Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Friday, February 24, 2017

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on my 3-6pm CT show on KTRS today.

In the first hour, I'll talk to Tom Nichols about his book "The Death Of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge And Why It Matters." In the second hour, Max Foizey and I will review "Get Out," "Rock Dog," "A United Kingdom," and tell you who's going to win Oscars on Sunday night. In the third hour, you can test your trivia knowledge on my Harris Challenge and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Picture Of The Day

If you see just one movie this weekend, make it "Oscar Bait," starring Seth Meyers...

Could This Be A Hit Today?


The other day, I heard a song I hadn't heard in a very long time -- Sheena Easton's "Morning Train" -- and wondered could you have a hit today with lyrics like this?

My baby takes the morning train
He works from nine to five and then
He takes another home again
To find me waitin' for him

All day I think of him, dreamin' of him constantly
I'm crazy mad for him and he's crazy mad for me
When he steps off that train, amazingly full of fight
Work all day to earn his pay, so we can play all night

When it was released in 1981, Easton's song was already anachronistic, as there were already plenty of women in the workplace. Three-and-a-half decades later, there are a lot more of them, and the notion of a woman who just stays home all day waiting for her man to return from work doesn't sound quaint or romantic. It sounds positively sexist.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

State's Wrongs

In the same day, the Trump administration invoked "states rights" in rolling back protections Obama had set up at the federal level for transgender kids when it comes to which bathroom they may use -- and then Sean Spicer said the Justice Department was going to step up enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana, even in the states that have legalized it.

Apparently, "states' rights" only applies to laws the administration favors, and protecting vulnerable children who are already being singled out and harassed for their sexual identity is not one of those. If only these kids were asking for the right to carry a gun into their school bathrooms -- that's a permission slip the right-wing would sign en masse.

I wish our Twitter-loving president would read this thread from Rhea Butcher (who plays Adam Conover's sister on TruTV's "Adam Ruins Everything") to get a personal, and very human, perspective on the transgender bathroom issue.

My Poker Night In America


If you watch "Poker Night In America" on CBS Sports Network, you might have caught a glimpse of me on Monday night when they aired a show that was recorded during Thanksgiving weekend 2015 at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. My wife and I happened to be down there for the holiday, so when a friend who was one of the producers called, I put aside a day to go and play.

Unlike other poker TV that shows tournament action, PNIA is about cash games, where you can buy-in for any amount from $5,000 to $20,000 and rebuy anytime you like. The stakes are $25/50, so I bought in for 300 big blinds ($7,500). Of my six opponents, some started with more, some with less.

When I agreed to do the show, I assumed that the player lineup would include well-known pros who had appeared on other PNIA episodes, like Phil Hellmuth, Phil Laak, Tom Schneider, Shaun Deeb, and Gavin Smith. Unfortunately, none of them were there. Instead, I ended up with people I didn't know -- Jake Schindler, Michael Laake, Samantha Abernathy, Mike Dentale, Mike Sigel, and Joe DiPascale.

The former three were pretty quiet, but the latter three talked up a storm, particularly when they were in hands against each other -- which was quite often. Meanwhile, I was positively card dead, getting very few playable hands, which was a shame because there was a lot of loose, aggressive action. Stacks were pushed around, pots got huge, and I was just an observer. If you saw the show, all you saw me do was fold 95% of the time while watching the three guys at the other end of the table go crazy.

I hoped that would change later, but I never got the chance, because after four hours, we took a dinner break and Matt Glantz (a poker pro who recruits players for PNIA) came over to tell us that because we weren't getting involved enough, Laake, Schindler, and I were going to be replaced at the table. I started to protest, but then realized that, because they're making a TV show, Glantz and the other producers were only interested in a loud game with plenty of loose play -- the worse, the better. During that opening session, four of the players (Abernathy, Dentale, Sigel, and DiPascale) had lost all their chips at some point, but re-bought and just kept pushing.

Later, my friend who had invited me asked for a post-mortem. I told him I had no problem with the stakes, the stacks, or the lineup, but was very disappointed I didn't get to keep playing, especially when Jennifer Tilly joined the table after dinner. I also predicted that the production wouldn't use any of the few hands that I did play because they weren't exciting enough for TV.

Although I did end up winning a bit, my prediction came true. So, I chalk it up as an interesting experience and nothing more.

Vaccine Followup

Regarding my post yesterday about vaccinations, Jeff Fishback e-mails:

I agree with your premise, to vaccinate all who are possible.

Please look to the State of Mississippi for validation. Mississippi had the WORST test scores of school students, in the entire nation. Governor Haley Barbour, a staunch Republican, got bipartisan support to improve the test scores. It was discovered that many school days were missed due to student absence, often to chicken pox, flu, and other childhood diseases.

Mississippi enacted the most severe immunization law in the entire nation. A child could not attend any school without a complete health record. No exceptions for choice, religion, or family finances. The only way a child opted out of the program was for a physician deferral for health reasons.

School attendance went up, immediately. Test scores at every level went up, immediately.

Cost to the state of Mississippi was almost nothing.
Jeff is right. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that don't allow parents to claim exemptions for philosophical or religious reasons -- your kid must be vaccinated unless there's a medical reason not to. If only we could get the other 48 states to follow suit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Beth Kobliner, "Make Your Kid A Money Genius"


Here's my conversation with Beth Kobliner about her book, "Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You're Not)." We discussed how early you should start teaching your child about money, whether it's smart to tie their allowance to household chores, and why it's better to give them cash than a credit card. We also discussed why American kids get no financial education from their schools or their parents and why it's better to give college kids a lump sum at the start of a semester than a monthly amount.

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

Beth Kobliner will discuss her book at the St. Louis County Library on Monday, March 13th at 7pm.

Taking On Anti-Vaxxers (Again!)

Last week, I linked to a story about Robert DeNiro joining forces with noted anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. to offer $100,000 to anyone who could turn up a study showing that it is safe to administer vaccines to children. Of course, there have been dozens of such studies, but no one will be paid because the fine print on the offer makes it impossible. That's the point -- not to award the money, but to get free publicity for the anti-vaccine bullshit that's been around for almost two decades despite having no scientific evidence to back it up, yet continues to be a public health problem (as I've said many times on the air and on this site).

As pediatrician Dr. Daniel Summers wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, "The Evidence For Vaccine Safety Is Abundant. That Will Be $100,000, Please":

In the off chance that my word alone isn’t sufficient to collect the $100,000, I’m happy to proffer lots of studies that support the safety of vaccines. Studies never seem to settle the question for anti-vaccine activists, but they are the best evidence we could ever have, based on millions of people and using many different types of comparisons, that vaccination is safe for kids.

The explanation for the bogus vaccine-autism link is a constantly shifting target. As noted, both the MMR vaccine and thimerosal have been blamed, and the anti-vaccine movement happily gloms onto both explanations despite the fact that they are completely unrelated. That the various theories never really cohere doesn’t seem to give the movement pause. Blurring dark but vague threats, anti-vaccine activists blend them into a miasma through which no given study can hope to penetrate. Uncertainty is good for stoking fear.

When studies show that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism, and when the original study suggesting a link is exposed as a fraud? It must be thimerosal! Other studies show no association between thimerosal and autism, and thimerosal isn’t even used anymore? The combination of all the vaccines at once is the problem! Produce evidence to support the safety of the current vaccination schedule, and the boogeyman simply adopts another form.
I'm particularly concerned because Kennedy seems to have the ear of Donald Trump, who has made statements supportive of vaccine denial. Worse, more and more state legislators believe the anti-vaxxer nonsense and could undo laws that force parents to get their kids vaccinated before they can set foot in school. One of the states most in danger is Texas, but some residents are fighting back, like Jinny Suh, who runs Immunize Texas, a grassroots community dedicated to promoting immunization and keeping Texas communities protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

I invited Jinny onto my radio show to discuss what pro-vaccine supporters must do to take on the anti-vaxxer movement publicly, how the battle is going in her state, and how badly herd immunity is being reduced in schools near her. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

A Fan Grows Up With Springsteen

During the song request portion of his concert in Brisbane, Australia, this weekend, Bruce Springsteen noticed a young guy named Nathan Testa with a sign asking if he could do "Growin' Up" with the band. Bruce asked if he knew how to play it all the way through and when Nathan said yes, the Boss invited him onstage for one of the greatest moments of his life...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Live On Tape

This evening, I watched Stephen Colbert for the first time in a long time and noticed something I hadn't heard before. At the top of the show, the announcer says Colbert is "live on tape."

Sorry, that's not possible. "Live" means "happening now," while "on tape" means "recorded earlier." They can't both be true, unless the show is hosted by Schrodinger's cat.

Moreover, I doubt very much that "The Late Show" is recorded on tape. It's almost certainly done digitally.

Bottom line: there's nothing about the statement that's true. Who's Colbert's announcer -- Sean Spicer?

KTRS Tuesday


I'm going to fill in on the 10am-Noon CT show on KTRS today. My guests will include Beth Kobliner, author of "Make Your Kid A Money Genius."

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Monday, February 20, 2017

When My Daughter Grows Up, Her Life Won't Include...

When my daughter was eleven, I started making a list of all the things from my own life that will never be part of hers. It was inspired by my brother telling me that he'd been in the car with my two nephews, and when they reached their destination, he told them to "crank the windows up." The two boys had never heard that expression, and my brother realized it's because they had never been in a car without electric windows. Sure, they exist, but not in the world of those kids, who were then under seven years old.

I published the original version of the list on the Op-Ed page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 9, 2005. Since then, others have chimed in with suggestions, I've thought of a few more, and the list has grown to include:

Double features. Drive-in theaters. Theater marquees proclaiming: "Held over for 30th week!" Signs under the marquee advertising "It's Air Conditioned Inside" in letters that look like dripping ice.

Movies on videotape. Remembering to "Be kind, rewind."

Rabbit ears on top of the TV. Using pliers to change the channel because the knob's broken. Getting up to change channels. Wired remote controls. Waiting for the TV to warm up. Having to watch a show when it airs or missing it forever.

Owning a tape recorder. Cassette, 8-track, and reel-to-reel tapes. A Walkman that plays cassettes. Cassingles. CD singles. DAT tapes. Mini-disks. Records and turntables. Adapters for 45s. "You sound like a broken record."

Cameras with thumbwheels to advance the film. Cameras with film. Waiting for film to be developed to see if the photos looked good. Flash bulbs, flash cubes, flip flash.

Ultra-bright home movie lights. Home movie screens. Home movie projectors. Slide projectors. Editing small reels of Super-8 film onto bigger reels.

Film strips at school with a next-frame beep that every kid could imitate and drive the a/v guy crazy.

Phones with dials. Phones with cords. Changing your phone number when you move. Pay phones. Dial tones. Busy signals. Really expensive long distance calls. Party lines.

Knowing the phone number to call for time and weather. Looking in a phone book for the number of a business. Playing songs on the buttons of a touchtone phone.

Seeing people wearing pagers on their belts. Answering machines that you check as soon as you get home.

Smoking on airplanes. Smoking in movie theaters. Smoking at work. Ash trays on restaurant tables.

Bank tellers. Writing checks. Buying tickets for games, concerts, and movies at the box office.

Going to the library to use an encyclopedia. Copying something out of the World Book for a school assignment. Microfilm. "The Reader's Guide to Periodicals."

Gas stations with the rubber hose that dings when you drive over it. Gas for under a buck a gallon. Free drinking glasses with a fill-up.

Rear car windows that open all the way. A foot switch to activate bright headlights. Cars with wing window vents in front. Cars with bench front seats. Watching a car's analog odometer roll up from a number ending in 999 to 000.

Scoring your own bowling game. Women wearing swim caps at the pool. Only boys playing sports at school. Lawn darts.

Soda in glass bottles. Soda made with cane sugar. Church keys for cans without pop tops. Cans without pop tops. Pop tops that come off when you pull them.

TV weather reports without Doppler radar. TV weather forecasters who use stick-on pictures of sun and clouds. TV news that's only on in the evening. TV stations that sign off in the middle of the night.

Floppy disks. Computers that fill a room. Dot matrix printers. Green-and-white computer paper with tractor feed perforations.

Typewriters. Carbon paper. Correctype. Wite-Out.

Fax machines. Thermal fax paper. Mimeograph machines. The smell of mimeograph ink.

Prices on food items at the supermarket. Jiffy Pop you shake on the stove. Coffee cans with keys. Coffee percolators on the stove.

Metal ice cube trays. Defrosting the freezer with a turkey baster and a yardstick. Yardsticks with furniture store names and logos. Yardsticks.

Susan B. Anthony dollars. Sacagawea dollars. $2 bills.

Writing letters. Postage stamps you lick. Envelopes you lick. S and H green stamps.

Cotton diapers. Rectal thermometers. Bar soap. Portable bubble hair dryers with the carrying strap. Wearing curlers to bed.

Metal keys for hotel rooms. Winding a wrist watch. Tonka trucks made of steel. Styrofoam boxes at McDonald's.

Rubbers -- the ones that go over your shoes.

K-Tel collections of "the original hits by the original artists!"

Listening to great Top 40 DJs being funny while talking up every song right to the vocal.

Car radios with an analog tuner dial. Tuning across the radio dial and hearing signals coming in and out.

Free-standing mailboxes in the neighborhood. A metal slide in the neighborhood playground.

Using a standalone calculator. Using a tube tester in a hardware store. The "thunk" of the Sears catalog being delivered to your door.

Pulling out a drawer to look through the card catalog at the library. Having to fold up a big paper map. Getting directions for a road trip from AAA on a Trip Tik.

Going to the airport gate to meet someone.  Going to the top of the World Trade Center.

Got something I should add to the list? Drop me a message via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter via the addresses on the upper right corner of this page. Now I wonder if the next generation will understand the previous sentence.

Updated 2/21/17 3:38pm...A few more from readers/listeners:

Using a key to open a car door or trunk. Holding down the rear license plate to fill the gas tank. A manual transmission with a shift knob on the steering column. Non-power steering.


Buying a standalone radio. A telephone booth with hinged doors. Fuses.

Those retail credit card machines that made the "clunk" noise as the clerk moved the car that transferred the number from your embossed card onto carbon-paper receipts.

Movie Review: Magicians, Life In The Impossible


A few years ago, I saw a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about magicians. I know a few people in that business and have always enjoyed the work of good illusionists and great sleight-of-hand artists, so I donated some money. The filmmakers, Marcie Hume and Christoph Baaden, spent the next few years following a quartet of magicians around with their cameras. The end result is "Magicians: Life In The Impossible," which I watched this weekend on Netflix.

As we see them performing at The Magic Castle and corporate gigs and in restaurants, it's clear the four magicians are very different performers, yet they have two things in common: they've spent thousands of hours working on their craft, but they're struggling to patch together their careers and maintain relationships.

The magicians are:
  • Jon Armstrong, who does close-up card magic, writes books, lectures, and tours. He's a very talented but vulnerable guy who relates to audiences and workshop attendees well, yet his personal life is a roller coaster -- we see him get married but then divorced in a very short timespan.
  • Brian Gillis, who made multiple appearances on Johnny Carson's show in the 1980s, but can't get back to that peak, and can't afford the upkeep on the big house he's built and kept full of magic memorabilia.
  • David Minkin, who just wanted to do magic on TV. He got his chance in 2013 on a series called "Magic Outlaws," in which he and fellow magicians Chris Korn and Ben Seidman went town to town doing street magic, but the show only lasted a couple of episodes on Travel Channel.
  • Jan Rouven, an illusionist who, with manager/partner Frank Alfter, had his own stage show in Las Vegas complete with female assistants and lots of moving parts. The movie shows their success and their frustrations, particularly when they discover that Criss Angel has stolen one of Jan's big illusions. There's a sense of great drama in that moment, but it dissipates quickly when Rouven and Alfter decide not to sue Angel for taking their idea.
Unfortunately, "Magicians: Life In The Impossible" finished filming before one of its performer's careers came crashing down. Rouven lost his show at the Tropicana last March after he was arrested for owning and distributing thousands of child pornography images. He pleaded guilty to those charges in November, but the filmmakers haven't added any mention of those crimes to the end of the documentary.

Even without that, the movie has other problems. In concentrating on the mundane personal lives of its subjects, the filmmakers don't show enough magic being performed, nor do we see how they develop their tricks. In the end, they come off like other semi-successful performers in other fields whose talent isn't always enough to pay the rent. Maybe that the "impossible" in the movie's title.

I give "Magicians: Life In The Impossible" a 4 out of 10. Despite my very small financial contribution, it's a disappointment.

If you want to see a great movie biography of a magician, I strongly recommend "An Honest Liar," a documentary about the life of James "The Amazing" Randi, whose work I've written about often. It includes his earliest days as a magician, his years as a Houdini-like escape artist, and many of his TV appearances, including his legendary debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." It also examines his decades running the James Randi Educational Foundation. Its final portion delves into a personal matter that Randi wasn't particularly happy about having included in the movie -- but acquiesced because of the way directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein handled it. 

You can listen to my conversation with Randi about "An Honest Liar" (as well as many other times he's appeared on my radio show) here.