Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movie Weekend

It's rare that we get to the movie theater twice in a weekend, but we just did, and I'm happy to report that the trips were worth it.

Yesterday, we took our daughter to see the summer's biggest sleeper hit, "March of the Penguins," a documentary on par with "Winged Migration" as the best and most masterful nature stories ever filmed.  This one is about the emperor penguins that live on Antarctica and their annual march from the edge of the sea onto the ice and to their breeding ground 70 miles away.  Like the flightless birds, the film crew had to endure horrific cold of well below -50F, windstorms with gusts up to 100mph, and the tendency of some of the penguins to hog the camera (in much the same way small children are drawn to the lens, like Kirstie Alley to a buffet).

Seeing the penguins marching single file, like a thousand tuxedoed Dan Hedayas, adds some levity, but also some understanding of the heartbreaking natural instinct these animals are born with and can't resist.  They simply must get to the breeding ground, find a mate, procreate, protect their egg until it hatches, and then part, never to see the other family members again.  As always, Morgan Freeman does a nice job with the narration -- I could almost hear him repeating his "Shawshank Redemption" line as a mantra for the penquins, "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

Today, I took my daughter and a friend to see "Sky High," the live-action comedy about superhero parents and their high school freshman offspring.  It's a cross between "The Incredibles," "Mean Girls," and "Spy Kids," but ultimately stands on its own as a nice piece of family entertainment.  The comparison to those other movies isn't an insult. "Sky High" is made from the same cloth, with enough cleverness to keep parents watching while teens and tweens enjoy the high school story.

Kurt Russell does a very good job as dad, The Commander, and even looks genuine in his superhero costume aside Kelly Preston as Jetstream, the mom.  These are the kind of superheroes who, like Superman, disguise themselves as mild-mannered alter egos by putting on a pair of glasses to keep the public from knowing their true identity.  Add in a nice turn by Dave Foley as a former sidekick who now trains up-and-coming sidekicks, a still-looks-good appearance by Lynda Carter, some winning teen actors, and a hefty dose of special effects, and you have fun for the whole family.

Unfortunately, Disney hasn't given "Sky High" nearly the promotion it deserves.  If they'd pushed this one even half as hard as that lame Lindsay Lohan "Herbie" remake, judging by the reaction of the two 11-year-olds sitting next to me, they'd have a big summer hit on their hands.

Space Shuttle Boosters Return To Earth

NASA has released video taken by cameras mounted on Discovery's solid rocket boosters as they fall away from the space shuttle and parachute back to Earth.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Video Games followup

As a followup to my column yesterday, here are two excellent pieces on the recent storm about video games, one by Steven Johnson (author of "Everything Bad Is Good For You"), the other from Daniel Koffler at Reason.

My e-mailbox is filling up with comments, too -- like this one from Kyle:

I wanted to thank you. I've been a supporter and involved in the video game industry for years and it was extremely refreshing to hear a voice of common sense in the mainstream media who seem to concentrate on doing sensational stories about how the industry is trying to breed a generation of violent killers (despite the fact that youth crime rates are the lowest they've been in years) and hearing from blowhard lawyers like Jack Thompson who seek to bring down the industry by throwing as many lawsuits as he can at it (don't be surprised if you eventually hear his name tied to this recent case). The rating system in place couldn't be more clear and it's unfair that the ESRB has to keep taking hits by parents who don't take the time to understand it and then seek to blame them for not doing their jobs.

A lot of people seem to think that the video game industry is a children's market when it's not; the largest demographic of gamers is getting older, the ones who grew up on the original Nintendo system. The video game industry isn't seeking to corrupt children, it's catering to the growing audience who are becoming more mature. Again, thanks for doing what you can to inject some common sense into a topic many people misunderstand.

Tom adds this observation:
If a kid knows 1) where to go on the internet to find a cheat, knows 2) how to download the cheat and then knows 3) how to execute the cheat...well, let's just say that he doesn't need a video game to supply porn for him. He's finding it juuuuuuus fine.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Video Games Under Attack

On Monday, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed legislation making it illegal for anyone under 18 to buy or rent video games that contain graphic violence or sexual activity. On Wednesday, Florence Cohen, who bought "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for her 14-year-old grandson, sued the manufacturer because the game contained too much violence and explicit sex. Her lawyer said no parent or grandparent would knowingly buy an adult-only video game for her children.

But that's exactly what she did. While "GTA:SA" wasn't rated adults-only at the time she bought it, it was rated M, for mature, meaning it's only appropriate for players 17 and older. The higher rating AO, for adults only, raises that age limit just one year, to 18 year olds. Either way, Florence shouldn't have bought the game for her 14-year-old grandson, and she has no one to blame but herself.

We live in the era of Nanny USA, where there's no personal responsibility, it's always someone else's fault, and the government has to step in to take care of us. This is a classic case.

And don't use Florence's age as an excuse. Yes, she's 85 years old and probably unfamiliar with the Grand Theft Auto series. Even though they're the most popular video games every made, she's not exactly their target demographic, but that doesn't let her off the hook. My mother is 81 years old and knows better than to buy something -- a video game, a movie, a CD, a book, a magazine -- for my 11-year-old daughter without having some idea what the content is and whether it's suitable for her granddaughter's eyes and ears.

Incidentally, no law would have stopped Florence's grandson from getting this game, because even Illinois' age restriction would have been moot when grandma purchased it and gave it to the kid. It's the adult who screwed up here, not the retailer, the manufacturer, or the industry.

I don't even play video games, nor has my daughter shown any particular interest in them yet, but it's clear that this is part of the continuing war on content providers. Since I am one of those (on the air, in print, and online), stories like this hit home with me.

Once the Illinois law faces a court challenge, it will likely be deemed unconstitutional, as have similar pieces of legislation in other states. More importantly, we don't need laws like this. We don't have one that makes it illegal for a 14-year-old to see an R-rated movie -- the industry rates and regulates itself pretty well, and from there, it's up to the parents. There's no law keeping a 15-year-old from watching some skin flick late at night on Cinemax. However, there should be parents in that house who make sure it's not happening.

The same should go for all other forms of content, whether on film, DVD, print, the internet, or a video game. Mom and Dad (and Grandma Flo) have to do their jobs -- know what your kids are consuming, keep an eye on ratings, monitor the content. Don't leave it to the legislature to protect your kids, because they're more interested in their political future than anything else. And that's what this is really about.

Going after sexy, violent entertainment gains political points with the uptight moral values crowd, which has been wrongly given too much credit recently. They scream that games like GTA make America's youth more violence-prone, while the facts show that violence among teens in America has actually shown a pronounced decrease over the last several years -- at the same time that these games have grown in popularity. Maybe keeping them inside with their hands on the joystick is a good thing.

On the other hand, no politician can say what really needs to be said here -- that American parents have to do a better job of taking responsibility for their own children -- because that doesn't get you any votes. But it would be the right thing to do. And it would be a message that's both Mature and for Adults Only.

Bush Flips Off The Press

President Bush flips the bird at the press corps, as seen on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Baby Picture Nightmare

It seemed so innocent.  There was Charbel Hamaty, happily playing with his five-month-old son, Kristoff.  As he leaned over to give the boy a kiss on the belly-button, his wife Teresa took a picture of her two guys at that joyful moment.

Every family has that photo.  When your kid is that age, you're taking out the camera every five minutes to document the developments of this amazing new person that's part of your world.  Sadly, the frequency of photography drops off considerably as the kid grows up.  My daughter's 11 now, and we only take out the camera for special events like a recital, a graduation, or a family get-together.  There's no more sneaking into her room at night to capture her blissful sleep on film, or to chronicle the day she sat at the kitchen table with pizza hanging off her chin.

That photographic decrease rate becomes exponential as the years go by.  I just turned 47, and I don't think my mother's taken a picture of me for a couple of decades -- in the last one she took, I had a full head of hair.  Now, when I drive down the road with the windows open and feel the breeze blowing through my hair, it's more of a singular noun.

Anyway, that innocent moment between father and son in the Hamaty house became a legal problem when Charbel dropped off the film at an Eckerd drugstore.  The lab tech who developed the film saw a man's face next to a naked baby and was worried that something was wrong -- something sexually inappropriate with a child.  Lab techs are told to look for these things now, and report any possible child abuse to the authorities.

When the photos were shown to the police, Charbel and Teresa were arrested.  Kristoff was put in protective custody, and his half-sister Victoria was handed over to her birth father, Teresa's ex.  Teresa was released on bail, but her children weren't returned to her.  Meanwhile, Charbel was charged with sexually assaulting his baby boy, and languished in prison for six months without a trial before the charges were dropped after a report was submitted by an expert who said there was no criminal intent in the photos.

Only then were Charbel and Teresa reunited with their children.  That's a half a year they had taken away from them -- time they should have been spending developing a wonderful parental bond with their infant son.

Someone owes the Hamatys an apology, at the very least.  The Eckerd lab tech was only doing his/her job, but the police and prosecutors in Raleigh, North Carolina, should immediately examine their procedures for dealing with circumstances like this, so that no other family ever has to suffer this nightmare scenario.

As for me, I'm seriously considering never capturing my daughter on film again -- not because I don't want pictures of her beautiful face, but because this may be the impetus we've needed to finally buy a digital camera.  That way, there's no lab tech or any outsider involved in the additions to our family photo album.

T-Shirt Under the Influence

It wasn't bad enough he was busted for drunk driving -- he was also wearing an embarrassing t-shirt, which The Smoking Gun noted in all its mug shot glory.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Kenny Rogers' Appeal Denied

Bud Selig just upheld the 20-game suspension and $50,000 fine of Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers for the June 29th incident in which Rogers attacked two TV cameramen.  In his statement, Selig said, "While I listened carefully to Kenny Rogers' sincere explanation last week, I heard nothing that would warrant either eliminating or reducing the discipline imposed."

Sincere explanation?  How could Rogers possibly explain his assault on two guys who were just doing their jobs?  "Well, Bud, both of these guys refused to photograph me from my good side, so I had to do something!"

Have a seat, Kenny, and consider some anger management classes while you're off the mound.

Space Shuttle vs. Bird

When the space shuttle Discovery launched, the area was clear -- except for one unlucky bird that got in the way. Plus, graphics show the debris falling off the shuttle during launch.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer

Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, was on my KMOX show this afternoon to celebrate the return of the shuttle to space.  He explained why -- two and a half years after the Columbia disaster -- things are still falling off the shuttle.  We also discussed whether NASA will, in the near future, get us back to the moon, and then on to Mars.  Listen to the conversation here.

Phil is actually a very good astronomer who has worked on projects like the Hubble Telescope, and is now based at Sonoma State University.  Read Phil's blog for more of his musings on space.

He's also a regular contributor to The Amazing Meeting, which will reconvene in Las Vegas at the end of January (I'll be there, too).

Logo a la Google

Here's a cool site that makes any text look like it's the Google logo.  Go ahead, type anything in, like, for instance, Harris Online.

Busch Stadium Commemorative Bat


Here's the Busch Stadium commemorative Louisville Slugger that I'm giving away each day this week to faithful listeners of my KMOX show.  It's a full-sized bat, laser-engraved with gold print of the stadium and the Cardinals final season logo.  If you'd like to buy one, here's the site that's selling them.

Space Shuttle Security From The Air

Who keeps the Space Shuttle safe before it lifts off? The Florida Air National Guard, as seen in this bird's eye view.

Finger Nose Trimmer

This nose hair trimmer is finger-pickin' good!

Monday, July 25, 2005

As Obvious As The Paint On His Face

A guy looking for a quick high was busted for snorting the stuff that comes out of a spray paint can.  The cops didn't have to look far for the evidence -- it was on his face.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Harold Lewis, Super Agent

Harold Lewis is a sports agent who represents more than 50 NFL players. He was on my show to talk about the profession, whether "Jerry Maguire" was realistic and how it impacted his life, which owners and players are the best to deal with, what he has to do for clients who get in trouble, and "Super Agent," the new Spike TV reality show he appears on. We also discussed steroid use in pro sports, and whether he'd rather have a client who's a #1 draft pick or a Super Bowl winning quarterback about to become a free agent.

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

Bad Hot Summer Jobs

I was talking yesterday about the worst job to have in this oppressive summer heat, citing those guys who lay down hot tar and asphalt as my choice.  Listeners suggested repairing anything in a stifling un-air-conditioned attic, working in an aluminum foundry, and emptying porta-potties.  All of those make me happy to have a job where Willis Carrier's invention makes life a lot more comfortable.

Then Nate sent this e-mail:  "I grew up in Hardin Il, a farming community and in the summer we would have to climb in the hugs silos that store the corn, and clean them out. Imagine being in a huge tin oven, no ventalation with rotting corn everywhere. It was the worst job that I ever had to do. For that matter, anything on a farm in this weather is horrible, especialy with livestock."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

405, The Movie

A terrific 3-minute short film about a guy driving down the 405 in Los Angeles, who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time -- what's the jet doing in his rear view mirror? Great special effects!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Google Moon

The folks at Google are celebrating the moon landing anniversary (July 20, 1969) with a special version of Google Maps that shows you the lunar sites where Americans landed in that amazing three-year run of scientific achievement.  The best part is when you zoom in to get a real up-close look at the lunar surface.

Google Moon

The folks at Google are celebrating the moon landing anniversary (July 20, 1969) with a special version of Google Maps that shows you the lunar sites where Americans landed in that amazing three-year run of scientific achievement.  The best part is when you zoom in to get a real up-close look at the lunar surface.

Jaws 2005

Think of the "Jaws" music as you look at this shark that's bigger than the guy who caught it. [thanks to Stuart for the link]

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

World's Ugliest Dog

No, it's not a movie special effect -- it's Sam, the World's Ugliest Dog, for the third year in a row.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Operation Teddy Drop

Here's the site for Operation Teddy Drop, the airborne operation to drop teddy bears for Iraqi kids, run by US Army pilot Randy Kirgiss and his Blackhawk helicopter crew.  As of today, they've dropped 3,607 teddy bears, donated by people here in the US.

Cardinals: The Last One Out


On my KMOX show this afternoon, I mentioned the latest piece of baseball art done by Don Marquess, "The Last One Out." It's a photo of Busch Stadium at night, with the field and the stands empty -- but he's also removed all the things that lined the dugouts, the outfield wall, and the scoreboard wall. And then there's the lone baseball flying up and out of the park. A very nice tribute to this last season at the ballpark.

You can order a print from Don's site, or get it at the Cardinals store at Busch Stadium or Don's gallery at Union Station in St. Louis.

Bravery of a US Soldier

US Army Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer, a medic, was shot in the chest by an enemy sniper, hiding in a van 75 feet away.  The attack was videotaped by the insurgents, and that tape was recovered after Tschiderer jumped up, located the enemy's position, and radioed for help.  He then not only aided in the response and attack, but once the sniper was found and in handcuffs, Tschiderer gave medical assistance to the terrorist who had tried to kill him minutes before.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Podcasts on iTunes

The latest version of iTunes (4.9) has instantly become the easiest way to download podcasts, and I'm happy to say that its directory now includes the podcasts of my KMOX show segments.

Once you've downloaded the iTunes software, just search for "Paul Harris Show" podcasts and subscribe automatically.  Of course, you can still do it manually by entering the feed address: http://feeds.feedburner.com/PaulHarrisShow (it works in any podcast software).

Bang On It!

It seems that the primary reason the space shuttle Discovery didn't launch last week is that one of its fuel gauges was stuck -- it showed the tank was full, when it was actually empty.

This is the exact same problem I had on a car I owned a quarter-century ago, a Datsun 1200 (in the days when the company hadn't yet changed its name to Nissan).  The needle in the gas gauge would get stuck on "F," regardless of how much gas I had.  The solution?  I had to bang on the dashboard in just the right place, and the needle would drop down to the correct level.  If I forgot, or didn't pay attention, I'd run out of gas (naturally, this would only occur at the worst possible time, like when I was running late for work, or on a first date).

You'd think that by 2005, NASA's engineers and scientists would have developed a gauge that doesn't stick -- that the technology that takes seven people up to the international space station would be a little more advanced than what I had in that tin can of a vehicle in 1979.

New rule:  before starting the countdown, try the old "bang on it" test, and then re-check all gauges.  Doesn't anyone at NASA remember "The China Syndrome," in which a nuclear power plant nearly melted down after a technician mis-read the water level because of a stuck gauge needle?

Ask any guy -- banging on it is the first thing you do whenever any kind of equipment doesn't work the way it's supposed to.  It's not rocket science, but it still applies.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Skateboarder Jumps The Great Wall of China

Skateboarder Danny Way jumped the Great Wall of China, and his five attempts were all caught on video.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ken Adams, World Series of Poker player

Ken Adams was on my KMOX show today to talk about playing in the main event of the 2005 World Series of Poker, the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em Championship.  Although he didn't make it past the second day, he told some great stories about being in the midst of thousands of entrants, the pros he played against and got advice from, the guy with the Elmo head, and a great story about trying to get an autograph from Clonie Gowen, one of the top female poker players in the world.  Listen to the conversation here.

For more of Ken's stories, see the columns he posted during the WSOP.

We're Not Afraid

An English blogger started up the We're Not Afraid site after last week's bombings, with pictures of Londoners showing the world that they're not living in fear. The world has responded with dozens of images that have been added to the gallery.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mommy at War, Daddy at Home

When Mommy goes off to fight a war, Daddy stays home with the kids and learns an invaluable lesson: girls don't go to barbershops.

Kung Fu Audition Gone Wrong

If you're going to audition for a Kung Fu movie, make sure you can execute the moves, unlike this guy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Attacks Coming, But Not in Boise

Several days ago, after the London subway attacks, I wrote that while America will no doubt suffer another terrorist incident in our near future, St. Louis was unlikely to be the target, and we shouldn't act like it will be.

Today, in an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, former Senator Tom Eagleton agrees:

Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, San Francisco, Miami and a few other cities are considered "hubs" of the country. They are where we should be spending the most on homeland security; many other places don't need to spend anything.

Yet our homeland security policy is woefully lacking. We sometimes seem like generals bent on re-fighting the last war. After Sept. 11, 2001, we scrambled to protect ourselves against captured airplanes being flown into tall buildings. Now we will try to fortify security on subways in big cities. (That's not a bad idea - although it is after the fact - because numerous subway systems are soft targets.)

But the federal Department of Homeland Security is sprinkling money all around the 50 states. Even Boise, Idaho - not exactly high on al-Qaida's list - is getting antiterrorism money. In other words, we are treating homeland security money like pork-barrel spending, and pork goes where pork-loving senators - as I was and Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond is - guide it.

Pork-barrel spending may have its place in politics, but not when it comes to fighting terrorism, which is literally a life-or-death matter. President George W. Bush should declare publicly that homeland security money is de-porked and promise to veto any bill that tries to do otherwise. The money should go where the threat is, not to the Boises of America.

Our country will be hit. No doubt. Let's get real, and put our money where the threat is.

Kenny Rogers, Selfish All-Star

Kenny Rogers should not be at the All-Star game tonight.  After his assault on a cameraman two weeks ago, Major League Baseball should have banned him from the game, regardless of whether his fellow players think he should be there.

Rogers admits he was wrong and says he wants to be accountable.  If that were true, he wouldn't be appealing his 20-game suspension and $50,000 fine.  If he wanted to be seen as a responsible adult, after apologizing to the cameraman, the league, and the fans, he would have paid up and sat down.  But he and the players' union are pushing it to the point of distraction.

As for MLB, wimpish commish Bud Selig, should have handled the appeal right away: "Okay, Kenny, we have you on tape attacking the guy.  There's no defense for that.  Case closed.  Now take out your checkbook."

Time Wasting

A new study shows that the average American wastes more than 2 hours a day at work (not counting lunch), and the number one way they waste time is doing online stuff like checking e-mail and visiting websites.  Missouri leads the way as the #1 time-wasting state, with an average of 3 hours and 12 minutes of slacking off per day.

This would be a good time to thank you for making Harris Online a vital part of your time-wasting day.  I'm happy to be of service, and to help bring the American workplace productivity to a grinding halt for a few of those minutes!

More Hurricane Coverage

Charlie e-mails, "As I watched Dennis on CNN I was disappointed with the whole production.  I have just dropped $7,300 on a 42" plasma TV, surround sound, DVD system to catch Hi-Def programming and what do they send me?  A single microphone, a couple of wide-eyed dripping wet goof balls with a sound system so foam-rubber-covered that all one could hear is them saying the sophomoric things that you and Carol repeated on your show.  Come on! Let's get the sound crew out there and really give me something the makes my Woofer woof so I can feel the breeze and hear the scream of the trash being blown around. Hi-Def rain drops and a vivid glimpse of hotel sign pieces whistling by. . . . now we are getting some where!!!!"

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hurricane Coverage

Bob Robinson e-mails, "While watching the evening news, I was (once again) struck by one thought:  are we going to have to see a reporter killed on live television before they stop going out into these storms to report on them?  A CNN crew was dangerously close to some large flying debris today.  Surely we have enough file footage of hurricanes that we no longer require live pictures of every hurricane.  Just last year GMAs Tony Perkins suffered an eye injury covering a storm.  It's long past time for television news organizations to stop putting their people in harms way.  There is a reason that residents of areas threatened by hurricanes are evacuated.  Maybe it's also time the authorities stopped allowing reporters access the these areas.  I'm pretty tough, and it takes a lot to shock me, but I feel certain that I will be horrified if I see a signpost go through a reporter or cameraman some day."

He's right, although I bet all the other reporters would be jealous of the one who got hurt, thus creating an even-bigger rush to the scene next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Science Fiction Double Feature

Zep Hopper e-mails, "I would like to point your attention to my website. I posted a Quicktime-movie I made as tribute to B-Movies based on the song "Science Fiction Double Feature".  The page contains detailed information about all the movies and actors mentioned in the song. I hope you like it!"

I did, Zep -- thanks!

World Series of Poker

According to CardPlayer, here are the official numbers on the 2005 World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em Main Event:  5,619 total entries, with a prize pool of $52,818,600, which will be divided up by the top 560 finishers.

While huge, those numbers are much lower than had been expected.  Before the Main Event, the speculation had been that there would be 6,600 players and a grand prize of ten million, doubling last year's, but that eight-figure number will have to wait.  Everyone at the final table will get at least a million, the player in 560th place will earn $12,500 (a 25% gain for a week of poker), and this year's winner will scoop up $7,500,000.

Podcasting Isn't A Moneymaker

As with streaming audio, making money off of podcasting original content -- as opposed to repurposing material from another source, as I do with highlights of my KMOX show -- is "going to be really tough to do...as a fulltime job and make minimum wage back." That's according to Mark Cuban, who knows a little about online audio after selling his Broadcast.com to Yahoo for a gazillion dollars several years ago.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Sting

Some great news from the DVD front.

Universal is finally releasing a widescreen DVD of "The Sting," one of the movies that's been on the most-wanted-on-DVD list for years. It'll be available September 6th, but you can pre-order yours here right now, as I just did. It's a 2-disc set from their Legacy Series, which presumably means not only a terrific print, but also a retrospective with interviews from the cast and filmmakers.

Other films getting the Legacy treatment include "The Deer Hunter" and "To Kill A Mockingbird," with a documentary about Gregory Peck produced by his daughter, Cecilia, and an interview with Mary Badham, who played Scout, about her experience working with Peck.

London Morning After

Random thoughts on the London bombings:

  • During and after horrible events like this, it's hard to keep things in perspective. But if you take a long-term view, it's the terrorists who must be frustrated. Yes, they've proven that they can strike anywhere, anytime. What they can't do is accomplish their goal of taking us down. Even after all of these attacks, they have not been able to have a major impact on The West. Of course, any injuries and loss of life are horrible -- but if we were a car, we haven't been totalled in a crash, we've been dinged. Democracy and capitalism still thrive, our culture hasn't been thwarted, most of our people feel safe and haven't changed their daily routines a bit, nor have we had to make major sacrifices. In other words, despite repeated murderous attempts, Al Qaeda and its splinter groups continue to fail.
  • There's no reason for fear in cities like St. Louis. Al Qaeda has attacked London, Madrid, New York, Washington, Riyadh, and Bali. What do these cities have in common? They're either the capital or largest city in their countries. While St. Louis is a big city, we're about 20th on the US list. Could an attack happen here? Sure. Is it likely? No.
  • London has more outdoor video surveillance cameras than any other in the world, and yet they didn't help deter or stop these terrorists from doing their deadly deeds. They just moved them underground, out of sight of the security facade.
  • Brits displayed their notorious unflappability, remaining calmer than anywhere else we've seen terrorist attacks take place. Maybe they got used to occasional carnage during the IRA terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Prediction: when the perpetrators are eventually identified, they will turn out to be Saudis who grew up in Wahabist madrasses, where they were taught to hate us.
  • Whenever events like this occur, we're always reminded by our government to "be more vigilant." I've never known what that means, or how I'm supposed to implement it.

Wood iPod

Change out that iPod cover you thought was so cool and get wood instead!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Robert Klein

It's been 35 years since I first saw Robert Klein on television, hosting a summer replacement series (remember them?) called "Comedy Tonight."

It's been 31 years since I first saw Robert Klein in person, when my father snuck me into a nightclub I wasn't old enough to be in (appropriately called "My Father's Place") to see our favorite comedian perform.  By then, Robert had released two albums, "Child of the Fifties" and "Mind Over Matter," and I knew every routine by heart.

Last night, while preparing for his appearance on my KMOX show today, I dug out those old vinyl albums -- and still remembered every word.  Klein was one of the first of the new generation of comedians who wrote their own material and based it on the world they observed, instead of just doing schtick and jokes that other people had written.  Like his contemporaries George Carlin and Richard Pryor, Klein had a special way with words and an easy relatability.

So, it was a real pleasure to spend an hour with him this afternoon (listen here), talking about his early days at The Improv, where Rodney Dangerfield was his mentor and friend -- including an adventure the two had on a sailboat off Cape Cod -- and other performers like Bette Midler were just starting to emerge.  He also whipped out his harmonica to answer a listener's question about one of Klein's signature bits, the song "I Can't Stop My Leg."  That led to revelations about the sexual appeal of the harmonica and his early doo-wop group, The TeenTones, who appeared on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour (losing the competition to a one-armed piano-playing postal worker from Missouri!).

Turning the conversation back towards comedy, Klein shared his thoughts on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, whether he and Carlin were competitors, how Pryor was the best stand-up comedian he ever saw, and more.

He also told the story from his teen years of saving a kid's life while a lifeguard in the Catskills.  That's one of the memories he wrote up in his book, "The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Child of the Fifties Looks Back."  If you've enjoyed Klein on stage or on screen, you'll enjoy this memoir.

Klein, who did HBO's first-ever "On Location" comedy special back in 1975, will do his eighth show for the network in December.  He told me that he's looking at packaging up his previous specials for a boxed set to be released next year.

World Series of Poker

The main event is underway at the World Series of Poker.  They expected more than 6,000 men and women to compete for a $10,000,000 grand prize, but the final official number is 5,661.  No word yet on what the money will work out to.

Paul Phillips, who earned a million and a half on the World Poker Tour, writes about how he plans to make it through the next week of 14-hour days and nights at the WSOP $10,000 No-Limit Hold'Em Champtionship -- with the help of chemicals.  He also admits to making a rookie mistake in an earlier event at WSOP'05 that cost him $350,000.

After Greg Raymer won last year's Main Event while wearing those weird glasses, at least one other player has decided to go the distraction route -- whenever he's in a hand, he pulls an Elmo costume over his head.  I'm sure ESPN got their cameras on that Sesame Street moment.

CardPlayer has the best live coverage of the WSOP Main Event, including the first really good Bad Beat story, involving Jennifer Harman, a full house, and a runner-runner straight flush.

Meanwhile, ESPN has announced its schedule for televising the various WSOP events, starting July 19th and continuing through November.

E-Mail Problems

If you've e-mailed me this week at my personal address, I didn't get it because of a clogged server that caused four days' worth of unread messages to be lost.  It's been fixed now, but if you've been waiting for a reply on something urgent (or something completely minor), please re-send it and I'll get right back to you.

Gas Station Fire

A man is filling his car with gas when, suddenly, there's a huge ball of flame shooting up around him.  Miraculously, he survived without a singe.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Backstoppers

With the murder last night of Sgt. William McEntee of the Kirkwood Police Department, it's a good time to remind you about Backstoppers, the non-profit organization that, since 1959, helps out the families of cops, firefighters, and EMTs who die in the line of duty.

Chief Ron Batelle just told us that they have already visited the family to deliver an initial check for $3,000, as they always do within hours of a tragedy like this.  Backstoppers will continue providing moral and financial support for the long-term, including taking over the family's mortgage and health insurance payments, and setting up college funds for the kids (three, in this case).

 If you'd like to help, Backstoppers is more than happy to take your donation.

Free Parking

A woman in a beat-up VW Rabbit just wants to find a space in a packed parking garage, but has to beat a shiny new Porsche for the only open spot.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Teen Party Trips

A month ago, just as the Natalee Holloway story was beginning, I wrote a column in which I asked why parents would allow their 18-year-old kid to go on a party vacation to the Caribbean in the first place.  I got more than a few e-mails from people who said, "You're crazy!  When I graduated high school 20 years ago, I went on a trip just like that, and it was fine.  You don't know what you're talking about!"

Now, several weeks later, similar pieces are beginning to appear in print and elsewhere, like this one in the St. Petersburg Times.  It's about two teen girls who go to the Bahamas to party it up, and what really happens while they're there -- it may come as a shock to those who think times haven't changed.

The disturbing part of this story is how the mother of one of the girls warns, "Don't get too drunk there" -- thereby acknowledging that her underage-in-the-US daughter is going to booze it up in the Bahamas, where the drinking age is 18 and not well enforced.

The parents seem to think it's all innocent fun, but I wonder how they felt after reading what their kid was in the midst of and how she acted.  Pay attention, mom and dad!

US War Dead Map

The Palm Beach Post has a map that shows the hometowns of the men and women of the US military who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pfizer CEO's Amazing Admissions

Dr. Peter Rost, a frequent guest on my KMOX show, is a VP/Marketing at Pfizer who frequently criticizes the pharmaceutical industry, particularly on the issue of importing drugs from Canada and Europe so US consumers can save money of life-saving medicines. He always stresses that he's speaking out as a private citizen, not as a Pfizer representative, which is how he's managed to keep his job while continuing to speak out.

Big Pharma fights back by claiming that there's no safety guarantee if the drugs come from elsewhere (ridiculous, since our drugs are currently made in 67 different countries ) and that Americans have to pay higher prices to subsidize the high costs of research and development of new drugs (although they spend a much higher percentage of revenue on marketing via those ubiquitous TV and magazine ads that tell you to "ask your doctor about....").

Now, Peter reveals that Dr. Hank McKinnell, the CEO of Pfizer, has written his own book, "A Call to Action," in which he admits that those Big Pharma claims are not true. Here's Peter's entire review, reprinted here with his permission:

MEA CULPA BY A BIG PHARMA CEO
July 5, 2005
A book review by Dr. Peter Rost, Vice President, Marketing, Pfizer

Pfizer's CEO, Dr. Hank McKinnell has written an astonishing book in which he admits that he doesn’t always believe in what he's saying [11], he admits that drugs from Canadian pharmacies are safe [69] and he admits that high US drug prices have nothing to do with past R&D expenses [46].

Dr. Hank McKinnell in his book “A Call to Action” writes that “perhaps pharmaceuticals represent too low a percentage of total healthcare spending” [45] and he calls for “price controls to be lifted” around the world [64], because “It is time for Canadians and others to pay their fair share.” [65], He also calls for a doubling of drug patent life [185] which would result in a drastic reduction of new, low-priced generic drugs.

Dr. McKinnell is very frank in his book and starts with the surprising confession that he doesn’t always believe in what he’s saying. In connection with criticism of the drug industry, he writes, “My children, some in high school and college by then, often sided with the critics. They listened to my logic, but I could tell they weren’t convinced, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t either.” [11]

He goes so far as to say that “Consumers in the United States are rightly upset when they have to dig deeper into their pockets than consumers elsewhere who are buying the identical prescription medicines.” [37] He also states that, “Thanks to price controls, prescription medications now represent 3.6 percent of total German healthcare spending.” [44]

Dr. McKinnell doesn’t shy away from embarrassing facts in the process of making money, and writes “Branded drug prices are anywhere from 25-100 percent more expensive in the United States.” [50] He also writes, “perhaps pharmaceuticals represent too low a percentage of total healthcare spending.” [45] Then he goes on to contradict what opponents of re-importation are saying. “Drugs from Canadian pharmacies are as safe as drugs from pharmacies in the United States.” [69]

But his impressive mea culpa doesn’t stop there. He slams everyone who makes a connection between drug prices and R&D. He writes “It’s a fallacy to suggest that our industry, or any industry, prices a product to recapture the R&D budget spent in development.” [46] He says that drugs are basically priced the same way as a car or an appliance. “It is the anticipated income stream, rather than repayment of sunk costs, that is the primary determinant of price.” [47] He states plainly that while “income funds new R&D . . . if we generate more income . . . the price of our stock goes up.” [47]

Dr. McKinnell also writes, “Competition is good medicine for economies . . Name an industry in which competition is allowed to flourish—computers, telecommunications, small package shipping, retailing, entertainment—and I’ll show you lower prices, higher quality, more innovation, and better customer service. There’s nary an exception.” [73] He doesn't include pharmaceuticals in his list of industries with good competition. In fact, he goes on to say, “So far the healthcare industry seems immune to the discipline of competition.”[73]

He uses generic drugs as an example that “Competition works,” [51] and writes “Prices of generic drugs in the Unites States are lower than anywhere else in the world.” [51] But he doesn't seem to like that fact. What he proposes is to virtually annihilate the generic industry by doubling patent life for branded drugs: “First, I call for patent regulations to start the clock on the day pharmaceutical products are introduced to the market . . the process of making a medicine ready for market generally takes 10-15 years . . . from the time it start to sell a medicine, the drug company that developed it might have 10 years or less before the patent expires.” [185]

And it goes downhill from there on. Why are drugs less expensive in other countries? Dr. McKinnell has the straight answer to this question as well. “As big and influential as some drug companies may be, we can’t fight sovereign nations. So we give in. We don’t like it, but as long as governments are willing to pay more than our costs of manufacturing the drug, we go ahead and sell to them fearing that the alternative is worse.” [64] According to the New York Times, Pfizer recently announced that the company plans to repatriate $28 billion in profits from Pfizer’s poverty stricken foreign affiliates.

Dr. McKinnell also concedes “We are sitting on a failed health system.” [13] But when it comes to solving this problem his cure may be worse than the problem. He reminisces about the time before 1942, when “most people got along just fine without health insurance.” [26] And he makes no bones about where he stands when he writes that “Someone is always stuck with the bill. My preference is that the bill be presented to the one who dines.” [30] That’s tough love for someone out of luck, out of money and out of good health.

Finally, in an astonishing intellectual somersault, Dr. McKinnell claims that “price controls always make prices higher in the long run.” [64] He also writes, “I wish I could lower pharmaceutical prices across the board.” [38] And since he wants to give people lower drug prices, by eliminating price controls, he writes, “Starting with pharmaceuticals, I call for price controls to be lifted in Canada and elsewhere. Let’s work to keep price controls out of the United States and to tear them down around the world.” [64] He ends, “It’s time for Canadians and others to pay their fair share.” [65]

Dr. McKinnell’s fundamental job, according to his book, is “to lead.” [31] Part of leadership is to be a visionary, to anticipate the future; which makes the following statement especially interesting. “By the time this book comes out, I believe the drugs from Canada issue will be recognized as the distraction from the real issue that it really is.” [69]

Dr. McKinnell ends his book with a wonderful quote by Gandhi, for those who desire change. “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” [193] Dr. McKinnell just doesn’t realize that he has become “them.”

Dr. Peter Rost is a Vice President of Marketing at Pfizer. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Dr. Hank McKinnell is the CEO of Pfizer. He makes the following disclaimer in his book, “Much of what I have to say is aligned with Pfizer’s policies on the issues. But the views and conclusions expressed in this book are mine.”[xv]

[ ]: Page number in “A Call to Action,” published April 21, 2005 by McGraw-Hill.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This e-mail may contain copyrighted ((c)) material. The fair use of a copyrighted work, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. This constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C., § 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed for nonprofit educational purposes.

Woman Falling Through Bubbles

More office time-wasting fun.  She's falling, falling, falling, falling for you.  To counteract the effect of gravity, click and drag her around and through the bubbles.

US War Dead Map

The Palm Beach Post has a map that shows the hometowns of the men and women of the US military who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Defunding PBS

Joel Stein argues that the government shouldn't be funding PBS because

"there is no other station so obviously aimed at rich, well-educated, white people....Let's untether PBS from our government, freeing up not only the $400 million but the time spent each year arguing about the $400 million.  PBS could move to cable and live off money it would get for selling off its broadcast-spectrum space to those new sucker networks that believe low-number channels still mean something in a TiVo world.  Yes, it would mean even more ads than PBS now has.  And although ads are annoying, they're a lot better than pledge drives.  At least ads on other networks tell me about new stuff I might want, whereas I already know I don't like tote bags."

1776 continued

Steven Thompson e-mails:

While my family also enjoys our annual 1776 showing this weekend, I'm reminded that the very first time I saw it was on a field trip from school!  With just a few days notice, my entire Kentucky junior high school was taken in buses (I was in 7th grade) to Cincinnati's Carousel theater, the largest curved Cinemascope screen in Ohio!  We all came out singing and saying "I want to be Ben Franklin!" and snickering about Jefferson's "burning".  I always found it ironic that to generations, Howard da Silva became the embodiment of American Patriotism after the vicious blacklisting he received as a communist in the fifties.  Even more ironically, in the mid-seventies he portrayed a startling Kruschev in the TV movie MISSLES OF OCTOBER!

Hilton Horror

Berta Eddy, one of the editors in the KMOX newsroom, saw this AP headline on Friday: "Paris Hilton To Marry, Then Film Horror Movie With Fiancee."  By the time she handed it to me, Berta had added, "They must be referring to the wedding video -- or maybe the wedding night."

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Airport Security?

Paul Feig says exactly what I was thinking while watching the pickup truck chase that ended at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport a couple of days ago:

Anybody see the footage of that truck that crashed through the fence at an airport and sped up and down a runway past taxiing jetliners? Glad to see all that taxpayer money we spent to improve security at our nation's airports has made us so much safer. It's a good thing they put our hard-earned cash into getting my nail clippers away from me for the past three years instead of doing something silly like reinforcing the fences around runways where planes loaded with passengers and jet fuel are idling. Now THAT'S homeland security!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Keeping the 1776 Spirit Alive

On Monday, my wife and daughter and I will sit down for our annual July 4th viewing of "1776," the greatest historical musical ever.  It's so good at telling the story of our Founding Fathers and their struggle to launch this nation on its path towards independence and freedom that it should be mandatory viewing in our nation's schools.  But, as I wrote in an op-ed published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year, at least one school district refused to allow its kids to see "1776."  Read the whole column here.

One other note about Independence Day weekend. Once again, there is an e-mail circulating which purports to tell the stories of the price paid by the 56 patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Some of the stories are true, others are not.  As always, Snopes sorts them out.

Journalists Naming Names

How can Time magazine's giving up the name of Matt Cooper's source be seen as anything short of caving?  All this time, they've been crowing about standing up for the principle of reporters not revealing the identity of confidential sources.  In essence, they'd been saying, "This is so important, so basic to what our profession stands for, that we would rather go to jail than tell you the name."

That lasted right up until the moment that going to jail seemed inevitable and the clang of the jail cell door became more a real-life possibility and less a sound effect they only hear on "Law and Order."

Moreover, why would any source believe you in the future when you guarantee them anonymity?  They'd have about as much trust in you as United employees do in their pension plan managers.

Now, I can see a reporter saying to a source, "Look, I promise that I won't reveal your identity to anyone, unless there's a cell in the Graybar Hotel with my name on it.  That's when you're on your own, okay?  After all, I have a life and a family and I like spending time with them.  Not to mention that they're finally stocking Crunch bars in the office vending machine, and I've got a jones for that chocolaty Nestle's goodness."

If that's the policy from day one, and everyone understands your ground rules, that's fine.  But if you go around shouting "I'm protected by the First Amendment and would rather suffer the indignity of imprisonment than weaken this core tenet of journalism," you kinda look like a wuss when it turns out your commitment was as firm as the pre-Viagra Bob Dole.

The other question not being discussed enough is why Bob Novak hasn't been threatened with contempt of court and jail time. If he would reveal his source, these other reporters wouldn't have to go through any of this. But if Novak refuses, he should face the same consequences Matt Cooper and Judith Miller have.

Catfish For Everyone

Think that 124-pound Mississippi River catfish was big? This one, caught by fishermen in Thailand, beats it by a quarter-ton, tipping the scales at 646 pounds.