Sunday, May 19, 2013
- Austin Tichenor, longtime friend of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in Benghazi;
- Jack Effel, tournament director of the World Series Of Poker, which starts in 10 days;
- Mark Pender, author of "For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definite History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It;"
- Susan McGregor, professor at Columbia School of Journalism, on Justice vs. AP;
- Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics on why the IRS gives a tax break to any political groups.
posted at 12:02 AM
Saturday, May 18, 2013
When MTV launched more than 3 decades ago, it not only introduced America to a channel showing music videos all day and night, but to the first five VJs -- Nina Blackwood, JJ Jackson, Mark Goodman, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter. JJ died a few years ago, but the surviving four have collaborated on a book called "VJ: The Unplugged Adventures Of MTV's First Wave," and Nina joined me today on America Weekend to talk about it.
We discussed when she knew the channel was a hit (since they couldn't watch in New York, where they taped their segments), why there were so many British bands on the air at first, and whether any of her colleagues' stories in the book surprised her. She also revealed the real reason MTV didn't play Michael Jackson's videos in the early years -- it wasn't racism.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
After Angelina Jolie published an op-ed in the NY Times revealing that she had a double mastectomy earlier this year for preventative reasons, there were all kinds of reactions, including lots of women vowing to talk to their doctors about breast cancer warning signs. That's a good thing, but it turns out there's a lot more to the story, so today on my America Weekend show, I turned to Florence Williams (author of "Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History"), who explained why she's not following in Jolie's footsteps.
You may be stunned, as I was, to hear that Florence's decision has nothing to do with Angelina, and everything to do with patents on your genes and insurance company policies. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week, the TV networks held their "upfronts," the dog-and-pony shows they put on in New York for advertisers as a way to introduce them to the series that will air this fall -- in the hopes of getting the agencies to buy commercial time to support them. This is the first chance TV critics have to see them, too, so I invited Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times to join me on America Weekend to find out what he thinks of what the networks will try to get onto our screens later this year. We discussed:
- whether any show made him say, "I gotta watch that!";
- the return-to-TV of Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Michael J. Fox;
- how competition has increased with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all creating content; and
- which network is most desperate and thus the most new series.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Deggans is the author of "Race Baiter: How The Media Wields Dangerous Words To Divide A Nation."
Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids wants you to take your kids to the park today -- and leave them there. Not forever, of course. Just long enough for them to play without your supervision.
And by "play" I mean: Stand around, get bored, wonder what to do, wish there was an Xbox around, feel hungry, feel a little too hot or cold, feel mad at mom for not organizing something "really" fun, like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese, feel bad all around, realize the other kids are feeling bad too, and then—in desperation—do something.Lenore's full piece is here.
Start a game of tag. Or basketball. Or fairies versus witches. And suddenly, those bored kids who were desperate to go home don't want to go home at all. They want to KEEP playing— with any luck, for the rest of their childhoods.
Playing is that powerful. It's addictive. It's what children have done since the beginning of time...till about a generation ago, when we decided, as a country, that letting kids go outside on their own is just "too dangerous."
Do you know how many kids play outside on their own these days? One study I read said that in a typical week, the number is down to six percent. That's kids ages nine to 13—the sweet spot for goofing around and, incidentally, becoming independent. But instead of exercising their bodies and minds and ability to organize ANYTHING on their own, including a couple hours of free time, most kids are either supervised in leagues or stuck inside, usually with a screen.
posted at 8:33 AM
- Nina Blackwood, one of the original VJ's, on the earliest days of MTV;
- Jan Withers, national president of MADD, on dropping the BAC limit for driving to .05%;
- Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Times TV critic, on what the networks have planned for fall;
- Florence Williams, author of "Breasts," on why she's not following Angelina Jolie's lead;
- Beth Akers of the Brookings Institution on student loan rates and the economics of college;
- Judy Gearhart of the Int'l Labor Rights Forum on clothing manufacturers and Bangladesh;
posted at 12:02 AM
Friday, May 17, 2013
I'll be back on the 3-6pm CT show today at The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis with a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, your chance to play along with my Harris Challenge, and Joe Hipperson's review of "Star Trek Into Darkness." Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.
posted at 2:08 AM
This is part 3 of the story of my first trip to Las Vegas during Christmas week, 1988. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
I expected to be impressed by the poker room at Binion's Horseshoe, but was disappointed as soon as I walked in. The place was dirty, the low ceilings kept the smoke hovering over everything, and the chips were filthy. Still, this was considered the place to play, and I'd never considered poker a game of hygiene, so I approached a floor man, who put me on the list for a couple of games, then pointed me towards the poker buffet. In those years, the Horseshoe put out a lunch and dinner buffet for its poker players. Nothing extravagant (that day the entree was corned beef and cabbage), but the food was good -- and free. Along with all the action on lots of tables, I was beginning to understand why the room was packed.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in a stud game where it was clear who the good players were and who the tourists were. Not wanting to seem like one of the latter -- the fish the local sharks feasted on every day -- I played tight but paid close attention. After an hour or so, I could tell who the grinders were, the players who were there every day, making enough to pay the mortgage and car loan and other expenses. It was clear they were better than the players I'd sat with in Atlantic City, most of whom were weekend warriors playing the same way they did in their home games and leaving without most of their money.
This was long before the internet and TV had made the best poker players celebrities. I'd read Al Alvarez's classic "The Biggest Game In Town," so I knew the names Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, and Nick The Greek, but I didn't know what any of them looked like, and I was too involved in my own game to see if there was any true high-stakes action going on. Besides, I've never been a star-chaser.
I played into the evening, then left to see what the other downtown casinos looked like. If I thought those strip hotels were old-school, they were modern compared to the dinosaurs in this area -- the Golden Nugget, the Four Queens, Lady Luck. The players in these places seemed more desperate, the waitresses older, the restaurants uninviting, the staff bored. Frankly, I'm amazed they're still around in the 21st century.
The rest of my weekend was filled with more walking, more poker, too much craps, and my first Vegas show -- Crazy Girls, the revue at the Riviera with elements of burlesque, including a comedian, dancers, topless showgirls, and a water act with female swimmers doing moves in a giant clear tank years before Cirque Du Soleil's "O." That was also the first time I saw someone slip some money to a maitre d' to get a better seat ("Yes, sir, right this way" to a table near the front). I sat in the back and just took it all in.
As I boarded my flight home, I knew I'd go back to Vegas, and have been there many many times since. I've watched the strip explode with theme resorts featuring volcanoes, dancing fountains, the New York skyline, the Eiffel Tower, singing gondoliers, and massive amounts of traffic. I've stayed on the strip, off the strip, in big hotels and little efficiency apartments -- more than a dozen places in total. But on occasion, my thoughts turn to that first trip to Sin City, when I learned that very valuable lesson.
Stay away from the 99¢ buffets.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
This is part 2 of the story of my first trip to Las Vegas during Christmas week, 1988. Read part 1 here.
The Riviera casino was just like the places I'd played in Atlantic City, so I didn't waste my time there. My plan was to walk down the strip and walk through as many other casinos as possible, starting with Circus Circus, which was across the street. This may have been one of the first Vegas destinations to target families. True to its name, it had performers working the trapeze or high-wire or juggling or tumbling way above the casino floor. An act would come out, do their stuff for ten minutes, get some applause from a small crowd watching from the ramps leading upstairs, and then things would quiet down until the next act appeared 20 minutes later. It was clear the circus aspect was just a gimmick to get you in the door, and when the performers weren't doing their thing, the casino wanted your attention -- and money.
After the first act, I wandered through a large arcade nearby, a place for families with young kids to spend their money on pinball and video games before they were old enough for the adult games downstairs. It had the same cheesiness as a traveling carnival, without the tattooed Tilt-A-Whirl operators.
As I made my way back downstairs, I walked over to the poker area, where there were a few low-limit stud games. The floor man told me he had an open seat in a $1-2 game, so I sat down to see what Vegas poker was like. As with most daytime games in Atlantic City, the average age of the players was 60 or so. I was half that age so, of course, the dealer welcomed me with, "How much do you want, kid?" I gave him five $20 bills. He gave me eighteen red $5 chips, five white $1 chips, and a roll of dimes.
A roll of dimes? The only time I'd seen actual coins in play at a poker table was at a home game, when the stakes were literally nickels and dimes. I looked around the table and realized everyone had dimes in front of them. "That's for your ante, kid. Put a dime out there," the dealer explained. Half of the players shook their heads, while the other half took a drag on their cigarettes.
That was one of the bad things about playing poker in those days -- the smoke. If your seat happened to be between two smokers, you were doomed to suck secondhand smoke for as long as you sat there. There were ashtrays on the table and, quite often, a player would have one cigarette dangling from his lips while another one was burning in the ashtray. Years later, when I'd moved to St. Louis, I discovered a little $5 plastic fan I could bring with me and place on the table to keep the smoke away while playing. Sometimes, I'd point it right at another player's cigarette in the ashtray to make it burn faster. One of the many ways poker has improved in the last quarter-century has been forcing the smokers to leave the room to light up.
I only played that stud game at Circus Circus for about an hour -- I don't remember if I won or lost, but it wasn't much of a swing either way -- because I wanted to do more exploring. Since those two bites of runny eggs at the Riviera buffet hadn't satisfied me, my next stop was Slots Of Fun, right next to Circus Circus. I wasn't going to drop a single coin in a slot machine, but they had a sign offering a giant foot-long hot dog and a beer for $1.99. Sounded good to me -- the right price, and they tasted pretty good, too.
As I walked down the strip, I hit the classic venues with names I knew from afar -- the Desert Inn, the Stardust, Caesar's Palace, the Tropicana, and the Sands (where all of my comps and goodwill from Atlantic City meant nothing because they were run by two different companies). I noted the places I wanted to play later, but for now I was happy to be a tourist. After a couple of hours on my feet, I grabbed a cab to downtown Las Vegas, home of Binion's Horseshoe, the then-home of the World Series Of Poker, where legend said the best players gathered every day.
I'll tell you that part of the story tomorrow in part 3.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The first time I went to Las Vegas was Christmas, 1988.
We were living in DC at the time, and while I played poker in home games, the only place I could go to gamble legally was Atlantic City. I made the four-hour drive several times a year to spend a weekend walking the boardwalk and playing craps at The Sands (where they comped my room and dinner at an their excellent steakhouse) or poker at the Taj Mahal.
At the time, the Taj was the poker room on the east coast. A decade later, it would be featured in the movie "Rounders." This was long before the poker room and the explosion of no-limit hold'em, when stud was the game everyone played. To this day, I consider stud the toughest form of poker because, to be good at it, you have to pay attention to so much -- especially the cards that are folded by the other players. In hold'em, you have to read the players, but in stud, you have to read the players, the cards they're playing, and everything that's been thrown away, too.
I always took Christmas week off from my morning radio responsibilities, and this year I decided to see what Vegas was like. My wife had no interest in going, so I got on a non-stop America West flight from BWI to McCarran at around 9pm on Christmas Eve. I slept most of the way until I was awakened an hour outside of Vegas by the flight attendants singing Christmas carols over the PA as midnight approached.
That was the last indication I had that it was Christmas. As I walked off the plane, I noticed there were no holiday decorations among the rows of slot machines in the terminal. This was apparently a city where Christmas was just like every other day in a different world. Outside, I found one of the shuttle buses that go to the hotels on the strip and sat with my eyes wide open taking in the lights and sights.
Vegas had not yet grown into its mega-resort era -- the Mirage wouldn't open until a year later, and there were no Bellagio, Aria, Wynn, or Venetian. The shuttle dropped me off at The Riviera, an old-school casino on the strip's north end that came cheap with my airline package. If I wanted the schlocky Vegas experience, this was a good place to start. I wanted to go out and explore right away, but I was exhausted, so I took a few pictures of the neon lights of the strip through my hotel room window, then nodded off around 2am.
When I awoke, I made my way to the 99¢ breakfast buffet (I told you this was 25 years ago!) and made my first Vegas discovery -- you can't eat well for a buck. I took two bites and pushed the plate away. Ah, well, let's go see what this town is like.
I'll tell you more of the story tomorrow in Part 2.
This is the week the TV networks hold their "upfronts," presentations for the ad-buying community to let them see the new fall shows and try to get them to buy commercial time on them. For the last 11 years, the ABC upfront has included an appearance by Jimmy Kimmel, who does nothing but blast his network and the others, as if it's a roast -- and he's not only funny, he's right on the money. A sample:
Every year we tell you we have a dozen great new shows that people are going to love, and you give us millions of dollars and we put them on and most of them suck, but here’s what’s crazy: Next year you’ll come back and do it again. Every year I wonder, what is wrong with these people? Someone needs to talk to them about their spending! Then it occurred to me, maybe this is a good place for me to sell some of my shit. This is an HP printer, inkjet color copier – $20, no power cord. I’m also selling a Palm Trio cellphone, Verizon, $40. Works pretty good. I’ve got three parrot cages available – make me an offer. And finally, this Bud Light Golden Wheat neon sign – classes up any place, yours for only $175.Here's the full transcript.
But that’s not why we’re here. The reason we’re here is because you are about to invest billions of dollars in a network that rolled a 400-lb. comedian off a diving board last week.
This is an interesting time in television history. It’s a time of great change. We’re seeing more diversity than ever before. ABC has a big hit with the first show in almost 40 years on which the lead actor is an African-American woman, and at the same time more and more traditional white male characters are being portrayed as morally ambiguous, dangerous, and self-destructive villains – Walter White on "Breaking Bad," Don Draper on "Mad Men," Matt Lauer on "The Today Show." The list goes on.
And yes, it’s true, every year our audience does get smaller. To which I say every year Apple products get smaller and nobody has a problem with that. One of the shows previewed today was written by a 3rd grade class – your challenge tonight is to figure out which one it was.
posted at 10:31 AM