Wednesday, April 01, 2015

KTRS Wednesday

When I fill in for John Carney on his 1-3pm CT show today, my guests will include comedian Maz Jobrani, author of "I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One On TV." You can listen over the air, via the station's free smartphone app, or at

Unemployed And Suicidal

In a press conference today, Jefferson City police revealed the contents of Spence Jackson's suicide note. His mother had asked them to release it because there so many unfounded rumors going around regarding his death five weeks after his boss, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, put a gun to his own head and killed himself.

Jackson's suicide note was short and to the point: "I'm so sorry. I just can't take being unemployed again." Which he would be, since it's unlikely the new state auditor would hire him. In the political world, once your boss is no longer in office, you're usually no longer in office. I'm sure Jackson, as Schweich's media director, was looking forward to the upcoming primaries and gubernatorial campaign, but now, that's not going to happen.

At 44 years old, that's a horrible conclusion to come to about your life, particularly in a field where you're going to run into unemployment a lot. You're not always going to be working for a winner. In politics, some of the candidates have to lose, and the staff who worked for the losers then must pick themselves up and find someone else to go work for.

There's a parallel in the radio business. I say this as a person who has been unemployed a time or two.

There was a point in my life, thirty years ago, when I took a job in a big city and it became evident to me after the first month that the job was not working out. I had a contract for a couple of years and I was absolutely miserable. I started having thoughts like, "I don't know if I can do this." They never veered into suicidal thoughts, but I was damned depressed. I don't mean medically or clinically, but professionally depressed. But at the time I had my beautiful wife, and we had just started our life together a couple of years earlier, and I was relatively young. So I thought well, just work your way through this hell, get through this tunnel, dig yourself out the other side, and you'll find something better. A few months later, I did exactly that and had one of the best experiences of my career.

That's more easily done at 28 (my age at the time) than at 44. During the recession, lots of people, particularly between the ages of forty and sixty-five, found themselves pushed out of a job that they loved. Maybe they'd been doing that job for ten or fifteen years when, for economic reasons, the company they were working for had to cut back. They suddenly found themselves forced to find a new job during a very tough time. A lot of people who fit that demographic are, to this day, still trying to get their lives back on track.

In many cases, they are part of what we now call The Underemployed. These are people who used to have a pretty good job with a pretty good salary, who have spent the last several years making a lot less -- if they were able to find any work at all. Because when those companies did rebound, when it came time for them to expand after the contraction of the recession, did they look to rehire the highly-paid middle-aged people they had let go? Perhaps. But more likely, they took people who were closer to the beginning of their careers, whose salaries were much lower, who hadn't been promoted up the scale to make more money and earn more benefits.

"I'm so sorry, I just couldn't face being unemployed again."

I guarantee you, that exact sentence has been said at the dinner tables of tens of thousands of Americans in the last seven or eight years. They did not all kill themselves, obviously, but I bet that many of them found themselves with the same depressive thoughts I did in 1986: "What am I going to do now? How am I going to get out of this hole? How am I going to provide for my family? How am I ever going to get another job commensurate with my skill again?"

When the economic recovery is discussed, some people look at the stock market as proof that America's doing much better -- but there are still a lot of people who have been left behind. Many people who are on the job have found their wages stagnant, even as companies have expanded and their earnings grown. Some of the reason those profits are so good is because they propped up the bottom line by cutting out of the equation a lot of those humans who cost so much.

So what are those humans to do? Hopefully, they don't come to the same conclusion that Spence Jackson did. I didn't know the man, and I'm sure he and I were not politically aligned on most issues. But I do know that feeling of having poured your whole life into what you do for a living, and it defines who you are, and when it's so connected to the person you work for, and that person has killed himself.

The Tom Schweich story was sad enough. The Spence Jackson story is just as sad, or maybe sadder.

There will still be people who believe there's more to the story, who speculate on his personal motives. I harbored many of those doubts myself, but after some reflection, I'm not so sure there is an untold story. Spence Jackson may have been killed by the bullet that he put in his own head because he couldn't face trying yet again to talk somebody else into hiring him to do the job that he probably loved very, very much.

Worth A Link

  • Something special for today: type into your browser, then look in the mirror.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson on Scientology, Dubya's science record, "Whiplash," "The Walking Dead," and Indiana’s religious freedom law.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lynsey Addario, War Photographer

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

Barbie Is Listening

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

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

KTRS Tuesday

I'm filling in for John Carney on his 1-3pm CT show on KTRS this week. My guests today will include:
  • Lynsey Addario, war photographer who has captured images in hotspots like Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, and Libya, and writes about them in "It's What I Do."
  • Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
You can listen over the air, via the station's free smartphone app, or at

Sexually Speaking With Dr. Ruth

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

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

William Daniels on "1776"

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Roger McGuinn Returns

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Meerkat and Periscope

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

Hiding Bigotry Behind Religion

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

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

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

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

KTRS Monday

I'm going to fill in for John Carney on his 1-3pm CT show on KTRS this week. My guest today will be Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Roger McGuinn. You can listen over the air, via the station's free smartphone app, or at

The New Daily Show Host

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skill vs. Luck in Poker

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

Now there's more research to prove it:

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

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

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

Barbie Is Not Siri

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

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

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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hotel Insider Secrets

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

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

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

Worth A Link

  • In South Korea, thousands of people spend their evenings watching binge-eaters online.
  • Missouri legislators want high-schoolers to pass the civics test immigrants take to become naturalized citizens. Could you?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Symphony Movie Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris Challenge 3/27/15

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

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 3/27/15

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

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.