Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Kerry Sanders Surveys Katrina Damage By Air

NBC's Kerry Sanders went on a helicopter tour of the Katrina devastation in Mississippi and narrates the remarkable video.

A Katrina Survivor's Story

So many people have commented on this phone call from yesterday's KMOX show that I've posted the audio for you to hear, too.  A woman named Joanna was on her way north from New Orleans, heard me talking about the Katrina aftermath, and shared her own story of evacuation.  We also discussed why so many people couldn't get out, whether the local government should have done more, and what happens now.  Listen to this very compelling conversation here.

Tom Cruise, Friend of Dorothy?

With the Ruby Slippers in the news, it seems timely to ask "Tom Cruise, Friend of Dorothy?"  According to these photos, he was as a boy, dressed as a girl.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Should New Orleans Be Rebuilt?

I had amazing stories from callers to my KMOX show this afternoon who were still heading north after evacuating the gulf coast.

One woman, Joanna, told how her life in New Orleans is over because everything she had was destroyed, and explained why so many people couldn't get out of town -- too much poverty, not enough options for how to leave.  I asked her if the local government should have provided evacuation transportation for the poor and non-mobile, but she replied that she doubted there was any way to handle the huge volume of people who fit those categories.

Meanwhile, there's a dearth of media and information in Biloxi.  Inside Radio reports that all the radio stations were knocked off the air by Katrina, and one of the TV stations had its roof blown off and studios filled with water.

As for New Orleans, Jeff Jarvis asks:

Having visited the city often in my last job, I was always struck by its poverty and its lack of a workable economy.  Tourism is pretty much the only industry.  The food is great.  The attitude is fun. But big companies had left.  And… Does it make sense to rebuild homes and offices in a place that can be destroyed all too easily, putting thousands of lives at risk? Is that the right thing to do?

Joe Montana

Joe Montana called my KMOX show for a few minutes this afternoon.  He's a spokesperson for hypertension awareness, but we also talked a little football -- from what he thinks of the Rams to why the 49ers suck, from pre-season pressure to whether he'd like to work for a coach like Mike Martz.  Listen to the conversation here.

Reese Wants His War TV

Former CNN President Reese Schonfeld was on my KMOX show this afternoon, talking about how TV newscasts aren't paying nearly enough attention to the war in Iraq.  He believes that we deserve as much coverage of the war as we do Hurricane Katrina, not to mention Natalee Holloway et al, and that it has to be more than just "what blew up today."  Instead, it should include context and in-depth reporting, which would have a big impact on public perception of what the US is doing in Iraq and how much longer we'll be there.  Listen to the conversation here.

Reese is the guy who started CNN with Ted Turner and still has strong opinions on how TV news should look and sound, some of which appear on his website.

Katrina's Impact on Gas Prices

Talk about timing.  At 12:30pm today, I filled up my gas tank and was pleasantly surprised to see the price at $2.39/gallon -- fifteen cents lower than a week ago.  I mentioned it on the air a few minutes ago and was bombarded with callers telling me that the prices were all changed this afternoon, and it's now $2.69/gallon, a hike of 30¢ in a few hours, and a new record for the St. Louis area.  One year ago today, the average price was a dollar a gallon cheaper.

Hurricane Katrina TV Silliness

Picture Of The Day:  Covering a hurricane on live TV is tough, which is why we have two entries today.  One is a CNN weatherman losing it on the air at 4:32am, and the other is Fox's Shepard Smith asking a New Orleans resident a stupid question and getting an f-bomb response.

For previous POTD entries, see the Picture Of The Day page.

Monday, August 29, 2005

More On The Mindset List

MSNBC's Gail Fashingbauer think that Beloit College got some things wrong on its Mindset List for the class of 2009, and suggests a few that should have been on the list.

Then again, maybe she needs the list I compiled a couple of months ago, "When My Daughter Grows Up, Her Life Won't Include...."

Human Cannonball Crosses Border

The Smith family is to Human Cannonballs as the Wallenda family is to High Wire Walkers.  On Saturday, David Smith Sr. flew 150 out of a cannon across the border from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, California.  Yes, the border patrol was there.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Iraq Constitution

Everyday, there are stories about problems the interim Iraq government is having in designing a one-size-fits-all constitution.  When anyone complains that it's taking longer than it should, the response is something along the lines of, "Yes, it's taking time, but remember how long it took to write the US Constitution, which still got it wrong about women, blacks, etc."

That's true, but when our Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia in the mid-1780s to pound out this democracy, it had never been done before anywhere in the world -- they couldn't Google previous constitutional examples.  They had no template to work from, so they were starting from scratch, and of course they got some stuff wrong.

On the other hand, Iraq has more than two centuries of democratic models to draw from -- but if we must compare the two, let's start at the beginning, with the Preamble.

Here's the opening of the US Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
That's pretty good writing, one helluva thesis statement. Now, here's the Preamble to the Iraqi Constitution:
We the sons of Mesopotamia, land of the prophets, resting place of the holy imams, the leaders of civilization and the creators of the alphabet, the cradle of arithmetic: on our land, the first law put in place by mankind was written; in our nation, the most noble era of justice in the politics of nations was laid down; on our soil, the followers of the prophet and the saints prayed, the philosophers and the scientists theorized and the writers and poets created.
Who's writing this stuff, Don King?  When you're writing a constitution, you don't open with your resume, you open with your intentions.  Otherwise, it sounds less like a constitution and more like those opening remarks from the head of a state delegation during the roll call vote at a politicial convention: "Missouri, the Show-Me State, home of the best team in baseball, where at least one future President was born, where people use both arithmetic and the alphabet...etc."

This is not a good start.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Newspaper Hoax

The student newspaper at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale had a big deal going.  For two years, they ran with the story of little Kodee Kennings whose father was serving in Iraq, publishing her letters to her overseas daddy.

Unfortunately, none of it was true.  An adult woman was pretending to be Kodee, even playing that role in phone conversation with Michael Brenner, the former Daily Egyptian editor who first wrote about Kodee.  Eventually, Kodee had to meet the DE staff, so a little girl was brought in to play the role -- same for a man who claimed to be her father, Dan Kennings, home on leave.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "There is no soldier named Dan Kenning.  The charming girl people came to know as Kodee Kennings is someone else entirely, a child from an out-of-state family led to believe that she was playing a part in a documentary about a soldier."

And the woman?  She's Jaimie Reynolds, who alleges that the whole hoax was Brenner's idea, who she'd fallen in love with, and that he did it to further his career.  Brenner denies the accusation and says her claims are outrageous.

Who is telling the truth, and why didn't anyone else at the Daily Egyptian do some reporting and digging at some point in the two years they were publishing this hoax?  This one's going to take awhile to sort out, but it's one helluva story.

Somewhere, an agent is reading this and thinking "movie of the week!"

Note that the Tribune requires registration, but it's free and worth it -- or you can use BugMeNot.

Bruce Campbell, B-Movie Legend

Bruce Campbell, star of the "Evil Dead" movies, was on my KMOX show yesterday to talk about his new book, "Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way."  He's a very good storyteller, particularly about the inside workings of movie-making and Hollywood -- he told a great one about his old friend Sam Raimi directing Gene Hackman in "The Quick and the Dead."  He also explained why zombies really aren't that much fun.  Listen to our conversation here.

Bruce has written and directed the new movie "Man With The Screaming Brain," which will on the Sci-Fi channel next month and then on DVD.  His first book, "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor," is lots of fun, too.

Follow up: Press Conference for One

Carol Daniel has a good point about the way local TV news works in regard to yesterday's Picture Of The Day, where only one TV cameraman showed up for some group's press conference.  She said that, instead of thinking that the story wasn't very important and wondering why you were there when no one else was, the TV station would probably turn it around to a positive, promoting it as "an exclusive -- we're the only station to report this!"

For previous POTD entries, see the Picture Of The Day page.

Unicorn Man

Picture Of The Day: Call him Unicorn Man. The tumor growing out from between his eyes looks like a horn -- am I the only one who thinks it looks like something else?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Is Lethal Injection Cruel & Painful?

Tim Johnston is scheduled to be executed by the state of Missouri next Wednesday, but his lawyers are trying to delay his death by saying that the way he'll be killed is cruel and painful.

On my KMOX show, attorney Chris McGraugh explained that the three-drug process doesn't keep the inmate from feeling pain in the final step, and is therefore unconstitutional.  Listen to the conversation here.  There's a hearing on their attempt to obtain a temporary restraining order scheduled for tomorrow in US district court.

Johnston brutally dragged and beat his wife to death in 1989, and deserves to die. I'm a death penalty advocate, but disagree with those who say "kill him the way he killed his wife." If we as a society want to be able to point at someone and say that what they did was so horrible they must be punished, then society can't stoop to those same levels. Bad people do what he did, and we're the good guys.

That said, when Tim Johnston's life is snuffed out on a prison gurney, we'll all move forward and get along just fine without him. As long as he's not tortured, beaten, or hazed, I have no problem with the last thought that goes through his mind before death being, "argh, I'm having a heart attack!" or "oooh, my chest!" or "too bad The Shawshank Redemption wasn't about me!"

Personally, if I had to be executed, I think I'd like them to bring back the guillotine -- but I'd insist they put me in it face up, so I can see the blade coming down. After all, this is my last moment of life, why not have it end with some excitement and a loud scream?

Press Conference for One

What you saw on TV was a press conference with several people around the podium.  What you didn't see was that the entire audience was made up of the sole TV cameraman who was sent to cover the event -- no one else showed up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mindset of Class of 2009

Beloit College has released their annual Mindset List -- this one for the incoming freshmen who make up the Class of 2009. Among the 75 items that are common to these 18-year-olds:

  • They never saw Pat Sajak or Arsenio Hall host a late night television show.

  • They never saw a Howard Johnson's with 28 ice cream flavors.

  • CNBC has always been on the air.

  • The Field of Dreams has always been drawing people to Iowa.

  • Airports have always had upscale shops and restaurants.

  • Black Americans have always been known as African-Americans.

  • Digital cameras have always existed.

  • Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.

  • Contracts with surrogate mothers have always been legal.

  • RU486, the "morning after pill," has always been on the market.

On a related theme, several months ago, I compiled a list of things my daughter's life won't include when she grows up (she'll be in the Class of 2012).

I'm Not Fat, I'm Suing!

Doctor: "You're obese and need to lose weight or it will kill you."
Patient: "Who you calling fat? That's it, I'm going to sue you."

She did -- and the state medical board and attorney general's office both went after him.

How about just switching doctors if you don't like the way he treats you?  I bet the patient was so stressed, she went out and ate two pints of Ben & Jerry's.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tucker Carlson

The host of MSNBC's "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" was on my KMOX show this afternoon to talk about whether US efforts in Iraq would all be for nothing if it becomes a nation based on Islamic law with women having few rights.  We also discussed what can be done about high gas prices, what he thinks of Pat Robertson's latest idiocy, and why he refuses to do stories like Natalee Holloway, even if it means lower ratings.  Listen to the conversation here.

Steroid Testing HS Athletes

The Fort Zumwalt school district has become the first in Missouri to conduct steroid testing on high school athletes (only 4% of all US high schools do so).  Superintendent Bernard DuBray was on my KMOX show today to explain how the voluntary program works, who pays for it, and what happens if a kid tests positive.  Listen to the conversation here.

What Makes Babies?

A school in Canton, Ohio, has a biology problem -- of 490 female students, 65 are pregnant. But the best part of the story is this line: "School officials are not sure what has caused so many pregnancies." Hmm, I think I see the problem. How about a little sex ed for the adults?

Utah Rave Party Busted By SWAT Team

There's a major buzz going around the internet about an incident in Utah this weekend, in which 90 police officers, including the SWAT team, broke up a rave party attended by several hundred people.  The official explanation is that there was no permit and there had been problems at previous raves including drugs and sexual abuse.  But the ravers are complaining that the police used excessive force to assault the partygoers with assault rifles, tear gas, and dogs.  This is, after all, the wild, untamed state of Utah!  Details and video here.

[thanks to Mattias Burch for tipping me to the story]

Thin Car To Slip Through Traffic

Ever been stuck in traffic and seen someone on a motorcycle zoom along between the lanes of stopped cars? Now there's a car that's thin enough to slide through -- just 39 inches wide. George Clooney has one!

Monday, August 22, 2005

SWF, Must Love Farming

A divorced farmer doesn't have time to meet women, so instead of placing a personal ad in the paper, he put it in his cornfield -- and women have responded.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Aristocrats

It's not the best joke in the world, but if it's told right, it's the dirtiest joke in the world -- and it's the entire premise behind "The Aristocrats," the new documentary by Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette.

The reality of comedians talking about comedy is rarely entertaining, but in this case it's hysterical.  Several dozen comedians -- you've heard of many, never heard of some -- both tell and dissect the same joke.  There's a setup, a punchline, and a completely improvised middle section, which is where the joke teller lets loose with a string of supremely sexual and scatalogical acts and descriptions far beyond anything you've ever heard before.  It's disgustingly brilliant.

What takes it to that level is not just hearing the joke told every possible way, including a funny twist by Carrot Top, a card trick version by sleight-of-hand artist Eric Mead, and even one by a mime.  It's also hearing the variations on the joke that turn it inside out and upside down (I particularly enjoyed the adaptations by Wendy Liebman and Martin Mull).  Adding to the effect is the rhythm -- the comedic timing of the editing that keeps it all flowing.

It's not playing in thousands of theaters, so "The Aristocrats" won't rake in the kind of documentary bucks that Michael Moore or emperor penguins can -- in St. Louis, it's only showing at The Tivoli, where the manager told me that it's their best-attended movie in a very long time -- but I suspect that when it comes out on DVD, it will become must-see viewing in many homes and dorm rooms across America (that DVD will hopefully include much more material that they couldn't stuff into the theatrical release from the hours of footage they shot -- while it's great to see Kevin Pollak doing Christopher Walken telling the joke, I want to see the Kevin Pollak doing Albert Brooks version!).

However, if you're going to see it, please remember that these are only words -- pure free speech -- no one was injured in any way by making or seeing "The Aristocrats," and there are no graphic visuals of any kind (unless you count seeing Phyllis Diller in a sleeveless dress).  Still, don't go see it if you're easily offended, because you've been warned.

On the other hand, if you want to see funny people being funny and raunchy and clever and insightful all at the same time, don't miss "The Aristocrats."

Memo to Paul and Penn:  not only did you do a good job rounding up more than the usual suspects and compiling their versions of the joke, but you added a very nice touch with the dedication at the end of the credits.

Bonus: On "The Aristocrats" website you'll find Penn's blog going all the way back to November, 2001, when they first starting visiting all the comedians, getting them on tape, hanging with them, and other behind-the-scenes stuff.  It's apparent this was a labor of love, and Penn lays out all the respect these comedians deserve.

Cafferty & Costas Earn Congrats

Two media pros deserve kudos this week.

One is Jack Cafferty, a CNN anchor who, on the air, decried his own network's coverage of the BTK murder trial sentencing.  Cafferty said that by showing Dennis Rader's long statement to the court, in its entirety, the news media played right into his hands:

"We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Publicity is this monster's gasoline. It's what kept him going during the years he was playing cat and mouse with the cops and murdering innocent people. He loved being the BTK killer. He loved reading about himself in the newspapers, watching the television stories on the local news in Kansas, on the nights before he got caught.

Doesn't anybody get this? This thing should have been sentenced in a closed courtroom in 30 seconds and thrown into a hole to rot. I'm a little embarrassed to be a part of the media on a day like this.

This is a ghoulish exercise on the part of the news media and if ratings are the reason, then I'll say it again, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. There was no reason to give this guy a platform to talk to everybody in the country about thanking the cops and all this garbage that he spewed.

I watched it for two hours. It's nonsense. It doesn't belong on television. Nobody needs to watch this stuff. All it does is inspire other nut cases out there that may be they can get themselves famous by doing this kind of -- it's terrible and I don't care how many people were watching."
Way to go, Jack!  I hope the corner office at CNN and the other news networks which allowed Dennis Rader all of that free airtime will consider your words next time around. In case they missed them, here's a transcript.

The other is Bob Costas, who refused to anchor CNN's "Larry King Live" on Thursday night because the hour was dedicated to the Natalee Holloway case. The network found another substitute host for that night, and the next day, Costas released a statement explaining his position:
"I didn't think the subject matter of Thursday's show was the kind of broadcast that I should be doing. I suggested some alternatives but the producers preferred the topics they had chosen. I was fine with that, and respectfully declined to participate. There were no hard feelings at all. It's not a big deal. I'm sure there are countless topics that will be mutually acceptable in the future."
This is why Bob should go back to doing his HBO "On The Record" show weekly (rather than his current monthly show, "Costas Now"). "OTR" allowed him to do what he liked, not the sort of junk news coverage he'll be forced into whenever he subs for King. Costas is a brilliant interviewer and broadcaster, but he'll be sucked down by the quicksand that is "Larry King Live" if he stays there.

Speaking of Costas, now that there are DVDs of classic Dick Cavett shows, isn't it about time NBC boxed up those classic "Later" shows and released them on DVD?

Randy Moss, Pothead or Role Model?

I love these pundits, both online and on the air, who say that Randy Moss shouldn't have admitted smoking marijuana because he's "a role model" for many young fans.

Please!  This is the same Randy Moss who was fined ten grand last year for pretending to moon the Green Bay crowd at a Vikings-Packers game.  The same Randy Moss who squirted a ref with a water bottle in 1999.  The same Randy Moss who yelled at sponsors on a team bus in 2001.  To call him a role model is to redefine the term downward beyond belief, as if anyone getting paid to be an athlete deserves looking up to.  What are you, stoned?

Friday, August 19, 2005

FedEx Furniture

His bed, his desk, his couch, his chairs, and his dining table -- all the furniture he has -- are made from nothing but FedEx boxes and shipping supplies. Meanwhile, the FedEx folks aren't happy and have sent him legal letters, which he's posted, along with responses from the law school team that's stepped up to help him.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Poker Pro

I don't want to blow his image, but Chris "Jesus" Ferguson isn't nearly as intimidating in person as he seems when you see him playing on all the WPT, WSOP, and other TV poker shows.

The five-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner (including the main event in 2000) talked to me this afternoon on KMOX about his intimidating image at the table, who he fears across the felt, whether he plays satellites or pays the full buy-in for the big tournaments he plays, and why it was so hard to go to the bathroom at the 2005 WSOP.  We also discussed a little bit of strategy, whether he watches poker on TV to analyze future opponents, and the story behind those "hold'em or fold'em" commercials where he's in a guy's refrigerator.  Off the air, Chris told me that he doesn't play in cash games and never really has -- I guess he doesn't have to, since he's currently the 7th-best money maker on the poker circuit -- so I wouldn't look for him in your local poker room.

Listen to the conversation here, and if you're looking for an online poker room to try, Chris recommends FullTiltPoker.com, which he and other pros created and play on for several hours a week.

Joel Makower on Gas Prices & Clean Energy

Joel Makower, editor of Greenbiz.com, was on my KMOX show today to talk about the high price of gas, whether American consumers have reached the threshold at which we'll drive less and buy smaller cars, and why Detroit isn't making more fuel-efficient vehicles while the Japanese have embraced them.  He also explained what clean energy is, and what needs to be done by both the public and private sectors to change America's energy future (and the cost of filling up your gas tank!).  Listen to the conversation here.

In addition to Greenbiz.com, Joel also has a blog about "sustainable business, clean technology, and a green marketplace."  He also travels the world giving speeches on energy and the environment, and consulting companies big and small.

Why Do Men Have Nipples?

Dr. Billy Goldberg and Mark Leyner were on my KMOX show today to answer a question that we've all wondered about at some point, "Why Do Men Have Nipples?"  That's the title of their book, which is also the first one I've ever seen with a recipe for making homemade mucus. We talked about other important questions, too, like "why do some people have an outie belly button?" and "can eating a poppy bagel make you test positive for drugs?" and "why can kids stay in cold water in the pool or ocean longer than adults?" (that one stumped them!).  I also asked Dr. Goldberg about things he sees in movies or on TV that he knows are just outrageously wrong.  Listen to the conversation here.

Men In Coats

Sometimes, you just want silly. These two guys, "Men In Coats," provide it, on some TV show that does not look American in origin [thanks to Rose Smulczenski for the link].

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gretchen & Meredith, "The Amazing Race"

Gretchen & Meredith Smith, the couple who came in fourth on "The Amazing Race" this spring, were on my KMOX show this afternoon.  They told all sorts of behind-the-scenes stories about what it was like working with the TV crews, how they dealt with losing all their money and clothing when they were last to arrive at a pit stop during a non-elimination round, how they felt about Rob & Amber, what really happened when Brian and Greg's 4x4 overturned in the African desert, why Gretchen was on top of that wooden elephant that Meredith was struggling to push up an Indian street, and much more.  If you're a fan of the show, you'll love these first-person stories -- listen to the conversation here.

The 8th season of "The Amazing Race" begins next month on CBS, and it's a family affair -- instead of two people on each team, there will be four, and they're all family members.  Word is that, because kids as young as 8 were involved, the race took place entirely in North America, was much shorter than previous races, and included tasks and routes more appropriate for families.  As a longtime fan of the show, I hope this isn't the season when "The Amazing Race" jumps the shark (or, as the phrase goes now, in honor of Tom Cruise's escapades on Oprah, "jumps the couch").

You can also listen to conversations I've had with Phil Keoghan, the host of "The Amazing Race," and Brian & Greg, the brothers from Ellisville, MO, who wrecked and rolled their race vehicle in the African desert during "TAR7."

Dean Cameron's Nigerian Spam Scam

I was just talking about this on my KMOX show...

Dean Cameron is an actor/comedian who had some free time and decided to have fun with the spammers behind those Nigerian e-mails that promise you wealth if only you'd help them out.  Dean took on a phony identity himself and replied, "Great! Do you have any toast?"  And thus it began, seven months of fun never giving in but wasting as much of the spammers' time and mental energy as possible.

I saw Dean perform the transcript of this exchange, verbatim, in a two-person show (with Victor Isaac as the bewildered Nigerian), and it's hilarious.  This month, they're doing it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but you can read it here.

Blogging Twins & The Amazing Race

Aaron Barnhart has an e-mail on his site from twin brothers in Brooklyn, NY, who want to be on "The Amazing Race." The gist of their message is that it would be cool to have two bloggers on the show, and that the marketing opportunities of having this online exposure would be great for the show.

Two problems.

First, this isn't a matter of publicity for "TAR," it's a cheap and blatant attempt by these two guys to get on the show and become famous for it. For that reason alone, they should be kept off at all costs.

Second, they wouldn't be allowed to blog during the race. CBS and the producers must maintain absolute secrecy about what's happening, where they've been, where they're going, who's winning, who's whining, etc. Contestants who have done the show know they must keep everything about their adventure secret or risk the wrath of legal problems and financial exposure in the millions of dollars. Not only could they not blog while racing, but they also couldn't post details until the shows began airing, which is often several months after they've returned home. Thus, although real-time blogging would be interesting, it's not practical, and thus much less valuable.

Wife's Not Dead, Just Playing

Man wants wife dead. Problem is, he's in jail. So he devises a scheme to hire a hitman to knock her off. Unfortunately, a prison snitch tells the cops, who set up an undercover cop and convince the wife to play along with a phony murder. They photograph her playing dead, complete with fake blood. The husband falls for it, and The Smoking Gun has the picture and more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Eminent Domain, Ultimate Cajones

The Supreme Court sent shockwaves across the country on June 23, when a 5-4 majority ruled (in Kelo v. New London) that a city may use eminent domain to take someone's home and give it to a developer who wants to build a mall, a hotel, etc.  Previously, eminent domain could only be used for a greater public purpose, such as widening a highway or putting in a school.

The decision seemed to defy the very heart of the American Dream, to own a home and call it your own. Its impact was felt here in the St. Louis area, where there's currently a bitter fight over the Sunset Hills development, and all across the country.

Unfortunately, the worst ripple effect of that decision is still being felt in New London, Connecticut, by the woman at the center of the case, Suzette Kelo, and her neighbors, who were fighting against the city to keep their homes.

Under eminent domain, homeowners are supposed to get something approaching market value for the house and land that's taken from them.  However, New London is rubbing salt in the wound by refusing to pay Suzette et al the current value of the homes in 2005 dollars.  Instead, they're only being offered the 2000 value, which is considerably less than what they'd get in the current boom market.

And it gets worse.

According to a piece by Jonathan O'Connell in Fairfield Weekly, not only are their land and homes being confiscated, but the city is charging these homeowners back rent!

The New London Development Corporation condemned the homes in 2000.  Suzette and her neighbors fought back, literally making a federal case out of it.  Since the city won, it claims that all of these people have been living on city property for the last five years, so they owe retroactive rent.

In Suzette's case, that's around $57,000, which is not only a helluva lot of money to live in a place that was condemned, but also more than the equity she has in the house.  That means she and her husband would have no house to live in and no money to buy a new house.  She told O'Connell, "I could get a large-size refrigerator box and live under the bridge."  Unfortunately, the city probably owns that land, so she'd have to pay rent there, too!

This is the United States of America?  Land of the free and home of the brave? Sorry, brave, your home is right where we want to build a new Wal-Mart, Sheraton, and TGIFriday's, so the only freedom you're entitled to is the right to be screwed!

Laura Penny, "Your Call Is Important To Us"

This afternoon on my KMOX show, I talked with Laura Penny about her book, "Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bulls**t."  Laura sees phoniness everywhere ("a fog of fibs") from voice mail hell to Big Pharma to TV news to, naturally, politics.  Until reading Laura's book, I didn't know that American businesses have been outsourcing their call centers not just to India, but also to prisons here in the US -- thus cutting out the middleman in the identity theft problem and having us give our info directly to criminals!  Listen to our conversation here.

Balancing Point

Danny Brown makes rock sculptures stand up, pop out of the water, and balance as if by magic -- almost as if he was running the video backwards or something.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Good Question, Kemosabe

Chris McCoskey e-mails, "With all this stuff about Indian names of college teams, can we still call the guys selling tickets outside the game 'scalpers'?"

Skycap Tips

For the first time in a long time, we checked our luggage on our recent vacation to the northeast. We had gotten so good at packing everything into a couple of carry-ons that we actually did a two-week trip to Australia about 15 years ago without checking a single bag, but for some reason, this trip was different.

So, we pulled our bags up to the curbside check-in and were pleasantly surprised to find no line. The guy at the counter took our IDs, looked up our flight information on his computer terminal, handed us boarding passes, and printed out the sticky things that go around the luggage handles to ensure that our four bags went where they were supposed to go. We thanked him and then there was an awkward pause before we began to move away. He cleared his throat and said, "I'm your skycap, and I'll make sure these bags get on the plane."

I thought, "Well, of course you will, that's your job." But what he meant was, "This is when you tip me."

I have no problem tipping someone for providing me an extra service, and I'm not stingy about it. You help me unload the luggage from my car, put it on your cart, then help me cut to the front of the line so we save time as you expedite my luggage-checking, and I'll happily slap some green on you.

But this guy wasn't doing anything the people inside the terminal at the airline counter weren't doing -- in fact, it was the exact same job! No one in their right mind would ever tip a ticket agent for making sure the bags got on that conveyor belt, so why does this guy deserve a gratuity? The airline outsources the job, and the consumer has to pick up the slack once again.

It's no different than going to a restaurant to pick up a to-go order. If you pay by credit card, there's that spot on the receipt where you would add a tip if you'd been served by a waitress in the restaurant or had the food delivered to your home, but does anyone add a tip when they've driven to the restaurant and picked up the order themselves? Do you tip at the McDonald's drive-thru or the Starbucks counter?

I have the same thought whenever I'm in Vegas and need a taxi. I walk out of a hotel to the line at the cab stand and wait my turn. When I'm next, the doorman (or transportation expediter, which I'm sure is the politically correct term) asks me how many people are in my party and where I'm going. He then opens the door of the cab and repeats this information to the cabbie. For this minor and completely unnecessary service, I've seen hundreds of people slip the guy a buck or two. Thanks, but I can open a car door and speak to the driver myself. Done it thousands of times in major cities all around the world. Why exactly do I need a middle man?

Once, I asked a Vegas cabbie about this practice. He told me that the doormen were making such huge sums of money from these tips that the larger hotels were starting to demand up-front payments of tens of thousands of dollars before they'd consider someone for the job. He also said that while cabbies were usually treated equally, some of these doorman run a ruthless extortion racket when it comes to limo and other for-hire drivers, refusing to steer guests to them unless they got a kickback, blackballing those who wouldn't play along.

I felt a little extorted myself at the curbside check-in, especially when I heard, "I'm your skycap, and I'll make sure these bags get on the plane." The insinuation there was that if I didn't cough up a few bucks, my bags were headed to Santa Fe instead of Boston. Since that's one of the classic fears of flying -- and since we could still recall a rather horrific lost-luggage experience from a couple of decades ago that had first set us on our policy of carry-on-only -- I pulled out a five and handed it over. The skycap thanked us (with all the sincerity of a Soprano bag man collecting protection money) and we went on our way.

I'm happy to report that our bags went the same way we did, but I felt so used.

Harvard Lampoon "Premiere" parody

The Harvard Lampoon has done a parody issue of Premiere, the movie magazine, including a look at upcoming summer sequels.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Olbermann on Smoking & Cancer

While away on vacation, I read some newspapers and got a little more news from TV and radio.  But I didn't go online, didn't check my e-mail, didn't make a single blog entry (although I have several things to post as soon as I find time, after reading and replying to the more than 500 e-mails I had waiting for me this afternoon upon my return home).

One of the things I missed was Keith Olbermann's great piece on smoking and cancer.  He did it at the end of "Countdown" on the same night he had opened with a very nice 12-minute obituary of Peter Jennings.  His closing piece was about his personal connection with cancer -- having had a tumor removed from the roof of his mouth ten days earlier, caused by decades of pipe and cigar smoking.  He's drawn some criticism for the piece, but I think it's praiseworthy.

It's also typical of what Olbermann can do that others can't, or won't, in the anchor chair.  Now that Jennings is gone, Olbermann is undoubtedly the most polished writer and news presenter on television.  He understands that the words matter, and they don't have to be shouted, and that a sense of humanity must be at the core of whatever he's reporting, whether it be deadly serious or seriously stupid.  Here's the text of what he said that night, with a link to the video version.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima Footage Cover-Up

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the US bombing Hiroshima.  What you don't know is that there was extensive film taken of the aftermath, but that footage was suppressed for decades by the US government, in an effort to keep Americans from knowing the horror and devastating effects of the bomb.

Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher has uncovered the story, which he described on my KMOX show, and in this in-depth piece.  It raises the simple question, "Would Americans have felt differently about the use of the atomic bomb if they had been allowed to see its effects?"

Listen to the conversation here.

Greg also contributed to the award-winning documentary, "Original Child Bomb," which premieres on the Sundance Channel tomorrow (Saturday 8/6).

Ray Hartmann, ACLU Chapter President

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times, then sold it but continued to write for it, then moved onto other things, and this week was named the President of the Board of the Eastern Missour chapter of the ACLU.  On my KMOX show, we discussed the hottest issues the ACLU is taking on, and he fields some hostile calls from listeners.  Listen to the conversation here.

Novak Goes Nuts

During a typical, boring, political discussion on CNN, Robert Novak became upset at something James Carville said.  Novak replied, "that's bulls**t," then stood up, pulled off his microphone and stomped off the set.  Neither Carville nor the host, Ed Henry, said a word about it.  But afterwards, CNN suspended Novak indefinitely, so we'll all have to find some way to move forward without him.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Chuck Klosterman, Rock & Roll Road Trip

Chuck Klosterman spent three weeks driving across the country visiting locales where famous rockers died -- from the swampland where Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane went down to the place where Kurt Cobain killed himself.  We had a great discussion on my KMOX show about his adventures, what he found at each site, why he chose the places he went, and why he considers Eric Clapton the most overrated musician of all time.  Listen to the conversation here, then then read more of his stories in Chuck's book, "Killing Yourself to Live."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Movie Review Rebate

In 2001, Sony advertised some of its movies with rapturous quotes from David Manning of The Ridgefield Press. He loved "A Knight's Tale," "The Animal," "Vertical Limit," and other pieces of trash that the studio released that year.

Only problem was that, while there is a newspaper in Connecticut called The Ridgefield Press, they didn't have an employee named David Manning, let alone a movie review by that name.

Sony made him up; a fictional reviewer to review fictional movies.

Naturally, in America, that sort of deception can not go unpunished, so attorney Norman Blumenthal filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who went to see those movies, supposedly because of Manning's ringing endorsement. Sony has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle the suit, and if you're willing to admit having paid to see any of those movies, you're entitled to a $5/ticket reimbursement.

The nonsense here is the claim that any quote from any reviewer is enough to convince someone to go see a movie. It doesn't matter whether it's Roger Ebert, Gene Shalit, James Rocchi, or me -- if you don't like a movie we liked and recommended, that's a difference of opinion, not the basis of a lawsuit.

I wrote about this in a 1998 Just Plain Harris column, entitled "The Feel-Good Movie Review Of The Year!"...

I'm looking through the movie listings to figure out whether there's anything worth spending my time and money on, when my eyes are drawn to the an ad for the movie, Urban Legend. There, in bold letters, is this quote from a reviewer: "A heart-pounding, edge of your seat treat!"

Now, I haven't heard of Urban Legend, and have no idea what it's about, but that's the sort of quote that makes you take notice. After all, who doesn't want to sit on the edge of their seat with their heart-pounding? C'mon, that's the kind of movie that made Steven Spielberg rich! The ad is working just as they want it to.

So, which big name movie critic is lavishing this praise on the movie? Is it Joel Siegel, Jeffrey Lyons, Gene Shalit? Is it one of their print counterparts, like Janet Maslin of the New York Times? Richard Schickel of Time magazine? Peter Travers of Rolling Stone? Steven Hunter of The Washington Post?

No, it's that heavyweight of movie reviews, Linda Stotter. You don't know who Linda is? Neither do I. But according to the credit next to her big movie quote, Linda writes for something called "Entertainment TimeOut."

Sounds like that arcade place down at the mall, doesn't it?

Whoever she is, she probably wrote some puff-piece review of an obvious piece of trash, and since no other critic gave them anything close to a quote they could use, they went with Linda's rave. That's the way it works now. Take a look for yourself, and you can tell from the people they quote just how bad the movie must be.

For instance, based solely on the ads, the new Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come, must be in trouble already (although, as I write this, it may be having a record-breaking weekend). Here are three actual quotes they're using to promote it: "Robin Williams gives the performance of his lifetime!" "You won't believe your eyes!" "Two thumbs up!"

Of course, that last one is from Siskel & Ebert, the only ones you've ever heard of. The other two are from Bonnie Churchill of the National News Syndicate -- which I thought Elliott Ness had busted years ago -- and Sam Hallenbeck of the Theater Radio Network, which I believe is the one that plays non-stop Celine Dion songs into the theater while you stare at slides with ads for the local pawn broker.

They also include a quote from Russ Lieberman, Mr. Moviephone. What??? You mean the guy who is paid by the movie studios to promote their movies on an automated telephone line? He's the one you're quoting to convince me to see the movie? What was the last time he said anything even remotely negative about any movie? This guy has recommended Pauly Shore movies, fer chrissake!

There's another reviewer quote from Brian Sullivan of something called Movie Reviews and More. I'll bet even the people at the Thrifty Nickel don't take this publication seriously. What's the "and more"? A 10% off Jiffy Lube coupon? Would you like fries with that?

More actual quotes. These are for One True Thing, the new Meryl Streep movie: "Bring a hanky and an appreciation for some of the finest acting of the year" -- Larry Ratliff, KABB. "One of the year's best" -- Jim Ferguson, KMSB.

Again, we're in serious trouble here. The tipoff is those call letters, and it doesn't matter whether they're for a TV or radio station (and you can't tell in these instances, nor do you have any idea what town they're from). The point is that the movie company couldn't get a positive quote out of anyone with a national reputation -- and they apparently couldn't get one from your own local paper's reviewer, either!

Take it from someone who has talked about movies on the air for a long time...the only way a broadcast review can ever be quoted is if the reviewer actually sends a copy of the review to the movie's publicist. In many cases, the publicists demand that you do this in order to continue to get the free passes to the pre-release screenings. If you had to send yours, knowing that those freebies were at their discretion, and you weren't important enough in the media food chain to wield any power whatsoever, just how critical would you be? Bingo. Thus, the call-letter-quotes. And this especially applies to anyone from a radio station who gets quoted. We're whores who wouldn't do anything that might jeopardize free stuff, so you're guaranteed something puffy.

Three more quick movie ad quotes:

For Rush Hour: "Rush to Rush Hour!" -- Anne Marie O'Connor, Mademoiselle. Simple and cute, and certainly a movie that's perfect for her magazine's target audience, right?

For Strangeland: "Dee Snider is a horror icon for the next millennium" -- Fangoria magazine. Damn, I let my subscription lapse and missed the full-length review. Oh, well, I'm sure it's on their website, www.killyourparents.com.

For A Night at the Roxbury: The ad contains no quotes at all, which should tell you everything you need to know. They couldn't even get something nice from Mr. Moviephone!!

I'm not saying that these people aren't entitled to their opinion. They are. All I'm saying is that the guy who delivers your pizza has about as much credibility on fine dining as most of these ad-quote people do about what movie you should see.

On the other hand, I'll admit I'm a little jealous. I'd love to be quoted myself, which is why I offer these evergreen quotes, perfect for any movie:

"It's the feel-good hit of the spring/summer/fall/winter!"

"Rarely has a film been projected so well in a darkened theater!"

"Call the academy now and tell them we have a winner for best dolly grip!"

"It was almost in focus!"

And the one I like to throw in for the theater owners: "Remember, the biggest popcorn and soda are always your best value!"

Credit those to "Paul Harris, of Harris Online TimeOut Syndicate And More!"

Water Drop & Harold Edgerton

Today's Picture Of The Day, a simple yet terrific shot of a drop of water caught in mid-air, reminds me of the ground-breaking work of Harold Edgerton, the inventor of the strobe flash, who pioneered stop-action photography.  A collection of his work, "Stopping Time," has been on my bookshelf for years, and never fails to stimulate conversation with its photographic brilliance.

Different Ideas

President Bush has come out in favor of teaching "intelligent design" -- the new euphemism for creationism -- alongside evolution in our public schools.  When asked about it by reporters, Dubya said, "People should learn different ideas."  So I guess this is when he announces the cancellation of the government-mandated abstinence-only method of sex education in those same schools, because that limits the "ideas."

Of course, that won't happen, because in the current climate, "different ideas" means "my own faith-based opinion that has absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever."  I can't wait until some kid fails a math test because he thinks the square root of 121 is 13, but defends his answer as a "different idea."

Eric Brende, Flipping The Switch on Technology

Eric Brende spent 18 months with his wife living off the grid -- no electricity, no car, no TV, no phone, nothing motorized.  We talked about why they did it, how they earned money, what they did for entertainment, what they missed and didn't miss about technology, and how they still lives a low-tech lifestyle.  Listen to the conversation here.

For more, read Eric's book, "Better Off," which is out in paperback and has already sold out its first printing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Olivette Diner's Classic Rock History


I mentioned on my KMOX show today that we're rewarding loyal listeners all week with gift certificates to the Olivette Diner, which has an interesting classic rock connection from 30 years ago.  In 1975, Head East released an album called "Flat As A Pancake," which included the song "Never Been Any Reason," which went on to be a longtime staple of rock radio (you know it by the chorus, "Save my life, I'm going down for the last time...").  The back cover photo showed the band stuffing their faces with pancakes at what was then called the Rite-Way Diner.  It has changed owners a few times since then, but it's still in the same place (9638 Olive Blvd, just west of I-170) and is now owned by Amy and Vince DiBlasi, who operate it as the Olivette Diner.  You can download some coupons from their site.

The Rock

In Iowa, it's known simply as The Rock. It used to be painted with graffiti and other childish stuff. Now it has a slightly more permanent and important look.

Monday, August 01, 2005

KMOX Anniversary

Today marked the beginning of my 2nd year on NewsTalk 1120 KMOX, and I appreciate all your support.  The ratings are up, the calls and e-mails are consistently great, and your checks have cleared.  Thanks for all of that and more!

Philip Carlo on Pedophile Priests and Serial Killers

Today on my KMOX show, I talked to Philip Carlo, criminal profiler of serial killers, pedophiles, and sexual predators.  His latest book is "Predators and Prayers," about the murder of a pedophile priest at a Catholic church, and we discussed that scandal at length.  He also wrote "Night Stalker" about serial killer Richard Ramirez, who he spent over 100 hours interviewing face-to-face.  You won't believe the story he tells about attending the jailhouse wedding of this death row sicko and a woman who fell for him while he was behind bars.  Listen to the conversation here.

Rafael Palmiero

A few days ago, I watched the DVD of "Mr. 3000," the Bernie Mac comedy about a baseball player who achieves the milestone of 3,000 hits and then assumes he'll make it into the Hall Of Fame.  Unfortunately, he was such an arrogant jerk and treated the sportswriters -- the ones who vote on the inductees -- so horribly, that he doesn't even come close.  Then, nine years after his retirement, someone discovers that there had been a math error, and he'd only hit safely 2,997 times. So he tries to get himself back into shape and rejoin his team to get his number back up to that magical plateau, but finds that there's a lot of lingering hostility towards him.

That's right about where Rafael Palmiero finds himself today.  Not that he was an arrogant jerk, but his induction into Cooperstown was never a lock.  Sure, he'd played for 18 consistent years, but never at the level of a superstar.  It wasn't until he recently got his 3,000th hit, to go along with his 500+ home runs, that anyone mentioned his name and the Hall of Fame in the same sentence.

Now that's in serious doubt, because he's been caught with some illicit chemicals in his system.  Whether he took the steroids intentionally or not isn't the question.  It's why he'd allow himself to be in this situation, considering all the scrutiny the issue has gotten this year, and especially after his finger-wagging denial at a congressional hearing in March that he has "never used steroids, period" (he might as well have pounded the table and added, "and I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky!")  He lives close enough to DC to know that you don't say things like that unless you're absolutely, one hundred percent clean, or the sound bite is going to come back to haunt you.

A listener to my KMOX show today pointed out that we, the American consumers, are awfully hypocritical on this drugs-in-entertainment issue (yes, sports, even at the major league level, are entertainment, just like movies, music, and TV).  One obvious example is Jerry Garcia.  If he had been a teetotaler, no one would have ever heard of the Grateful Dead.

A while back, I talked to Ray Manzarek of The Doors about the use of drugs in the music business.  He claimed that drugs were responsible for helping create some of the greatest rock and roll ever.  I asked for proof, and he offered up The Beatles.  His argument was that the Fab Four were making some decent pop music in their first couple of years, but they didn't become legendary and groundbreaking until Bob Dylan introduced them to marijuana.  That's when they changed and expanded their musical horizons, creating such classics as "Rubber Soul," "Revolver," and "Sgt. Pepper's."

Now, no one would ever argue that The Beatles don't deserve to be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, even if their achievements were chemically-enhanced.  So why the big deal about athletes doing the same thing?

Don't forget that Palmiero already has a history of being associated with a performance-enhancing drug -- as a national spokesman for Viagra.

This Is Brain Surgery

David LaPuma had surgery to have a tumor removed from his brain. He's posted photos of the procedure [warning: graphic images!] and blogged about the tumor, which he called The Alien.