Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Vince Van Patten, World Poker Tour

The co-host of the World Poker Tour talks with Paul about how the popularity of the Travel Channel broadcasts has changed the players and the way the game is played, not to mention the celebrities who play, including the ones in his weekly home game.

Listen to the conversation here.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Cokie Roberts

Here's my conversation with Cokie Roberts about her book, "Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation." We also talked about the problems with Bernard Kerik, who was briefly President's Bush's nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Jeff Jarvis on the FCC & Indecency

Jeff Jarvis, the BuzzMachine blogger, who created Entertainment Weekly and was TV critic for TV Guide and People magazine, appeared on my show today to talk about the FCC's crackdown on indecency.

The discussion included: his investigation into the shockingly small number of Americans who complained to the FCC about Fox's "Married By America" (which earned the network a $1.2 million fine, the largest in history); whether indecency is, in fact, out of control on TV and radio; and how Americans should handle their complaints and let the marketplace rule the airwaves, not the government.

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Billy West

Here's my conversation with Billy West, one of the most gifted voice men in show business explained how he does the voice of Popeye, why he dislikes some celebrities doing animated voices, and how he feels about people who complain about his work.

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

Monday, November 08, 2004

What Now For Democrats?

In the aftermath of the president's re-election, there's a lot of teeth-gnashing among Democrats about "what does our party do now?" Here's the answer: Stop choosing lousy candidates.

You'd think they would have learned this lesson in the 1980s, after the debacles of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. Even most Democrats didn't believe John Kerry was the best option for America's future. The problem was that none of the other candidates in the primaries was any better.

America wasn't going to elect Howard Dean, Wesley Clark or the field entry of Al Sharpton/Carol Moseley Braun/Dennis Kucinich. The Democrats didn't have a Bright Shining Star, they had The Best We Can Do, which is not how you win the White House. The election didn't come down to Bush vs. Kerry; it came down to Bush vs. Not Bush.

For 2008, the Democrats have to find someone who can pull off the Regular Guy act. Americans aren't attracted to the aloof brilliant thinker. Those are guys they called nerd and dweeb in high school, who never had dates and got picked last for the game. They probably went on to become vascular surgeons and run hugely successful multinational corporations, but those people aren't who get elected president of the United States.

Americans want someone with charisma who looks and acts like he's in control and can get others to do his bidding for whatever principles he stands for. This is the 21st century; Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson wouldn't stand a chance.

President George W. Bush pulls off the Regular Guy act brilliantly. Sure, he went to Andover and Yale and lived a life of incredible luxury, but people still see him as the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with. He may have been only a "C" student in college, but he was a "C" student at Yale, not St. Louis Community College at Meramec. People who write him off as stupid don't get it.

Ronald Reagan had the same magnetism -- more, actually -- the leader of a cause who acted like a cowboy with an aw-shucks demeanor and played the role of underdog against those tough bad guys of The (eastern, establishment, elite, ultra-liberal) Media.

Bill Clinton had It, too. He was a Rhodes scholar and total policy wonk who could stay up all night long debating legislative ideas and opportunities. Yet even his enemies said he could charm the pants off of you (or himself, unfortunately).

Dubya's dad, Bush 41, didn't have It. He rode into the White House on Reagan's coattails, but then couldn't convince America he was enough of a Regular Guy to get a second term. (His real problem was that the Regular Guy in his family was his wife, Barbara!)

So now the Democrats have to look for a Regular Guy for 2008. Is it Hillary Rodham Clinton? No. Too much baggage; the red states already hate her, she can't win them over, and she can't play the part. If America's going to elect a woman, she has to be more Oprah than Hillary. Oprah Winfrey could give them a car and make them love the idea without telling them about the tax bill that comes with it.

Is it John Edwards? No. He can be folksy, he has an undeniable connection with people, and friends who've seen him in person tell me he's one of the best stump speakers ever. But Edwards couldn't even deliver his home state for Kerry. He would have to overcome the "loser" label, and no one has done that since Nixon.

So, who will it be? Whoever their Regular Guy turns out to be, most Americans haven't heard of him. Yet.

This column originally appeared as an op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bob Greene & The Presidents

Here's my conversation with Bob Greene about his book, "Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents." We talked about what it was like meeting Richard Nixon for the first time, how Jimmy Carter reacted to being satirized, the piece of memorabilia Gerald Ford kept from a woman who tried to assassinate him, and how George HW Bush dealt with a swastika in the sand.

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

Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin made a rare radio appearance on my show this afternoon. Our conversation covered her TV career from "Laugh-In" to her own specials to "The Tonight Show" to "The West Wing." We also discussed her movies from "Nashville" to "The Late Show" to "I Heart Huckabees," and then touched on how she develops characters and whether getting awards ever gets old.

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Bob Eubanks

Here's my conversation with Bob Eubanks, the legendary host of "The Newlywed Game." Besides discussing his many years on that TV show, we also talked about how he became the promoter of the Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964, plus many other rock acts he booked, from Tina Turner and Chuck Berry to Elton John and Barry Manilow (neither of whom he has kind words for), and how his career once crossed paths with Charles Manson.

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Brian Regan

Brian Regan, one of the top comedians in the country and frequent guest on my show, was back today to joke about Little League baseball, softball, the election, and the instructions on a box of Pop-Tarts. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Monday, October 25, 2004

Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

The humor columnist and the crime novelist were on my show today to talk about their collaboration on "Peter and the Starcatchers," a prequel to "Peter Pan." We also discussed their Rock Bottom Remainders band, Dave working with Jon Macks writing jokes for Steve Martin at the Academy Awards, and the 2004 presidential election.

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

Roger McQuinn In My Studio

Roger McGuinn, leader of The Byrds (who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991), brought his trusty Rickenbacker guitar into my studio this afternoon to play and talk about meeting David Crosby to form the band, merging folk music and rock, and recording "Sloop John B" with Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson for his Folkden website.

We also discussed how he recorded the Byrds first hit ("Mr. Tambourine Man"), his friendship with Bob Dylan and later with Tom Petty, his relationship with The Beatles, and how making money in the music business is easier now thanks to technology. He also performed two more of his songs ("Chestnut Mare" and "I Wanna Be A Politician").

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

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Auditor Bad, Secretary Good

"Auditor McCaskill. "

That's what Matt Blunt kept calling his Missouri gubernatorial opponent, Claire McCaskill, on Charlie Brennan's KMOX show Friday morning.

Yes, she's the State Auditor, and he's the Secretary of State. But I'd never heard "auditor" used as a title that way before. Other office titles are commonly used in this manner -- President Bush, Governor Holden, Senator Bond, Mayor Slay -- but Auditor McCaskill? Can you just take someone's job title and stick it in front of their name when you're referring to them?

It works for some professions -- Doctor Smith, Professor Jones, General Franks, Special Agent Thompson -- but not for all of them. I don't call my lawyer Attorney Sherman, and I don't want him calling me Broadcaster Harris.

Oh, hello, Carpenter Jenkins! Have you seen Plumber Tompkins? If you do, have him get in touch with Store Manager Giovanelli, who's in a meeting with IT Specialist Fanning.

So why does Blunt do it? It has nothing to do with her qualifications, or his. It has nothing to do with any issue that makes any difference to the people of Missouri. It's gotta be purely psychological.

There is no doubt some research indicating that "auditor" has a negative connotation with voters. It probably reminds them of the IRS, which was recently named, once again this year, America's Most Despised Agency -- just ahead of the Department Of Major Construction On Whichever Road You'll Be Taking Today.

By constantly preceding her name with "auditor," rather than referring to her simply as Mrs. McCaskill, Mr. Blunt surely hopes to subconsciously sway public opinion against her. Maybe this sort of thing does work with undecided voters. I don't know.

But in a world filled with ugly negative campaigning and attack ads by both sides, it's best for the voters to remember the horrible word that describes both of these candidates: "Politician."

Friday, September 24, 2004

Activist Politicians

"Activist judges" is a code phrase used by conservatives to attack courts that make decisions they disagree with, which usually involve granting or protecting rights to some person or group who have been excluded or discriminated against.

But what about "activist politicians," who pass extremist laws to give themselves more power? Governor Jeb Bush tried it in Florida in the Terri Schiavo case and it took until yesterday for that state's supreme court to remind him that, in the constitution, there's a little thing called "separation of powers." He's not the emperor of the state, and can't just will himself imperial powers over life and death.

Now, the US House has passed a bill, pushed by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, that would deny the US Supreme Court and other federal courts the right to rule on whether "under God" should remain in the Pledge of Allegiance. There's a similar bill in the Senate from another Missourian, Jim Talent, that attempts the same end run. Whether you think those two words belong in the Pledge, or not, is immaterial. You should be concerned about activist politicians trying to uproot the Constitution of the United States and rebuild it for their own purposes.

It's purely a political move in an election year, and cheap exploitation of a wedge issue. Anyone who votes against the bill can be positioned as being against the Pledge of Allegiance, and thus unpatriotic. If I were running against them, I'd remind voters that the law itself is unpatriotic, that the US Constitution, which clearly states the powers delegated to the three branches of government, is more important to defend than the Pledge of Allegiance.

This is the same House of Representatives that voted this summer to strip the Supreme Court of its right to hear any cases involving same-sex marriage. That one didn't become law, but if this keeps up, what's to keep activist politicians from passing all sorts of unconstitutional laws granting themselves more and more power, and then preventing the judicial branch from denying their implementation? Isn't it enough that Congress can give itself a raise with your tax dollars any time it likes, while running up a huge budget deficit?

Ironically, were the Akin/Talent bills to become law, there would almost certainly be a challenge, and the Supreme Court would eventually have to decide the constitutionality of a law that removes their power to decide the constitutionality of a law.

The good news is that Congress has fixed all of the other problems in America, so it has time to waste on nonsense like this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Vegas Vacation

Just back from a quick vacation in Vegas with a few stories that aren't going to stay there.

My brother-in-law, Stuart, and I were there for our annual poker-and-football weekend, in which we played in several no-limit Texas Hold'em tournaments, including one at the Golden Nugget.

It was a beautiful day, so before entering the tournament, Stuart and I went for a walk down Freemont Street, the pedestrian plaza that connects most of the major downtown casinos. The whole aura there is a throwback to a time before Steve Wynn turned the Vegas strip into an experience beyond simple dice, cards, and slot machines. The difference between these places and the giant resort hotel-casinos is like night and day. Inside, all the games and slot machines work the same way, but on the outside, where the strip is all glitz, downtown is all plain, all the time. I have no idea how some of these places make enough money to cover their nut. There must be a steady stream of people going for the cheap rooms and food, somehow allowing the places to stay in business every month, but I don't see why.

The sign for one such place, a motel, caught my eye from a half-block away. The first two lines read: "Chief Hotel Court" and "Vacancy." But it was the third line that made me do a double take. There, in neon tubing, was the two-word phrase, "Steamed Meat."

Unsure if this were some local delicacy or a coy marketing slogan approved by some psycho focus group, I nudged Stuart and asked him, "Does that sign say Steamed Meat?" He glanced over and confirmed that it did, at least from this distance. We walked closer to verify this odd sight, debating what Steamed Meat could mean. Perhaps it was an old-school buffet specialty, or perhaps connected in some weird way to the city's ever-present strip club and sex industry.

When we reached the base of the sign, we realized that the neon tubing had been done badly, and the first letter of the second word wasn't M, it was H. So, the phrase spelled out before us wasn't "Steamed Meat," it was "Steamed Heat."

Mystery solved. Or not. Now our discussion turned to wondering what kind of selling point that could be for a motel in the middle of the desert. Stuart wondered in which decade those two words on a motel sign would help bring in customers. It seemed incredibly old-fashioned, as if the sign should continue with other bygone come-ons: "Color TV!" "Phone in room!" "Bedsheets washed monthly!"

We didn't have time to investigate any further, because we had tournament seats awaiting us at the Golden Nugget, a downtown landmark whose customer base has been reinvigorated by overflow from the World Series of Poker and by the recent Fox primetime reality show, "Casino." It may not have gotten great ratings (in fact, executive producer Mark Burnett said it was among the worst things he'd ever done), but business was up.

During the tournament, Sammy Farha -- second to Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 World Series of Poker -- came into the room, not to play in our smalltime tourney, but to talk to the manager about getting a high-limit game going against another player. Once setup, they sat down at opposite ends of the table and bought in for what looked like $500,000 each and proceeded to play $2,000/$4,000 limit hold'em.

Someone at my tournament table asked casually what I thought was going on. I replied "It's Monday, a workday for Sammy. He's on the job and making money." That's why these guys are called poker pros. It's their profession, and high stakes are as standard for them as ill-advised marriages are for Britney Spears.

I didn't recognize the other guy, but someone in the room said he had a reputation as a fairly good hold'em player. Unfortunately, Sammy was better. It didn't take long for his stack to begin growing.

Meanwhile, mine was shrinking. After a couple of hours, I had only played a few hands and won a couple, but the blinds were getting too large for me to survive much longer. When I finally looked down at ace-ten on the button with an unraised pot, I pushed it all in, only to run into the small blind, whose ace-queen held up and took me down.

Stuart got better cards and played them better than I did. After winning a satellite to earn a seat at the big Sunday night game at the Mirage (but not ending up in the money), he went on to finish fourth in the tournament at the Golden Nugget, long after I'd gone out. He ended up with a nice chunk of prize money.

Me, I didn't even get a plate of Steamed Meat.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Loretta Swit

Here's my conversation with Loretta Swit, who played Major Margaret Houlihan on TV's "M*A*S*H." We discussed why the plug was finally pulled after 11 seasons and why she had such passion for the Hot Lips character, what her favorite episode was and how Hot Lips evolved through the years, why she didn't do a spinoff show, and her relationship with McLean Stevenson (Col. Henry Blake).

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

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Start Me Up

Good news from the automotive front.

My wife came home at lunchtime to report that an indicator on her dashboard was lit, and when she looked in the manual, it said that was a warning about the car's lights. We checked out the directionals, the head lights, the brake lights, and everything seemed normal, although one of the bulbs was a bit dimmer than the rest. We figured it wasn't a problem that needed immediate attention, so we'd take it in whenever we got around to it.

After lunch, I took my car and left for work, with a quick stop at the post office. After dropping off some letters and packages, I got back in my car, turned the key, and heard guh-guh-geh, followed by silence. It wouldn't start. No power. We'd been worried about the electrical system on my wife's car, and it's mine that's dead.

I quickly narrowed down the problem to two possible causes. Either the battery was dead, or I needed a new alternator. I'm no expert (my entire automotive knowledge base consists of knowing when I'm low on gas and where to put more when I need it), but I immediately knew it would be the alternator, based on one simple factor -- that was the most expensive option. Under my Automotive Inverse Proportionality Theorem, the correct solution to the problem is never the cheapest. This is expressed by the equation P = $$$.

I called my wife, who was about to run out to deal with about a dozen different things, and asked her to drive to the post office, trade cars with me, and then stick around to deal with the problem. She replied with a long sigh, followed by "okay." We've been together for 21 years, so I know her verbal shorthand pretty well. That long sigh meant: "I'll be right over to help you, but you are gonna owe me, big time!" Fine, whatever, I gotta get to work.

While waiting for her, I called AAA, who promised a tow truck within an hour. By that statement, you know that it was a clear, sunny, not-too-hot day -- if the weather conditions were any harsher, it would have been a four hour wait.

Although the weather was beautiful, Mother Nature decided to add to the fun I was already having. As I hung up, a gust of wind knocked over my briefcase, sending a folder full of paperwork flying. It quickly scattered throughout the parking lot, giving me a chance to play the Chasing Paper With Your Foot game. You know this one. This is where you run after a piece of paper that's being blown around and, just as you're about to clamp your foot down on it, a quick breeze moves the paper another yard away, leaving you with nothing under your foot but the ground. Oh, for a pair of giant clown feet! You then repeat this fun process until you're completely frustrated.

The upside to this activity was that it killed the time until my wife arrived, just as I picked up the last piece of paper (what was that, a couple of reams?). We made the switch, I thanked her profusely, and went off to work, twenty minutes late for a meeting, with a briefcase full of wrinkled, dirty notes, leaving her in the post office parking lot to act as my vehicular ombudswoman.

Fortunately, the AAA tow truck showed up not long after and gave the battery a jump, allowing my wife to drive to the service station. When she got there, the automotive diagnostician (!) gave my car the once-over and determined that my analysis of the problem was incorrect. I had thought it would be either the battery or the alternator. It turned out to be both.

Doh! The dreaded third option, even more expensive than the other two! I should have seen it coming: P = $$$ x 2.

So, what's the good news, you ask? Once the repairs were complete, my wife was able to fill up the tank before the station owner invoked yet another of his semi-regular twenty cent per gallon gas price increases.

So, with a complete fillup, that's three bucks in savings, right there. Hey, you take your wins where you find them.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Political Death

When I heard about Bill Clinton's heart problems yesterday, I found myself wondering, "If he died, would the Clinton-haters give him a break for even a day, or would they see this as yet another opportunity to pound him?"

While the current president did use a moment in a speech to offer his thoughts and prayers for the former president, I heard a right-wing radio host sounding positively gleeful about Clinton's medical problems on Friday. So much for a grace period.

The hatred works both ways, of course. If Bush were to suddenly die, I have no doubt the extremists on the other side would feel and say similar things (and then realize their worst nightmare had come true with Dick Cheney taking the oath of office).

It's not always like that, but I never know what the rules of etiquette are when it comes to death, or whether everybody deserves them. I have one former boss who I considered so evil that I made a pact with a co-worker -- when either of us hears that this jerk has died, we're to call the other one immediately so we can go together to dance on his grave. He's the only guy I've ever felt that way about, with the possible exception of the kid who beat me up everyday in first grade.

Yet, politics and death have an even more awkward relationship. Neither brings out the truth in people.

When Richard Nixon died, the eulogies at his funeral played up only his good side. Even Clinton, who was president at the time, went and said only positive things. I'd have thought at least one speaker would whisper "Watergate" under his breath, or cough and mumble "lying weasel scumbag," but there was none of that. And the media played along. It was as if Nixon hadn't been the living personification of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

So I wasn't surprised to hear laughter at the expense of Clinton's health on the same day it was announced. Once the political pit bull is trained to do nothing but attack, it's awfully tough to make him sit, roll over, and play nice.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Marcia Angell "The Truth About Drug Companies"

Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, was on my show today to talk about her book, "The Truth About The Drug Companies."

She says that we shouldn't worry about buying drugs from Canada or elsewhere, because those pills are no different than the ones you'd get here -- the pharmaceutical firms make their products in over 60 countries, not all in the US. Angell says that the argument that we, as Americans, are paying higher prices to underwrite the huge cost of research and development is bogus, too, because R & D is a much smaller portion of Big Pharma's budget than, say, marketing. So you're really paying for all those ads that say, "ask your doctor about......."

And wait till you hear what she says about why your doctor gave you those free samples. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Baggage Claim

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and daughter flew back from vacation, but their luggage didn't. This was more than just lost suitcases -- this was idiotic airline policy at work.

The plane was one of those 50-seat flying cigar tubes that substitute for big jet service in and out of St. Louis ever since American took away our status as a hub. These aircraft are so small that there's no room in the overhead bin for even your average carry-on bag.

For years, we've always carried our stuff with us, because we know how often checked bags get sent to the wrong destination. Somehow, we once took a two-week vacation to Australia without checking a single item! Thus, we've pretty much managed to avoid the annoyance of having our luggage go off on a little freelance vacation of its own.

Because the bins on these mini-jets are so tiny they can't hold anything larger than a sac pack, you have to hand your carry-ons to an airline employee in the jetway. He gives you a claim ticket, puts your stuff in the baggage compartment, and returns it to you when you land.

That's how it's supposed to work. In theory. In this case (not a singular situation, I guarantee you), the flight was so full they had a weight problem (hello, Department of Warning Signs?). Rather than kicking passengers off the plane, they removed some luggage instead.

Problem is, they didn't tell anyone about this, so when my family got to Lambert Airport, they waited for their bags, which never came down the chute, because they were still at Logan Airport in Boston. Since the vacation was over, the bags didn't contain anything of vital importance, just dirty clothes and other trip remnants. When it was delivered by pickup truck the next day, it was fine.

But the airline didn't know that. For all they knew, this was the beginning of the vacation for the owners of that luggage. Or worse, it could have been someone traveling on business who really needed some dress clothes to wear to a meeting first thing in the morning. That corporate man or woman would then have to find alternate clothing and other personal items, a hassle they just don't need.

If that's me, I'd rather be told in the departure city that I'm making the trip without my bags, so I can decide whether to go ahead, wait for the next available flight, or at least have a chance to stuff a clean pair of underwear in my pocket just in case.

I told you this wasn't a rare occurrence. Here's proof.

Over the weekend, Walter Neubrand and Jake Goertzen waited in the baggage claim area of the airport in Fort St. John, Canada, for a piece of cargo that never appeared. Everybody else got their stuff, but Walter and Jake didn't see theirs, which freaked them out more than a little bit. You'll see why in a moment.

They talked to an Air Canada agent, who checked the plane, couldn't find it, did some checking, and finally told them their package was still sitting in the Vancouver airport, because it was too heavy to fly. The package in question only weighed 35 pounds, but got the same treatment my wife and daughter's suitcases got.

Here's the kicker. Jake is the head scout for the NHL champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The package he was awaiting, which is escorted everywhere by Walter, is The Stanley Cup.

One of the most prized trophies in the world. A true piece of sports history. Of all the luggage in the cargo area of that plane, that's the single item that was removed.

One Canadian hockey fan (okay, that's redundant) was shocked when he heard about The Cup being left behind. Brent Lock told ESPN, "It's not like it's a brown paper bag; it's the holy grail. It's probably the most important non-religious artifact in Canada!"

Good thing it didn't have a meeting to attend the next morning. Nobody wants to see The Stanley Cup wearing the same underwear two days in a row.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Maria Bartiromo

The CNBC anchorwoman and Wall Street correspondent was on my radio show today to talk about everything from the state of the economy to whether her hairstyle affects the Dow Industrial Average, from where interest rates are headed to how poorly she did on a celebrity edition of "Jeopardy," and much more.

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

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

I Have Vince Van Patten's Money

I have Vince Van Patten's money. I took it from him in Las Vegas, and what happened there, stays here.

Finding myself with a few days off recently, I went to The Mirage to relax and play some poker. The hotel happened to be hosting a big tournament as part of the World Poker Tour. I wasn't there for that, just some regular poker room action, but I did take a look around to see which big names had showed up.

If you've watched the WPT, you'd have recognized some of the faces and names (Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Thomas Keller, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and others).

If you've never watched the WPT, you still would have recognized at least one of the players: Tobey Maguire. Yes, Spider-Man was playing in the tournament, and he did very well -- 24th out of 281 players, earning a prize of $16,201. At least he'll be able to pay the mortgage this month.

I won't give away any more about the tourney, in case you'll watch it on the Travel Channel next season, but I will tell you that Maguire was not the highest-finishing celebrity. A certain former sitcom star turned his $10,000 investment into over a quarter-million by finishing third.

Meanwhile, I was playing at a non-tournament table in the Mirage poker room. Four of the other players at the table had played in and busted out of the WPT event over the previous two days, so there were lots of stories going back and forth.

After a couple of hours, I looked over my shoulder and saw four guys walk by our table and head for the poker room supervisor. I immediately recognized one of them as James Woods. His hair is now steel gray and he had an easy smile that meant he was at home in a poker room. Woods has a reputation as a pretty good poker player. He plays a lot of tournaments, including this WPT event -- although he didn't end up anywhere near the top -- and I bet it's eating at him that Ben Affleck recently won the California State Poker Championship and Woods has yet to finish in the money in a major.

Standing with him were Vince Van Patten, his father Dick, and a guy I didn't know. They were asking the supervisor to open up a table for some high-stakes no-limit action. She told them it would take a little while to get it going but, in the meantime, if any of them wanted it, there was an open seat at our table. Vince looked at James, who shrugged and let Vince take it.

This was a little surreal. I've been playing poker for many years, in home games and in card rooms all over the place. I've seen the game explode in popularity thanks to the television exposure. I've seen tens of thousands of people playing simultaneously on internet poker sites. But this was the first time I'd sat at a table with someone that everyone recognized, while an Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor stood at the rail and watched us.

Vince bought some chips, and then proceeded to fold the first couple of hands. On his third hand, I raised with a pair of red nines in middle position. I'd been playing fairly tight and taken down some nice pots so far, so everyone else folded -- except Vince, who put on a pair of dark sunglasses and called from late position. The flop came 8-3-2 rainbow, and I bet right out. Vince called, throwing his chips into the pot casually. The turn card was a 6, and I bet it again. Vince paused for a moment (he might have been looking me over, but I couldn't tell through the sunglasses), showed his cards to Woods, and folded them. Woods leaned over and asked, "Why didn't you call him?" Vince replied with a laugh, "You call him!"

The dealer pushed Vince Van Patten's money towards me.

There's a scene in the movie "Rounders" in which Matt Damon's character, Mike, is telling another player about the night he sat down at a table with the legendary Johnny Chan and bluffed him out of a big pot. From the tone of the story, Mike seems to think he's a better player than Chan because of that one hand. Any real poker player knows that's not true, anymore than saying you're a better golfer than Tiger Woods because you beat him on a single hole. The question is, can you do it again, and again, and again?

I never got the chance to find out, because Vince got up a short while later and plunked $5,000 on the high-stakes no-limit table they'd finally opened up. The guy next to me turned and jokingly said, "I think he's afraid of you."

He's not, of course. Still, I have some of Vince Van Patten's money, and he has none of mine. So, James Woods, you wanna piece of me next?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Bonnie Anderson "News Flash"

Here's my conversation with veteran TV newswoman Bonnie Anderson about her book, "News Flash," in which she says that TV news is no longer about journalism and the truth, and it's not about a liberal or conservative bias -- the only bias in TV news is towards the bottom line.

She discusses the hiring practices, the lack of ethics, and the lack of delineation between news and entertainment. Bonnie also explains why she withheld information while covering the Waco siege, and how a top CNN executive was wrong to suppress information about atrocities in Iraq and Cuba just to maintain the network's relationship with their governments. This is the book the network news divisions don't want you to read!

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A Smoke-Free Column

On Monday, the St. Clair (IL) County Board unanimously passed a resolution encouraging all public places in the county to ban smoking in their establishments. They're not requiring it, they're just recommending it.

That's like not passing a law at all. Why not replace the Speed Limit signs with Suggested Speed signs? We'd rather you didn't drive 85mph through this school zone, but we're not going to stop you.

Whenever someone proposes making all workplaces smoke free, including restaurants and bars, opponents argue that it will hurt those businesses because smokers won't patronize them anymore. However, new data from Maryland and Florida, combined with recent stats from Florida, Delaware, California, and New York City (all of which have such regulations) shows that smoke free laws do not hurt the restaurant and bar business.

The economic collapse theory is simply false.

I could see an impact argument being made if only one small municipality banned smoking. Then, smokers might simply go to an adjacent town for dinner or a drink. But if it's done on a countywide or statewide basis, people are not going to drive from, say, Missouri to Illinois, just so they can light one up after a meal. Besides, smokers can still enjoy that after dinner cigarette outside the restaurant, or in their car.

While the debate on the dangers of second hand smoke continues, there can be no argument that smoking is an activity that is extremely annoying to non smokers. Name for me one other activity that annoys others as much as smoking, yet is still permitted and tolerated in eating and drinking establishments. You wouldn't want me blowing an air horn into your ear, would you?

Smokers also argue that their rights are being trampled. Since when does the right of a few to foul the air come before the right of everyone to breathe clean air?

On my radio show, a listener pointed out how, if such a law were enacted here, it would be silly to be able to buy a pack of cigarettes from a machine in a bar, and then not be able to smoke one of those cigarettes in that bar. I countered that it would only seem odd if you didn't take into account all the other places where the rule already applies -- supermarkets, drug stores, even Wal-Mart!

There's no doubt that airplanes are much more pleasant since smoking was banned onboard. So are movie theaters, offices, and most other places. Why not extend that pleasant atmosphere to bars, restaurants, and casinos, too? I can tell you from personal experience how much better it is to play poker in the local casinos since they barred smoking from those rooms a couple of years ago. Too bad that hasn't been expanded to the rest of the casino yet.

Yes, cigarettes are legal, and I'm not one of those who thinks they should be made illegal -- in fact, I think you should have the right to put whatever you want into your own body! -- but your right to use a legal product should end where it infringes on my right to have dinner or a drink or play blackjack without going home with my clothes smelling like an ashtray just because I sat next to you.

Friday, June 04, 2004

No Cupcakes For You!

Birthday celebrations at an elementary school in Duxbury, Massachusetts, can no longer include cupcakes, donuts, or other treats. According to a story in the Boston Globe, school officials say the change was prompted by a survey in which parents said good nutrition is one of their top priorities. I call it an over-reaction, not unlike the misinterpretations of other surveys.

For example, you've seen how much time is devoted to weather on local TV newscasts. That's because the stations do research asking viewers what's most important to them. People often rank weather as their number one concern. So the stations expand the weather coverage to five, sometimes ten, minutes of weather -- complete with explanations of the sub-tropical jet stream, an occluded front in Canada, and the 13-day forecast.

But that's not what viewers want! When viewers say they want to know the weather, they mean they want to know what the weather will be today, tonight, and maybe tomorrow. That takes about 60 seconds to report. All the rest of the time is wasted on showing off their cool graphics package -- the doppler storm front decoder, the swooping climatological map, and -- my favorite -- the lightning strikes indicator (because it's important to sit in front of your TV and see where lightning is occurring?).

News directors would tell you this is all in the name of: 1) science; and 2) serving the viewers' needs. No, in reality, it's in the name of: 1) looking cooler than the competition so people won't tune away; and 2) misinterpreting the viewers' needs. When we say we want to know what the weather will be, we mean will it be sunny, or will it rain? Will it be warm, or should I wear a jacket? Is it going to snow, and how much?

Similarly, the school has misinterpreted the parents' responses to the survey. Of course, Mom and Dad care about their children's nutrition (if they didn't, would they admit it?). But that doesn't mean they want to have cupcakes removed from birthday celebrations and replaced with celery sticks and boxes of raisins -- especially those little boxes with 32 raisins that always come out in one inseparable clump!

The school's action is part of the recent hysteria over childhood obesity, but their emphasis is misplaced. That battle could be fought more effectively by giving the kids more opportunities to run around and burn off some calories. Too many schools have crammed their days so full that they have cut down on recess and gym class, ignoring the physical education side of the healthy child equation.

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, I say, "Let'em eat cupcakes!" How sad it would be to hear a second-grade teacher say instead, "Happy Birthday, Ashley! Now help me pass out the fruit kabobs!"

Weather permitting, of course.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

They Did The Time, But Not The Crime

For years, I've been advocating compensation for people who serve long prison sentences for crimes they did not commit, when DNA evidence proves their innocence and they are finally released. It's hard to put a price on having your freedom taken away and being shoved into the brutality of prison life, but the state must do more than offer a simply "Whoops, we're sorry!"

That's why I was happy to see an op-ed by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce on the subject today. Interestingly, this represents a 180-degree turn from her previous position. A couple of years ago, she (and her predecessor, Dee Joyce-Hayes) fought tooth and nail to keep DNA evidence from being used to exonerate several men charged with horrible crimes. The attorneys at The Innocence Project finally overcame that stonewalling, had the DNA tested, and proved that at least a couple of guys (Larry Johnson and Lonnie Erby) serving serious prison time had not done the crimes they'd been convicted of.

A new law working its way through the Missouri legislature would pay such victims $50/day for every day in prison. That's a start, but as Vanessa Potkin of The Innocence Project said today on my radio show, it's not enough, particularly when compared with California and Tennessee, both of which pay $100/day, up to a million dollars.

What's worse, criminal in fact, is that this new law specifically excludes Johnson, Erby, and a third guy named Steve Toney -- the only men in Missouri history to be exonerated by DNA evidence after serving time in prison! That would be like passing a law on September 12, 2001, that all future victims of massive terrorism in the US would be compensated, but not those injured or killed on 9/11. So, here you have these three guys who have been wronged by the state, who are now being screwed again!

Joyce wrote that the current Missouri bill wouldn't cost the taxpayers anything because the compensation would be funded by convicted felons paying a court surcharge. But Potkin wonders what happens if there's a claim and the fund isn't large enough? What if there's only $100,000 and there are three valid claimants -- do they get the short end of the stick yet again?

Larry Johnson was behind bars for 18 years for a crime he didn't commit. Lonnie Erby served 17 years of a 115-year sentence for a rape he had nothing to do with. Put yourself in their place and imagine what it would take to compensate you for all that time in a cell, fighting for your life every day, missing your kids as they grew. The taxpayers didn't shed a tear paying for their incarceration; we should do the right thing and help pay for their freedom -- with money, job training, whatever it takes.

Consider it Missouri's version of "The Shawshank Redemption."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Cosby Controversy

I haven't had much to say about the Bill Cosby controversy, because every time I start to write something, another columnist makes the point for me.

DeWayne Wickham did a good job in his USA Today column and Cynthia Tucker hit other bullseyes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (link removed). I agree with each of them. Then there are those like Cal Thomas, who twisted the controversy into some sort of conservative vs. liberal political diatribe to further an agenda that has nothing to do with what Cosby was saying.

Still, all of those writers missed some points.

Cosby plays by his own rules. He did it in the 1980s with his NBC sitcom, when he had to fend off criticism that the Huxtables didn't accurately reflect a "real black family." That was nonsense, of course, because the Huxtables were based on Cosby's own family. To say there was no place on television for an upper-middle-class black family -- that the only true black TV experience was represented by life in the projects a la "Good Times" -- is to argue that the white side of the equation couldn't include both "Roseanne" and "Frasier."

Speaking properly is obviously one of Cosby's pet peeves. Last year, at the Emmy Awards, co-host Wanda Sykes was wandering through the audience, talking trash while pointing out and picking on celebrities. When she spotted Cosby, she stopped to ask him how he managed to keep a number one show for so long. Cosby could easily have given her some bland remark about the cast, the network, etc. Instead, he replied, "We spoke English!"

Cosby even makes his own rules on stage. My wife and I went to see him in concert a couple of months ago -- he was on the short list of comedy legends I'd always wanted to see but never had -- and we were amazed. He's still a brilliant storyteller, who sets himself apart from other standups by understanding the simple concept of pacing, the value of the pause, that there's no need to rush a well-written routine.

In Cosby's world, a concert doesn't have to take place at night, or in the early afternoon for a matinee. This show began at 4pm -- not because he was going to do another show that night, but because that's when he wanted to perform. It didn't bother the audience of 4,000 at the Fox Theatre, which rolled in laughter throughout.

About 90 minutes into the show, as he finished one lengthy story, Cosby announced, "Now, I'm going to walk off this stage for a couple of minutes to use the bathroom. But I'll be right back, so don't go anywhere." I had never seen a performer do this before, and wasn't sure if he was serious. Many others in the audience thought it was an intermission and headed for the bathrooms themselves. They were very surprised to see Cosby back centerstage three minutes later, launching into yet another routine.

He kept performing for another hour. That's a total of two and a half hours, a remarkable amount of time for a one-man comedy show. Most comedians consider their act to be complete at 75 minutes. Cosby did twice that. Not only did he never look fatigued, he was also all over the stage, up from his chair to prowl about as one character or another, even getting down on his hands and knees to act out one routine about his childhood.

Cosby is a true elder statesman of show business. To some, he may seem like a cranky old man, but that's unfair. When you achieve that lofty position -- earned through a combination of longevity, success, and respect -- you can express honest opinions without worrying about who might be offended. You don't care about political correctness anymore, because the truth is vital, no matter how much it stings.

Let's hope that at least some of the people who heard or read Cosby's remarks at Howard University take them to heart.

Bill Cosby released this statement to clarify his remarks and rebut the criticism.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Morgan Spurlock "Supersize Me"

On my show today, I spoke with Morgan Spurlock, the man who ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month and documented it in his movie, "Supersize Me." He explained the effects of the diet (major weight gain and sky-high cholesterol), the agenda behind why he did it, and the question of personal vs. corporate responsibility.

He also answered criticism from Soso Whaley, another guest who had a month of fast-food meals, but lost weight.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Soso Whaley Takes On Morgan Spurlock

As a response to Morgan Spurlock's documentary "Supersize Me," Soso Whaley did the same thing Spurlock did -- eat every meal at McDonald's every day for a month. Unlike him, she accepted the responsibility of eating wisely from their menu, and ended up losing weight and having her cholesterol go down. She came on my radio show to discuss the experiment, and the problems with Spurlock's movie, along with the agenda behind his claims.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Monday, May 10, 2004

Carl Reiner, "The Dick Van Dyke Show"

Carl Reiner, creator of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," was back on my show today to talk about the reunion show he wrote, and the original series -- including the classic "Walnuts" episode, why he hired Morey Amsterdam, why the Petries slept in twin beds, and how the show was almost canceled after its first season. Carl also reports that he's started shooting "Ocean's Twelve."

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

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Field Of Ad Agency Dreams

The announcement by Major League Baseball that they've essentially sold the sponsorship of the bases and other parts of the field for a weekend to the movie studio promoting "Spider-Man 2" should outrage anyone who's ever set foot in a ballpark.

Ballparks already have tons of advertising (they've even sold the names!), and you can't get a moment of silence between innings because some sponsor promotion is being blasted off the scoreboard screen. In what may have been one of the earliest product placements, even "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" has a mention of Cracker Jacks!

But until now, the playing field itself hasn't been touched, probably because no one dangled a big enough check in front of Bud Selig, for whom the national pastime is chasing the almighty dollar.

This is yet another example of the owners' greed, and another step closer to seeing uniforms covered with sponsor logos, a la Nascar (as some jockeys were allowed to do for last weekend's Kentucky Derby).

This is the beginning of a slippery slope. Once Spider-Man has taken over the on-deck circles and the bases, it won't be long before the naming rights for each base are sold to individual sponsors. Soon a batter can hit a long ball and get all the way to third base, renamed Viagra Base, where a stand-up triple really means something! The outfield grass could be cut into the logo of Toro lawnmowers, the foul line chalk replaced by Gold Bond Medicated Powder, and the pitcher's rubber brought to you by Trojan. Go ahead, put Pepsi on the ump's chest protector, have the foul ball girls wear Hooters outfits. Print Nike in the first- and third-base coaches' boxes. Anything for a buck, right?

MLB tried to soften the impact of its announcement by playing up a little public service. It seems they're planning to adorn the bases for two other upcoming events. On Mother's Day, they'll have pink ribbons, to promote breast cancer awareness (Patrick Hayes e-mails that if it's breast related, "shouldn't that only be on second base?") and on Father's Day, they'll have blue ribbons, to promote prostate cancer awareness.

I had no idea those ribbons were for those causes, or which ribbon goes with any cause at this point, except for the yellow ribbons 'round the old oak tree for hostages, of course. I guess that's why they can't use yellow for the prostate thing, even though it's a more appropriate color than blue. When I think "blue ribbon," I don't think "prostate cancer." I think "Pabst."

By the way, if you click that link to Pabst, as with most other beer companies, you're taken to an "age verification screen." That's because the brewers don't want to be accused of doing anything online that might attract underage drinkers. But once you're there, all you have to do is type in a date, any date, not even your own birth date, to proceed to the rest of their site. Surely, no 17-year-old could get past that! Just as, certainly, no one would have known about the Spider-Man sequel if baseball hadn't whored itself out.

Don't misunderstand me. I have nothing against advertising. It pays my radio salary, and it supports this website. But you get those services for free, in return for being exposed to the ads.

To the contrary, in the new MLB model, you'll pay to go to the stadium to see a baseball game, but have to sit through a commercial for a movie. Then you'll pay to see the movie, and have to sit through commercials for other products. Then you'll buy those products, and see cross-promotions for other products, including the DVD version of that movie, which will contain even more commercials!

Hey kids, see how you're helping the economy grow? Now, remember to pay Mr. Bonds $50 for his autograph, which he'll give you on the back of a poster for "The Hulk," brought to you by Balco, the company whose steroids can pump you up, too!

Monday, April 26, 2004

More Than A Little Drunk

In light of the DWI bust this weekend of St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little, attorney Scott Rosenblum said, "Leonard is not a drinker. He's never been a drinker. It's just not in his character."

Does he really expect us to believe that? This is the same Leonard Little who, on his 24th birthday in 1998, partied with some friends, then got into his Lincoln Navigator and drove drunk, right through a red light and into Susan Gutweiler's car, killing her. If Rosenblum is to be believed, and Little isn't a drinker, then he's got to be the unluckiest guy in the world, because on the only two occasions in which he happened to drink and drive, he got in trouble.

That earlier conviction came back to haunt him today, when Little was charged with felony drunk driving as a persistent offender under a law passed in 2001 that makes a drunk driving offense a felony if a person has a prior history of involuntary manslaughter. If he's convicted, he's looking at up to four years in prison. Many of us feel that sentence should have been imposed the first time, not the second. We, as a society, have to get past "he was drunk" as an excuse.

Another Rosenblum whopper: "Not a day has gone by that Leonard hasn't thought about Susan Gutweiler." C'mon. My dad died in 1997. I loved him very much and we were very close, but I can honestly say that there are some days when I don't think of him at all. In the 2,000 or so days that have passed since the Little-Gutweiler collision, are we to believe that he has thought of her every single day -- even game days? Very doubtful.

Little is a very talented football player, but let's not hold him up as a paragon of virtue. If he were, and was always thinking of Mrs. Gutweiler, he wouldn't have gotten into his vehicle late Friday night with a buzz on. If he were smart, he would've kept the phone number of a limo company in his wallet or his cell phone, and used it at a time like this. And what about whoever he was with that night, letting him get behind the wheel? Male or female, they weren't doing him any favors.

By being so irresponsible, Little has put the Rams in a quandary. Sure, they want him on that defensive line, taking down quarterbacks and sniffing out the run. But this is a public relations problem they don't need. They gave him a second chance after the 1998 incident, and he blew it. If this weekend's allegations prove true, many people have told me they'll have a hard time watching him in a Rams uniform this fall.

Of course, things could have been worse. Leonard could have called a friend for help and gotten a lift home from Billy Joel.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

A Lingering Lesson From Columbine

Five years after Columbine, you'd think the number of school-related violent deaths would be at an all-time low. In fact, according to the Denver Post, this school year was more violent than the last two combined -- 43 deaths already.

Still, when you consider the millions of kids who attend school every day in the USA, that's an incredibly small percentage, meaning our schools are remarkably safe.

In retrospect, let's remember that Columbine wasn't really a school safety issue. It was a bad parenting issue. If Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's parents had done a better job keeping an eye on their sons, they might have noticed the pipe bombs in the basement, the anger festering in their teenage brains, the resentment towards
classmates, etc. Just one parent living up to their role could have prevented 13 deaths that spring day in Littleton, Colorado.

Unfortunately, we don't heap enough blame on parents in our culture. Instead, we ask the schools to do more and more. As the son of two educators, with other teachers in my family, this saddens and maddens me.

Ask anyone who has worked inside those brick walls recently. You can't just be a teacher today. You also have to be a cop, a psychologist, and a counselor. You have to make sure the kids are wearing the right clothes, that they're not drunk or high, that they're not dirty dancing at the prom. Of course, you don't get paid more
for that extra effort.

Parents complain that educators should teach their kids morals, make them watch less TV, have more respect for others. These should not be considered part of the teacher's job -- these are the basics of parenting. For some reason, we've allowed this responsibility to be shifted out of the home and into the institution.

The blame for failure has been misplaced, too. Under the No Child Left Behind program, when a child doesn't succeed in the classroom, it is the school that is punished. Teachers and principals are threatened with losing their jobs, their funding, their living. Yet no mention is made of whether the parents fulfilled their
obligation to work with the kid at home, making sure they read, do their homework, and understand what they were taught that day. This is the equivalent of blaming the dentist because your kid eats candy and doesn't brush her teeth.

This trend started with my generation, the late baby-boomers, but it has been exacerbated by the next generation, those whose children have entered the school system in the last decade. Somehow they took the "it takes a village to raise a child" concept -- a completely valid one, which requires participation at various
levels from all sorts of people, but begins and ends with Mom and Dad -- and turned it into "let the village raise my child, I'm too busy."

Sadly, I see no end in sight for this blame-the-schools syndrome. For the most part, American kids have been given a safe place to learn. Now if only American parents would do their part.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Mike Sexton, "World Poker Tour"

Here's my conversation with Mike Sexton, play-by-play man for the World Poker Tour, about the explosion in popularity of the game, as well as the top poker pros, the strategies, advice for beginners, and the celebrities who play, including the ones in his weekly home game.

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

Monday, March 29, 2004

1776: That's Not The Spirit

"1776" is the greatest historical musical Broadway ever produced. It brings to life the patriots of the Continental Congress, who struggled to kick-start this country's freedom and write the Declaration of Independence.

The movie version should be televised every July 4th to celebrate the birthday of this free nation. It should be mandatory viewing in every school social studies curriculum in this country. Through its stories, songs, and sense of humor, "1776" brings history to life. But in the middle schools of Fairfax County, Virginia, "1776" has been banned. Why? Because of a mild verbal exchange in the screenplay.

John Adams (William Daniels, in a tour de force performance) and others are trying to convince Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard, also excellent) to write the Declaration. Jefferson rebuffs Adams, explaining he is leaving Philadelphia to return to Virginia, because "I've not seen my wife in six months." Adams replies, "Jefferson, will you be a patriot, or a lover?" Jefferson pauses and announces his choice: he'll be a lover. Adams -- who is obnoxious and disliked -- won't give in. He insists, demands, and cajoles until Jefferson complains that he "burns" for his wife.

It is that word, "burns," that is apparently too much for the Virginia schools. How ironic that this mild innuendo -- and that's elevating it far beyond its rightful level in the lexicon -- would be deemed too much for students in Jefferson's home colony to hear. That this is happening in the year 2004, when real sexual language is pervasive in music, TV, radio (and certainly in the schoolyard), makes it even more ludicrous.

What are the Virginia school bureaucrats afraid of? That they'd have to explain the meaning of the words in that scene? It's not like Jefferson says he burns because of his wife (then you'd have to explain STDs to the kids), but rather for his wife, a concept which can be easily explained, without even bringing sex into it. Tell any inquisitive kid that it is Jefferson's love for his wife that burns inside him. That's simple. So simple, in fact, that if you can't handle this one, you shouldn't be an educator.

Of course, it's not the educators who made this decision.

As one teacher protested in an anonymous e-mail to the school board and community leaders: "Teachers are far better able to determine what material is suitable for teenagers than administrators who have not been in the classroom for years or attorneys whose job it is to protect the school system from the complaints and concerns of a few parents who have a political axe to grind. In the last 10 years, [the school system] has increasingly based educational decisions on fear instead of strength."

My wife and I own a DVD of "1776" and have shown it to our elementary-school-age daughter. She loved the songs and the story. When we traveled to Philadelphia last summer and went to Independence Hall, she saw the very rooms where the Continental Congress met and remembered everything about them, thanks to the movie. We plan to watch it with her many more times.

If the parents of Fairfax County, Virginia, are smart, they'll rent or buy a copy of "1776" and show it to their kids. Then everyone can understand how contemptible it is that a great movie about liberty is being denied to those who are learning about liberty and who could benefit from it.

This column originally appeared as an op-ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Die, Scum!

I agree 100% with an editorial in today's Chicago Tribune, explaining why Israel owes no apologies for the missile attack that killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas.

Anyone who thinks there can ever be a "Road Map To Peace" in the Middle East is out of their mind. It's a region where logic and rational reasoning play no role whatsoever. A place where men fight back against armed soldiers by picking up rocks in the street and throwing them. A place where gravity is of no concern, as bullets are constantly being fired in the air with no regard for where they'll fall. A place where one side believes it can win a war by being the first to die (you'd think at least one Hamas suicide bomber would have read about why there are no more Japanese kamikaze pilots!).

It's also a place where tens of thousands of people marched and rallied in the streets to protest Yassin's assassination. Do the Palestinians really want this to be the poster boy for their cause? A man who sent his minions to kill innocent people in nightclubs, aboard buses, and elsewhere? Showing public support for him would be the equivalent of Americans rallying behind two other murderous thugs, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo.

I'm not saying these things simply because I'm a Jew who supports everything Israel does. In fact, I don't support everything they've done. That's because I don't give my blind allegiance to anyone but my immediate family. I can't stand when people throw their unwavering support behind a nation, group, or person based solely on beliefs or background. When blacks supported OJ Simpson simply because he was black (ignoring the skin color of his female companion choices), it was wrong. When Catholics gave blanket support to the church in light of the pedophile priests scandal, it was wrong. When basketball fans gave Kobe Bryant a standing ovation in the face of his rape charges, it was wrong.

Blind obedience to your heritage, your religion, your skin color, or anything else is wrong. Be your own person, make up your own mind. Nutcases come in every race, creed, and color.

That said, it's good that we have one fewer nutcase on the planet today. I'm no sadder that Sheik Ahmed Yassin died than I was when Uday and Qusay Hussein died. Or when Timothy McVeigh died. Or I will be when Osama bin Laden dies. Or when any homicidal maniac is forced to take a dirt nap.

Better all of them than one more innocent life taken on their orders.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Barry Blaustein "Beyond The Mat"

The director of the wrestling documentary "Beyond The Mat" was on my show today to talk about the WWE (formerly WWF), its top guy Vince McMahon, stars like Mick Foley, The Rock, Jesse Ventura, and others, and what makes these guys do what they do for your entertainment.

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

Monday, March 08, 2004

Discomfort At 35,000 Feet

This weekend, we had the unpleasant experience of flying on American Connection.

That's the brand name used when one of the smaller airlines -- Chataqua Airlines, Corporate Airlines, or Trans States Airlines -- operates service for American Airlines between markets that used to be served by the big company with the big jets. Since downgrading St. Louis last year from a hub to just another airport, more of American's flights in and out of here are on these smaller carriers and their baby jets.

I hadn't personally experienced the downside to this reverse supersizing until I flew with my wife and daughter to Hartford, Connecticut.

Our flights there and back were on just such a plane, the kind that Steve Miller never sang about. It held only 50 or 60 passengers, with one seat on the port side and two on the starboard side in each row. The ceiling was so low that, at 6'4" I had to walk like Quasimodo to get down the aisle. Little did I know this contortionist act was a mere prerequisite for sitting down.

As a tall person, I'm used to being in airplane seats where I have very little leg room. I don't want to say the rows were in greater proximity on this flight, but I could intuit the vital signs of the person in front of me because my kneecap was wedged into their spleen.

This height problem wasn't the worst of it. Unlike the larger jets, the seats were not only closer together, but narrower, too. It's a good thing they don't serve meals on these flights anymore, because even an ounce of food would inflate your average passenger far beyond the limits of their cramped assigned seat. Combine that with the oppressive heat they pumped into the cabin -- apparently, the standard equipment does not include a thermostat -- and we're talking one very uncomfortable flying experience.

We purposely don't check our bags when we fly, because we like to move things along by not dealing with baggage claim delays. We were stymied on these flights because the interior was so small, there was no room for carry-on luggage (ours or anyone else's!). The overhead bins could hold a coat or two, but we -- and most of the other passengers -- had to leave our bags at the end of the jetway, where a baggage handler took them and placed them in the cargo compartment. They were returned to us at the same jetway location upon arriving at our destination. This meant that if we had anything in our carry-on bags that we needed during the flight, we were out of luck.

I like to travel by air, and do so several times a year but, for the first time, the size of the aircraft will now directly affect my future travel plans. I doubt that I'm alone in this attitude. Conditions like this will drive business away from an already reeling airline industry, and will be bad for this town's image, too. I can see why corporations considering relocating would reject St. Louis because of its new non-hub status. If I had to fly often on business, I'd hate having to squeeze into one of these flying cigar tubes several times a week. And once on board, space is so limited, you couldn't get any work done!

If that occurs, St. Louis' Lambert Airport will begin looking more like Hartford's Bradley Airport. When we arrived there -- in the middle of the day on Friday -- the place looked like a ghost town. As the passengers disembarked our plane, there was no one else around. We were literally the only flight arriving or departing within that hour. We passed gate after gate with no people, no planes, no nothing. I joked to my wife that they must be conducting a fire drill. It was almost spooky.

Outside, we took a cab -- which provided a lot more room and comfort than the flight we'd been on -- and when we arrived at our destination, my wife asked the driver if she could pay him with a credit card. He said the company did accept them. However, he'd really appreciate it if we would give him cash, because he had been at the airport for five hours, but hadn't seen anyone or had a single fare all day, and needed the money to just get through the afternoon!

As we handed him the cash, I thought to myself that Hartford, like St. Louis, must be proud to be an American city.

Friday, March 05, 2004

'Til An Amendment Do They Part

This will be remembered as the watershed year for the gay marriage question, and I think, in the long run, the opponents have a losing cause on their hands.

Regardless of the President's support, there won't be a federal marriage amendment this year. A head-count this week shows not enough senators in favor of it to even make the vote close.

If it can't happen now, it certainly won't happen a couple of years from now, because the history of our nation shows that, as time passes, the USA progresses. Restrictions are removed, rights are extended, tolerance grows. At this point, the horse is out of the barn. She may not have made it all the way around the paddock yet, but she's not going to be forced back into that stall.

We're not just talking San Francisco here. In the last week alone, local leaders from Sandoval, New Mexico, to New Paltz, New York, to the heartland of Chicago, Illinois, have all expressed support for and/or begun the process of allowing gay couples to marry. Major corporations like Anheuser-Busch, Kodak, ChevronTexaco, and Wells Fargo have long offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Meanwhile, since there won't be any further action at the federal level, the opposition is moving forward with proposals in the state legislatures. My guess is that those will be temporary measures that will last a decade at most.

As for the arguments, I get calls and e-mails on the topic from both sides of the cultural chasm. Since I'm a supporter of keeping government out of the private lives of its citizens, I'll share with you some comments from opponents who have called or written me.

Some of it is as simple as, "you just don't understand that's what wrong is wrong." My reply is that we have different definitions of what's wrong. Others are opposed on religious grounds, which is fine, but in this country, we don't play majority rule with religion.

Another e-mailer wrote, "I don't want my children growing up and thinking there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, which is chosen and not cast upon by birth! This is what's wrong with the world today! No one has any morals anymore. Seems like every other TV show today has a gay on it. These people can go back to the closet as far as I'm concerned!"

Frankly, you can't have a rational conversation with anyone who refers to any group as "these people." That phrase harkens back to so many previous battles over prejudice, including not so long ago when interracial marriage was a touchy subject. However, I did ask this guy one question -- if being gay is a choice, then not being gay is the other choice, so at what point in your life did you make that specific decision? Was there a day, maybe in your teens, when you could have gone either way, being attracted to either someone of your sex or the opposite sex, and consciously chose to be heterosexual?

He didn't answer.

One of my other questions, to which no opponent of gay marriage has come up with a logical, reasoned answer, is: when you say "allowing gays to marry will destroy the institution of marriage," what does that mean? It's a cute catch phrase, guaranteed to rally the already-converted, I'm sure, but what exactly will the implications be? Would straight couples stop getting married? Will more currently-married couples begin getting divorced? Will it lead to a national outbreak of adultery?

Then there's this one, from another e-mailer: "Human reproduction would stop if we were all gay." Of course, no one is suggesting that we should all be gay, but this is part of the "marriage is about procreation" argument. That's another fallacy.

Marriage -- in legal terms -- is not about procreation. No law requires that a married couple produce offspring, nor is their union voided if they don't, nor do you have to be married to have a child. If you're only going to allow people who will procreate to marry, you must force couples to take a fertility test along with their blood test, and make them sign a document swearing that they will have at least one child.

While you're at it, you also have to stop licensing the marriage of every post-menopausal woman! Not very likely, is it?

Gay marriage will be a hot-button political issue for pundits and politicians to scream about in this election year, but the real bottom line is that most Americans don't care. Sure, they'll express an opinion (evenly divided nationally) when asked directly by a pollster, but they're much too busy with what's going on in their own private lives to worry about what other people are doing with theirs -- and wish politicans would address more important issues.

Let's be honest. If anyone is responsible for "weakening the institution of marriage," it is us, the heterosexuals. We're the ones who make hit shows out of "The Bachelorette," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé," and who can forget Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger?

We're also the ones who allow teenagers to marry. There are many places in the US where you can legally marry at age 16. Sixteen! We're all still idiots at that age, not yet familiar with the harsh realities of the adult world. At 16, you can't enter into most other legally binding agreements, yet you can get a marriage license (in Alabama, until 2003, the minimum age for marriage was fourteen -- you were so young you had to have someone else drive you to the ceremony!).

How can we tell high school kids they can enter this "institution," but a lesbian couple in their forties that's been together for years and years that they can't?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get a wedding gift for Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli Carpenter. I hear they're registered at Steak & Shake.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

James Randi vs. Sylvia Browne

James Randi took on Sylvia Browne today on my radio show. He came right out and called her a liar.

Browne is one of the self-proclaimed psychics who claim to be able to speak to the dead. Of course, she has never offered any definitive proof, because she can't. She did agree, three years ago on CNN, to take Randi's Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, but has never lived up to that promise. Instead, she's been spreading lies about Randi, who has been holding his tongue, but has now decided to fire back at her both on his website and on my radio show -- with no holds barred.

Randi is one of my heroes. Known as The Amazing Randi during his years as a magician, he's long been the top advocate for rational thinking and debunking psychic and paranormal claims. My wife and I have supported the James Randi Education Foundation for years, both on and off the air. The world needs more people like him.

Unfortunately, people like Sylvia Browne, John Edward, James Van Praagh, and others have taken so much money from their many victims (Browne charges up to $200 to see her "talk to the dead" and around $700 for a telephone reading!) that their side is very well-funded.

Our side, the side of reason, has to struggle to get the word out. My show is one of the few media outlets for the voice of skepticism. Johnny Carson used to give Randi a platform on the old "Tonight Show," Penn & Teller express it on their Showtime series "Bullsh*t," John Stossell goes after it on "20/20," and there a few others. But there are far too many other shows -- particularly on radio -- that accept these paranormal and psychic claims as fact, just because it's good for their bottom line.

It's one thing for a magician to deceive you for entertainment, because you know you're going to be deceived going in. That's the fun of it, and you're enriched by the entertainment experience. It's another thing to have someone exploit your beliefs in order to deceive you and enrich only themselves. Shame on the law enforcement community for doing nothing about these frauds -- psychics, faith healers, etc. -- who prey on the emotions of their victims to make a cheap buck.

Ironically, if these paranormalists really had the powers they claim to have, they could make a million dollars just by proving it. The James Randi Educational Foundation continues to offer that big money prize to anyone who can prove, under carefully observed conditions, that they have psychic, paranormal, or supernatural powers. But just saying it and making a heavily-edited TV show isn't enough. As Randi says, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

A couple of years ago, I was talking about this on my radio show, and a man called to say that he was a psychic who gave readings for many people. I asked him if he wanted to go for the million bucks. He said no, money wasn't important to him. I asked him if he charged his clients, to which he replied that he did (interesting, since money's not important to him!). So, I suggested that he try for the prize and, if he could prove his ability but didn't care about the money, give the million dollars to a worthwhile charity -- Children's Hospital, for example. He mumbled something and hung up. I've never heard from him since.

Randi tells me this is not uncommon. Logic, it appears, is the enemy of the psychic.

You'll find details about the million dollar prize at the JREF website. While you're there, if you're with us, please consider donating to and supporting the James Randi Educational Foundation. Your brain will feel better.

Here's my conversation with Randi about Sylvia Browne. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!