, America isn't really very different than it was in August, 2001. He's right. Parents still take their kids to soccer games, we entertain ourselves with movies, TV, radio, and the internet, roads remain clogged at rush hour, business (for the most part) continues to be conducted. We know in the back of our minds we may be hit again at some point, but we don't worry about it so much that we can't live our lives the way we always have. Most importantly, we know that the vital concept at the heart of America -- freedom -- shows very few signs of any dents or dings, even with the dreaded Patriot Act.

I wonder if any members of Al Qaeda have considered this notion in the last two years. I'd like to think at least one of them has said to himself, "We hit America as hard as we could, and they're still there, still free, still drinking beer, still telling jokes, still cutting their lawns, still eating cheeseburgers, still going about their personal matters. Meanwhile, we sit in this stinking cave waiting for Osama to finish his dialysis treatment and help us roast a goat. I'd never say this out loud, for fear of being tortured, killed, and then tortured some more, but maybe the Land Of The Great Satan has the right idea! Excuse me, Allah, but you can keep your 72 virgins on ice for awhile. I want the American Dream, complete with 3,000 minutes of free night and weekend calling with no roaming charges!"

One last item, semi-related to this day and its connection to terrorism. Our stab-you-in-the-back "Partners In Peace," the Saudis, have declared that Barbie dolls must be banned in their kingdom. The order came from their religious police, officially known as The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which sounds like its members include Jerry Falwell and Dr. Zaius from the original "Planet Of The Apes."

Their reasons are twofold. The first is that Barbie is a threat to morality. The second reason is seemingly the worst offense possible in that part of the world -- they claim Barbie is Jewish.

Barbie a Jewess? HA! Let me tell you something, my peace partners, by paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen. I know many Jewish women. My wife is a Jewish woman. And Barbie is no Jewish woman!!

If there's any doll in the world that screams "Gentile!" it would be Barbie. She's the least Jewish woman since Blythe Danner played Jonathan Silverman's mother in "Brighton Beach Memoirs." Next they'll ban GI Joe because he's one of the Fab Five on "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy."

Experiencing 9/11

On 9/11/01, as I watched the devastation in New York, my thoughts turned to my brother Seth, who commuted each day from New Jersey, through the World Trade Center, to his office a few blocks away. With the havoc caused in the communication system due to the loss of the antennae atop the WTC, I was unable to get him on the phone to see if he was okay. We spent the entire day unaware of where he was or whether he'd escaped the carnage. It wasn't until late that evening that he got home and called to report that he was okay.

As he related the adventure he'd been through, I invited him to join me the next day on KTRS/St. Louis to share it with my listeners and describe the giant ball of debris that came rolling up the street towards his window after the towers fell.

Here, on the 15th anniversary of that tragic day, is that conversation. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Four 9/11-Related Guests

On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country, here are some of the guests I've talked to over the years who said things different from what you may have heard elsewhere:

  • John Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and author of "The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11." (9/9/09)
  • What does Chiquita banana have to do with terrorism? Why are 9/11 victims mad at the world's largest banana producer? My guest Tim Mak explains. (6/9/14)
  • Dan Gillmor on how the US has punished itself for years in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, and gone too far in restricting our liberties. (9/9/13)
  • Tony Zinni is a retired four-star Marine general who served as commander-in-chief of Centcom, was one of the first to warn of the dangers of terrorism coming out of Afghanistan pre-9/11, and then opposed the invasion of Iraq. (9/4/09)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sepinwall and Seitz Pick The Greatest TV Shows Ever


Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz have been arguing about television shows since they were both critics at the Newark Star-Ledger in the 1990s. Alan now writes for HitFix.com and is the author of “The Revolution Was Televised.” Matt writes for New York magazine, is editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, and author of “The Wes Anderson Collection” and “Mad Men Carousel."

All these years later, Matt and Alan are still arguing about TV, which led to “TV: The Book,” in which they rank the greatest American shows of all time. When they both joined me on the air, I asked them:
  • What were the criteria for how you ranked the shows?
  • What did you do about your natural bias for shows from your lifetime or that you’ve reviewed?
  • How much did the rape revelations about Bill Cosby affect your score for "The Cosby Show"?
  • How did you view shows that ran too long and got worse in their later years?
  • How did NBC's problems in the 1990s affect shows like "30 Rock"?
  • What show are you disappointed you couldn't include in the top 100 because the other guy wouldn't rate it high enough?
  • Do shows that only lasted one season deserve to be on the list?
  • What's the effect of binge viewing on a show's greatness?
  • Are all of the shows in the book available online, so you could go back and watch/re-watch them?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 9/9/16


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I started off with Tom Hanks and Ellen DeGeneres discussing their work on Pixar movies. Then we reviewed Hanks in Clint Eastwood's "Sully" and Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon in "Complete Unknown." We wrapped up with some TV recommendations for this weekend and some upcoming Netflix projects to watch for.

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

Harris Challenge 9/9/16

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Sports and Showbiz Week, In The Midnight Hour, and The First Name Is Lou But The Last Name Is Not Fest. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/9/16


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a lingerie thief, a married mother and daughter, and an easy-to-catch bank robber. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Memo To Tennis Broadcasters

Stop calling Mr. Wawrinka "Stan The Man." That nickname has been taken for 50+ years by Mr. Musial.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Rick Newman says that, despite all the right-wing claims about Hillary Clinton, there's no smoking gun:

Critics of the Clintons are convinced many dirty deeds remain undiscovered. They’re sure there must have been blatant quid pro quos in which wealthy donors to the Clinton Foundation got big favors in return from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Could be. But the facts, so far, don’t support that. What we do know reveals little more than the mundane realpolitik of government.

In 2010, for instance, the US government approved a takeover deal that directly benefited at least five prominent donors to the Clinton Foundation. Did they donate the money to curry favor with the Clintons? There’s no way to know, but it’s certainly possible. Would the approval have come if the men had no connection to the Clintons or their foundation? Probably. The State Department, headed by Clinton at the time, was only one of several agencies that had to approve the deal, and there’s no evidence Clinton lobbied other agency heads to sign off. There’s no smoking gun, and perhaps no gun. Meanwhile, businesspeople with friends in high office seek favors all the time. That’s why Washington, D.C., is home to 11,000 lobbyists.

Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State was an obvious effort to escape certain types of scrutiny (which, ironically, has completely backfired). It looks sneaky and is one of many reasons roughly two-thirds of Americans say they don’t trust her. But as far as we know, there was nothing illegal about this.

Clinton was obviously sloppy in the way she handled classified information. But not as sloppy as former CIA Director David Petraeus, who deliberately gave classified information to a woman writing a biography about him—who was also his extramarital lover. Now THAT was a scandal, with an actual smoking gun. Petraeus resigned.

As for State Department dissembling after the tragic Benghazi attack in 2012, in which four Americans died, it seems pretty clear Clinton and her top aides were trying to spin a terrible event as less terrible. Where could she have gotten that idea, except from every other government official, ever.

You could even argue that the extraordinary scrutiny of everything involving the Clintons is reassuring in a way, because it has turned up so little. Even Peter Schweizer, author of the damning portrait “Clinton Cash,” struggles to say what, exactly, the Clintons have done wrong. The smoking gun, he says, is a “pattern of behavior” in which the Clintons continually cash in on their connections. One might add obliviousness to their list of sins, since they seem unaware of their own sketchiness. Still, that’s not a crime.
Read Rick Newman's full piece here.

DeGeneres and Hanks as Dory and Woody

As mentioned on my show this afternoon, here are Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Hanks discussing what's it's like to do their famous Pixar movie characters...

Thursday, September 08, 2016

That's One Secure Portal

This morning, I was at a facility with a door that read, "Emergency Exit Only. Alarm will sound when door is opened." In the hour I was there, 7 people went through. No alarm.

Random Thoughts

I'm not going to post a full review of the movie "Hell Or High Water," but I liked it. Chris Pine and Ben Foster are good as the bank-robbing brothers, and there's a little bit of a "Bonnie and Clyde" feel to the movie. It's not in the same league as that Robert Benton classic, but it's well made and worth your time. My only complaint is that Jeff Bridges once again mumbles his way through his role as a Texas Ranger, just as he has ever since playing the Rooster Cogburn/John Wayne part in the "True Grit" remake a few years ago. If an unknown actor auditioned for this role sounding like he had two pounds of chewing tobacco in his mouth, he'd be shown the door -- but director David Mackenzie lets Bridges get away with it, to the character's detriment.

Several people have emailed asking why I've been silent on the Colin Kaepernick controversy. The answer: I don't care. One of the benefits to not doing a daily talk radio show is that I don't get drawn into these minor issues that get blown way out of proportion. You want to get pissed off about an NFL player exercising his first amendment right to protest whatever he's upset about? Go ahead, as long as, while you're exercising your first amendment rights, you don't deny his. And don't bring veterans into this. No American soldier ever fought a war to protect you from being offended.

If you want something juicy to discuss about the NFL, think about how the future of the league will be impacted by the recent class action suit against Pop Warner football. That organization gets millions in funding from the NFL (as do lots of other youth football leagues), but it may be rocked to the core by this. The plaintiffs -- moms of boys whose lives were ruined by brain trauma caused by football -- say Pop Warner didn't do enough to protect their sons from concussions and other head injuries, and used amateur coaches who didn't have proper training in how to recognize and avoid them. With participation numbers already way down, and fewer parents likely to allow their sons to play full-contact football in years to come, the stream of potential talent for the NFL, colleges, and high schools will be reduced dramatically.

I'm looking forward to seeing "The White Rabbit Project," a new Netflix series coming in December. It's from the producers of "Mythbusters," and will star Kari Byron, Grant Imahara, and Tori Belleci from that show (but not Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman). The press release says, "the three head down the rabbit hole to investigate weird and wonderful events from pop culture, science and history. Under their microscope are topics as diverse as jailbreaks, superpower technology, heists and crazy world war two weapons." Okay, I'm in.

Serena's Look


There's a scene in "Blazing Saddles" where someone goes into Sheriff Bart's office to report that "Mongo's back and he's breaking up the whole town!" Bart starts to put on his gun belt, but the Waco Kid tells him, "No, don't do that. You'll only make him mad."

I'm reminded of that whenever I see Serena Williams fall behind in a big tennis match, as she did yesterday against Simona Halep -- not because I'm rooting against her (I'm not), but because I look for the moment when Serena has clearly gotten mad. She looks across the court and says, by her facial expression, "I'm Serena Williams, bitch!" From that moment on, the opponent has no shot.

Last night, it happened at the end of the second set. Serena had won the first 6-2, but Simona broke her serve in the second and took it 6-4. That's when Serena got pissed, shot her "the look," and crushed Simona in the third, 6-3.

I also like the fact that, while serving, Serena only takes one ball at a time from the ballpersons. In the decade before I had to give up playing tennis several times a week because of leg injuries, all four players in my doubles game held one ball in our shorts pocket while serving while the partner held the third in his. Of course, we didn't have people on the court who would chase down stray balls and hold on to them until we were ready, but the pros do.

And yet, everyone but Serena takes at least two, usually three, balls to the service line. Then they act like they're inspecting the completely identical balls before returning one to the ballperson and one to their pocket. The problem for women is they don't have pockets in their outfits -- especially the personally designed clothing Serena wears -- so they tuck the second ball under the leg band of their shorts or panties. Why do that when, if you fault on your first serve, you can just turn around and have another ball tossed to you immediately?

For that matter, why do it if you're a guy? Everything else in your pampered professional athlete life is provided for you -- clothing, rackets, sweat bands, shoes, socks -- why stick with the old uncomfortable way? I'm sure a big part of it is tradition. That's the way you've always done it, and jocks don't like to change their habits, particularly if they're winning, but once you see a champion like Serena doing it differently, perhaps you should try it, too.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The iPhone 7 Show


I watched some of Apple's iPhone 7 introduction presentation this afternoon, and didn't come away too impressed. The new model isn't enough of an upgrade from the iPhone 6 to make me want to order it, but I've always had an even-numbered iPhone bias -- I've owned models 2, 4s, and 6, but none of the odd versions in between.

The company still makes beautiful products, but they wasted quite some time today on the design and color options of the iPhone 7. What they fail to realize is that most consumers, upon purchasing a smartphone, immediately buy a cover or shell to protect it, rendering all that magnificent exterior design work moot. The perfectly polished aluminum back is less important that knowing the whole thing won't break or dent when we inevitably drop it on the floor. On the other hand, making it waterproof will save a lot of iPhones from being destroyed in bathroom accidents arising from someone's grip loosening while checking Facebook on the toilet.

Today, Apple proudly introduced its new AirPod ear pieces, which will work via Bluetooth but won't be connected to your phone or each other by wires. Sounds cool, but when one of them pops out of your ear, there won't be anything to keep it from falling to the floor (or into the toilet). That will be a problem for a lot of people (like me), for whom the basic mold doesn't fit snugly in our ears. I can't wear the current included-for-free EarBuds for that reason, so I'm certainly not going to shell out $159 for the similarly problematic AirPods. It also means a lot more pretentious people walking around with these things on their heads, even when they're not listening to anything -- just like the self-important folks wearing Bluetooth phone ear pieces all the time, regardless of whether they're on a call.

Then there's the change that invoked a lot of ridicule online today. It began when, in describing Apple's decision to do away with the headphone jack and forcing you to use the lightning connector instead, an executive on stage used the word "courage." Who are you, Dan Rather? Yes, the company is so brave for making you either buy all new earpieces (AirPods, anyone?) or use the mini-to-lightning dongle that will be included in the iPhone 7 box. What he didn't explain is how you're supposed to use wired headphones and charge your phone at the same time.

I guess the answer is: courageously.

As I Tweeted

Any interviewer who lets a candidate get away with a bald-faced lie with no followup should be immediately replaced by someone who won't. I'm talking about you, Matt Lauer.

Update at 9:59pm on 9/7...Lauer deserves all the derision for letting Trump get away with his Iraq lie, but he also missed another huge opportunity. When a service woman in the audience asked about sexual assault and harassment in the military, Trump responded that it was a big problem and had to be addressed.

Here's what Lauer should have said: If this issue is so important to you, why are you using accused sexual harasser Roger Ailes as an adviser even after he was tossed out of Fox News, which has paid out tens of millions in settlements for his disgrace usting treatment of female employees?

Update at 7:41am on 9/8...Another question Lauer should have asked Trump after he refused to discuss his secret plan for defeating Isis until he's in the Oval Office: Would you hire an architect who said, "I have a plan for your building, but won't reveal it till you hire me"?

Movie Review: The 9th Life Of Louis Drax


If any movie proves that August is, like Februrary, a month for dumping Hollywood's bottom of the barrel projects, it's "The 9th Life of Louis Drax." I'm already reserving a spot on my Worst Of The Year list for it.

As the movie begins, Aaron Paul and Sarah Gadon are parents of 9-year-old Louis. As they picnic near some cliffs, Louis falls off and crashes on the rocks way below. He’s not dead, but in a coma. When rescuers pull him up, Louis comes under the care of of a pediatric neurologist (Jamie Dornan), who becomes attracted to Louis' mom.

Where's dad? Nowhere to be found, so he's assumed to have killed Louis. The more likely answer is that Aaron Paul was off somewhere trying to fire his agent for not bringing him scripts more worthy of his talents post-"Breaking Bad."

Meanwhile, back in this movie, we endure flashbacks to earlier in Louis' life when he was being treated by psychologist Oliver Platt for having lots of accidents and getting hurt all the time. Platt is incapable of a bad performance, but he's wasted in this treacle. So is Barbara Hershey, who shows up in the last half-hour to add some exposition that doesn't help. Director Alexandre Aja seems unsure of how to create real emotion, so he throws in too many plot points -- including a weird dream involving a seaweed monster (I'm not kidding).

"The 9th Life Of Louis Drax" is an unbearable mess, barely deserving the 1 point I'm giving it on a scale of 10.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Best Thing I've Read Today

Jim Rutenberg on how newspapers may not have a big future in print, but that doesn't mean that those news organizations are doomed -- if they can only figure out a way to monetize their online versions:

Know-nothing press haters may say that news organizations are going out of business because the public is shunning them, but that’s not the case at all. Through online exposure, newspapers are reaching more people than ever. The problem is how they make money. Circulation for physical newspapers is declining, and so is print advertising; digital ads remain far less profitable. The trick is finding a way to make up the lost revenue.
Read Rutenberg's full piece here.

Movie Review: The Light Between Oceans


In "The Light Between Oceans," Michael Fassbender is a WWI vet who gets a job as a lighthouse keeper and falls for a beautiful woman in town (Alicia Vikander). They write lots of letters back and forth, and wow, that's some exciting movie action -- watching people read and write. Yawn!

Eventually, they get married and, as time passes (very slowly), she has two miscarriages. Then a rowboat washes ashore containing a dead man and a baby (worst Steve Guttenberg movie ever). Alicia convinces Michael to keep the baby and raise it as theirs rather than turn it in to the authorities -- after all, no one knows about the second miscarriage, so they'll think she gave birth to the kid.

Years go by (in both movie time and sitting-there-watching-the-movie time) before we meet Rachel Weisz, the real mother of the baby and the only character I cared about. I'm a longtime Weisz fan, so when she's third-billed but doesn't show up for the first hour, I'm not happy. The rest of the plot plays out like a weeping soap opera, and there's a tacked-on ending that's totally unnecessary.

Director Derek Cianfrance, who made the similarly torpid "The Place Beyond The Pines" a few years ago, has a real problem -- he chooses stories that don't translate well from page to screen, and then he tells them at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Fassbender and Vikander may have become a real-life couple during this movie, but their onscreen track record of disappointing movies continues after his "Steve Jobs" and her "Ex Machina," "The Danish Girl," and "Jason Bourne." They're all better than this one, but that is faint praise.

I give "The Light Between Oceans" a 2 out of 10.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Showbiz Show 9/2/16


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I started off by remembering the late Gene Wilder's work, including an Alka Seltzer commercial he did in the 1960s, in which he played a complaining stomach. Then we reviewed the last two bad movies of the summer -- "The Light Between Oceans" and "The 9th Life Of Louis Drax" -- and, since I just got around to seeing "Hell Or High Water," I compared my thoughts with Colin's review from earlier this month. We finished with a discussion of the movie winners and losers of this summer.

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