Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween Flashback

Perfect rainy day reading: a column I wrote four years ago about Halloween Harris Style.

POTD: Virtual Pumpkin Carving

Picture Of The Day: What better to do at work to waste some time today than carving your own pumpkin, over and over again? [thanks to Mark Evanier for the link]

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

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Remember When Steve Martin Was Funny?

Steve Martin was awarded the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Award last weekend, recognizing his life achievements in comedy (and certainly not just to help promote his new movie "Shopgirl").

There's no denying that he changed the face of comedy in the late 1970s with his albums, "SNL" appearances, and arena-sized comedy shows. He also had a good 13-year run of movies (1979-92), including "The Jerk," "The Man With Two Brains," "All of Me," "Roxanne," "Planes Trains & Automobiles," "Parenthood," "LA Story," and "Leap of Faith."

But the last 14 years haven't been as kind -- for every "Spanish Prisoner" or "Bowfinger," there's a "Mixed Nuts" and "Bringing Down The House." Then there are those miserable remakes of "Father of the Bride," "Cheaper By The Dozen," "The Out-of-Towners," and the execrable "Sgt. Bilko."

I wonder how many of those were mentioned at the Kennedy Center ceremony and will end up on the edited telecast next month.

Rocky 6 Revealed

Mike Sampson claims to have inside information on what's planned for Sly Stallone's sixth "Rocky" movie -- other than utter revulsion by millions of American moviegoers.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector

Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector in Iraq and outspoken critic of the war, was back on my KMOX show today to talk about his book, "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein."

We talked about his trip to Iraq in November, 2002, when he addressed Saddam's top officials and convinced them to allow the inspectors back in by telling them if they didn't, they'd be dead men when the US attacked. He also explained how the undermining of his efforts began in the Clinton administration and continued through the run-up to war under President Bush, including manipulation and suppression of information by the CIA, which operated under a completely different agenda. He also reveals the failed CIA attempt to orchestrate a coup in Iraq in 1996.

We both expressed our distaste for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi who was was a trusted source, then fell out of favor, and is now one of the top men in the new government of Iraq. Like Ritter, I've always considered Chalabi one of the architects of the overthrow of Saddam, but for his own reasons, not ours.

Ritter tells it like it is, as he has many times on my show, despite tremendous pressure and administration attempts to discredit him. Listen to the conversation here.

Billy Joel's new boxed set

Speaking of Billy Joel, he'll release a new 5-disc career-spanning boxed set in a few weeks, which you can pre-order here. It includes some of his earliest work with The Hassles and Attila, plus unreleased demos and live versions, plus a DVD of a concert in Frankfurt on the "River of Dreams" tour. Darrell Holden reports that Billy will be back on tour in January, 2006.

Darren Holden, "Movin' Out" piano man

Darren Holden is the piano man and lead singer in the national tour of "Movin' Out," the Billy Joel/Twyla Tharp musical that's playing St. Louis this week. He was on my KMOX show to play and sing a few Billy Joel songs (and a couple that aren't), talk about how he got the role and performed it on Broadway, and reveal the advice Billy gave him about how to sing his songs and speak like a Long Islander -- not that easy for a guy from a small town in Ireland. Listen to the conversation here and check out Darren's website for more.

Single-Entendre Halloween Tombstones

Picture Of The Day:  How would you like your neighbor to put up Halloween tombstones in the front yard with names like Ben Dover, IP Freely, and Phil McCracken? Would it matter if the woman who did it is named Pranke?

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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hate In The Room

I saw the face of hatred last night.

Morris Dees, civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has used the courts so successfully to fight and defeat the Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, was in town for an event on the campus of the University of Missouri St. Louis.

Several hundred people showed up to hear him after waiting patiently to go through a security screening at the door to ensure that no one had any weapons. Because Dees' work has made him so many enemies, he travels with his own security force, which works with the local authorities (in this case, UMSL police) to keep him and those who support him safe.

About ten minutes into Dees' speech, a man in the audience suddenly stood up and started yelling something at Dees. While Dees stopped talking, he didn't flinch or step back from the podium as a police officer went over and told the intruder that he'd have to leave, and would be charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace if he tried to return. He was escorted out without any trouble (I loved the irony of the police officer being African-American).

Dees then explained that he'd been warned that a local hate group might have some people planted in the crowd, but hoped there wouldn't be any other interruptions. Before Dees could go much further, another man rose and started shouting at Dees. This time, he was immediately drowned out by boos and other comments from the crowd, including one woman, a senior citizen, who took a few steps towards him and told him he wasn't wanted there. As the guy was also removed from the room, a member of Dees' security detail went over to the woman and explained that she should just stay in her seat and let them take care of it, which she did -- but not before a third intruder interrupted the proceedings, followed a minute later by a fourth. They, too, were escorted out.

Dees, who had still not left the podium for even a moment, said that he'd given over 2,000 speeches through the years, and though this sort of incident was rare, he had seen it before. He talked about the anger and fear and intolerance that would lead someone to act this way.

As he spoke, I scanned the room -- not looking to see who would interrupt next, but to check the faces of those, like me, who support Dees and his work.

What I saw was the face of hatred.

Not the violent hatred that fills the souls of white supremacists and other groups, but the hatred of people who uniformly believe in good but were now being confronted by bad. Because security removed the interlopers fairly quickly, there was no opportunity for violence, but I could see how a mob mentality could have easily spread, even in a crowd of peaceful, tolerant people.

They were angry that an event they'd looked forward to, with a man they admired so much, was being ruined -- no, that's not the word, because Dees eventually completed his hour-long speech and got a standing ovation, as much in support of him as in defiance of the extremists who had tried to shout him down.

The tension in the room was palpable, but Dees continued, telling wonderful stories about growing up in the same small southern town as Rosa Parks, about what she had meant to him and the battle for civil rights. He told a story about a group of Vietnamese immigrants he had helped fight the Klan over the right to take their shrimp boats out into the Gulf of Mexico and build a business, just trying to live the American dream.

About ten minutes went by before another interruption, from a man with one of the worst mullets I've ever seen. He got exactly one word out of his mouth before the crowd got so loud it was like he'd been hit by a thunderclap.

I thought about that last guy, the fifth one, who had waited long after his buddies had done what they'd come to do. I wondered whether he had realized the futility of their actions and kind of given up whatever he was supposed to do -- but then, he wouldn't have been able to face his cowardly colleagues later, would he?

Then I began wondering what these guys had thought they could accomplish here. Certainly, Dees was not going to stop the work he's been doing for 30+ years. They were clearly outnumbered, with no hope of persuading anyone else in the room of anything. It was also obvious that Dees wasn't going to step down and stop speaking, for it was the power of words and the force of law that Dees has used so successfully to thwart their hate-fueled efforts for so long.

If anything, those five guys may well have caused some in the crowd to join or donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in support of Dees and his team. For when they got home last night, they may have recognized the face of hatred in the mirror, and vowed to redouble their efforts to fight it.

Before his speech, Dees appeared on my KMOX show (without any rude interruptions) to discuss Rosa Parks' legacy, the status of civil rights in the US, the use of the internet to spread hate by supremacist groups, and more. Listen to the conversation here.

Saddest Cardinals Fans

Okay, the Cardinals didn't make it to the World Series and Busch Stadium's being torn down and replaced. That's a little too much for these two guys to handle (contrast them with the couple that appears at the end).

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rosa Parks

Yesterday on my KMOX show, I talked with my colleague Carol Daniel about the death of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, and the impact she'd had on Carol and others in her family. Listen to the conversation here.

Pentagon Wasting Your Tax Dollars

Seth Borenstein of Knight-Ridder explained on my KMOX show how the Pentagon is wasting millions of your tax dollars -- spending $20 for an 89¢ ice cube tray, $81 for a $29 coffeemaker, etc. -- by changing the procurement method and costing us 20% more than before. You won't believe how poorly the system works (unless you're one of their "prime vendors," in which case you're loving the mark-ups!). He also explained how the Pentagon bought a bunch of armored Mercedes for Iraqi officials at a cost of $1 million, but screwed it up and got nothing but lemons (and they can't get the money back because they did such a bad job negotiating the no-bid deal!). Listen to the converation here.

For more, see his story, and the follow-up.

Busch Stadium Pumpkin

Rick Ware had a pumpkin carving contest at work and made a replica of Busch Stadium.





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

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stripper's Perspective

Elisabeth Eaves has a great op-ed in the NY Times today about Robert McCormick, the Savvis CEO who allegedly ran up at $241,000 tab at a topless club in New York (he's on unpaid leave of absence while the company looks into the story).

Eaves says:

"The Manhattan District Attorney's office is investigating allegations of overcharging at Scores. To which I say...you've got to be kidding -- there's no such thing as 'overcharging' in this industry. Does Christian Dior 'overcharge" when it sells a handbag for $13,000?"
After explaining the fantasy world that is a high-end strip club, she concludes:
"Sure the dancers hustled Mr. McCormick, but no more so than the occasional Mercedes dealer. Buyer's remorse is not an occasion to stiff the seller. So, gentlemen, pay the bill. A reasonably priced lap dance is not a right."
The whole thing's here. Eaves' book about her former career is here.

So far, there's no comment from Mrs. McCormick.

It's an iPod World, continued

Last week, I wrote an op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how the new video iPod is an example of the new business paradigm that has emerged -- that it's not enough to just give the consumer what they want, you now also have to give it to them in a way that they can use it on their own terms, where and when they want.

Here's a perfect example. Later this week, Stanford University is going to announce that they'll offer material to students and alumni via Apple's iTunes. Students will be able to download lectures and classes and take them anywhere. Some music performances and sports events will be available, too. Expect to hear about other universities jumping on this bandwagon soon.

Is your business part of this revolution?

Pumpkinhead Deer

Picture Of The Day:  What do you do when you look out at your backyard and see a deer with a pumpkin on its head? Get the camera!

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

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jason Hartley, Just Another Soldier

Today on my KMOX show, I talked with Jason Hartley, who spent a year with his boots on the ground in Iraq as a US Army infantryman. He blogged about his experiences in real time until the Army shut him down and filed charges against him -- but those stories are now in his book "Just Another Soldier."

We talked about how the military cracked down on him, how he felt about training for war as a soldier but then acting as a police officer in the Sunni Triangle, whether the Iraqis will be able to protect themselves without US assistance anytime soon, and whether he felt that the media did a good job telling the war story. Then our discussion turned to sex in the military, whether women should serve in the infantry, and what he did for R&R.

He also explained why he felt his time as a National Guardsmen after 9/11, when we worked at a security checkpoint at JFK Airport holding an M-16 rifle for 8 hours/day, was a waste of time -- and he revealed the surefire way to get anything through security without a lot of scrutiny.

Listen to the conversation here.

Broken Promise Over Pensions

Today on my KMOX show, I talked to Time magazine reporter Don Barlett about his cover story on the broken promise made by corporations to their employees -- work hard and long for us, and we'll take care of you in retirement, with a pension and health benefits.

When United Airlines won the right to gut its pension guarantee earlier this year, I said that it was the first and largest in a row of dominoes that would fall -- that other airlines and corporations would soon follow suit. Sure enough, Delta and Northwest have done so, GM won concessions from its unions over pensions, more companies are soon to make similar moves, and we're on the path to a huge crisis over these underfunded plans. With the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation) unable to serve as the safety net it was designed as, we're headed for a crash on par with the Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980s.

As Barlett points out, the blame must be placed squarely at the feet of Congress, which changed the rules away from protecting employees and allowed CEOs and other execs to get away with the kind of accounting that would be considered criminal in any other enterprise. You'll hear a lot more about this story in the coming months, and Barlett's piece is an important primer.

Zip It Until You Zip It

One of the rules of Being A Man is that you don't talk in the Men's Room. You go in, take care of business, and get out. It doesn't matter if you're alone, or with a buddy, or run into a guy you know. A quick head nod hello is permissible, but no talking, no extended conversations, no hovering near the sink having a discussion. Even if you're talking to a friend on the way in, as soon as you get to that tile-floor threshold, dummy up until the mission is complete.

That's why I was so surprised recently to be standing at a urinal and have another guy, five or six urinals away, suddenly say in a loud voice, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

I quickly turned my head in the direction of this out-of-the-ordinary outburst (as did the two other guys between us), wondering two things: 1) "Is he talking to me?" and 2) "Why is he talking in the first place?"

He wasn't looking at any of us -- his gaze was straight ahead at the wall over the urinal -- but as he continued to speak, it became obvious that he was using a cell phone headset and was on a call. I don't know who he was talking to, but can guarantee you that they wouldn't have been thrilled to know where he was standing and what he was doing at that particular moment.

And not just because he broke the No Talking In The Men's Room rule -- this was a double violation. I would have reported him, but that would have meant speaking in a No Communication Zone.

Penguins Don't March To The Right

Luc Jacquet, director of the wonderful documentary "March of the Penguins," has finally spoken up about Michael Medved and others who praised the film as a story that bolsters the religious right's "traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing." Jacquet told the London Times, "If you want an example of monogamy, penguins are not a good choice. The divorce rate in emperor penguins is 80 to 90 per cent each year. After they see the chick is OK, most of them divorce. They change every year."

In other words, while it's one of the best nature documentaries ever made (along with "Winged Migration"), it's not a religious tract. Enjoy it for its beauty, but stop trying to politicize everything.

Incidentally, "March of the Penguins" will be released on DVD next month, but you can pre-order yours now.

Fun At The Park

Three guys floating and kicking it around at the park, thanks to the miracle of stop motion video [thanks to Alan Light for the link].

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What TV News Terms Really Mean

Steve Saffran of Lost Remote, the TV news watchdog blog, has posted a very funny list of TV news cliches -- what they used to mean, and what they mean now. Samples:

"We interrupt this program to bring you a Special Report":
OLD: The president has been shot.
NEW: A cute girl is missing.

"Breaking News":
OLD: The president will resign.
NEW: There's a car on the side of the road with a flat.

"News Alert":
OLD: Man will land on the moon within the hour.
NEW: Man landed on Pam Anderson over the weekend.

"Exclusive"
OLD: We are the only people he would do an interview with.
NEW: We are the only people he would do an interview with from 7:43 am - 7:48 am.
See his whole list here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bee A Man

Hey, pal, there's a bee on your face. And another one. And another one. And another one.

Choking The Chicken

From the create-your-own-joke file: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is upset about a new Choking The Chicken toy.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes"

Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" called into my KMOX show this afternoon to talk about a piece he's doing this Sunday on Michael Jordan.  We talked about Jordan's gambling, his competitiveness, and what it's like to go to a basketball fantasy camp and have Jordan trash-talk you.  I also asked Bradley whether he has any interest in taking over the anchor chair of the "CBS Evening News."  Listen to the conversation here.

Bud Pong

Regarding Anheuser-Busch discontinuing its Bud Pong drinking game, Ralph Signaigo e-mails sarcastically, "How dumb does Anheuser-Busch think we are?  They invent a new game based on ping-pong. The marketing of the game is aimed at college aged adults. In the game the loser must take a drink of WATER. Now AB is pulling the game because they are shocked, SHOCKED, that the game is being played with the loser taking a drink of BEER.  How could this happen???"

40 Year Old Penguin Exorcism

Adam Finley is right -- that's a great name for a movie (or three).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

And That's The End Of That

Well, at least I won't be preempted by baseball anymore.

Pujols Church Sign

It's an iPod World

This op-ed piece appears in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 19, 2005.

NEW MEDIA: Businesses better get with the program
By Paul Harris

Apple's introduction last week of a new iPod capable of playing video clips and TV shows should send shockwaves through every company (media and otherwise) that hasn't grasped America's new business paradigm: It's no longer enough to give people what they want; they also have to be able to consume it on their own terms.

Apple's iPod and other mp3 devices gave us that freedom with music in a way that the Walkman and portable CD players couldn't. The new technology allowed us to acquire and store songs in large quantities and listen to them whenever we desired, wherever we desired and in whatever order we desired.

Apple's new deal with Disney's ABC television division allows someone who missed an episode of a TV show to download it the next day for $1.99 and watch it anytime, thus pushing the content/distribution envelope even further. I can already see an office full of people gathering around a video iPod to scrutinize a freeze-frame or sequence from "Lost" over and over again.

The old media -- including radio stations like the one I work for and newspapers like this one -- will have to embrace a more consumer-friendly distribution system, too. I say that not only as what we now call a content provider but also as a consumer. Like you, I want it all, and I want it on my timetable, not someone else's.

Radio is starting to see the advantage of offering clips of popular shows as podcasts (as I do through my Web site, HarrisOnline.com) for listeners to download and enjoy anytime they want as streaming audio on their computers or iPods. Although some executives still regard this service as a waste of resources because it doesn't generate any money, they actually should embrace it as a way to increase the impact of their entertainment products and as another way to satisfy their customers. Both will help create repeat business.

The digital video recorder -- TiVo being the best-known brand -- already has changed the way many of us watch TV. If we come home in the middle of a show that we're recording with a DVR, for example, we don't have to wait for the show to end before we can rewind and start watching it. With a VCR, we'd have to wait. If we have a DVR running during a live telecast, we can pause the action to answer the phone, put the kids to bed, go to the bathroom, fix a snack -- and then pick up where we left off whenever we feel like it. VCRs can't do that.

In other words, we're not "watching TV," a kind of generic activity; we're watching specific shows, starting and stopping them on our schedules, not on the schedules of the broadcast and cable networks.

This all comes down to time and time management. Life today is busier than ever -- this kid has to get to a soccer game, this one has a piano lesson, we spend more time working -- so we have to jam our leisure time into the schedule when we can. When we can, not when someone else says we can.

That's the reality Apple's targeting with its new video-ready iPod, and it's a reality that's particularly important to members of the under-40 generation who have grown up multi-tasking the elements of their lives; always on the go, always wanting more, never willing to wait.

If your company serves consumers -- whether one-to-one or en masse -- you better grasp the importance of giving people what they want in a way that they can use when and where they want to. If you don't, you're going to be left behind.

Copyright 2005, Paul Harris.

Sumo

Just saw a promo for Regis & Kelly's show later today, when their guests include a couple dozen sumo wrestlers who are in New York for a competition. I'm guessing that many of these guys were in Vegas at the same time I was earlier this month, when they competed in the Sumo World Championships (a friend invited me to go, but if I wanted to see fat guys in their underwear, I'd just look in the mirror in the morning).

That event drew a huge crowd at Mandalay Bay -- even larger than the other event in town that weekend, Hustler magazine's lingerie party at the Hard Rock Casino. Those two might not seem to go together, but the fact is, many of the top sumo wrestlers have wives/girlfriends who look like lingerie models. As my friend Dave used to say, while these women may be drawn to the fame and fortune that can come with champion sumo wrestlers, there are two words that scare the hell out of them: "missionary position."

Katie, Will You Mary Me?

When you propose to Katie, spelling doesn't count.  Of course, it could have been worse -- he could have asked Mary to Katie him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Harris Op-Ed Tomorrow in P-D

Just heard that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will publish another of my op-ed pieces tomorrow. This one's about the new business paradigm of giving consumers not only what they want, but in a way that they can use it when and how they want. Look for it in print in the morning, or via link here tomorrow.

Mighty Pujols At The Bat

As heard today on The Paul Harris Show on KMOX...

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Redbird nine that day
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
With the season on the line, the manager makes the call
Lidge trots out from the pen, and confidently takes the ball.

His fastball clocks at a hundred, his slider can't be hit
And Redbird fans do cry and swoon, as his warm ups hit the mitt.
The Stroville faithful dance and scream, as one they raise their cheer
Their closer need but three outs, for this to be their year.

The first two batters took their cuts, but Lidge just mowed them down
And the building rocked and strangers kissed, in anticipation of the crown.
But one more out was needed, and the top of the order now due
As Eckstein walked up to bat, the fevered pitch just grew and grew.

Lidge pounded Eckstein with two strikes, he had his good control.
Then out of nowhere something happened; Ecky swung and found a hole.
He took second without a play; all that mattered was at the dish
"One more out" the fans cried out, only this their prayer and wish.

Jimmy Edmonds now dug in deep, his jaw was clinched and tight
And an edge crept into the stands; for they sensed they had a fight.
But Lidge glared in and took the sign, his stuff was such a lock
His pitches flew till the count went full; Jimmy finally coaxed a walk.

Eighty thousand eyes looked on deck, and there saw a famous number
For Pujols, mighty Pujols, stood there ready with his lumber.
He strode easily to the plate, and clenched his mighty fist
The first pitch flew and broke away; Mighty Pujols swung and missed.

And now Lidge gets the sign and now he winds and lets it go
Oh how the cheers are shattered, by the force of Pujols blow.
The silence becomes deafening, the air is all let out
For there is no joy in Stroville, the Mighty Pujols hit it out!

Copyright 2005, Dennis Denby.
Reprinted with permission of the author.

Vintage Springsteen Performance

Amazon is streaming a Bruce Springsteen concert performance of "Born To Run" filmed at London's Hammersmith Odeon in 1975, the year the album debuted (on what was apparently the Men In Hats tour).  It's to promote a 3-disc retrospective that includes the remastered album, the full concert DVD, and a documentary.

IMDb at 15

One of the best things about the internet is its ability to provide you with pretty much any information you need, as long as you know where to look. For years, the place to look for movie information has been the Internet Movie Database, better known as IMDb. Need to know the name of that movie starring that guy about the thing that happened at that place? Someone has posted it on IMDb. Its links, lists, and details make it a remarkable resource which I reference regularly (when I'm not coming up with new alliterations). This week, IMDb celebrates 15 years with a retrospective and a few new lists.

Albert Keeps Cards Alive

It's every kid's baseball fantasy. The ninth inning, two outs, your team trailing, the best pitcher staring down from the mound, and it all comes down to you. Then...boom! A tremendous home run that clears the bases and wins the game. That's what Albert Pujols gave Cardinal Nation last night -- an amazing finish. Now they live to return to Busch Stadium (and give me at least one more baseball-truncated show) on Wednesday. Whew. Now, if only the Rams didn't suck.

He's A Beast

Paul Troyke e-mails, "I was checking news stories around the country, saw this and thought you would enjoy:  Police Search For Man Who Attacked Woman In Wal-Mart Lot.  Could this be the guy they're looking for, or does the police sketch artist have a fetish?"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fair and Biased?

CNN's Lou Dobbs is right on the money with his points about the notion of "Fair and Balanced" news coverage:

The idea that a reporter has to be “fair and balanced” is ridiculous. The fact is, the truth usually is not fair and it’s not balanced. Truth stands by itself. And the idea that something called fair and balanced as a substitute for truth and fact is mindless nonsense that has captured much of the national media. There are two political sides to every story. Does that mean if we had three major political parties there would be three sides to the truth? If we had four, there would be four. It’s utter nonsense. There is a non-partisan reality in every story, and it is our obligation to report that reality. And the hell with whether the viewer is a Democrat or Republican. I’m interested in the non-partisan reality that exists for 98 percent of the population of this country—a country that is first American, and only secondarily—and ancillarily—Republican or Democrat.

Kathleen Keeps It Fresh

I had the pleasure of emceeing a comedy show headlined by Kathleen Madigan the other night.  I've enjoyed her work for some 15 years now, and am always impressed by the amount of material she generates.  After the first show Thursday night, I commented to her that, even though I'd seen her perform last year, at least 60% of her stuff that night seemed brand new.  She explained that she had to keep writing new stuff or she'd go out of her mind with boredom.

That's in severe contrast to many comedy veterans, who come up with a semi-solid hour of material and then just pound away at the same set night after night for several years.  I suppose at some point they think of themselves the way Yul Brynner must have while doing "The King And I" -- just give people what they want, and that's enough.

When I'm in the audience, that's not enough.  If you want me to keep coming back, you have to give me something more and different than the last time I saw you.

Here's another example.  Several years ago, I went to see Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas.  There's some very impressive magic in that show, particularly the close-up material.  A year later, I was back in Vegas, this time with my wife and daughter, who I knew would really like what Lance does, so we went.  While the other members of my family enjoyed it because it was all new to them, I was surprised to see that it was, word-for-word, the exact same show I'd seen the previous year.

Fast-forward to two years later. This time, I'm staying at the Monte Carlo with my brother-in-law. We're gambling enough that the casino offers us tickets to see Lance. My brother-in-law hadn't seen him, and I was curious to see what he'd added, so we went. Once again it was, to my amazement, the same illusions, the same jokes, the same routines I had now seen three times in 4+ years.

Now, Lance was having no problem packing the crowds in, and it's not easy devising new material, but I couldn't imagine why he hadn't changed it, if just for his own sanity.

That's why I'm so impressed with Kathleen Madigan. There are other performers who are prolific producers as well (Jake Johannsen comes to mind, Penn & Teller have added three new bits to their show this year, and Brian Regan is another -- in fact, Brian is so organized he keeps audio and written records of every bit he's ever done as a guest on my show, just to be sure he doesn't repeat something!), but there are too many others who have been coasting for too long.

Those making the effort are showing a commitment not only to the audience, but also to themselves and their craft. I find it refreshing.

Hot Dog Horror

We had a staff barbecue at work on Friday, with the food catered by some fine local establishment. There were ribs, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, salads, and desserts.

Everything was fine, except the one food that just doesn't travel well -- hot dogs. It's like there's an expiration date on them as soon as they're cooked. One brand used to have the slogan "they plump when you cook'em." All hot dog brands should have the slogan "they shrivel up if you don't eat'em within five minutes of cooking."

I don't blame the caterer. It's the hot dogs themselves. You can buy one at the ballpark, where they wrap it up in a aluminum foil, and by the time you've made it over to the condiments counter to add your mustard, the bun is already sticking to the dog, and the meat already looks like Abe Vigoda's neck. So you can imagine the effect of trying to cook them in one venue and then transport them across town. Time is not on the side of the lowly frankfurter.

While I'm bitching about food, why can't I find microwave popcorn without butter? There used to be two brands (Pop Secret and SmartPop, by Orville Redenbacher) that made a 94%-fat-free all-natural popcorn without that buttery yuck, but neither is on the store shelves anymore. Oh, you can still find them with butter, but not without. All they stock now is box after box of popcorn coated with that added industrial waste, which tastes about as much like butter as those wrinkled meat tubes taste like a good hot dog.

Guaranteed Hiccup Remedy

Tilt your head back just enough that your neck is stretched a little bit.  Inhale and hold a deep breath.  Take 7-8 sips of water or similar non-carbonated beverage.  Exhale and discover your hiccups gone.

I don't know the science behind this, but you can thank me later.

Deep Reporting In Shallow Water

NBC reporter Michelle Kosinski did a live shot for the "Today" show about flooding in New Jersey.  While she was rowing her canoe in the supposedly deep flood waters, two guys walked between her and the camera, exposing it as only ankle-deep.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Simple Life Goes Senior

TVWeek.com reports that NBC is finalizing a deal for a road trip reality show, senior style. It would team Leslie Nielsen (79) and Ed Asner (76) as they travel around the country getting involved in who-knows-what. It's been described as "Grumpy Old Men" meets "The Simple Life." Let's hope it's not as sophomoric as Paris & Nicole's adventures, although I'd tune in just to see some locals forced to shave Ed Asner's back (that would have to be a two-parter!).

I'm reminded of a documentary I saw several years ago, "Ernest Borgnine On The Bus," which consisted of the actor riding around the country in his 40-foot luxury bus with his son, Cris. Actually, he was doing more than riding -- Borgnine was driving the bus, stopping in little towns, interacting with whoever and whatever he found, and telling stories about his Hollywood career, from "Marty" to "The Poseidon Adventure" and beyond. It wasn't exactly a sit-down with James Lipton, but it was damned entertaining -- not to mention the fun of seeing some couple look up in a diner to see McHale sitting at the next table chomping down on a piece of pie.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Neil Cavuto

This afternoon on my KMOX show, I talked to Neil Cavuto, Fox News anchor and author of "Your Money or Your Life."  Since he was once an intern in the Jimmy Carter administration, we compared the energy crisis of the late 1970s with the current high cost of gasoline and natural gas.  We also discussed the current state of homeland security in light of the recent security scare/hoax in New York City, why he's turned his back on Wall Street, and whether America is really as polarized as the media (talk radio and talk television) present it.  I also pressed him on whether he and Rupert Murdoch would be announcing a Fox Business News Channel soon to compete with CNBC.  Listen to the conversation here.

Rocchi on Bond

James Rocchi makes all the points I was going to make about why it doesn't matter anymore who plays James Bond.

Pumpkin Chucking

It's October and the pumpkins are flying at the annual Pumpkin Pitch (scroll down the linked page to the AP video).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jon Stewart vs. Magazines

Last year, Jon Stewart went on CNN's "Crossfire" and fired some serious shots at the show and its hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. That video became one of the most widely-seen clips on the internet (more people saw it online than on TV), and precipitated the death of "Crossfire."

Now, Stewart has lashed out at the print media -- in particular, magazines -- and once again did it on their turf. Stewart was the headliner at a Magazine Publishers of America event, "Laughing Matters: Magazines Celebrate Humor," along with the editors of Vanity Fair, Time, Cosmopolitan, and Men's Health.

Although he was paid $150,000 for his appearance, that didn't keep Stewart from taking aim at the editors and their magazines. According to reporter Myrna Blyth,

He started by taking a few swipes at Men's Health. He asked [why the magazine] was "so gay?" And "Why do the men on your covers always have to be so... glistening?"

Stewart then took a slap at Time for cooperating with the federal prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. He complained to Time's editor, "One prosecutor asks for some documents and everyone pulls their underwear over their heads, and you turn them over. And not only that, but Newsweek gets the story."
It will be interesting to see if Stewart's barbs send any kind of shockwaves through the magazine world, as they did with television journalism. Probably not, because the MPA event wasn't televised, so there isn't any viral video to spread online. Regardless, if publishers (and advertisers) don't see the problems that Stewart is so good at exposing, they have only themselves to blame.

Fun with Water Balloons

Our latest office time waster comes from Frankie, who e-mails, "Do you like throwing water balloons at people and things?  I found this neat website where you can spend a lot of time trying to score points to go from one level to the next just by targeting people and cars with water balloons from the top of a suspension bridge.  Just don't hit the wrong objects like police cars or you'll lose points.  The intro is in Dutch, but once loaded, it's all in English."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

This Indecency Brought To You By The FCC

Perry Simon points out the irony of the FCC opening a new website section devoted to its regulation of obscenity, indecency, and profanity on the American airwaves.  Anyone with a browser can now access the actual documentation of the cases the FCC against radio companies and shows, with transcripts replete with exactly the sort of thing the commission has issued fines for.  Perry says (and I agree completely) this is a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do":

While the FCC will claim that this is merely instructional, to show everyone what they've done on indecency, there is no warning label, no disclaimer, no content rating to protect children.  And there's no safe harbor, either -- the kids can access this stuff at any time from any computer.  In fact, the FCC's indecent material is MORE pervasive than a local radio show, because unlike a radio show that can't be listened to in school and can't be listened to in mom's car without parental permission and guidance, this stuff can be looked up on any computer at any time, and no filtering program is going to block a government agency's educational website, is it?  You might believe that the two situations -- raunchy radio shows and a government website with raunch -- aren't the same. You're right. The FCC website is worse.
To see your government in action, go here, then click through the Notices of Apparent Liability and other pages (parental guidance suggested).

Roseanne Barr

Roseanne Barr was on my KMOX show this afternoon.  Usually, when a comedian comes on -- particularly with something to promote -- they'll do a bit or two from their act, or try to be at least a little bit funny.  But Roseanne has always played by her own rules, so she didn't want to bother.  I kept pushing her and offering her openings, and eventually she softened up and seemed to enjoy herself.  Along the way, she ranted about the state of the world, which she predicts will end next summer.  We also talked about the complaints about the DVD release of her TV show, the problems she had with executives while the show was on the air, the struggle to get it on in the first place, and how John Goodman became her TV husband.  She really lit up while talking about her relationship with Johnny Carson and the role his show played in her career.  Listen to the conversation here.

Roseanne, who is back on the road doing standup in preparation for an upcoming HBO special, will be in St. Louis next Wednesday (10/19) at The Touhill.

Beat'em Two Times, Cards!

The new Cardinals song by The Paul Harris Band, "Beat 'Em Two Times," is now available for free download.

"Who'll Stop The Cards?" is also still available.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Demarco Whatley of East St. Louis went to the St. Clair County courthouse to pay a fine, but on the way in, he was stopped by courthouse security when the metal detector beeped.  A bailiff searched him and found baggies of marijuana in his back and front pockets -- six in all.  Demarco told them he forgot the pot was in his pants.  He's charged with misdemeanor possession.  Hopefully, when he goes back to court on that charge, he'll check his pockets first. [sent by Bryan in Dupo, IL]

A soccer player from Cameroon is worried for his family's safety because he missed a penalty cup that kept his country from qualifying for the World Cup tournament.  Pierre Wome, who had to be escorted out of the country and taken to Italy for his own safety, says angry fans have destroyed cars and houses they thought were his, and his family is still being protected by a special security force.  Good thing this doesn't happen in the US -- or Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood, and Steve Bartman would be dead.

"Lost" Movie

My friend Francene e-mails this item about last week's episode of "Lost":  "Remember the film Jack and Locke viewed while down the hatch?  The copyright was for The Hanso Foundation. It has a website."

Nice to see the producers working so hard to keep their audience engaged (a trend they started with the Oceanic flight 815 site).

Weird Beards

First, grow a lot of facial hair.  Second, give it a distinctive shape.  Third, continue to wonder why no women are attracted to you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Python vs. Alligator

A 13-foot Burmese python tried to swallow a live, six-foot alligator.  It didn't go well for either of them. [thanks to EJ Scally for the link]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bill Engvall

Comedian Bill Engvall was back on my KMOX show this afternoon to talk about men, marriage, and baseball (he's a big Angels fan, but friend of Cards manager Tony LaRussa and SS David Eckstein).  Listen to the conversation here.

Bill's a busy guy, with his book "Here's Your Sign" just published, the "Blue Collar TV" show, and two upcoming appearances -- solo at Ameristar St. Charles on November 9-10, and at Savvis Center on February 9 for Blue Collar Comedy Tour 3 with Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, and Larry The Cable Guy.

Naming Names

Several people have asked me what I think of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.  I have absolutely no idea what kind of justice she would be, nor do I have the inside-the-beltway knowledge to even begin any intelligent debate about her qualifications.

However, I am sure that Ms. Miers was not born in the last 30 years.  Not with a name like Harriet.

There's nothing wrong with the name, but it fell out of favor a long time ago.  Just as there are few 80-year-olds named Meaghan, Tiffany, and Aaliyah, parents of Generation X were unlikely to name their daughter Harriet.

For that matter, you don't see a lot of twenty-somethings named Mildred.  Or Agnes.  Or Edna.  High schools aren't filled with girls named Hortense, Marjorie, Priscilla, Prudence, Rhoda, or Esther (that one's biblical, but it still fit my grandmother better than a sales clerk at The Gap).

You also meet very few under-thirty guys name Mortimer, Oswald, or Alfred (Al yes, Fred yes, Alfred no).  There's no one on MTV's "Laguna Beach" named Conrad, Everett, Harvey, or Milton.  Again, there's nothing wrong with these names, and I mean no disrespect to my cousin Melvin, but he's a retired plumber, not a silicon valley programmer.

Speaking of names, how about the moniker Nicolas Cage and his 21-year-old wife Alice have stuck their newborn son with?  Cage decided to name the kid after a man he's admired and obsessed over for years -- Superman.

Cage was going to be the Man of Steel himself in a Tim Burton movie version, but it never got off the ground.  That's a good thing, because while Cage has done some fine movies ("Matchstick Men," "Honeymoon In Vegas," and the new "Lord of War," which I want to see), he would not be a good Superman.

I suppose he decided that if he can't be Superman, his kid will.  So you're thinking the boy's name is Clark Kent Cage, right?  Wrong.

The boy's first name is Kal-El -- Superman's name on his home planet, Krypton.

You'd think that Cage would have learned not to turn his show business obsessions into close personal matters.  That lesson should have come from his compulsion for all things Elvis Presley.  He was so into Elvis, he made Lisa Marie Presley his second wife, a marriage that didn't even last two years (who would have thought there might be problems with a woman who had also married Michael Jackson?).

It's bad enough that Kal-El Cage will have to spell his name for someone every single day of his life ("yes, with a hyphen").  Worse, when translated from Kryptonian into English, Kal-El means "beat me up, please!"  Probably by another showbiz kid named Zod.

Write this one off as yet another show business parental indulgence, like Gwyneth Paltrow naming her child Apple.  Or Rachel Griffiths naming her son Banjo.  Then there's Diane Keaton's kid Dexter, who is a girl.  Jason Lee (star of "My Name Is Earl") slapped the name Pilot Inspektor (sic) on his child.  Erykah Badu has a child named Seven, which must have pissed off George Costanza, who had dibs on the number as an offspring name.

There are literary choices, like Gary Oldman's son Gulliver and Daniel Baldwin's son Atticus.  Forest Whitaker has three kids named Ocean, True, and Sonnet, but is outdone by director Robert Rodriguez's Racer, Rebel, and Rocket.

But the winners in the celebrity baby naming derby (pre-Kal-El, I mean) may be the double whammy from the two leaders of U2.  David "The Edge" Evans named his daughter Blue Angel, only to be topped by Bono naming his son -- and I'm not making this up -- Elijah Bob Patricus Guggi Q.

That's the letter Q, as in Q.  Much easier to spell than Kal-El, isn't it, Harriet?

"Lost" on Google Maps

You type Hurley's numbers into Google Maps as a longitude and latitude, and you end up with an island northeast of Australia.  Could that be where the "Lost" plane crashed?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Nissan Pivo

Nissan is developing a new car that pivots in place.  So, instead of making a u-turn, you just turn around the passenger compartment of the Pivo, and head back the other way!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Greg Critser, "Generation Rx"

This afternoon on my show, I talked to Greg Critser about his book, "Generation Rx:  How Prescription Drugs are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies."  While that sounds like Tom Cruise's rants against Brooke Shields, Critser explained what Big Pharma has done in getting generations of Americans -- from young to old -- on more medication than ever before.  We talked about all those commercials that urge you to "ask your doctor about" certain drugs, how Big Pharma literally seduces doctors, the role HMOs play in this "pills-first" health system, and whether competition between pharmaceutical companies is really good for consumers like you.  Listen to the conversation here.

"Lost" Bestseller-To-Be

Prediction:  Sometime Wednesday night, thanks to a brief mention on "Lost," this book will suddenly become a surprise bestseller.

The Shining as Light Comedy

What would a trailer for the Stephen King/Stanley Kubrick horror classic "The Shining" look like if it were re-edited, re-imagined, and re-scored as a light romantic comedy?  Robert Ryang's result is the hottest new viral video on the web.