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

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mud Mania

I took my daughter and a friend to an event called Mud Mania this weekend. It's essentially a 70-yard mud pile, with obstacles to climb over, slide down, and swim through. In other words, it's kid paradise.

While adult women would pay hundreds of dollars for a mud treatment at a spa, they still wouldn't have as much mud on them as the kids at this event. Some of them -- and not just boys -- were covered from head to toe. On the way, I told my daughter that she'd have mud in places she didn't even know she had places, and she did. Fortunately, there were showers available for the kids to clean off before heading for the inflatable rides nearby, then returning for another slosh through the mud.

While standing around watching, two things caught my attention. The first was a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, who was sitting in the pool of muddy water, covered from the neck down. At first I didn't notice the look on his face, but when I looked a second time, it was unmistakable -- this kid was peeing. Any adult who has ever been to the pool with little kids knows that look. I mentioned it to the guy next to me along the fence and he immediately said, "Oh, yeah, that kid's peeing in the mud." Fortunately, my kid was nowhere nearby.

Later, at the end of the mud trough, several kids from one family emerged together and started laughing when the youngest boy saw someone's underpants lying on the ground. As he pointed them out, their mother warned him not to touch the underwear. The counter-argument came from his older brother, who did all of us older brothers proud by telling his younger sibling to pick them up and "throw the underpants at someone!" This idea was just too great an opportunity for the boy to resist. There followed a short round of muddy underpants tossing and hysterical laughter before the mother stepped in and restored order.

I couldn't help but wonder if the underwear from the second story belonged to the kid from the first story.

Greg Raymer @ the WSOP

Greg "Fossilman" Raymer checked in this afternoon on my show, live from the World Series of Poker main event (which he won in 2004). Out of 8,532 people who started the event, Greg completed Day One yesterday in 35th place with $48,900.

I asked him if he was happy with that chip count, whether the bathroom breaks are any better this year than last, and whether he's aware of how other big poker names are doing in the tournament. He also explained how he lost a hand to a woman who wanted to fold her cards but wasn't allowed to.

One of the reasons Greg has been so successful is his relentless concentration on what's happening at his table, regardless of the distractions in the room. Other players aren't taking the WSOP quite so seriously -- including one guy who sat at the table watching all five "Rocky" movies on a portable DVD player.

If Greg sounds a little tired during this interview, it's because he'd been playing until 3am and then only gotten a few hours sleep before we woke him up

Listen to the conversation here.

Chew On This

This afternoon on my show, I talked to Charles Wilson, co-author (with Eric Schlosser) of "Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food." He explained what's wrong with the food and the way it's marketed to kids, and I challenged him on whether it was really a matter of moderation and parental responsibility. We also discussed the mostly-teen labor situation in most fast food restaurants, and whether the government should get involved with more regulation.

Listen to the conversation here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

World Series of Poker

The main event at the World Series of Poker is underway in Vegas with 8,532 players, not counting alternates who will be added as the four "Day Ones" roll out. That's another record, almost 50% more entrants than last year and ten times the number of players three years ago when Chris Moneymaker won.

CardPlayer magazine (which has live updates) reports that it took all of 7 minutes for the first player to bust out. That's a little longer than last year, when one player at the ESPN feature table went out on the first hand.

For the first time, each player has an All-In button they can toss onto the felt instead of having push forward all of their chips.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson were back on my show today to talk about "Peter and the Shadow Thieves," the sequel to their Peter Pan prequel. We talked about how they write together, who's in charge of which parts of the books, and other inside stuff. Dave also revealed his platform for his next presidential candidacy. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Click here to listen to my October, 2004, conversation with them about their first book, "Peter and the Starcatchers."

More links: the website for the books and Dave Barry's Blog.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Morgan Spurlock "30 Days"

Morgan Spurlock was back on my show today to talk about the second season of his FX show, "30 Days," which debuts Wednesday night (7/26) with an episode that puts a member of the Minutemen in the home of a family of illegal immigrants. He also told stories about spending a month in jail for an episode that airs later in the season, and explained how they come up with the situations and people who take part in the show.

I quickly became a fan of "30 Days" in its first season, when Spurlock and his fiance spent a month in minimum wage jobs. But the highlight last summer was when he sent a homophobic guy into the gayest part of San Francisco to live with a man and his lover. In one scene, they take him to a gay nightclub, where the straight guy joined some of the other men on top of the bar, dancing and whipping his shirt off. The reaction of one of the gay men in the club was priceless: "Oh, I wouldn't have done that!"

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Men & Women & Hair

There are certain things men can say to other men that we can never say to women.

Case in point. Several of us were standing around the office talking about the recent storms -- who lost power, when it went out, when we got it back, etc. After a few people had told their stories, one of our female colleagues started hers with, "I was getting my hair done at the salon when the electricity went off."

Now, if she were a he, at least three of the guys in the room would have immediately jumped in with comments along the lines of, "Well, that explains the hairdo!" or "I hope they get the power back on soon so you can go back and have them finish the job!" or "So you went home and cut it yourself with a kitchen knife, right?"

See, that's how guys treat each other. It doesn't matter whether your hair looks fine or like a weedwhacker went berserk on your head, you have to expect a few cutting remarks, if you'll pardon the pun.

In this case, however, no one said a thing -- because, as men, we know that one of the things we should never joke about it a woman's hairdo.

Would it have been different if it were a roomful of women?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Joel Makower on Electric Cars

Now that gas prices have notched up to an average of $3/gallon nationally, Joel Makower was back on my show this afternoon to talk about electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, and other energy alternatives.

Joel has test-driven some of the cool new all-electric vehicles like the Th!nk and the Wrightspeed X1, which he has written about on his blog.

I also asked him whether, in light of the storms that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes here in the bi-state area, it would be possible for a homeowner to get off the normal electrical grid and have some sort of self-sustaining energy system instead. He pointed out the problems with doing that in the average residential community.

Listen to the conversation here.

Joel is the founder of GreenBiz.com and writes and speaks about renewable energy and a green marketplace. He's also associated with Renew US, a website about climate change and clean energy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Project Prevention Returns

Barbara Harris of Project Prevention was back on my show this afternoon. Her organization offers cash incentives to women addicted to drugs and/or alcohol to get long-term or permanent contraception. The idea is to cut down on the number of babies born addicted to crack or with fetal-alcohol syndrome, and she's helped about 2,000 women (and a few men) thus far. Listen to the conversation here.

Embryonic Stem Cells

After President Bush vetoed the embryonic stem cell funding bill (that had bi-partisan support in Congress, but not enough to override the veto), I thought it would be nice to hear from an actual scientist on this issue. So, I invited Professor Steven Teitelbaum onto my show this afternoon. He's one of the top experts on stem cells, having done years of work in that field at Washington Univeristy, and explained in layman's language why Bush was wrong.

Listen to the conversation here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Retire The Penny?

On my show this afternoon, I spoke with Jeff Gore of Citizens For Retiring The Penny, who says we don't need the one-cent coin anymore, especially since it now costs more than a penny to make a penny. Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona) agrees, and today introduced legislation to get rid of it.

I asked Gore what we'd do with all those prices that aren't right at the five- and ten-cent marks, what corporate America thinks of the plan, whether any other countries have done this, and more.

Listen to the conversation here.

Watch Your Language, Mr. President

There was a lot of hot air blowing yesterday about President Bush being caught saying "s#*t" by a microphone he didn't know was on at the G-8 Summit this weekend. Unfortunately, not enough was said about the hypocrisy behind that word.

Not long ago, Bush signed legislation that increases the indecency fines on broadcast outlets to $325,000, and added fines for individual broadcasters -- like me -- who might allow that word, or similar ones, onto the American airwaves. It's all part of the tight-right-wing blowback that followed Nipplegate.

I'm not referring to programming that is purposely outrageous. I'm talking about the accidental moment that allows a verboten word to slip through, from a caller, a spectator, or a government official.

Ironically, if that microphone that caught Bush's remark had been live on the air, that would have constituted a violation under the new FCC rules. Personally, I'd love to see them start a case against any broadcaster who did present the President's comments verbatim.

The FCC has recently asked TV networks to hand over tapes of any sports event in which a fan, player, or coach may have uttered something they'd consider unfit for human ears. The presumption is that the commission may go back and issue fines for those incidents. If that's the case, you can say goodbye to live telecasts of sports -- everything would have to be put on delay.

The same would then have to be true for any news event, whether it's coverage of the war, a man-on-the-street live shot, or a Presidential press conference. You'd just never know when the President might utter the S word. Or when the Vice President might say the F word on the floor of Congress. Or when either of them might call a NY Times writer an A-hole.

The hypocrisy here is that the exposure of those words on the airwaves is a rather rare occurrence, certainly more rare than their use in every day life by adult men and women, both in and out of power. Yet in those rare circumstances, the same government run by those men and women can use its power to fine broadcasters hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's enough to bankrupt a radio personality, for a single mistake.

At what point in our development as a society will we accept the fact that those words aren't as horrible as the right-wing extremist special interest groups believe they are? In fact, they're such a common part of our lexicon that even world leaders use them in casual conversation.

I know, I know, it's all about protecting the kids, even though it isn't. If it were, the FCC never would have fined PBS stations for the real-life language in a documentary last year about blues music -- a show that had virtually no one under the age of 12 watching it.

This isn't about protecting kids, or even adults, from "indecency." It's about protecting political turf.

To paraphrase President Bush, it's time to stop this s#*t.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cedric The Entertainer

It's always a pleasure to welcome Cedric The Entertainer back to my show. This afternoon, we talked about his new HBO special (which debuts Saturday night), his marriage to Oprah Winfrey, his career as a radio DJ, and his efforts to get more movies made in St. Louis. Listen to the conversation here.

Inside Israel

On my show today, I talked with Dr. Moshe Salmovitz, live from his bomb shelter in Nahariya, Israel. His neighborhood has been under missile attack for the last two days -- several of them landing within yards of his home. Obviously exhausted, he explained what life is like just 6 miles from the border with Lebanon, the impact it's having on his 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, whether he thinks the Israeli government is doing the right thing, and how they can hear the incoming missiles and have just seconds to hit the floor or run for the shelter.

Listen to the conversation here.

I also talked with Sandy Tolan, an American who lived in Israel for several years, whose new book, "The Lemon Tree," is about a relationship between a Palestinian and an Israeli. Tolan disagrees with the actions of the Israeli leadership, saying they're no better than the terrorist groups they're fighting.

Listen to the conversation here.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who Killed The Electric Car?

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Chris Paine, director of the documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car?" Paine owned a General Motors EV-1 and explained what it was like to drive, how far it could go, how it was recharged, and whether it was really better environmentally, since coal had to be burned to provide the electricity to recharge the car. We also talked about other alternative vehicle energy sources, including hydrogen fuel cells and hybrids.

Listen to the conversation here.

Final Jeopardy

Yesterday's episode of "Jeopardy" included one of the worst contestant responses I've ever seen in the "Final Jeopardy" round.

The answer given by Alex Trebek: "Of all the states that have 2 NFL teams, it is the only one that touches the Mississippi River."

Two contestants responded "What is Minnesota?" Wrong! While on the Mississippi, that state only has one NFL team, the Vikings. The third contestant, however, had a real beauty: "What is Florida?"

Florida? Let's see. Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- hey, that's three NFL teams in one state! Unfortunately, the question was about states with two NFL teams.

Now, I can see going on "Jeopardy" without a lot of sports knowledge. All of that other trivia can take up so much brain space that a list of NFL teams might not fit, and no one can know everything (even Ken Jennings). Okay.

But almost every "Jeopardy" contestant is pretty good at geography, particularly US geography, which is what makes this one even worse -- because you don't have to be the love child of Rand McNally and Paul Tagliabue to know that Florida is nowhere near the Mississippi River!

The correct answer, of course, is Missouri, home of the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs.

Yes, good old Missouri, the orange juice state.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Aaron Eckhart, Making A Movie in St. Louis

I spent a couple of hours this morning on the set of "Bill," a movie that's being shot here in St. Louis this summer, starring Aaron Eckhart, a very good actor who has been in "Thank You For Smoking," "In The Company of Men," "Erin Brockovich," and more.

During a break between scenes, I talked with Eckhart for a few minutes about what it's like to make a movie here, how changing the leading lady from Lindsay Lohan to Jessica Alba affected the movie, and whether our notorious summer heat and humidity were getting in the way of his performance.

On the latter question, he said it wasn't easy working outside today because of what he was wearing -- not just a business suit (his character is a banker), but also a fat suit to make him even larger than the 20 pounds he had gained to play the role. That's when I looked him over and realized he was still thinner than me. I wanted to tell him that I had my fat suit on, too.

Listen to the conversation here.

Being on and around a movie set isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds. The novelty wears off quickly as you realize that there's an enormous amount of down time between shots. You start to notice that only the stars and directors have chairs (everyone else from crew members to onlookers spends the entire day on their feet); that the eighth take of that scene they're doing halfway down the block and out of earshot doesn't look any different than the previous seven from your vantage point; and that no matter how many times passers-by ask, they're not going to see Jessica Alba, because she wasn't even in town today.

By the way, these movie makers are smart enough not to put her in a fat suit. I still don't understand why she was hired to play The Invisible Woman in "Fantastic Four." If Jessica Alba is in your movie, the audience wants to get a good look at her, not see her disappear.

Producer Matthew Rowland told me that the reason they're shooting "Bill" here is because of the tax credits they got from the Missouri Film Commission. Another insider later informed me that the state set aside $1.5 million in tax credits for film production this year, and that it was all used up by June. That means that, after this, there are no tax incentives for other projects, including one that this same production company was considering doing in St. Louis (with a budget more than double the $5 million that "Bill" will cost). Shortsightedness in Jefferson City cost the state a big deal, which went to Austin instead, and would have meant a lot more work for the local film professionals, who make up 70-80% of the crew on this movie.

Rowland also told me that, while they have found a lot of wonderful locations in the St. Louis area to use, they still haven't found the right place for the climactic scene, which will be shot next Tuesday. They want something idyllic, perhaps with a cliff and a majestic view. I suggested he get in a car and drive about 20 minutes north on the Great River Road to Grafton, where the cliffs overlook the Mississippi River (and bald eagles make their nests every winter). We'll see whether they scout that out and decide to use it, although there's one thing I know about movie editing -- if that location is chosen, Eckhart's character will get there by driving down a road that's completely across town (e.g. Ladue Road), yet he'll make one right turn and magically appear there nonetheless.

You notice odd moments like that sometimes in a movie shot in your hometown. When I lived in DC and saw "No Way Out," I couldn't help but laugh when Kevin Costner was being chased and ran into the Georgetown Metro station to get away from the bad guys. My amusement came from the fact that there had never been a Metro station in Georgetown until the movie makers put one there.

I asked another "Bill" crew member whether they'd had problems at any of the shooting locations in the St. Louis area. He said everything had gone smoothly, except when they did mall interiors. In the movie, Jessica Alba works in a lingerie shop, and the set department had built one in an unused storefront in The Galleria. Unfortunately, that meant that in some shots where you could see passers-by outside the store window, they used extras, and had to stop regular mall customers from walking through the shot. After a couple of hours of this, the manager of the real Bath & Bodyworks store next door came by to complain that this was hurting her business. When I asked if someone went over there with a handful of $100 bills to smooth out the situation, the crew member smiled and said, "No comment."

"Bill" will be shooting here for another week or so before the film is taken back to Los Angeles for editing and post-production. Then the producers and directors will try to show it at a film festival or two, sell it to a distributor, and hope to get it into theaters sometime next year. I asked Rowland if he'd like to avoid going up against a big-budget picture like "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," and he said no, that's exactly the kind of movie they'd like to open against, because it would give audiences a real alternative, as opposed to some other indie movie with some buzz.

I have no idea whether "Bill" will be worth your entertainment dollars or not, but it would be nice to have more movies made here in St. Louis!

Obituary Of The Year

You don't see a lot of obits like the one his family wrote for Fred Clark, including lines like this: "When his family was asked what they remembered about Fred, they fondly recalled how Fred never peed in the shower -- on purpose."

Importing Drugs From Canada

With the Senate voting in favor of banning customs and border agents from taking away prescription drugs that Americans get in Canada and bring back home, it's a good time to revisit my discussion with Dr. Marcia Angell. She was editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and author of "The Truth About Drug Companies." In our discussion, she explained that those drugs are not dangerous, and what's behind the inflated prices Americans are forced to pay for pharmaceuticals that are 50% cheaper north of the border.

Listen to the conversation here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kathleen Madigan Plays Poker

Comedian Kathleen Madigan was back on my show this afternoon. We talked about what it was like to do "Celebrity Poker Showdown," and her commentary on such shows as "50 Most Wicked Women of Primetime" and "20 Really Embarrassing Video Moments." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jed Horne, "Breach of Faith"

Jed Horne, metro editor of The Times-Picayune, joined me this afternoon on to talk about "Breach of Faith," his insider's view of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, which was just published today.

We talked about what did (and didn't) happen inside the Superdome, how Ray Nagin managed to get re-elected Mayor, whether people in the Ninth Ward still believe that the levee was blown up, and the "heckuva job" done by ex-FEMA director Michael Brown and Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Horne also summed up the conditions in New Orleans now, which vary from good in the tourist-heavy areas to horrible in the poorest neighborhoods (where they are still finding bodies and clearing the streets).

Listen to the conversation here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Bye Bye High Dive

In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Steve Moore explained why three-meter diving boards are so scarce in this country. Of course, it has to do with high liability insurance premiums and fear of lawsuits, even though the numbers don't justify them:

Diving board accidents are actually rare. Hard data are difficult to come by, but Pool and Spa News estimates that, out of the millions of jumps and dives off high boards each year, there are, on average, fewer than 20 spinal injuries. Most head injuries actually occur from people diving off the pool's ledge into the shallow end. Diving boards actually reduce these types of injuries because they visually tip off swimmers about which end of the pool is deep.
Diving off the high board was a milestone of my childhood.

My father and I were at the pool one summer afternoon without my mother and brother when he told me it was time to go home. As all kids do, I begged to stay a little longer. He agreed, on one condition. He said I could have another 15 minutes at the pool if I would dive off the high board, which I had never done before.

I had been up there many times, always opting for a cannonball, or a jackknife, or some other foot-first giant-splash-inducing entry into the water. But Dad meant a head-first dive.

I asked, "Do I have to?" He replied, "No, you don't have to. We can go home right now instead."

I looked up at the board and considered the situation. I had seen other kids do it. I had seen my father do it earlier that afternoon. How hard could it be?

Those thoughts are a lot easier when you're on the ground. When I climbed the ladder, inched out to the edge of the board, looked down and pondered what I was about to do, it didn't seem so easy. Suddenly, it looked a lot further down than ten feet.

Fortunately, there was no one waiting to get up there, so I had it all to myself. I curled my toes over the end of the board. I raised my hands over my head and clasped them together into diving position. I bent my legs and glanced down at my father. From the water below, he gave me a smile and the thumbs-up sign. For a moment, I actually thought, "Well, he's a very good swimmer, so if anything goes wrong, at least I know my Dad can pull me out of the pool."

Then, I leaned forward, pushed off with my feet, and.........YOW!

It hurt like hell. I don't know if I did something wrong with my hands or what, but the impact of the top of my head on the water seemed a lot harder than when I entered feet-first. It seemed like the water had become more solid just at the instant my scalp reached it. Fortunately, the pain receded quickly as I surfaced, took a big gulp of air, and smiled from ear to ear.

I did it! I dove off the high board!

There was my father, clapping and congratulating me, "Hey, that was great! Want to try another one?"

My response was immediate: "No way! But we can stay another 15 minutes, right?"

"Absolutely! A deal is a deal, and I'm proud of you," he reassured me.

Ah, the words every boy loves to hear from his Dad. They almost made me want to climb back up that ladder and dive off again.


It's a shame other boys (and girls) won't know the joy of that dive.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Illegals on the Farm

Susan Ferriss of the Sacramento Bee had a good in-depth piece earlier this week on the dilemma that a crackdown on illegal immigrants presents to farmers in California. I invited her onto my show this afternoon to explain it, including the bureaucracy that's already such an obstacle that many growers find easier to ignore it so that they can bring in enough people to pick their crops. Interestingly, many of these farmers are staunch Republicans who find themselves on the other side of the issue from the politicians they usually support.

Listen to the conversation here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Under The Fireworks

We had an extraordinary experience last night.

Chesterfield had its first-ever July 4th fireworks display, and everyone was invited to park for free in the mall parking lot to enjoy it. My wife and daughter and I went with another couple and their two daughters. On the way, we noticed the rainstorm moving in. It started lightly, but by the time we got to the mall, the rain was coming down pretty hard.

At the parking lot, cars were backed up all the way to the entrance. Fortunately, my wife had noticed that the fireworks launching area was set up in a field next to the public library, and suggested we try to park there instead. Unfortunately, the library had closed its lot, but there were people parked on the street, waiting under umbrellas. We went next door to the YMCA's lot, found two adjacent parking spaces, and waited there.

The girls got out and ran around in the warm rain, having a great time, while we adults hung out in our car under a sky darkened by clouds. How dark? Cecil B. DeMille "Ten Commandments" dark.

It was only 8:15pm, about an hour before the fireworks show was scheduled to start. I commented to Barry, the other dad, that it didn't look like there would be any fireworks in this rainstorm. He replied that he had checked the weather radar before leaving home, that the storm was moving across the area pretty quickly, that the sky to the west looked blue and clear, and that the rain would be gone by 9pm.

So we waited.

By 8:50pm, his prediction became fact. The sky was clear and the rain had stopped. We pulled the folding chairs out of both trunks and set them up on the sidewalk, directly across from the huge grassy area where the fireworks would be launched.

At 9:20pm, the show began, and it was truly spectacular, made even better by the fact that we were directly below the display. It was like sitting under an outdoor Omnimax dome, with the explosions filling so much of the sky that it was almost impossible to take it all in. This was a multi-sensory experience, from the colors in our eyes to the booming explosions in our ears to the concussive feeling in our chests.

But there was something more, which we hadn't taken into account. You see, when those fireworks went up, did their thing, and burned out, they continued to fall back to Earth -- right down to the area we were sitting in.

After just a couple of minutes, I felt something small hit my arm, then my leg, then my other arm. Barry and I looked at each other as we realized that the fireworks cinders (or ash) were coming down on us. We quickly assessed that this was nothing dangerous, albeit unexpected. Neither our wives nor kids seemed to notice, as their mile-wide smiles never left their faces.

The show continued for 20 minutes, with all the old standby starbursts and chrysanthemums and sperm-like squigglers and flash-upon-flashers, plus new elements that kept our interest up, including some I'd never seen before (such as one set of brilliantly white fireworks that floated down suspended on a string between two little parachutes -- very cool!).

What also made it so good was that there was no audio soundtrack blasting over speakers. Some displays claim they are "synchronized" to music, but in all the years I've seen them, I've never seen and heard one that get it right. The biggest problem is simple physics, the speed of sound vs. the speed of light, with the distance from the speakers betraying the designer's intent. Even when they're better timed and broadcast over some FM frequency, you still have to put up with such dreck as Neil Diamond singing "America." It's always better to have no soundtrack other than the natural one.

When last night's display was over, the hundreds of people around us gave it a standing ovation. Either that, or they were doing what we were doing, literally brushing off the remnants of one of the best fireworks shows we'd ever seen.

Next time, we'll try to get that unique underneath perspective again, but we'll bring umbrellas -- even if there's no rain anywhere in the county, they'll help keep us free of the fireworks remnants and effluvia.

Ken Laid Out

I made some snarky remarks about Ken Lay today and a woman called to complain, horrified that I would dare make fun of a man who had just died.

I offer no apology. The guy was a scumbag yesterday when he was alive, he's a scumbag today when he's a corpse. There should be no double standard there.

Save your tears for those who deserve it, not some evil, lawbreaking, cheating CEO sumbitch who -- if he hadn't been a multi-millionaire -- would have died in jail awaiting his appeal, instead of at a vacation home in Aspen.

Gary Shouldn't Glitter Anymore

Thanks to several listeners and readers who wrote to say how upset they were to hear Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll Part 2" (a/k/a "The Hey Song") at the Fair St. Louis fireworks this weekend. How many more times do I have to repeat my requests to stop playing that song anywhere in public, now that Glitter is doing time in a Vietnamese prison for sexually abusing two young girls (10 and 11)?

The song has been banned by the NFL for all of its stadiums beginning this fall, which is a start, but no other league or major events have jumped on the bandwagon. What's so hard about saying "we won't pay royalties to a pedophile anymore"?

BTW, I hear that the St. Louis Cardinals still play it over the PA during their games. Mark Lamping, do the right thing and announce that you're banning it from the new ballpark, and do it soon!

What Does She Collect?

I had a guest on my show today that I can't tell you about, because it would ruin the fun. Try to figure out what she collects based on no other information than the questions my listeners asked her (a la "I've Got A Secret"). No fair using Google to track her down, either -- I won't even give you basic info to try that strategy, except to say that everyone has heard of whatever it is that serves as the theme of her collection.

Listen to the conversation here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Simply Super

With Superman's return, the discussion turned to super powers -- in particular, which super power is the best to have, with the condition that you can only have one.

I chose flying, and not just because it's been a recurring dream since childhood. For thousands of years, man has been jealous of birds for their ability to take off, move through the air, and land anywhere they like, all without mechanical assistance. It sure would make commuting a lot easier, not to mention cutting back on the amount of gasoline we use. It would also be nice to decide on a moment's notice to go off on vacation somewhere and just do it, without having to worry about whether there's a cheap airline seat available.

However, that brings us to our first problem. If your only super power is the ability to fly, then how do you go on vacation? You can't take your family, because they can't fly, so you would have to carry them, and without super strength, you're not going to get very far. I don't care if your wife is a size zero super model, she'll feel like she weighs a ton long before you get to Cancun (not to mention that you have to carry the luggage, too!).

Hulk-like super strength sounds cool, but how often are you going to need it, other than being a human jack while your friend changes a flat tire or lifting the couch to find the remote? I also don't see much use for Iceman's frost breath (although it would have saved Stella Liebeck when she that McDonald's coffee spilled on her lap) or having lasers shooting out of your eyes like Cyclops (known in the super-world as reverse-lasik).

Also useless in everyday life, with the superheroes who have them: the ability to zap people with electricity (Electro), throw fireballs (Pyro), or bend metal (Magneto). I'll grant you that there are those who need bullet-deflecting bracelets (Wonder Woman), but they wouldn't get a lot of use in my neighborhood.

Underhandedness and secrecy come into play with several super power wishes. Although no teenage girls seem to be interested in it, the one every teenage boy wants is x-ray vision (and you think you have trouble monitoring what they see on the internet!). One of my colleagues chose that one too, because he would like to use it to cheat at poker and blackjack.

One man said he'd like the ability to control the weather, like Storm, the character Halle Berry plays in the "X-Men" movies. I asked him why he wouldn't just make every day sunny and 75 degrees. He said he'd use his powers to affect weather conditions at various sports events, and then clean up on bets he'd placed on them. Gotta give him credit -- that's real super villain thinking.

The dishonesty angle also appears in those who want super hearing, so they can listen in on their boss, family, and friends. Same with invisibility, which serves no other purpose than being able to hide in a room to see and hear what's going on without anyone knowing you're there. However, it also raises the question of whether your clothes also become invisible, or do you have to get undressed before going see-through? If so, where do you hide your clothes?

Another of my colleagues told me that there's a character named Sandman, who can do anything sand can do. What kind of super power is that? I just don't see the appeal in being able to get into everyone's swimsuit and cause some chafing. Not so super.

Several people voted for super speed, like The Flash, which would certainly make it easier to be on time for all those things we're constantly running late for. You'd be able to sleep later, too.

Personally, I'd rather have the ability to make other people move faster. I'm not just talking about slowpokes on the highway or in a crowd, but getting my daughter moving more quickly whenever there's someplace to go or something that has to be done. It would make life a lot easier around the house.

We had suggestions for newly-created super heroes and powers, too. "Petro-Man" would have the ability to lower gas prices whenever he needed a fill-up. "Metabolism" is a woman who can eat all she wants without gaining an ounce. "The Rocker" is a guy who can pick up a guitar or any instrument and jam on any song with any band anytime. "Size Wise" could shrink or enlarge anything she wants (oh, get your mind out of the gutter -- she wants to be able to pack a huge suitcase for vacation, then shrink it small enough to fit in her pocket, and return it to normal size when she gets to her destination).

Everyone agreed that the lamest super power belonged to The Shadow, who had the ability to cloud men's minds. Big deal. So does any Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

"1776" Returns

Today, my family and I will sit down for our annual July 4th viewing of "1776," the terrific movie musical about the brave men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence 230 years ago. It is the most entertaining history lesson I've ever seen, with William Daniels as John Adams, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson, Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva stealing every scene he's in as Ben Franklin.

As I wrote in an op-ed piece in 2004, watching "1776" should be mandatory in every school in the USA.

Monday, July 03, 2006


On Saturday, we went to celebrate with some friends and their family the bar mitzvah of their youngest son. It was a joyous occasion, and included something I'd never seen before.

The parents had hired a DJ to play music while we ate and then try to get the kids (and adults) onto the dance floor. He played all the usual songs you hear at events like this, but added something different -- two women he called his "Motivators." They were there to encourage people, keep the crowd dancing, smile a lot, and show them some moves.

They both seemed to be in their mid-twenties, in very good shape, and constantly in motion. Some of the young girls, like my daughter, followed their steps and had a fun time learning some moves.

The boys, on the other hand, couldn't take their eyes off The Motivators. It's not that these women were scantily dressed at all -- they weren't. It's just that these are boys right at the age of puberty, just beginning to notice the female form. If the goal was to get them on the dance floor, mission accomplished, but dancing wasn't uppermost on the boys' minds.

It turned out that the parents hadn't even asked the DJ to include The Motivators, but he had thrown them in at no charge because he's known the extended family for a long time. I mentioned to the father of the bar mitzvah boy that this was a pretty nice present for a 13-year-old boy. With a smile, he agreed.

Motivation, you see, comes in many forms.

"The Matador" on DVD

Several months ago, I raved about a movie called "The Matador," which should have been a much bigger hit than it was. With its release on DVD this week, I hope it finds the audience it deserves, so I'm giving it a re-recommendation and adding it to the Movies You Might Not Know list.

"The Matador" stars Pierce Brosnan as a professional hit man, but the character is as unlike James Bond as you can imagine. He's good at what he does, but he's vulgar and crass -- and going through a midlife crisis in which he discovers that he has no friends except hookers and dirtballs. That's when he meets Greg Kinnear's character, a down on his luck businessman, in a Mexico City hotel bar, and wedges his way into a friendship with him. Brosnan gives one of his best performances, Kinnear matches him step for step, and director Richard Shepard keeps the movie crackling.

Shepard visited my show when the movie opened the St. Louis Film Festival, and we talked about his love/hate relationship with hit man movies, how he got Pierce Brosnan to play the role (and do a scene where he walks through a hotel lobby in nothing but his underwear and boots), how he was in "movie jail" for a decade after his first movie was a complete bomb, how important opening weekends are, and lots more inside-Hollywood stuff.

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