If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

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

Here's my conversation with Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector in Iraq and outspoken critic of the war, 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, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I Saw The Face Of Hatred Last Night

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 radio 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. morrisdees05

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pentagon Wasting Your Tax Dollars

Seth Borenstein of Knight-Ridder explained on my 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, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

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?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Jason Hartley, Just Another Soldier

Here's my conversation 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, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

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.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes"

Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" called into my 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, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

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.


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."

Monday, October 17, 2005

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.

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.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Neil Cavuto

Here's my conversation with 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, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

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

"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).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bill Engvall

Comedian Bill Engvall was back on my 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, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

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?

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.