Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Friday, May 26, 2006

Borders Without Visas

Tim Cavanaugh, one of the editors of Reason magazine, joined the immigration debate on my show by putting forth the controversial proposal that we should allow citizens of the US, Mexico, and Canada to move and work freely among the three countries, in the full spirit of NAFTA. I asked him what impact this would have on our national security, economy, and infrastructure.

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Where America Is Vulnerable To Attack


Here's my conversation with Clark Kent Ervin, who was the first Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and now criticizes that agency for not doing all it can to make America safer in his book, "Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable To Attack."

He questioned why only 6% of the cargo at our ports is screened for radioactive material, while Hong Kong -- the world's busiest port -- checks 100% of those containers. You'd be surprised at how inexpensively he says it could be done here, too. He also revealed how easy it has been for GAO investigators to get radioactive material and bomb parts through our borders and airport screening points.

Most shocking is the reaction of those at the top, including his superiors who, rather than fixing the problems, chastised Ervin for pointing out weaknesses in America's security -- the very holes they were supposed to plug, the very reason that 22 federal agencies were merged into one new one, the Department of Homeland Security. Not surprisingly, politics gets in the way of doing the job properly.

Ervin also put the lie to the claim that DHS "must be doing a good job, because we haven't been attacked since 9/11."

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Water Fuel Debunked

James Randi, who was just on my show a couple of days ago, debunks the notion of using water as fuel for a car (or anything else).

I get e-mails at least once a week from people who wonder why, amid all the talk of high gas prices and alternative energy sources, this technology isn't being made available to the public. The answer, of course, is that it's a scam.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lost

Gotta give ABC and the "Lost" producers credit for the best viral marketing of a TV show ever. In addition to the official site (complete with streaming video of the last few episodes, including the season finale), the creative team has also come up with a site for The Hanso Foundation, complete with bios and background on all the fictional characters who created the Dharma Initiative, some of whom haven't been introduced on the TV show yet. There's also a separate Monster.com tie-in for job opportunities at Hanso.

They started a phone line that supposedly contained the automated voicemail system for Hanso. Hanso even showed up in "Mission Impossible 3," which was directed by "Lost" creator JJ Abrams. And don't forget the interactive "Lost Experience" game and the Oceanic Flight 815 site.

Then there's the "Bad Twin" book, which showed up in print for real after Sawyer was seen reading the manuscript a few episodes ago.

And that doesn't even begin to include all the unofficial fan sites and blogs where fans are adding their theories of what the hell is going on.

The one thing they're not very good at is providing answers. It seems they take great joy in provoking ten more questions for each one they answer, and even that is usually incomplete. Here are some questions of my own:

  • Is it possible that The Others are actually the Dharma research team overseeing everything that happens on the island?
  • Why did The Others make Michael bring along Hurley if they were only going to release him immediately?
  • What did Henry mean when he said The Others got "more than we bargained for when Walt joined us"?
  • When Desmond turned the key, did that trigger a nuclear blast?
Listener John Koester's theories and questions:
  • Walt and Michael's Escape: No way the Dharma people will let them go. They value their privacy too much.
  • Letting Hurley go: The most reasonable idea I have is a combination of warning to the others and part of the Dharma mind games. Is the subject (Michael) properly programmed to obey all instructions?
  • I think the others are the remnants of the Dharma project. A bunch of mad scientists following the precepts of B. F. Skinner. They have a comfortable hideaway someplace near the dock. The raggedy clothes and the beards are props for dealing with their test subjects. I suspect they spend their free time trying to psychologically manipulate each other.
  • The two guys at the end were hired by Desmond's girlfriend (he called her 'Pen' also). She has the will to find him and the money to pay for the search. Daddy's really rich.
  • Charlie was within tens of feet of a major explosion. He should be completely deaf (at least temporarily) and have his brain rattled as well. I think he was doing good to be able to walk and to find the camp.
  • "Our Mutual Friend" was Dickens' last completed novel. According to Wikipedia, it was full of amazing coincidences to gather the various characters together.
  • Who or what is paying for the resupply drops that have apparently been going on for the last twenty years? Air freight is expensive, paying off the pilots and/or the aircraft owners to not ask questions or remember what they do is even more expensive.
A friend reminded me of some connections to Widmore, the ultra-rich businessman who may be behind the whole deal (his daughter was Desmond's girlfriend and appeared in last night's final scene):
  • The video for Charlie's band, Drive Shaft, was shot in front of a Widmore construction site.
  • The pregnancy test Sun used was made by Widmore Laboratories
  • On the Widmore Laboratories website, they claim to be "the exclusive manufacturer of all Dharma and Infinity brand foods and pharmaceuticals for over three decades."
  • Widmore Labs sponsored the hot-air balloon of the real Henry Gale
  • The box company that Locke used to work for was a Widmore subsidiary
  • The Widmore.com website says "Sociometeorological Solutions For Biomagnetic Climates"
The best news about "Lost" this week is that next season will be practically rerun-free. They'll air 7 episodes in October and November, then break until late January, when ABC will air 16 straight weeks of new episodes, which will take them through May sweeps again. Of course, that gives us less than five months to muse about where the season finale left us.

Too Short For Prison

The most ridiculous legal decision of the week has to be the one handed down by District Judge Kristine Cecava in Sidney, Nebraska.

She ruled that Richard Thompson, a convicted child molestor, was too small to survive in prison. The fifty-year-old Thompson is 5'1" and the judge worried that he would be especially imperiled by prison dangers.

Aw, too bad. It shouldn't matter whether he's a Munchkin or the Alton Giant, the threat of Jailhouse Justice would be the same. If you're worried about him mixing with the general prison population, isolate him inside, but don't let him out and then simply hope he'll be a good boy.

That's what she did. Even after admitting that his crimes deserved a long sentence, Cecava gave him probation, ordered him to be electronically monitored for the first four months, and ordered him to stay away from kids.

I'm sure that will work. Pedophiles are so good about obeying the rules.

The judge told Thompson, "I truly hope that my bet on you being OK out in society is not misplaced." And what happens if you lose that bet and another kid gets molested?

Look, your honor, here's how it should work. Everyone gets exactly one opportunity to go through life without sexually abusing a child. You do it once, you're done. One strike and you're out. No second chances, no ankle bracelet to wear at home.

Smart Guys Guilty

Now that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling have been found guilty on multiple counts in the Enron trial, I have to re-recommend the brilliant documentary, "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room."

Based on the book by two Fortune magazine writers, the movie gives an in-depth explanation -- but in layman's terms -- of what these sleazeballs did, how they manipulated their stock price, and worst of all, how they brokered the California energy crisis. Most amazing is watching Lay and Skilling lie to their own employees about the company's situation, telling them not to worry, to keep their retirement money in Enron stock, while at the same time the execs were dumping their own shares and fully aware of the disaster they were sitting on.

May they rot in jail for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

James Randi Returns

James Randi is recovering from his heart attack of a few months ago, and was back on my show this afternoon to continue the fight against flummery, pseudoscience and other garbage claims.

After an appalling story about Sylvia Browne, Randi talked about a recent Time magazine story about facilitated communication, in which the emotions and wallets of the parents of severely autistic children are exploited.

I also asked his opinion -- as a magician -- of David Blaine's recent stunt, and we discussed other stories where science and rational thought are under attack.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

John Stossel


Here's my conversation with John Stossel book, "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out The Shovel -- Everything You Know Is Wrong." He's a proponent of letting the marketplace regulate itself, rather than having the government involved. You may be amazed at what he says about price gouging, investing in renewable energy, public education, drug laws, farm subsidies, and the government letting broadcasters (like the companies we each work for) have the airwaves for free. And that's just for starters.

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Bad Customer Service Story #9,548

On the way home from work last night, I stopped at a frozen custard place to get something for the three of us to have for dessert.

I ordered various kinds of concretes, all with chocolate custard. When they were handed to me, however, it was clear that they had been made with vanilla custard. I told the guy behind the counter that I'd asked for chocolate, and he replied, "Oh, the chocolate custard is too hard to serve right now."

He said it with a tone which indicated this made perfect sense to him -- rather than telling the customer that you can't fill his order properly, you simply substitute something else and keep quiet about it.

I pointed out that this wasn't what I ordered, and he looked at me as if I were speaking Norwegian. Seeing that this mental giant didn't have the brain power to realize we had a problem, I suggested that he either forget the order and give me my money back, or take four steps backwards to the chocolate syrup container, squirt some of that in our cups, mix it all up again, and then give it to me. I could actually see the 10-watt lightbulb go on inside his head, and a couple of minutes later I left with a product that was at least close to what I had asked for.

I was reminded of a time in college when I went into a Burger King and ordered a Whopper. The clerk asked me what I'd like to drink, and I asked, "Do you have root beer?" She replied, "No, but we do have Diet Sprite." As if that would naturally be the second choice of someone who wanted a root beer.

I felt yesterday the same way I felt then -- that I was stuck in some sort of Consolation Prize hell.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jon Lovitz

Jon Lovitz joined me in the studio today to talk about his TV and movie careers. He also explained the genesis of his Pathological Liar character and how he ended up on the "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. Then he shared some insight into his friendship with Phil Hartman.

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Black Jack vs. Unmarried Couple

The city council of Black Jack has upheld its closed-minded reputation by deciding not to change its laws to allow an unmarried couple with three children to live there.

Mayor Norman McCourt released a statement that makes no sense, explaining that the purpose of occupancy permits is to "avoid overcrowding by non-related parties, assure the lifelong maintenance of the cities (sic) housing stock, prevent new buyers from being obligated to repair residences that were not kept up to code, preserve the character of the neighborhoods and the city and to protect the general safety and welfare of the city's residents."

Here's where he's wrong:

  • There's no overcrowding in the case of Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving. They bought a five-bedroom house to live in with their three children. Five people, five bedrooms. Plenty of room for everyone.
  • Maintenance of the house has nothing to do with whether the couple is husband and wife. Longtime married couples aren't necessarily more responsible with their homes than unwed couples (or newlyweds). If anyone isn't keeping their house up to code, you act against the violators -- you don't launch a pre-emptive strike based on a marriage license.
  • The marital status of the homeowners also has nothing to do with the safety and welfare of anyone else in the community.
What the Mayor and five members of the city council won't admit is that this is all about imposing their morality on everyone else. That's not their job.

What makes it even more hypocritical is that the current law that they've upheld would allow Olivia and Fondray to live in that house unmarried with one child, but not two or three. Or Olivia could live there with all three kids if Fondray wasn't around. How does that make a better family situation? Shouldn't we be encouraging families that include two loving, nurturing parents?

It will be interesting to see what the ACLU can do for them in court.

Here's another column I wrote about the story three months ago.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Border Patrol Agent's View

While discussing the immigration issue on the air, I got a call from a Henry, a listener who spent 18 years as a Border Patrol Agent. He had some fascinating insight into the difficulties of guarding the US-Mexico border, and of using the National Guard, as President Bush will suggest tonight. In particular, Henry wonders how we would train all those Guardsmen to speak Spanish.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Anti-Gravity TV Needed

An AP story recently reported the death of three young children who were killed by televisions that fell off of stands or furniture. Of course, any time a kid dies it's tragic, but after giving those details, the story went on:

The deaths have prompted a plea by some grieving mothers for new laws that would mandate warning labels about the potential danger of top-heavy or poorly place TVs.
Warning labels? To tell adults that large, heavy objects can fall and crush their children? If these parents aren't already aware of the Law Of Gravity, what possible good is a warning label going to do?

The story continued by quoting the mother of an 8-year-old boy who was killed while playing a video game on a 19" television:
"If there were warning labels, or if there was any awareness that this could be a danger, believe me, the kind of mother I am, I wouldn't have even let my son have a TV in his room."
Awareness this could be a danger? How about the danger of letting an 8-year-old have a TV in his room to begin with, regardless of the family's lack of knowledge of Sir Isaac Newton?

Wondering how many kids die each year because of falling televisions? According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it's a grand total of six. Again, every one of those deaths is sad, but parents who don't take responsibility for their own actions is even sadder.

Maybe mom and dad need a warning label, "Caution: Making a child is easy, raising one is hard."

Friday, May 12, 2006

NSA Phone Database, continued

Here's my conversation with Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News Channel and Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation about the NSA Phone Database story. They each explained the serious problems they have with the program.

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NSA Phone Database

I received so many comments about my opening monologue yesterday about the NSA phone call database story that I have posted the audio here for those who missed it.

I tried to bring up some points that others have missed -- that this isn't about the government's ability to monitor the bad guys, but that it must be done legally, with the oversight of both the courts and Congress. We must have those checks and balances, and we (the people) must have our elected officials doing a better job of representing us, the taxpayers and citizens of this great nation. Having one branch merely "brief" the other is no different than the relationship of parent and child, as in when I "brief" my daughter about where we're going to have dinner and when she's going to bed. She has no real input into that, just as Congress and the courts have had no input into the unilateral actions of the executive branch.

This should not be about politics. Those who make this only about the Bush administration are forgetting that, in 1999, the Clinton administration launched the Echelon program, which was also a giant government fishing expedition that ran roughshod over our Constitutional rights. I railed against that at the time, as I did against the TIA program a few years ago. By the way, one of the people who also were uncomfortable with Echelon and wanted more details about it made public was a then-congressman from Florida named Porter Goss. Yes, the same one who was pushed out of the top CIA job last week, coincidentally just days before these new revelation about the scope of the domestic surveillance program (which we were told last year only applied to international phone calls).

Yes, the nation must be protected, but so must the Constitution and the inherent rights of Americans. Those are not mutually exclusive concepts. They are, in fact, what makes us different and better than every other nation on the planet. We don't want to be a nation whose leaders can decide to monitor the actions of its people at its own whim and cloak it in a veil of "we're protecting you" -- that's China, that's North Korea, that's not the United States of America.

Lots of comments below, feel free to add yours.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

American English, the Beatles Band

American English (the best Beatles tribute band I've seen) were back in the studio and brought their instruments, as always. They played "Help!," "Another Girl," and "Get Back" before I convinced them to do an almost-unplugged version of Ringo's song "It Don't Come Easy." They've added that to their repertoire as part of a "What If?" set -- showing what some of the solo material would have sounded like if the Beatles had stayed together and played them.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bob Costas

Bob Costas was back on my show this afternoon. On the heels of his HBO show starting a new season last week with a discussion of steroids in baseball and the whole Barry Bonds controversy, I got into some of those questions with Bob, who was making noise about this issue years ago.

I also talked to Bob about his other network job, wondering why he won't be doing play-by-play for NBC Sunday Night Football and how NBC can get better ratings with the Olympics, and more.

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Is The Upper Class AWOL from the Military?


Here's my conversation with Frank Schaeffer about his new book, "AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country."

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Christine Brennan


Here's my conversation with Christine Brennan, one of America's best sportswriters, about her book, "Best Seat In The House: A Father, A Daughter, a Journey Through Sports."

We talked about how hard it was for a girl to dream of being a sportswriter in an era when there were no women doing the job. No role models meant she had to blaze her own trail. Fortunately, her father supported her efforts, as he had done with her love of sports from a very early age. Christine explained some of the triumphs and obstacles she has faced in her remarkable career -- from owning the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan story to being one of the first women in a locker room full of naked NFL players. She also shared her unique perspective on the Olympics, Barry Bonds, and much more.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Just Blaine Bored

David Blaine burst onto the scene a decade ago with cool magic done on the street and a style that seemed fresh at the time. Too bad that magic is gone, and he's now reduced to boring stunt after boring stunt. Criss Angel now does what Blaine used to do, and better.

Blaine's aquarium stunt ended with a whimper and a yawn tonight. If I wanted to see a wrinkled man who needs help walking and an oxygen mask to breathe, I'd go visit half of the population of South Florida.

Bill Carter, "Desperate Networks"


Here's my conversation with Bill Carter, who covers the TV beat for the NY Times, about his new book, "Desperate Networks."

He explained how hard it was for "American Idol" to get on the air -- it was turned down by all the networks (twice by ABC) before Rupert Murdoch finally ordered Fox to put it on. We also talked about how Nicolette Sheridan's audition was so bad she almost didn't get the job on "Desperate Housewives," how "Lost" got on the air despite network tinkering, and how the internet has become another distribution channel for network content.

I asked Bill for his opinion on whether ABC will move "Grey's Anatomy" to another night, whether NBC has any shows that look like they can turn the fourth-place network around, and how Aaron Sorkin and Tina Fey can both be developing new series about what it's like behind-the-scenes at a show like "Saturday Night Live."

Since Carter was responsible for "The Late Shift," which documented the Leno vs. Letterman battle for Johnny Carson's desk (which was made into a memorable HBO movie), we talked about Leno handing "The Tonight Show" to Conan O'Brien in three years -- and whether David Letterman will break Johnny Carson's thirty-year late night television record.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Peeves

Fast food restaurants that hear me say "no mustard" and interpret it as "instead of mustard, add extra ketchup." Having worked in one of these places in college, I know the employees are used to the routine, and maybe this is corporate policy. If so, knock it off. If I wanted extra ketchup, I'd ask for it. I'd say, "Please give me a hamburger that is guaranteed to squirt ketchup onto my shirt as soon as I bite into it."

Hotel rooms where the air conditioning vent is specifically located above and pointed at the bed. Thus, whoever is in that bed gets cold air blowing directly on them all night long. Either point the louvers upwards, or make them movable, or figure out a way to run the duct work around to the other side of the room. And while you're at it, instruct your housekeeping staff to stop cranking the thermostat down. It takes us several hours to get the temperature back to a reasonable level, and then they reset it every day so low that the road company of "March Of The Penguins" would catch cold.

Cars that don't have the gas tank on the left side. Why is this not standard yet? It took a few decades to get rid of the behind-the-license-plate position, now it's time to get rid of the right-side fill-up. That would eliminate the weird game of gas station chicken when two cars end up face to face at the pumps. It would also relieve the anxiety everyone who has ever rented a car feels when filling up the strange vehicle they've been driving -- which side is it on? You figure you have a 50/50 shot, but you're never right.

Cell phones that can download ring tones, but not phonebooks. I want to be able to enter all of my contact information online and then have it transferred to my phone. I know I could do this if I bought a Treo or a Palm-ready phone, but it should be available on all cell phones by now. That way, I can look someone up online, add them to my phone book from anywhere, manage the list and other contact info, and have that info in my phone within seconds. This would be much more valuable than having a camera built in that I rarely use.

When driving west late in the afternoon, you will not hit the sun. Yet every day, as the sun gets low in the sky, traffic headed uphill in that direction inevitably slows down because someone's been surprised by the big orange thing in the sky. You'd think they'd be used to it, but no. Here's the rule: if it was safe to do 60mph down the hill, it'll be safe to do 60mph up the hill. If my math is correct, at that rate, you won't collide with El Sol for approximately 177 years.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Craig Ferguson


Here's my conversation with Craig Ferguson (whose "Late Late Show" on CBS I have praised often here) about his show and his new novel, "Between the Bridge and the River."

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Anti-Semitism in Europe


Here's my conversation with Richard Trank, director of the new documentary, "Ever Again," about the resurgence of anti-semitism in Europe. This is a story that's not being covered by the American media, but we need to know about it because this hatred is not just of Jews, but of all of us. Much of it is driven by the influx of extremist Islamic immigrants who -- in a bizarre twist -- are joining with neo-Nazis in their violent efforts. Trank's stories should be a chilling wake-up call.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bob Greene


Bob Greene was back on my show this afternoon to talk about his book, "And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship." This was one of his first interviews about it, and he was in top form. Bob is one of America's best storytellers, and this story touched me more than anything he's ever written.

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More Movies You Might Not Know

Just added to the Movies You Might Not Know list:

  • "Proof," with Gwyneth Paltrow in her best performance as the daughter of a world-renowned mathemetician (Anthony Hopkins), who cared for him in his schizophrenic last years. With Jake Gyllenhaal as the student who finds what may or may not be a breakthrough mathematics proof, and Hope Davis as the antagonist, her too-grounded and too-urbanized older sister;
  • "Shopgirl," from Steve Martin's novella, in which he plays an uber-rich businessman who woos a young woman (Claire Danes, in a glowing performance) who is torn between his wealthy materialism and the grubby attentions of a guy more her age and speed;
  • "The Onion Field," Joseph Wambaugh's version of a 1963 incident in which small-time criminals abduct two cops during a panicky traffic stop, then execute one while the other escapes. With a breakout performance by James Woods, plus the pre-"Cheers" Ted Danson and a raw role for John Savage.