Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bob Schieffer at Mardi Gras

Here's my conversation with veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, live from New Orleans. We talked about the conditions there six months after Hurricane Katrina, how it's affected Mardi Gras, and how how the locals don't like FEMA or the Mayor or the Governor -- or anyone from any level of government.

I did not ask Bob how much longer he'd continue anchoring the CBS Evening News, or whether Katie Couric would replace him, because I'm sure the answer to both questions would be "I don't know, I'm just concentrating on doing the job right now."

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

Donald Trump, Bigot?

I stopped watching "The Apprentice" after its first season, so I didn't see the new one debut last night. But a listener named Greg did, and e-mailed his outrage about it to me this morning. What do you think? Add your comments below.

The great Donald Trump is a bigot.

No, not in the traditional "politically correct" way as to trash African Americans, Women, and other ethnic minorities, but in the old fashioned way of treating European immigrants different than everyone else.

This season, he has a businessman from Russia on the show named Lenny who has a moderately Russian accent (you immediately know he is was not born in the USA).

In the boardroom, Lenny is not referred to by name. He is referred to as "the Russian", as in: "What about the Russian, did he do a good job?" "Would you keep the Russian or would you keep Mary?"

I'm paraphrasing as I don't remember the exact quotes, but I do know he keeps referring to Lenny as "the Russian".

One Question: Last year's winner was an African American named Randall. If Donald Trump had said one time: What about the black guy, did he pull his weight?" I don't think I'd have to point this out to you because the firestorm would have been immediate!

Keep in mind that calling someone a Russian or an African American is not derogatory in and of itself. However, in this instance, you de-humanize the person because everyone else is referred to by name while you are singled out as "that person who speaks differently".

Is this a big deal? Depends on your point of view. But bigotry and racism against a person with an accent should not be tolerated any more or any less than some of the more "popular" forms of racism.

I can tell you this. Lenny will not win The Apprentice as Trump has already decided he doesn't like him based on who he is, not what he does.

Monday, February 27, 2006

More Movies You Might Not Know

Just added to the Movies You Might Not Know list:

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, the 1976 classic with Billy D. Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, and Dewayne Jessie, as a group of Negro League baseball players forced to barnstorm around the country when the owners won't allow to join the league as their own team.

Also, "Don Juan de Marco," starring Johnny Depp as a man who acts like he's Don Juan, Marlon Brando as the therapist who treats him and is inspired by him, and Faye Dunaway as the love interest drawn into the story.

That Thing I Did

Friday morning, I received the greatest generic e-mail criticism of my entire radio career. The listener, who did not identify himself or herself, and whose name was not apparent from the e-mail address, wrote, "I was really offended by that thing you did on your show yesterday."

That was the entire message.

Now, I do 20 hours of live radio every week, and I guarantee that -- in our hypersensitive times -- there's always someone offended by something, even those things that would seem completely inoffensive to 99.9% of the audience.

The irony about Friday's e-mail was its remarkable lack of specificity. Whoever you are, I have no idea what you didn't like or why. It would have been just as baffling if you had written, "I really loved that thing you did on your show yesterday." Okay, fine, thanks for the feedback.

I wonder if the e-mailer in question has ever done this with any other business:

  • To a restaurant owner, "I really didn't like the taste of that thing I ate."
  • To a road repair crew, "That street I drove on needs a lot of work."
  • To an author, "I didn't appreciate you using that punctuation."
  • To an architect, "I don't like that doorway in that building."
The truth is, as almost any content provider in any medium can tell you (and probably most businesses in general), we tend to hear from people with negative comments a lot more often than those with positive comments. That doesn't mean we're not doing well, it's just rare that someone sits down and types, "I enjoy your show, keep up the good work." I'm not begging for more appreciation, just pointing out that people keep compliments to themselves, but critics never hold back.

There's nothing I can do about that, but I don't mind getting comments from people about my show (or this website) either way. That's why I give out my e-mail address and read and reply to every single correspondence.

After telling this story on the air Friday afternoon, I received the following e-mail from Tom Diehl, who not only included his name on his message, but has a real sense of humor:

How could you NOT know what that thing was? You know, it was right after some commercials, when you were talking with what's their name, before you talked with this guest about something or another. C'mon, you should remember. It was when everyone was driving home.

It reminds me of something a woman would say to her husband:

"What did I do?"
"You know what you did."
"No, what?!?!? Tell me."
"I don't want to talk about it anymore. Just don't you EVER do that again."

Still scratching my head trying to figure out how your show could offend.
Thanks, Tom, both for the kind words, and for not using that phrase I can't stand. You know the one I'm talking about.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bad Cell Phone Science

Cell phones may be the most popular technology in the world at the moment, but that also makes them subject to bad decisions on their use, usually based on bad science.

First, they were blamed for explosions at gas stations, so signs went up banning their use while filling your tank. From the stories that have circulated, you'd think they were more dangerous that holding your Zippo over the end of the nozzle or sticking your nose in the gas tank opening and inhaling the fumes for an hour. Despite there being no proof of a link between using your phone and any kind of explosion (thank you, Mythbusters!), the signs are still up.

Then we were told not to use our cell phones on planes because they can interfere with airborne guidance systems. That's now proven to be false, and the FAA is considering allowing the use of cell phones in flight. I'm against that, not because they're dangerous, but because it would be incredibly annoying to sit next to or near someone who's on the phone, let alone being a captive audience to a plane full of that cacophony. Anyone who flew in the early days of Airphone remembers hearing a seatmate saying into the receiver, far too loudly, "No, really, I'm calling you from the plane! Right now! I can see clouds below! No, really! Yes, on the plane!"

Cell phones have also been banned in hospitals, where signs warn that they interfere with medical equipment, again despite a lack of evidence. This week, a new study said that without proof of that interference, allowing cell phones in hospitals would be a good thing -- for one, it would give doctors an easy and efficient method of communication that would help decrease medical errors.

All of the premature decisions to ban cell phone use were made without having good science behind them. But that doesn't stop them from coming.

This week, Fred Gilbert, president of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario (previously famous for being the hometown of Paul Shaffer), announced that he would not permit a campus-wide wi-fi network to be installed, because he's worried about the risk of tumors and other diseases due to exposure to electromagnetic fields. There is no definitive study proving any such link, and there are wi-fi systems in place everywhere from Starbucks and the St. Louis Bread Company to municipalities like Philadelphia and London, which have installed city-wide wi-fi. There have been no identified risks at normal exposure levels -- in other words, unless the students at Lakehead are strapping a wi-fi base station to their skulls, they'll be fine.

Perhaps Mr. Gilbert and other officials who jump to these conclusions would be best advised to use a cell phone themselves -- to call on real scientists and experts who can explain that there's no need to panic, or to create undue concern.

Also see: My 2001 column on Cell Phone Driving Bans.

Loud Cars

We've all had the experience of sitting at a red light and having a car come up next to us with the music blasting so loud that we can hear it even through closed windows. Even if you're used to cranking your car stereo up while rocking down the highway, it's always a shock to feel the bass and drum line pounding in your bone marrow from the audio in someone else's vehicle.

The St. Louis Board of Alderman has just passed a law that makes that illegal, and Mayor Slay is likely to sign it. Violators will be fined $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second time they're caught booming at a volume that can be heard 75 feet away. What makes it controversial is that the police will have the authority to seize and impound the offending vehicle.

There's clearly a cultural and generational question here, but the whole matter reminded me of my recent trip to Las Vegas.

I was in a cab going from one casino to another when we had to stop for a light. In the lane next to us, the driver of a Hummer H2 was determined to share his favorite entertainment with the rest of the world.

I'm not talking about CDs, MP3s, or the radio here. I'm talking about videos.

Besides the drop-down screen that so many suburban kids are used to watching from the back seat, this thing also had video screens in the backs of the headrests. But entertaining the back seat wasn't enough. Both the driver's and passenger's visors were down, and they had screens embedded in them, too. To top it all off, I also noticed video emanating from the center of the steering wheel. This was the 21st-century version of a drive-in movie -- the drive-by movie.

If this was against the law in St. Louis, it didn't seem out of place in Vegas -- although even by Sin City's standards, it did seem over-the-top. There were more places to look and find video in this car than there were mirrors to check the traffic.

I also noticed one other thing -- the driver was alone in the car. That made me wonder whether his tricked-out ride was supposed to be help him with women. Was his video H2 a chick magnet?

Perhaps, but I bet most women would think all of that gear was to make up for a lack of something else.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

American Idol Twins

When Becky O'Donahue became one of the 24 contestants for "American Idol," someone at Maxim magazine dug up old photos of her and her twin sister Jessie that were taken two years ago when they were models for hire. Too bad these pictures didn't come out earlier in the week -- it might have gotten more guys to vote for Becky, who had the lowest vote total on tonight's "American Idol," and is gone from the competition.

I scored an interview with Jordan Burchette, executive editor of Maxim Online, who explained how they got the pictures of Becky and Jessie, and how links like this are causing their server to overload with demand today. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Unmarried? Can't Live There

In discussing the family of five that bought a house in Black Jack, Missouri, but then learned they couldn't get an occupancy permit because the man and woman weren't married, several people e-mailed to ask why, after 13 years, they weren't considered common-law husband and wife.

I didn't know the answer until I looked at this site, which explains, "There is a common misperception that if you live together for a certain length of time (seven years is what many people believe), you are common-law married. This is not true anywhere in the United States."

In the Black Jack case, the local government is sticking its nose where it doesn't belong, all in the name of legislating morality. The ordinance bans three or more individuals from living together if they aren't related by blood, marriage, or adoption.

This is a mom, dad, and three kids, who would fit comfortably into the five-bedroom home they purchased. Whether or not the parents have a piece of paper legally bonding them to one another is much less important than whether the three kids have two loving parents to take care of them. The law would actually allow a single woman to live in that house with three kids, as long as the guy wasn't around. What good would that do?

When I was in college, some friends and I decided we didn't want to live in the dorms anymore. One of us found a three-bedroom house a few blocks from campus. To be honest, once we saw that there was an in-ground pool in the backyard, we didn't really care much about the inside of the house, but that was nice, too. We moved in, eventually getting some sheet rock and -- with the landlord's permission -- building two more rooms in the basement for other friends to move into. Thus, there were five of us living in a five bedroom house. We didn't cause any trouble, weren't blasting our stereos all night long, just living a normal life (and enjoying the hell out of that pool!).

It's a good thing the town we lived in didn't have the same occupancy laws as Black Jack does, because we could never have moved in.

Even worse was what happened when my wife and I moved to Washington, DC. We weren't married yet, but had lived together for several years. We went looking for an apartment, and found a nice garden apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia. When we spoke with the rental agent, she asked us if we were married. When we told her we weren't, she replied that she couldn't rent us a one-bedroom apartment because of the local occupancy laws -- two unmarried people living in a space that small might lead to, well, you know, and apparently the narrow-minded hypocrites of Virginia frowned upon that.

But wait, it gets better. When I heard the agent say she couldn't rent us a one-bedroom apartment, I jokingly asked, "Oh, so you could rent us a two-bedroom?" She immediately replied, "That's correct."

Yes, Virginia, there is a hypocrisy loophole!

The two-bedroom apartment was much nicer than the one-bedroom we'd seen, and since it was only another $10/month, we took it. I don't think I need to explain that, law or no law, we didn't sleep in separate bedrooms.

Occupancy laws have their place, particularly to prevent overcrowding. You wouldn't want 20 people crammed into that house, of course. But the city of Black Jack discriminating against this couple simply because the parents aren't married should be against the law.

Then there's the question of the realtor's role in this. Did they buyer's agent inform the family of this local law? If not, is the realtor liable now that they can't move into the house they have purchased?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

3-D Moon Movie

While I'm on the subject of movies, I'll also recommend a new Imax 3-D movie, "Magnificent Desolation: Walking On The Moon." Tom Hanks produced and narrates the movie, which is a combination look-back at the Apollo program that put 12 men on the moon and a you-are-there adventure story with staggering images and words from the astronauts who made the trip. There's also a nice little section featuring several kids under 10, answering questions about what they know about those trips to the moon and whether they'd like to go someday -- which later leads to the movie's finale, a moon base in the future. Hanks, whose love of the space program was evident in "Apollo 13" and his HBO series "From The Earth To The Moon," treats the lunar landings with the reverence they deserve, but also knows how to keep an audience entertained.

I'm always wary of 3-D movies, having lived through the days of those ridiculous red-and-blue glasses, which have now been replaced with polarized lenses that resemble sunglasses. The projection technology has also come a long way since its low point, the horrible "Jaws 3-D," for which Dennis Quaid and Bess Armstrong must still be doing penance (it has since been converted to a 2-D version and renamed "Jaws 3," but the memory of hosting the premiere of the 3-D version haunts me to this day).

Another Movie You Might Not Know

I've just added "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room" to the Movies You Might Not Know list. It's a terrific documentary that explains in detail what Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Peter Fastow and others at Enron did, all in the name of greed -- from manipulating California into rolling electric blackouts to bankrupting their own employees to lying about how good the company's future looked at the same time they were selling millions of dollars in company stock. The trials of Lay and Skilling will take place any day now (Fastow has turned state's evidence), and if you want a primer in what it's all about, this is the movie to see.

The movie is based on the work reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind did for their book, "The Smartest Guys In The Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Voter Photo ID

Should you have to show ID before you vote? There's a proposal in the Missouri legislature that would mandate it, in an attempt to cut down on election fraud, but some special interest groups have lined up against it. One of those is Paraquad, which advocates for people with disabilities. I invited spokeswoman Michelle Bishop to talk it over on my show this afternoon.

Her argument is that this would disenfranchise many disable, elderly, and poor Missourians who may not have an official photo ID such as a driver's license. I pointed out to her that the law includes accommodations such as non-driver's licenses issued for free, and the equivalent of a VoteMobile that would travel to convalescent and nursing homes to process those who can't get out to acquire the ID on their own. There's also a provision under which people without sufficient identification are exempt, providing they fill out an affidavit. None of this seems like a hardship to me, particularly in a 21st-century world in which you can barely exist without needing a photo ID at some point.

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

Friday, February 17, 2006

Valerie Harper

I had a nice conversation with Valerie Harper on my show this afternoon. Best known as TV's Rhoda Morganstern, she's now touring in "Golda's Balcony," the one-woman show about Golda Meir.

We discussed what it's like to play a real person on stage, how stage performing is different from doing a three-camera sitcom, and how Golda Meir was one of the most important people of the 20th century. We also talked about her classic TV character, and she revealed some behind-the-scenes stories about working with Mary Tyler Moore and the doubts she had about doing the spinoff series.

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

Phil Plait, "The Bad Astronomer"

Phil Plait ("The Bad Astronomer") was back on my show this afternoon, but this time in the studio and for a whole hour.

On his website, Phil has been talking about the controversy at NASA over a 24-year-old political appointee (George Deutsch) who was sticking his nose where it didn't belong -- namely, science -- until he was forced to resign. Phil explained that in depth this afternoon, and revealed other attacks on science by those with a political agenda, both within NASA and elsewhere.

We also discussed plans for another manned trip to the moon, the impact of that decision on other missions at NASA, and whether private industry can really play a lead role in future space exploration. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Phil's book, "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing 'Hoax'," is a great read (you'll love the scientific explanations for all those things that science fiction movies get wrong in space).

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cheney Misses Quayle, Hits Libby?

While my pal Jon Macks has no doubt already written a week's worth of jokes about the Dick Cheney hunting incident for Jay Leno, I took the opportunity to discuss it on my show this afternoon with our outdoors guy, Dan Young (and took a couple of cheap shots myself). Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The thing that kills me about this story is how it became so politically partisan so fast. Those on the left couldn't wait to attack Cheney for "covering up" the incident, and those on the right couldn't wait to attack the White House press corps for asking so many questions. Of course, if the situation were reversed, and this Vice President was a Democrat instead, every single thing one side is saying about the other would have been flipped exactly 180 degrees. Only those of us who dislike all politicians, regardless of party, can be trusted to give an honest opinion -- which is that there are much more important things to worry about right now.

This just in: the CIA swears that their intelligence showed there were quails in the brush, even though no inspection team has been able to produce any evidence.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chris Rose

Here's my conversation with Chris Rose from Fox Sports Net. He and the crew at "Best Damn Sports Show Period" are approaching their 1,000th show, having just finished a week in Detroit covering the Super Bowl. We talked about that, and I asked him if he's up for the studio hosting spot on Fox NFL Sunday now that James Brown is leaving. Meanwhile, Rose continues to host all those poker shows on FSN, including "Learn From The Pros" -- I asked him if the rivalry between Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow is real.

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

John Stossel

John Stossel was back on my show this afternoon to promote his special, "Myths, Lies, and Nasty Behavior," which airs on ABC tomorrow night. In it, Stossel takes on CNN's Lou Dobbs over outsourcing, saying it isn't nearly as bad a problem as Dobbs makes it out to be. We also talked about politicians and pork, those sneaky added fees that make your cell phone higher, and more.

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

Christine Brennan at the Olympics

With the Winter Olympics about to begin, I checked in with Christine Brennan, who's in Turin covering the games for USA Today, ESPN, and ABC, and says that there really isn't a lot of buzz about the Olympics there. We also talked about whether Michelle Kwan and other US figure skaters have a shot at medals, how dry-land inline skaters have become speed skaters on ice, and more.

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

James Randi update

An update on James Randi's condition following his heart attack and bypass surgery a week ago today, as seen on the James Randi Educational Foundation website:

Thank you for the flood of good wishes flowing in for Randi’s speedy recovery. Randi is hanging in there, and while his recovery is very slow, it is proceeding well. We’re expecting a complete comeback, but it may take several months before he’s back to his usual self. In the meantime, look for some special guest commentators in the Swift commentary, and business as usual for the JREF.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Kids As Salespeople

I couldn't agree more with this e-mail from John:

I need to sound off about this subject. I heard on the CBS news at the top of the hour, a group of students (somewhere) refused to sell candy as a fundraiser in their school. The said it would be hypocritical to sell candy because of the effects on your health. The selling of candy, wrapping paper, desserts, and other "junk" is annoying to me as a parent.

Do our schools really have so little money that they have to force the kids to peddle goods to raise money?

What really burns me up is this: My daughter came home with a letter from her school principal that told the kids to sell magazines to friends and family. The fundraiser company is asking of the name and addresses of seven friends and family so that company can "guilt" those people into buying a magazine to help my daughter. Now here's the kicker!! The kids that turn over the names will get a bag of Jolly Ranchers Candy & a light up key chain.

Now here is the part that makes me a bad parent in the eyes of my child: She was the only kid who did not participate in the fundraiser. The only kid whose parents would not give names of friends to direct marketers. My daughter did not see it that way. She only saw that she was the only kid in class not to get candy and a flash light.

Does this tick off any one else but my wife and me? Using kids to sell magazines?

I sent a note to school telling the teacher: I will gladly buy whatever her class needs --- if she does not do the fundraiser. Worse of all, the marketing company get about 60%+ of the funds raiser on these deals.
John, you're not alone in this -- I'm with you. After letting it go a couple of times, my wife and I refuse to let our daughter be turned into a door-to-door salesperson, or annoy her grandmothers and aunts and uncles over the phone for these fundraisers. If the teacher needs help buying supplies, I'll happily write the check, but there's a reason we have child labor laws in this country.

I don't have a problem when she and her friend set up a lemonade stand on the corner, but they do that for fun, not to keep an educational institution afloat -- and they keep 100% of the proceeds from the lemonade they sell, as opposed to the huge percentage the marketing firms take off the top before the schools see the first dollar.

James Randi Bypass Surgery

From the James Randi Educational Foundation website...

James Randi underwent bypass surgery last Thursday. He is currently in stable condition. He is receiving excellent care, but will need quiet time to recover. We will release more information as it becomes available, and we ask everyone to please respect the family's wishes for privacy at this time.

For those who feel a need to help, please consider donating blood at your local Red Cross or Community Blood Center. Cards may be sent to Randi in care of JREF, 201 SE 12 Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316.
Get well, soon, Randi. Too many of us need you in our lives, as a friend and as a hero.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dave Barry's Money Secrets

Dave Barry was back on my show this afternoon to talk about his new book, "Dave Barry's Money Secrets, Like, Why Is There A Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?" Somehow, we also ended up discussing Angelina Jolie, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, Jim Cramer, and Suze Orman. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Super Bowl Commercials Quiz

Advertisers spent $2.5 million on each commercial during the broadcast of Super Bowl 40, hoping to make an impression on you. Was it money well spent? Take this quiz to see which commercial messages stuck to your brain. All you have to do is name the product based on a one-line clue. You'll find answers after each clue in hidden text -- highlight it with your mouse to make it visible.

  • Office manager motivates his employees by hiding a bonus (Bud Light)
  • Dancers and singers in a Busby Berkley-like production (Burger King)
  • Two TSA screeners play games with a passenger (Sierra Mist)
  • A secret revolving wall and a magic refrigerator (Bud Light)
  • A boy keeps asking his bilingual father "why?" (Toyota Hybrid Camry)
  • A caveman watches dinosaurs fight (FedEx)
  • Two backpackers are chased by a bear (Bud Light)
  • Jay Mohr and P. Diddy negotiate (Diet Pepsi)
  • Leonard Nimoy does the Vulcan hand signal (Aleve)
  • Using a defibrillator to kill a fly (Ameriquest Mortgage)
  • Two men relax on rooftops, while another goes up to fix a leak (Bud Light)
  • Jackie Chan works with a new co-star and stunt double (Diet Pepsi)
  • A sheared sheep shows off (Budweiser)
  • A man walks by Jim Edmonds and other athletes on the sidewalk (Mobile ESPN)
  • Chimps go crazy around the office (CareerBuilder.com)
  • A futuristic fashion show includes dripping models (Cadillac Escalade)
  • Girls have self-esteem issues, plus "True Colors" (Dove)
  • Tim Allen can't keep his tongue in his mouth ("Shaggy Dog")
  • Kermit sings "it's not easy to be green" (Ford Escape Hybrid)
  • In a touch football game, a woman gets tackled (Michelob Ultra Amber)
  • An old man has to use oxygen after a woman's strap pops (GoDaddy.com)
  • A chemical reaction takes place in a high-tech underground bunker (Gillette Fusion)
  • As a woman talks, white things turn red (Overstock.com)
  • A woman wants to go to the bathroom on a plane (Ameriquest Mortgage)
  • Glaciers melt and rocks fall (Motorola Pebl)
  • Captain Hook describes the pitfalls of his job (Sharpie Retractable)
  • A youngster wants to pull his weight like the grownups (Budweiser)
  • Fabio as gondolier with a new shampoo (Nationwide)
  • An old guy berates a young guy in a supermarket produce department (NFL Mobile)
  • Two monsters fall in love while destroying a city (Hummer H3)
  • People in hazmat suits put out trash and sit around the pool (PS Cleaning Solutions)
  • A woman works with donkeys in pants and shirts (CareerBuilder.com)
  • A woman with an iPod notices a man in a car (Taco Bell Crunch Wrap)
  • A vehicle gets washed away by waves in Bird Cove (Toyota Tacoma)
  • When a couch catches fire, people run around like a Benny Hill skit (Sprint)
  • Stuntmen fly, fall, and drive around Stunt City (Degree)
  • There's a Druid under the stairs making deals (Emerald Nuts)
  • A stadium full of fans pulls off a card stunt (Budweiser)
  • Richard Dean Anderson escapes an exploding building (Mastercard)
  • A woman's silhouette gets up and chooses another product (Honda Ridgeline)
  • People all over the world offer a toast (Beer Institute)
  • A man tries to steal something off a restaurant wall (Outback Steakhouse)
  • A woman jumps around to celebrate her weight loss (Slim-Fast)

Sunday, February 05, 2006


I've spoken often recently about businesses succeeding by giving people what they want in a way that makes it easiest for them to use the product. Unfortunately, here's another example of a company that still doesn't get it.

I wanted tickets to an upcoming event which are available online via Ticketmaster. I went to their website, typed in the date and venue, and was quickly offered an opportunity to buy the "best seats available." I chose that option and, after a few seconds, was shown the row and seat numbers of the tickets I could buy -- with the proviso that, if I didn't buy them within two minutes, they would be released and no longer be held for me.

I checked the seating chart for the venue and saw that the seats I'd been offered were way off to the side. I wanted something more in the middle, even if it was further back.

On the Ticketmaster screen, just under where it says which tickets you can buy, is a link that reads "If you don't want these tickets, give them up and search again." I clicked that link, but instead of being offered different seats in the venue, I was taken back to the first screen for the event and had to start over again. When I did, Ticketmaster's system then returned me to the page that offered me the exact same seats. The system hadn't searched again, it had simply taken the same path to the same result. It was like playing hide-and-seek with a two-year-old who always hides behind the drapes.

There was no other option offering me seats in a different section or row. That's is not how it should work.

When I book tickets on an American Airlines flight, I can choose where I want to sit in the plane. The AA site brings up a graphic of the entire plane showing which seats are available. I click on the ones I want, and they are automatically reserved for me.

That's how Ticketmaster should do it, too. I realize this would be a little tougher for major events in which they're swamped with requests as soon as tickets go on sale, but that's not their entire business -- and even then, it would be nice to choose an aisle seat, or move further back to stay in the middle, etc. In other words, make it the best possible experience for the customer.

Frustrated by the online version of Ticketmaster, I decided to place my order over the phone. Their 800 number greeted me with a computerized voice system that asked the event, date, and venue name I wanted to buy tickets for. Since there was no immediate option for speaking to a human being, I followed the prompts and provided the information. If I wanted to, I could have used the phone system to conduct my entire transaction without speaking to anyone, but I guessed that doing it that way would give me the same results as the website had, with no real choice of seats.

When I finally was given the speak-to-a-person option, I pressed it and was told there'd be a four-minute wait. That's fine, I was sitting at my desk with other things to do, so I turned on the speakerphone and waited while I checked my e-mail.

After 4 minutes, Rick came on the line and asked, "How can I help you?" Naturally, all that information I had just given to the voice system had not been forwarded to him, so I had to start all over again -- again. When he checked on ticket availability, the first seats Rick offered me were the exact same ones the website had come up with (I expected that, since he's no doubt working off the same database).

I asked him what else was available and, after three tries, he finally found good seats in a center section a little further back, just what I wanted. I gave him my credit card information, chose the tickets-by-mail option (free) rather than the print-your-own via e-mail option (an extra $1.75, which is counterintuitive since Ticketmaster saves money in printing and mailing costs when the customer chooses this option), and we completed the transaction.

Rick thanked me for my business, but before I let him go, I asked one last question, and the answer astounded me. I wanted to know if I could have avoided the other Ticketmaster fees (a "building facility charge" of $1 and a "convenience charge" of $4.60 -- adding an additional 25% to the price of each ticket!) by going to the venue box office. Rick told me yes, I could avoid those fees, but only if I paid in cash.

Why should that make a difference? Rick didn't know, but said I would have had a lot less trouble choosing exactly which seats I wanted if I'd just gone to the venue.

There has to be a better way.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Norah Vincent, Self-Made Man

Here's my conversation with Norah Vincent, who spent a year pretending she was a man -- joining an all-male bowling league, going on dates with women, visiting strip clubs, working as a door-to-door salesman. We discussed how much of a disguise she needed to pull all this off, what she learned about men, how horrible it is being a man trying to pick up a woman in a bar, and how men relate to men compared to how women do. I also asked what it was like for her to use the men's room, and how the the people she deceived felt after she revealed her real identity. It's a fascinating experiment.

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

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Walter Olson on Battling Big Cola

Here's my conversation with Walter Olson about the campaign to make Big Cola the next tobacco on the litigation front -- part of the Obesity Wars, in which personal responsbility counts for nothing, so corporate America must be blamed. I don't agree with everything Olson writes about on his website, OverLawyered.com, but he does shine light on a lot of interesting cases.

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

Online Privacy, Google, and the EFF

Here's my conversation with Rebecca Jeschke of the Electric Frontier Foundation about online privacy threats, the recent Google controversy, and the EFF's lawsuit against ATT for cooperating with the NSA's spying on phone calls. I also got her reaction to Mark Cuban saying he's not concerned at all about online privacy, that there's more threat from someone breaking into the mailbox in front of his house.

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bob Scucci on Super Bowl Betting

Here's my annual pre-Super Bowl conversation with Bob Scucci, who runs the sports book at the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. We talked about the various bets people can make on the game, and all the proposition bets Bob and his crew have come up with to entice even more money from bettors. He also explained how bookmakers set the line and what makes it move.

Sadly, this is the last time I'll do this with Bob, because the Stardust is being torn down later this year to make way for a new resort on their 60+ acres, and he's moving on to another gig. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Barley Scotch of Hayseed Dixie

Here's my conversation with Barley Scotch, lead singer of Hayseed Dixie, about their new album, "A Hot Piece of Grass." It's another collection of hillbilly versions of classic rock songs from Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath to Van Halen, plus some Hayseed Dixie originals and a screaming version of "Dueling Banjos," which was written a half-century ago by the father of two members of the band.

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