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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?