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Thursday, July 27, 2017

This Is Not Fake News (audio)

The St. Louis Ethical Society has released the audio of the Fake News speech I gave on July 16th, and has given me permission to post it on this site and as a podcast. Listen, then click here to subscribe to my podcasts via iTunes!

If you prefer to read the speech, there's a written transcript here.

Fired For Being Accused

This report from NFL.com a couple of days ago caught my eye. It's about a man who was fired from his job for being accused of a crime he didn't commit...

Lucky Whitehead didn't do it. One day after the wide receiver was informed he had been cut by the Cowboys for facing misdemeanor petty larceny charges in Virginia, Whitehead's agent, Dave Rich, announced that police had the wrong guy all along. Rich told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that all charges against Whitehead have been dropped and his arrest warrant rescinded.
The story reminded me of many years ago when I was negotiating a deal with a radio station that wanted to hire me. They sent me the basic boilerplate contract, which included a clause giving them the right to terminate the contract if I was ever charged with a crime.

I told them I wouldn't sign it unless that clause was changed. They asked why, and I explained that anyone can accuse someone of a crime at any time, but that shouldn't be a valid reason for the accused to lose their job. I demanded that, if this was going to be part of the contract at all, it would have to say "convicted" instead of "charged." Furthermore, I said, "criminal offense" would have to be replaced by "felony offense." I wasn't going to have my livelihood yanked out from under me for some petty misdemeanor.

The radio station's lawyers acquiesced to my demands, and we had a multi-year run with great success for all concerned before we parted ways when I left for another opportunity.

I'm surprised the NFL Players Association doesn't make team owners change their boilerplate contract in the same way.

Of course, this is the same league that lied to its players for decades about the effects of concussions and the rest of the head-banging that is endemic to the game of football. So the NFL can't be happy with the results of a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing even more connections between the violent hits endured by players and the onset of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The researchers checked the brains of 111 deceased NFL players, and found that 110 of them had the degenerative brain disorder. And it's not just the pros who suffer -- 87% of all football players at the high school, college, and pro level ended up with some form of CTE.

From Time magazine:
Among players with severe CTE, 85% had signs of dementia, and 89% had behavioral or mood symptoms, or both. They were also likely to have issues in brain regions associated with depressive symptoms, impulsivity and anxiety. 95% had cognitive symptoms, like issues with memory, executive function and attention.
As more research shows these dangers of playing football, don't be surprised to see the numbers of parents who allow their kids to strap on a helmet and smash their heads together over the line of scrimmage continue to decrease over the coming decades.

Maybe being fired by the Cowboys for being charged with a crime he didn't commit will turn out to be a good thing for Lucky Whitehead. Or at least for his brain matter.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adam Ruins Hospitals

Perhaps the pinheads on Capitol Hill (and at the White House) who think they have a better plan for American health care (and health insurance) should watch the latest episode of "Adam Ruins Everything" to learn about the biggest problems we face -- being over-charged, over-tested, and over-diagnosed (not to mention dispensed too many antibiotics). Here's an excerpt...


Of course, entering facts into this discussion is useless compared to the huge amount of money funneled into politicians' pockets by lobbyists for the health care/insurance industry, but at least this will help you be a little better informed. You can watch the entire episode here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

As I Tweeted

  • As of today, the new definition of "maverick" is "goes along with the rest of the crowd."

Magic Men

Lance Burton and Mac King are two of the best magicians I've ever seen.

I was first introduced to Lance's work by Penn Jillette, who told me that Lance did the finest close-up routine (Max Maven tells me the preferred term is "stage manipulation") in the world -- high praise from the man who works with Teller. On his advice, I went to see Lance's Las Vegas show, which by then had moved from the Hacienda to the Monte Carlo. Penn was right. Lance's opening routine, which he'd been doing since he was a teen, was remarkable. The illusions that followed, both big and small, were also very clever and perfectly executed. I enjoyed it so much that I went back several times over the next few years to share the experience with friends and family. Lance retired in 2010, and hasn't done a new show or TV special since.

I met Mac King when he was working the comedy circuit tour and came through St. Louis to play The Funny Bone. The club was (and still is) in the same building as KTRS, and I used to have its headliners drop by my midday show to talk and promote their gigs. When Mac came in, he was really funny and quick, and when I went to see his show that night, I was equally impressed with his sleight-of-hand. A couple of years later, Mac signed a contract to do his comedy/magic show at Harrah's (on the strip), and he's still there, ten times a week! When I did my show on remote from The Orleans in Vegas, Mac came over to talk some more and impress the small audience that had gathered around my table with a few tricks. I've taken and sent lots of people to see Mac, and they have all reported back that they had a great time.

Lance and Mac have known each other since they started out in Kentucky more than four decades ago. At one point, they worked together and helped each other develop their acts and fine-tune their tricks. They have the easy camaraderie of longtime friends, and it's evident in this video from a couple of weeks ago. The event was the annual gathering of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Louisville, where Lance took the stage ostensibly to interview Mac, but quickly decided to let the audience ask questions, which led to some wonderful stories -- and a famous rope trick -- from Mac.

Make sure you watch through to the final story, about the time a woman from the audience joined Mac onstage for a trick and it didn't go as he planned. Note: while Mac is wearing a microphone, it appears that Lance isn't, so it's a little difficult to hear him at times, but you'll still know what's going on...

Previously on Harris Online...

Movie Review: "The Journey"


"The Journey" is yet another movie based on a real event that most Americans know nothing about, including me. It takes place in 2006, when the conflict in Northern Ireland had been going on for decades between Catholics and Protestants. That year, top representatives of both sides sat down to try to negotiate the peace, led by two men who couldn't have been more different.

Ian Paisley was the ultra-religious and conservative leader of the British side. The other was Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader who wanted the two Irelands to reunify. During the negotiations in neutral Scotland, much progress was made, but they still hadn't gotten to the finish line. Then Paisley announced that he had to leave the gathering to go home and celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife. McGuinness agreed, under one condition -- he had to travel with Paisley, because neither side could be seen to have given in to any accommodation that wasn't available to the other side. Begrudgingly, Paisley agreed, and the two of them sat in the back of a car, at first simply glaring at each other but, along the way, out of the sight of their colleagues and the world, they started talking.

Paisley and McGuinness are played by Timothy Spall ("Denial," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and Colm Meaney ("The Van," "Under Seige," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), respectively. They're both perfect for their roles, but unfortunately the filmmakers weren't content to just put them in a moving vehicle and let them talk things out.

Instead, writer Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm use the cinematic device of over-explanation via John Hurt's character, Harry Patterson. He's the one who has outfitted the vehicle with audio and video that is fed back to a room at the negotiation site where he and others can watch and hear what's going on. He also can talk to the guy behind the wheel, who is not only charged with driving the two important men, but also trying to stimulate conversation between them. Hurt's character repeatedly provides unnecessary exposition in his instructions to the driver, and all the scenes of Patterson, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and others are a distraction from what's going on with the two main characters of "The Journey."

That's a shame because Spall and Meaney are eminently watchable and compelling. This could have been the dramatic equivalent of the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon "The Trip" series (btw, the third of those movies, in which they travel through Spain, comes out next month), albeit without Michael Caine impressions. Instead, it's a ride with too many detours.

I give "The Journey" a 5 out of 10.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Movie Review: "Dunkirk"


"Dunkirk" is the new movie from writer/director Christopher Nolan, who doesn't always tell his stories in a linear fashion. In "Memento," a story about a guy who can't remember anything that happened before today, he told it backwards. In "Inception," he monkeyed with both time and space in a story that literally overlapped itself. In "Dunkirk," he's done it again, but more about that in a moment. First, you need the setup, which tells a story most Americans don't know, but is baked into the very being of the English because it is as important part of their history as Pearl Harbor is of ours.

In the spring of 1940, before the US got into World War II, Hitler's forces had surrounded more than 400,000 English, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops in the port city of Dunkirk, France. The soldiers were trapped on the beach. They could see Britain a couple of dozen miles across the English Channel, but the Royal Navy couldn't get its big ships close enough to pick them up. So, Winston Churchill, then the British Prime Minister for only a couple of weeks, called up the private owners of smaller boats to try to cross the channel and help with the rescue. Meanwhile, German planes were dropping bombs and strafing the soldiers with machine gun fire from the sky.

Nolan includes some of that basic information at the beginning, but not much, and as the story goes along, he doesn't bother with more exposition via the typical voiceover narration. He simply tells the story and expects you to keep up.

But there's one more thing you need to know before seeing "Dunkirk," and it goes back to Nolan's non-linear storytelling style. The movie is told from three points of view: 1) the trapped men on the beach waiting to be rescued, which takes place over a week; 2) the small boat owners going to Dunkirk, which takes place over a day; 3) a British spitfire pilot trying to shoot down the German dive bombers, which takes place over an hour. The three stories and timelines overlap.

The story is very compelling. The cinematography puts you in the middle of the action, which never stops, and includes the third-most intense war scenes I’ve seen on screen (after "Saving Private Ryan" and "Hacksaw Ridge"). Watching it, I thought of the men of my father's generation who served in World War II but never shared stories about it because the memories were too agonizing. Hans Zimmer's score keeps the mood tense throughout, and at an hour and forty-five minutes, it's just the right length.

The best-known cast members include Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance (who might win another Oscar for his role as a small boat owner), Tom Hardy, and former One Direction member Harry Styles. Although he's fine in his role, I wonder about the casting of Styles. Did Nolan and his team think it would bring teen girls into the theater? I don't think the girls are telling each other about this movie on Snapchat Stories.

If "Dunkirk" has any weak spots, it's that some of the actors playing the soldiers are hard to tell apart. Perhaps that's simply indicative of how the military works -- you're never an individual, always part of a larger group that lives and works in unison (thus the term "uniform"). It's also a little difficult to understand some of the British accents, but there's so little dialogue in "Dunkirk" that you shouldn't let that bother you.

Nolan shot "Dunkirk" in 70mm, a format that makes the picture beautiful on a big screen. I saw it in Imax, a format that allows the viewer to become enveloped in the dread those men must have felt on the beach, on the water, and in the air. This is a movie best seen in a big theater, not streaming a year from now on your phone.

Three months ago, an indie movie called “Their Finest” (which I gave a 7.5) had the Dunkirk rescue as one of its subplots. That was the first time I'd heard the story, and I'm glad Nolan has gone on to enlarge it so well, in every way.

I give "Dunkirk" an 8.5 out of 10.

Poker Problems

The World Series Of Poker Main Event awarded $8.15 million to 2017 champion Scott Blumstein early yesterday morning. While it had its third-largest field ever, fewer than 3% of Main Event players were women. Worse, according to Norman Chad, there was only one woman under the age of 26, and she wasn't from the USA. Sad to see that no effort is being made to attract more female players. By the way, in the 40+ year history of the Main Event, only one woman has ever made the final table -- Barbara Enright, in 1995.

It's bad for the future of poker if the current generation of silent, hoodie-wearing, twenty-something men make up nearly its entire player demographic. The only person to inject any personality into this year's final table was John Hesp, a 64-year-old Englishman who finished fourth, exuding fun along the way and encouraging the other players to talk to each other and enjoy themselves. That spirit is missing from too much of poker. When the game loses its social element, when the players won't exhibit even basic cordiality to each other, joke around, and express their happiness at being part of the experience, you have a recipe for boredom.

Speaking of poker, the folks at ESPN have put together a very good podcast about Phil Ivey's edge-sorting case, including first-person audio from Kelly Sun, the woman who engineered the entire baccarat advantage scheme to get back at the casinos she felt had done her wrong. It's called "A Queen Of Sorts."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Concert Review: Gregg Rolie Band


I had a case of deja vu seeing Gregg Rolie and his band last night at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, IL.

What made it weird was that, 50 years ago, Rolie was co-founder, lead singer, and keyboard player for Santana -- who I had seen at the Fox Theater in St. Louis ten days earlier. At his show, Rolie performed many of the hits he'd originally done with Santana, starting with "Evil Ways," and then rolling through "Tingo," "Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman," and others. Rolie was also part of the original lineup of Journey (making him a two-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), but he only dug two of their songs out of the past, neither of which was among the band's big hits.

Throughout the evening, Rolie's voice sounded as good as ever, pretty remarkable considering he sang some of these songs all the way back at Woodstock in 1969. He's no slouch playing my favorite instrument in the rock canon, the Hammond B3 organ, either. His band was pretty tight, even though it contained three percussionists (on a drum kit, congas, and timbales), which inevitably meant having to sit through solos by each of them -- the bane of my rock concert existence.

When it was over, I was surprised 100 minutes had passed, because I thought it had only been about 70. That says something about the quality of the music Rolie and his group gave us.

Speaking of quality, there was a serious lack of it at the place we went to dinner before the show. A few years ago, when my friend Bob and I went to the Wildey to see Roger McGuinn, we stopped in for a quick meal at Laurie's Place, on Main Street in Edwardsville. That night, the service was terrible. No waitress took our order for almost 15 minutes after we sat down, and then it took well over a half-hour for our food to arrive. We chalked it up to "well, any place can have an off night." So we went back this evening and discovered it wasn't an anomaly, as we had the exact same experience.

When the food hadn't come after 30 minutes, Bob asked the waitress when we'd get to eat, and she replied, "I'm sorry, we're really slammed tonight and things are backed up in the kitchen." Um, no, that's not a valid excuse, especially on a Saturday night when you knew you'd be busy because there's a concert crowd in town and your restaurant is only about 25 yards away from the venue. While the place was packed, it shouldn't take that long to make easy bar food unless you only have one person in the kitchen, making one meal at a time. When our food finally did come, Bob's order was wrong, but he didn't send it back because we were starving by that point. As for mine, I'll just say that my hunger pangs were not sated as I suffered through the worst chicken sandwich I've ever had. Needless to say, we'll never go back to Laurie's Place again.

As for The Wildey, I'll be happy to return. Al Canal, the manager, runs a beautiful venue very well. It's a converted movie theater that only holds about 400 people, which means there's no such thing as a bad seat for concerts there -- and I say that having sat in the last row of the balcony tonight in row EE. Fortunately, the first row of the balcony is AA, so at the back, we were still in only the fifth row. With a great view and a really good sound system, we could thoroughly enjoy the proceedings, and next time Al books a band I want to see, I'll be back.

But I'll choose my a different place for the pre-show dinner.

Random Thoughts

When I lived in DC in the 1980s and 1990s, the most popular news broadcast on local television belonged to NBC's WRC-TV-4, with its anchor team of Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler, sportscaster George Michael, meteorologist Bob Ryan, and entertainment reporter Arch Campbell. Their 11pm newscast often out-rated the primetime shows it had just followed, and dwarfed the numbers of all the cable news outlets combined. Jim Vance, who sat in the anchor chair for a remarkable 45 years, died this weekend at 75. To understand his legacy, read this column by Paul Farhi of the Washington Post and watch this video retrospective from his longtime colleague Gentzler.

Now that Trump has named Scaramucci as communications director, how long before some reporter asks him if he'll do the fandango?

When the actual outdoor temperature in St. Louis is over 100 day in and day out, do we need to know what the heat index is? We already know it's ridiculous to go outside for any reason.

One last thought: in less than ten weeks, OJ will finally be able to resume his search for the real killers.