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

Friday, March 30, 2007

McCain's Iraq Disconnect

Last week, I talked with NBC's Richard Engel about how tough it is for reporters to do their job in Baghdad because it's so dangerous for Americans to even walk the streets. Now Lew Irwin reports in Studio Briefing:

TV news correspondents in Baghdad were at odds Thursday with Arizona Senator John McCain over his assertion that the news media are misrepresenting the effectiveness of the so-called surge in Iraq. "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today. The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq," McCain had said on a radio show hosted by former drug czar William Bennett. On CNN, Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware remarked, "To suggest that there's any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. ... I don't know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad." On the CBSNews.com website, Allen Pizzey, the CBS correspondent in Baghdad, wrote: "No one in their right mind goes on the streets here without security. ... For Senator McCain to claim there are places here where all is well is to woefully minimize the dangers faced by the troops he otherwise so admirably supports. ... Any time Senator McCain wants to walk the streets of Baghdad, unarmed and without a serious security detail, we'd be glad to lend him a camera so he can record his experience."

Wife Wanted For Wedding

Chris Files e-mails:

"Check out this weird Craigslist St. Louis posting I found...apparently some guy's using the net to look for a wife for the wedding that fell through when his current wife left...the wedding would be on her dime!"
FYI -- the guy's name is Mike, and he runs his own company in Clayton.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Innocence Project Wins Again

It was a good day for justice in St. Louis, as Antonio Beaver was released from jail after serving ten years for a carjacking he didn't commit. I spoke with Nina Morrison, attorney for the Innocence Project, which used DNA analysis to prove that Antonio could not have committed the crime. She also explained what went wrong a decade ago, how he was mis-identified as the culprit, and how the police lineup procedure needs to change. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Department of Duh

Item # 1: The Kaiser Family Foundation has discovered that, in TV programming aimed at kids, there are lots of commercials for junk food but, shockingly, not a lot of commercials for fruits and vegetables. They claim that's a major factor in childhood obesity in this country.

That's what's making kids fat? Bring back those Jolly Green Giant cartoons and kids will start running to Mom asking, "Can we have more of those French-cut green beans, please?" I don't think so.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm guessing that if kids are eating more junk food, it's because adults are buying it for them. You don't see a lot of 8-year-olds doing the family shopping. Sure, they may nag Mom to buy them the crap they see advertised, but then it's up to Mom to say the most horrible word in the English language: "No!" It's not the food companies putting extra pounds on kids -- and I don't even buy the now-standard line about child obesity, but still -- it's the parents who feed them.

Item #2: Getting kicked in the head can hurt your brain. That's what researchers in Turkey have concluded after a massive project that evaluated a huge number of kickboxers.

Okay, it was only 22 of them. Probably had a hard time recruiting more people who wanted to get kicked in the head. The more important question is, who funds research projects like this -- and how can I get some of that money? I'm thinking of studying the effects of being kicked in the nuts, and I doubt anyone will volunteer to be a subject unless I pay them. A lot.

Item #3: And finally, a shocking discovery by ABC News -- some sodas contain caffeine, which can be "a quick pick-me-up," just like coffee. Next week, they're going to investigate the theory that showers can make you cleaner.

Our Partner In Peace

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia calls the US presence in Iraq an "illegitimate foreign occupation." And that's our best friend in the Arab world, our Partner In Peace. Boy, we're really winning them over, aren't we?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Teen Parties

Here's the e-mail that started the extended discussion on my show this afternoon about teen parties:

Dear Paul,
I have a story to tell you that you or other parents may not be aware of. It has now been 1 week since we have uncovered what has been going on with our daughter and her friends. We all are aware that there are parents out there in this world who let their kids drink and let their kids have parties at their home and allow the drinking to take place. But what you may not be aware of is these same parents who allow their kids to drink are also allowing the kids to sleep over for the night so they don't drive home drunk and they are letting the boys and girls sleep together.

The good parents who check up on their kids and try and make sure they know what their kid is doing have no idea this is going on until something bad happens which is what happened last weekend. A girl got raped. A police report has been made and an investigation is underway and this house is being watched closely. DNA and Toxicology reports are pending.

We have always been involved with our children. I stayed home when the kids were little to take care of them. We went to the soccer, and softball games. We called the parents to make sure they were home. We did all the stuff parents are suppose to do to make sure we knew what was going on. I cannot mention names but it was not my daughter who got raped but the friend she was with.

Looking back I see the 3 mistakes I made. First since my daughter always made the right choices in the past and we never had a problem in the past I trusted her. My second mistake was I trusted the other parents. They lived in a clean big house, well manicured, grass cut, normal looking parents, we spoke with them to check them out, nothing weird or bad stood out. My third mistake was I didn't go to the house late in the evening to pop up and check things out to make sure the stories checked out.

The other parent involved was shocked as well as me to learn how parents could allow this. We assumed the other parents had the same values we did since they had a teenage daughter too and were friends with our daughters. The other parent made a statement which sums up the whole mistake we both made. And that is we had an "unspoken trust" with the other parents that there was to be NO teenage drinking and NO boys sleeping over.

My daughter said the reason the kids went over to this house was because they knew the parents would allow drinking. She said at school if the kids said the name of the girl and to meet at her house the kids knew they would be getting drunk that night.

I just want you make every parent aware of what is going on out there. The parents that allow their kids and their friends to drink at parties in their home are also letting all the boys and girls to sleep over together and have sex if they want to. We just thought our daughter was having a sleep over with a few girlfriends. That's what she told us.

Just a last note that we noticed after looking back at this. One of the warning signs was "An attraction to this house". The kids always wanted to go there. When we asked her what do you do there. She said Oh, we just hang out. The other warning sign is the grades at school dropped. And when we picked them up the next day to bring them home, they would sleep all day.

So that's the story. I hope you tell parents what they need to know. It's not enough to call and ask if the parents are home. You have to more than that. Also, those bad parents will lie to you so you have to go in person at around 10 or 11:00 at night and check out the situation. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Mail Call (continued)

Another thought about the stamp price increase vs. the USPS cutting delivery to alternate days -- why not make postage stamps free, underwritten by corporate sponsors?

There would be plenty of major corporations who would like that space on the envelope to promote their products, and would happily partner with the postal service to expand the brand. Imagine being able to get company-logo stamps not just at the post office, but at any McDonald's restaurant or 7-11 store or Starbucks outlet. Then, when the USPS costs go up, they'd pass along the expense to their clients, not their users (the same model used by radio, TV, and the rest of us who live at the whim of advertisers).

Under this plan, you'd never again see this on an envelope: "Affix stamp here. The post office will not deliver without proper postage." As if anyone who doesn't already understand the stamp concept would know what "affix" means.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Mail Call

On the day the US Postal Service unveiled its Forever Stamp, a couple of months before the price of first class postage goes up another two cents, Randy Fuller e-mails a good suggestion:

In light of the internet, direct deposit and on-line bill paying, the daily mail has become mostly "junk" mail. Not 1 piece of mail that I receive is so important that it couldn't wait a day or so. So, instead of raising the rates, why not cut the service?

Make residential delivery every other day. 50% of homes would be delivered M-W-F and the other 50% T-Th-S. I see this as an economic and environmental move. The Postal Service could reduce their manpower greatly, maybe not by 50% but certainly by a respectable number; thus saving on the payroll. This could be done by attrition. They could then also reduce their vehicle fleet, vehicle fleet maintenance and the fuel consumption, probably by about 50%. Just think of how many gallons of fuel would be saved annually and how much the emissions from their fleet would be reduced.
I like the idea. We get very little personal mail at our house. Most of our bills now come via e-mail, and we handle them with online banking or electronic fund transfers, never seeing a piece of paper from those corporations. For the few companies that still handle business offline, I could wait another day to get their invoices. The same is true of the bulk of our other mail, which is, well, bulk mail. Junk mail. Never opened, straight into the trash, a waste of effort and time. Why is it so important I receive that everyday?

Don't take this as attack on letter carriers. I don't envy them the job, particularly those who walk their routes, which can be like doing a half-marathon every day. I have respect and admiration for what they do, and I know their industry has been affected by competition from UPS, FedEx, and DHL. But with so much business being done online, it wouldn't bother me a bit to have the mail delivered to my home on alternate days.

There's virtually no correspondence going on, with the exception of birthday greetings and holiday cards. Being a proud member of Boy World, I'd handle those occasions with a quick e-mail message -- my brother has no problem with me remembering the day of his birthday in the middle of my show and sending him a greeting via e-mail -- but my wife lives in Girl World, where doing so is still considered a major breach of etiquette.

Sending out cards also allows my wife to engage in stamp shopping, which is different in Girl World. You see, in Boy World, any stamp with the correct postage will do (I'm leaving out philatelists and the accompanying jokes). I'm happy to buy a roll of the standard self-adhesive US flag stamps, as long as they'll get the letter where it's supposed to go, and keep using them for years and years. I can honestly say that I have never looked at the stamp on any envelope or package I have ever received. In Girl World, that's a missed opportunity -- she'll go to the post office and spend several minutes considering the possibilities and then buying whichever stamps look prettiest. All hell will break loose when I mistakenly use one of the "pretty" stamps for something as mundane as a tax return or mutual fund deposit. To me, it's a financial transaction. To her, it's a statement of beauty.

It's been more than a generation since The Marvelettes, The Boxtops and RB Greaves had hit songs about letters and postmen, because technology has helped us move forward to quicker ways of communicating. Many of us don't even check the mailbox every day. Gone are the days when a kid would send a dozen cereal box lids to Battle Creek, Michigan, and then run to the mailbox each day after school to see if their Tony The Tiger whistle had arrived. Now, that kid is running inside to the computer to see how many friends have joined their MySpace page.

When we discussed this on show this afternoon, I heard from several letter carriers who hated this idea, claiming it would mean they'd have to deliver double the amount of mail on those alternate days. The math on that doesn't make sense to me.

Teri & Ian, "The Amazing Race"

Today I talked with Teri and Ian Pollack, who were eliminated when they were last to arrive on last night's "The Amazing Race All-Stars Edition," almost a full day behind the leaders. After talking to them (and previous teams like Rob/Amber and David/Mary), I'm getting the sinking feeling in my stomach that Charla and Mirna -- the most annoying team in the race -- will win the whole thing. Then they'll go around annoying even more people with their weird fake accents.

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

Planes, Twains, and Liquid Soap

Just back from a weekend trip to Hartford, Connecticut, home of the emptiest airport I've seen in a top-fifty city. If there were 200 people in the entire terminal, including the staff of the pretzels-and-newspapers stand, I'd be amazed. This place is so empty, you have to call for a cab, because there's no taxi stand -- the drivers could lapse into a coma waiting for a fare.

One problem the lack of passengers creates is boredom among the TSA personnel, who seem to fill the time by searching more bags by hand. Naturally, one of those was my wife's. No problems, but it was nice to note that they now do the bag search on a counter with a raised front, so passers-by can't just look over and check out your underwear or other personal items.

The flights there and back were on the Most Uncomfortable Passenger Plane In The World, an Embraer 50-seat regional jet that American Airlines squeezed us onto. This is the only option when flying nonstop from St. Louis (a city that used to be a hub but isn't anymore) to Hartford (a town that used to be a city but isn't anymore). The jet is so small that anyone over 6' tall can't stand up straight -- at 6'4", if I stood up straight my head would be outside the plane -- and the seats are designed so that, regardless of your height, you leave with a backache. I couldn't help but wonder who the pilot of this flying cigar tube had pissed off to get stuck on this route.

While in Hartford, my brother-in-law and I took our daughters to the Mark Twain House. Although I lived in that town for 4 years in the early 80s, I never went, and now know that I didn't miss anything. The woman who took us through the house may be among the worst tour guides on the planet. Oh, she told us about the architecture and furniture, but seemed unsure of every fact she spouted. Worse, she offered us no insight into Twain's work. We could just as easily have been taking a tour of any generic Victorian-era home. At one point, my brother-in-law asked her what which Twain book was his first real breakthrough. She replied, "Gee, that's a good question. I have no idea, but it was probably one of his popular ones." Ya think?

On this trip, I learned a new word: heterosexism. That's the new incredibly-PC term for anti-gay attitudes. It was in the brochure for a private school which also bills itself as "anti-racist," making it markedly different from those schools that promote themselves as "blatantly racist."

One final thing to squawk about. My mother-in-law, in whose house we stayed, has no bar of soap in her shower, preferring to use liquid soap. The problem? There are about seven different bottles filled with fluids of various colors and purposes, but since I don't wear my reading glasses while bathing, I couldn't figure out which one was the liquid soap. Could be the red one, could be the green one, could be the yellow one, could be the chalky-white one.

In the end, I'm pretty sure I cleaned my body with hair conditioner. Fortunately, no one in the family said anything about the nice lavender aroma emanating from my armpits the rest of the day.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How To Clog Your Arteries

Hot dogs. Filled with Cheez Whiz. Wrapped in bacon. Dipped in batter. Deep-fried. Mmmm.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tommy Smothers

The Smothers Brothers are coming to town, so Tommy Smothers was on my show this afternoon to promote the show and talk about the history of their legendary act. Among the topics we discussed:
  • how their act was really less about politics than about the witty banter between two clever siblings;
  • how they recorded one of their albums at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis in 1962;
  • how CBS, which fired the brothers in 1969, demanded more controversy from them when they returned to the network for another series in the 1980s;
  • the classic performance of "My Generation" by The Who, followed by some explosive pyrotechnics that caused Pete Townsend's permanent hearing loss (as seen in the documentary "The Kids Are Alright");
  • Tommy playing guitar with John Lennon on "Give Peace A Chance" in which one of them had to give the other one lessons in how to play it correctly;
  • why The Smothers Brothers have such a hard time getting booked on Letterman, Leno, etc.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

Surface of the Sun

The telescope aboard the Japanese spacecraft Hinode (Sunrise) has captured some remarkable pictures of the sun. This video shows an area of about 5,000 square miles of the solar surface, complete with flares, bubbling, and hot plasma...

You may need some sunscreen with an SPF of over a million to get this close. There's more info on what you're seeing here.

Friday Night Lights

Maureen Ryan went to the set of the best drama on TV, "Friday Night Lights," and came back with a lengthy piece on the unique way the show is shot and more, including interviews with most of the cast.

If you've missed the show, NBC offers all the episodes for free on their site.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bob Woodward

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Bob Woodward about his book, "State Of Denial: Bush At War, Part III." I asked him if President Bush actually listens to his generals (as he claims he does), whether there's any doubt in the White House about the war strategies of the last four years, and about the differences between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

We also discussed whether there is a viable solution to the Sunni/Shiite schism in Iraq, and why the Democrats in Congress can't live up to their pre-election day promises to end the war and bring the troops home.

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

Larry "Bud" Melman

Calvert DeForest, who played Larry "Bud" Melman for several years on Letterman's show, died a few days ago. Mark Evanier has the details, and the video of one of the funniest Melman appearances, when Letterman had him greeting people at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal -- no one ever had better microphone technique.

Wikipedia says DeForest's great uncle was Lee DeForest, "a radio pioneer who in 1906 invented the Audion tube, also known as the triode, which made large-scale broadcasting commercially feasible."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Roomful of Cash

That's $200,000,000 in US currency -- which is either Charlie Brennan's weekly paycheck, or a money stash the cops found in a drug smuggler's house in Mexico City over the weekend.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

On my show today, I talked with Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News Channel about the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case that was heard at the Supreme Court today. It's a free speech case about a high school student who unfurled a 14-foot banner with that slogan on it while the Olympic torch went through his town 4 years ago. Judge Nap, a constitutional scholar, sees this as an open-and-shut case, but offered an interesting twist at the end.

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

The Right Angle

Paul Nordmann tipped me to these photos, which were taken from just the right angle.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


About a dozen St. Louis public school students have been staging a sit-in in Mayor Slay's office since Wednesday afternoon. They're upset that their school district might lose accreditation, that the adults in town can't seem to play nice with each other long enough to ensure the kids a good education, and a couple are worried about the impact the loss might have on their college scholarships.

There are a lot of things wrong with the city's schools, and these kids had a lot of questions that the grown-ups aren't answering. I'm not saying that the sit-in is a good idea, or that they're likely to effect any change with a Mayor who has no direct power over the schools, but it has gotten them quite a bit of attention, including a couple of hours of discussion on my show the last two afternoons.

So, what does the public think? The number one comment was, "why aren't these kids in school?" My colleague Kevin Killeen put that question to the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Diana Bourisaw, on Thursday afternoon, and she replied, "That's up to them.....there are all sorts of educational opportunities that go on outside the classroom." She was vilified for not insisting immediately that these kids get back to class, so she changed her stance and urged them to return to school on Friday.

Those complainers are acting like the school day is holy, and children should never miss a minute. The truth is that kids are out of school all the time for non-educational nonsense. In St. Louis, it is not unusual for parents to pull them out in the middle of the day to take them to an afternoon Cardinals game. I know of some kids who were allowed to leave school early -- or miss it altogether -- the last two days because they wanted to stay home and watch March Madness. And we have friends who think nothing of taking their kids out of school for an entire week because that's when the parents can get off from work and take them away on vacation.

Even my daughter isn't immune to it. Her 7th grade classes were skipped on Friday so they could go on a school-sanctioned field trip to an ice rink, where they skated for charity for a couple of hours, then went to a mall food court for lunch (and a quick visit to the arcade). This is the same school that last month took all the kids in her grade to see the movie "Charlotte's Web" during the day. Of course, none of the students complained but, as a parent, these non-educational excursions during school time made me raise an eyebrow.

Predictably, on Friday, several students from other city high schools tried to join the protest. Some of them may have been earnest in their support, but I'd bet that many of them just wanted an excuse to skip school, too.

When I was in college, there was a big protest over the administration changing the academic calendar. Instead of finals taking place before winter break, they moved them to January, which meant we'd have to study on vacation, an ugly prospect when all you want to do is get away and have some down time. When the university president wouldn't sit down and talk to student leaders about changing the calendar, a few dozen students decided to express their displeasure by staging a sit-in at the administration building.

Word quickly spread on campus, and within an hour, there were hundreds of kids camped out in the lobby, the hallways, and some of the offices. I was there, too, covering the event for the college radio station, and can tell you that a very large number of the students there had no idea what the protest was about. All they knew was that there was a large gathering of people from all over campus, and they joined in. By the second hour, the crowd had swelled to at least a thousand students. The administration decided it would be impractical to force everyone out, so they just called in more security to make sure the place wasn't vandalized and no one got hurt.

I think the whole thing lasted into the next afternoon, when many of those who had gone for a party, not a cause, got bored (or ran out of drugs and batteries for their radios) and went back to their dorms. A small band of die-hards stuck it out for a couple of days and finally met with the school president, who never did change the calendar back. At that point, the dissatisfied protesters dispersed and life went back to normal.

The real test for the juniors and seniors hanging out in Mayor Slay's office is whether they make it through this weekend. Instead of skipping class, that means sacrificing their own free time, which at 17 and 18 is precious.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Irshad Manji "Faith Without Fear"

Today I talked with Irshad Manji, controversial author of "The Trouble with Islam Today," and subject of an upcoming PBS documentary, "Faith Without Fear."

We discussed having the image of her religion hijacked by extremists, and what Muslims in North America can do to change that. We also talked at length about how, in many Islamic Middle East nations, women are treated as less than second-class citizens, and the government does nothing about honor killings and stonings.

I asked Irshad about the violent reaction of extremist Muslims to those Danish cartoons, and whether the American media had allowed fear to overwhelm its free speech role by refusing to show those cartoons. It is exactly that violence which has led to death threats against Irshad from Muslims who don't like her opinions.

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

The Sopranos

I went to a promotional lunch HBO threw yesterday for "The Sopranos," which returns April 8th for its final run through June 10th. We didn't get a full preview, but here are a few tastes of what's coming up:

There will be return appearances by Julianna Margulies and Tim Daly, plus cameos by Sydney Pollack, Daniel Baldwin, Nancy Sinatra, and Geraldo Rivera (!).

The first episode will have Tony and Carmela going on vacation with Bobby Bacala and Janice in the Adirondacks, and in the second one, Christopher's movie "Cleaver" will premiere and Tony will find it a little too realistic.

And, of course, someone's going to get whacked. Speaking of which, here's a montage of characters who have died during the series, including one non-human. Note the question mark after one of the names.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yes, Master

Does anyone call young boys "Master" anymore? When I was a kid, I would occasionally get mail addressed to Master Paul Harris. It was the male equivalent of "Miss." Just as girls had to be Miss before becoming Mrs. or Ms., boys had to be Master before becoming Mister.

I tried to convince my parents that since I was being called "Master," I should get the Master Bedroom, but for some reason they didn't go for it. Then one night, after carefully studying Barbara Eden's belly button on "I Dream of Jeannie" and hearing her refer to Larry Hagman as "Master," I had some very interesting dreams.

Hypocrite of the Day

In 2003, Senator John McCain introduced legislation banning all gambling on amateur sports. On his website at the time, he stated:

By allowing betting in any state, we send a confusing message to our youth as to whether gambling on amateur athletics is, in fact, legal or illegal. I believe this ban will send a clear message that gambling on amateur athletics is wrong.
Fast forward to the present to find, on the website for his presidential campaign, McCain has filled out a March Madness bracket and encouraged others to do the same for the chance to win prizes!

True, entrants don't have to wager anything, but isn't McCain encouraging exactly the kind of message he has denounced? Or has he simply decided that, with millions of Americans taking part in March Madness office pools without the nation falling apart, it's better to go along?

Talk about mixed messages.

Worst Movies Ever

Rotten Tomatoes has compiled a list of the 100 Worst Movies Ever.

Hair Of The Year

Anna Clifford was busted in Memphis for DUI, and her mug shot, especially her profile, qualify her for attention from The Smoking Gun. My wife asks the perfect question: "How do you fit in a car with hair like that?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Michael Konik, Betting March Madness

With March Madness getting underway, I invited Michael Konik back to my show today to talk about the keys to betting on the tournament. He knows a little bit about this, having been part of a major sports betting syndicate that made a mint off the casinos -- a story he told so well in his book, "The Smart Money."

Michael says that the early rounds are easiest, not just for filling out your office pool brackets, but also for betting on underdogs with the point spread. He added a few other tips, and talked about how, when he was part of the Brain Trust, they looked to make moves that were the opposite of public sentiment, which is too often influenced by emotion and regionalism rather than rational dissection of the teams.

Since the Stardust Casino in Vegas came down yesterday, I asked Michael for his memories of the place, and then the discussion turned towards the impact of the government cracking down on online gambling sites. You won't find many people who know this stuff as well as Michael and are willing to talk about it.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Stephen Dubner, "Freakonomics"

Today I talked with Stephen Dubner, co-author of one of my favorite books of the last two years, the mega-selling "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything." We discussed such topics as prisoners getting less jail time if they donate their organs, and Zell Miller's claim that legalized abortion is responsible for our military manpower shortage.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Where To Hide Your Money

A burglar shares some tips on where you should hide money in your house so he can't find it, and the places you think are secure but are obvious to people like him when they break in. One piece of advice is to leave a little bit of money in a conspicuous place, which may keep the burglar from tossing the whole house. Oh, and he knows about that stash in the toilet tank and that fake soup can that looks so out of place in your bedroom.

Gauging Gouging

Dozens of members of Congress have signed onto legislation that would make price gouging by oil and gas companies illegal at the federal level, with criminal penalties and large fines for offenders. There's just one problem -- they don't define "gouging."

Is it gouging when prices go up ten cents a gallon as they did yesterday at gas stations here in the St. Louis area, to around $2.45? That's up more than a quarter in the last month, so does it qualify? Michigan representative Bart Stupak said he is worried that "this summer, prices may once again exceed $3/gallon." So, is that the gouging milestone?

In most places in the country, price gouging laws only kick in during an emergency. In a natural disaster, stores that sell necessary daily supplies shouldn't be allowed to jack up the prices to take advantage of people at their neediest.

Price gouging isn't simply the law of supply-and-demand. Conditions matter, and we have to see the difference between gouging and legitimate business conduct, even when it affects our own bottom line. Standing on a street corner on a hot summer day selling bottles of water for $3, when you bought them for 50¢? That's not price gouging, it's seizing a sales opportunity (as retail outlets, movie theaters, and sports stadiums do every day!). No one is surprised that patio furniture is more expensive in June than it is in December, and the reverse is true for snow shovels. But we would all agree that charging triple the regular rate for a motel room when hundreds of people have had their homes wiped out by a tornado or hurricane does qualify as gouging.

Oil and gas are an intrinsic and important part of our lives, so at what level are the prices set by their sellers considered gouging? Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, BP-Amoco, and the other oil hyphenates are making record profits and are thus a likely target for the gouging gun, as are OPEC suppliers. Where's the line for them -- $70 a barrel, or $75, or a $100?

As retail gas prices climb back up from their sub-two-dollar lows of this winter to the inevitable over-three-dollar highs of this summer (yes, California, I know that you're already there!), let's try to keep some perspective on who's to blame and who can change things. We have to look in the mirror and remind ourselves that the best way to pay less for gasoline is to use less gasoline. Deep down, we know that, yet Americans have been slow to jump on the fuel efficiency bandwagon (it's only in the last year that we've made the bandwagon a hybrid vehicle). Some automakers have noticed and begun to change, but there are still a huge number of gas guzzlers being sold. Until we accept that responsibility and make fuel efficiency our number one prerequisite when buying, the demand side of the equation will lose.

If we're not willing to do our part -- collectively, not individually -- let's not rely on politicians to rescue us. The last time we tried that, during the 1970s, we got price controls that led to massive oil shortages, lines around the block, odd/even rationing, and headaches from coast to coast.

I don't mean to come off as a defender of Big Oil. I do mean to come off as a defender of laws that work, rather than laws passed to make people feel better.

The anti-price-gouging proposal is not effective legislation. It's political pandering. As every American knows, there's no end to the supply of that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Richard Jeni update

Richard Jeni's family has confirmed that he committed suicide last weekend, and offered this explanation on his website:

The family of Richard Jeni would like to put to rest any assumptions as to the cause of Richard’s death. Despite the fact that the coroner’s office has publicly stated that a suicide ruling will take two weeks, pending the results of an autopsy, Richard Jeni did take his own life.

Rumors have been circulating as to the cause of his death and have included speculation of Richard being depressed over the state of his career or a physical ailment. His career was not even addressed by his specialists when they were trying to diagnose Richard’s illness....

The truth is: earlier this year Richard Jeni was diagnosed with severe clinical depression coupled with bouts of psychotic paranoia. One only needs to have a family member or friend with a mental illness to understand that there is nothing rational, predictable, or fair about these diseases. Mental illness is as serious as any physical affliction and can be just as devastating.

He was not down or blue, he was ill.

Rob and Amber, "The Amazing Race"

Today I talked with Rob and Amber, the reality show couple just eliminated from "The Amazing Race All-Star Edition."

I asked them about Elimination Station, where all the teams are sequestered together after they finish last, until the entire race is over. That led to questions about how they got along with other teams, especially Mirna and Charla, and how Amber handled lying to them during Sunday's show. They revealed that much of what we see at home isn't what they see during the race, including the impact of Rob's inability to spell "Philippines" correctly.

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

You can also hear my conversation with David and Mary ("Team Kentucky"), the couple eliminated last week.

Blogging The War

Remarkable first-person war stories today on my show from Colby Buzzell and Jack Lewis, who both served in and wrote about their experiences in Iraq. I asked them about how American soldiers were seen as good or bad guys by Iraqi citizens, how to tell when gunfire in town was hostile or just from a wedding party, and whether they felt frustrated at having to play policeman instead of soldier.

Colby told a scary story about being atop a tank when he looked to the side and saw a man in black pointing an AK-47 at him and firing. Jack talked about being stuck in the middle of Iraq doing psy-ops without any training in Arabic. I also asked both of them why Iraqi police and military aren't stepping up to defend their own country more.

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

Here's Jack's website. Colby has a website, too, and a book, "My War: Killing Time in Iraq."

Home Alone

In China, a developer bought up all the houses in a community except for one, because those owners refused to sell. So the developer went ahead with his plans and excavated the site around the squatters, leaving them literally high and dry.

Monday, March 12, 2007

E-Mail Saving Time

E-mail of the day, from Al Canal:

I want to point out something I have noticed with Daylight Saving Time. Yesterday, and still some today, there are people showing up late to their jobs and other things, with the excuse that they forgot about Daylight Saving Time or setting their alarm ahead. However, I have yet to know anyone who has shown up to their job an hour early in the fall when we push clocks back an hour.

Richard Jeni

I was sad to hear about the death this weekend of comedian Richard Jeni, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Jeni was a very funny guy, one of the top touring comedians of the last 15 years, who was always a money in the bank guest on my show.

In his honor, I have dug up two transcripts of him on the air with me -- one from April 1996, the other from July 1997.

Once you've read those and laughed out loud, here's a sample of Jeni's 2005 HBO special, "A Steaming Pile of Me" [rated PG-13 for an f-bomb or two]...

Fellow comedian Elayne Boosler remembers Jeni here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mrs. Johnny Carson

Today on my show, a rare interview with Johnny Carson's second wife, Joanne, who has just released a piece of television history on DVD -- it's a collection of TV work Johnny did before beginning his legendary "Tonight Show" run, including ten episodes of a half-hour CBS sketch show in 1955, and his daytime ABC quiz show "Who Do You Trust?"

We talked about why he shared these shows with her and let her keep them, how Johnny dealt with network execs through the years, and how well he handled it when things weren't going well -- not just when a monologue joke bombed, but also in situations like one on the DVD, a mishap during a live broadcast of "Who Do You Trust?" in which a contestant got locked into the isolation booth and couldn't get out.

After I played a clip from 1955 in which Johnny made fun of a famous mind reader of the day (Joseph Dunniger), we discussed his interest in science and his skepticism for all things paranormal (he was a major supporter of James Randi).

We also talked about their relationship -- from Johnny inviting Joanne up to his apartment to watch these shows with him, to their marriage falling apart under the pressure of his late night success, sending her into a suicidal depression.

Listen to the conversation.

Update 3/15/07: Joanne Carson refutes the way I phrased that:

Hi Paul...

I really had a great time talking to you. Johnny is my most favorite subject to talk about. Thank you for sending me your link. You ARE fun to talk to I hope we can do it again sometime.

I did want to clear up something on your website that may sound misleading....

"to their marriage falling apart under the pressure of his late night success, sending her into a suicidal depression."

It was the New York social life that I made the comment about "had I stayed I would have died by my own hand". All that Group A and Group B nonsense about where you live and what couture do you wear and who you know and where you vacation just made me nuts. I was NEVER suicidal. It is just a term you use when you can't stand the unimportantness or the pettiness of something that everyone else runs around thinking is great. That's what makes you crazy.

The marriage didn't fall apart because of Johnny's late night success I was always so proud of Johnny's success because I helped build it, and besides we always were on the same page. I developed hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism from the stress of living in New York for 15 years and I simply had to come home. I moved to New York 5 years before I met Johnny. My condition had nothing to do with Johnny OR his career. Those two conditions were causing me a lot of roller coaster emotions and doctors didn't have a clue in the 60's what that was all about. They didn't know that whole food would have stabliized me. I never had roller coaster emotions due to Johnny. We remained very close friends and I just simply loved him until the day he died, and I love him still. Living in New York caused all my problems. I'm a born and raised California girl and the transplant to New York never really took. Ask Bill Zehme how emotionally stable I am living in California where there is sunshine and whole food and where Group A to me is just a food grouping.


Another update 3/15/07: Bill Zehme points out that Johnny's "Dillinger" character begat "El Moldo," not "Carnac."

Heywood Banks

Heywood Banks returned to my studio this afternoon for an update on whether "American Idol" ever paid him for using part of his song, "You Can Be Mean To Me" -- which I then had him perform, along with "Big Butter Jesus," and "Pancreas." Heywood also debuted a new song about a 12-step program we desperately need. Listen, then order Heywood's CD and stuff here.

Where No Woman Has Gone, Ever

That's not a Hollywood set. It's Tony Alleyne's apartment, which he spent $200,000 refurbishing so it looks like the interior of the Starship Enterprise (from "Star Trek: Voyager"). Yes, he wears the uniform, too. You won't be surprised to hear that Tony is single.

Click for a slideshow, or look at his virtual tour (note the transporter area).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On Call In Hell

Today I talked with Commander Richard Jadick about being a doctor on the front lines in Iraq, where he set up a make-shift emergency room in the middle of the battlefield.

I asked him what it was like working through the Battle of Fallujah, dealing with snipers, and whether he turned Hawkeye Pierce at any time and offered aid to insurgents his Marines had just shot. He talked about the tough choices he made, the un-sterile conditions he worked under, and how wounded Marines wanted nothing more than to get back in the field with their buddies.

These are remarkable stories, as are others Jadick tells in his book, "On Call In Hell." He and his team were responsible for saving at least 30 Marines who would have died if that forward aid station hadn't been there. It's no wonder Jadick received the Bronze Star with a Combat V for Valor for his service in Iraq.

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

Boo Ban

Earlier this week, we were talking about the proposal in Washington state to ban booing at high school sports events. Kevin Wheeler and I found this idea silly, part of the "never let a kid hear anything negative" sentiment that has swept this country.

Then I got this e-mail from listener Edward Reitz:

It is difficult for me to understand why you think it is acceptable for fans to boo high school athletes, and it is extremely disappointing that you and Wheeler agree that it is all right to "make fun of" the players. You have taken bullying to a new high, or low. For adults to make fun of high school players is sad. For community leaders to promote such behavior is out of line. Consider the maturity level of the participants. Consider how many situations in our schools today get out of control because of verbal abuse. I don't know if either of you have children, but if you do, I think you would like for them to attend school and participate in activities without having to deal with taunting, which is serious enough even in college and professional sports to merit a penalty. It is difficult to maintain a safe environment in schools today. Why not support the administrators and supervisors who are trying to educate through activities?

No, taunting and verbal abuse and personal attacks should not be permitted, but booing is part of home court advantage. If you eliminate it, you might as well have the games on a neutral court or with no one in attendance except the teams, coaches, and referees.

Several callers who played high school sports -- as Kevin did -- pointed out that when they were on the court or the field, if they were distracted by the fans, that was because they weren't concentrating hard enough on the game they were in the midst of. And several of them said that hearing boos would often motivate them, rather than having a negative impact.

We're not talking here about adults making fun of high school players, we're talking about other kids in the stands acting like fans do. The adults are a bigger problem when kids are in Little League or youth soccer.

If a situation becomes unsafe because of fans hurling verbal attacks based on race, religion, or economic status, that must be dealt with, and no one would argue otherwise. But that's not the same as booing, or foot stomping, or making a lot of noise during a football game so the offense has trouble hearing signals. If your feelings are so hurt by that, you probably are not much of a competitor -- do the cheers for the home team undercut your esteem, too?

Poker Chip Tricks

If you see someone doing these chip tricks, it's probably not their first time at the poker table...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

License To Paint

Pink license plates for multiple DUI offenses. That's the proposal of a legislator in Arkansas. It's not quite the scarlet letter, but "shame" is part of the concept. Would that be a deterrent to drunk drivers? Doubtful. In fact, it might appeal to drunken Mary Kay saleswomen.

Here's a better idea. After multiple convictions, force the driver to get a breathalyzer ignition interlock, so they have to blow a legal BAC before the car will start, and then continue to do so at regular intervals to keep the car running. Or how about not giving them a license plate at all?

Meanwhile, in Ohio, there's a proposal to identify sex offenders with green license plates. One of the state senators who sponsored the bill said, "It's about giving people the tools they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their children." An opponent said, "They've done their time, they've done their after-care, they have to register where they live. Enough is enough."

Add your comments below.

This Little Pig Has What?

One head, two noses, two mouths, and three eyes. Born in China. During the Year Of The Pig. That is all.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Team Kentucky from "The Amazing Race"

David and Mary Conley (a/k/a Team Kentucky), who were eliminated from "The Amazing Race All-Stars Edition" in the third episode, were on my show this afternoon.

We talked about how they had been changed by the experience, not only by travelling around the world but also meeting people they'd never encountered before, from gay couples to Asian brothers. I asked them whether they packed differently the second time, what was going on between them and Charla/Mirna, Dustin/Kandice, and Teri/Ian.

They explained that, as fans of the show, they were thrilled to be included in the All-Stars Edition because it gave them a chance to meet other teams they had watched on TV, including Rob/Amber. And then there's the Rosie O'Donnell cruise story.

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

Yes, And He's Good

Bryan Curtis has written an appreciation of Marv Albert, the kind you usually don't see until after the subject dies. In this case, Marv, who Curtis rightly calls the best play-by-play man of his generation, is alive and thriving.

When Marv got caught up in a sex scandal a decade ago, part of the story happened in the DC area, where I was working at the time. It was uncomfortable to have to talk about the dark side of this broadcaster I'd admired so much.

I've been a fan of Marv's since I was a kid and he was the local sports guy on WNBC-TV's 6pm and 11pm newscasts, so it seemed he was everywhere and knew everything about sports. More importantly, he was also the man in the booth for both Rangers and Knicks games on the radio. As a Knicks fan who could never go to a game at Madison Square Garden (and the games weren't televised), I could still picture everything that was going on by listening to Marv's description: "Frazier brings it across with the left hand dribble, on the right side to Bradley, back to Frazier at the top of the key, to DeBusschere in the corner, from twenty -- Yes!!!!"

The best play-by-play guys understand when it's time to set the scene and when the scene can set itself. I'll never forget that legendary 1970 NBA Championship series where Willis Reed returned to the floor after a leg injury. Marv knew that all he had to say was "Here comes Reed!" and let the roar of the Garden crowd tell the rest of the story.

Curtis writes about a similar call by Marv:

For basketball, a game of frequent scoring and constant improvisation, Albert has an unusually mellow groove. He never shrieks. When something extraordinary happens, his words become elongated and certain syllables explode: he’ll say, “Re-jec-ted!” or “With au-thor-ity!” Perhaps the most exhilarating play Albert called came in Game 2 of the 1991 N.B.A. finals, when Michael Jordan switched hands in midair on a reverse layup against the Lakers, and Albert crowed, “Oh, a spec-tac-ular move by Michael Jordan!” Resurrected on YouTube, it remains lodged in your brain not because it is breathless but because it’s a minimalist rendering that somehow manages to capture the pandemonium Jordan had unleashed. Seconds later, Albert remained silent while the Chicago crowd unglued itself from the ceiling."

In addition to the print piece, here's video of Curtis with Marv, including the inevitable impersonators.

Cork & Bottle Trick

A good bar bet. The cork has fallen into the wine bottle. You have to get it out of the wine bottle without breaking the glass. Here's how you do it...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Swiss Invasion

I don't know why this story didn't get more play in the worldwide press: Switzerland invaded Liechtenstein over the weekend!

That's Switzerland, the world's most neutral country.

I didn't even know they had a military. When you think of the Swiss, you think of chocolate, cheese, and fine timepieces. Oh, sure, there's the Swiss Army Knife, but that just conjures up pictures of guys dressed up as soldiers threatening the enemy with a corkscrew, a can opener, and a tablespoon. We're not exactly worried they're going nuclear on us. The biggest worldwide threat thus far from Switzerland was when "Heidi" pre-empted the end of a Jets-Raiders game in 1968.

It turns out they do have an Army, and some real weapons, too. This weekend, 170 armed Swiss soldiers mistakenly crossed the border in the rain and made it a mile into Liechtenstein before they realized their error, turned around, and went home (they're good with watches, but not so much with the GPS!). What's funniest about the story is that Liechtenstein didn't even know they'd been invaded. No one noticed the Swiss troops with their assault weapons -- no ammunition, by the way -- and even when they heard about it, everyone in Liechtenstein forgave the Swiss and went back to their regular lives.

That's exactly the kind of war we need, where no one gets upset at an incursion and you can make fun of the troops!

News Bunk

One of the websites I check every day is Fark.com, where Drew Curtis has proven he knows a little something about exploiting silly news stories to make a buck. But he's still amazed at how much of his content overlaps with what he sees on what are supposed to be the "more important" news outlets:

Mass media aren't intentionally trying to dumb down the news, but there's no getting around the fact that nonnews types of articles are what drive ad revenue on the Internet. It's a subtle difference but an important one, because it removes intent as a motivation. Sadly, we still end up with the same result: bunk being passed off as news. Sometimes, the revenue incentive in media produces hilarious results. Remember the girl who couldn't stop hiccuping this winter? ABC's "Good Morning America" representatives called her home 57 times in one day in a bid to book her for the show. Occasionally, though, you get horrific results, such as this past January when nearly every news outlet ran video of Saddam Hussein's execution ad nauseum for days. Apparently, snuff films are now OK for mainstream news. Now all that's left is a live on-air killing passing as news, maybe in a high-speed car chase. Wait, that's already happened.

Read his full piece: "Why The Media Passes Off Bunk As News" and pre-order his book, "It's Not News, It's Fark" (coming out in May).

The Jeannie Tate Show

Live, from her soccer-mom minivan, it's "The Jeannie Tate Show." Pretty clever, including a nice deadpan appearance by SNL's Bill Hader (husband of Maggie Carey, who directed this parody).

[thanks to Stuart Snyder for the link]

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Open Letter to Montel

Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, USAF (Ret.) writes an open letter to Montel Williams, from one military man to another, challenging him for continuing to have Sylvia Browne on his TV show and asks Montel, "Have you lost your honor?"

Hal spent 25 years in active duty in the US military, and is the emcee of "The Amazing Meeting" each year, presented by the James Randi Educational Foundation. The letter appears on Robert Lancaster's site.

You can contact Montel to urge him to respond publicly to Hal's letter and, more importantly, stop having con artists on his show.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Mike Shiley, "Inside Iraq"

This afternoon on my show, Mike Shiley talked about his movie, "Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories," in which he made a press pass at Kinko's, cashed in his frequent flyer miles, and went to Iraq with a digital camera to capture what life is really like there during the war.

He told remarkable stories about he became embedded with an Army unit, who gave him a 90-minute training session and then behind the gun on an Abrams tank as they patrolled an Iraq-Syria border town. Shiley explained why he thinks Iraq should be split into three regions -- Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni -- and filled in some of the holes in the mainstream media's coverage (or lack of coverage) throughout much of the nation.

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

Hans Blix

Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector, was on my show today to talk about dealing with Iran and North Korea when it comes to nuclear weapons. I asked Blix about new revelations that the Bush administration may have inflated claims about North Korea's ability to enrich uranium over the last five years, and the impact on the nuclear scenario in that part of the world -- and the similarities to the way Washington has dealt with (or rather, refused to deal with) Tehran.

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

Ready For The Future

Karl Fisch, an IT coordinator for a high school in Colorado, put together a presentation on education, techonology, and the challenges and opportunities your kids will face in the workplace and beyond. That presentation got into the hands of Scott McLeod, who turned it into this...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

HPV Vaccine

With the national debate over the HPV vaccine Gardasil and whether it should be mandatory for girls going into sixth grade, I invited Dr. Rosanna Gray-Swain onto my show this afternoon. She's an ob-gyn at Barnes Jewish Hospital, who explained why this is a public health matter and how effective the vaccine is in preventing cervical cancer.

Religious conservatives are against the vaccine because they think it would give girls another excuse to be sexually promiscuous. That logic doesn't hold up, because kids don't know what they're being vaccinated for in the first place -- all they know is they're getting a shot, and don't care whether it's for polio, measles, mumps, hepatitis, or HPV.

In my house, we believe in science, though there are still valid concerns about the longterm effects of Gardasil and the duration of its efficacy. But it's typical of the USA that this is getting bogged down in the politics of sex. There would be a lot less controversy about this is HPV affected any other part of the body, or if it wasn't transmitted through sexual contact. For instance, if this vaccine fought nasal cancer, the morality police would keep their mouths shut and a lot more lives would be saved.

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

Are You Dumber Than A Game Show Contestant?

A couple of points about "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?", the Fox show that is already the highest-rated new show of the season, entirely because it follows "American Idol" this week.

I like Jeff Foxworthy, and have no problem with him following in the footsteps of Howie Mandel and Bob Saget in the new pantheon of comedians hosting primetime game shows (once upon a time, those jobs went to radio DJs like Bob Eubanks and Wink Martindale and Tom Bergeron).

My problems with "Are You Smarter" begin with the fact that the show's pace is way too sluggish. I counted exactly six questions in the first half-hour show. Only six?!? "Jeopardy" gets in ten times that in thirty minutes! The sluggishness is because of the faux suspense built into every answer and every decision. That pause for dramatic effect is phony, we're sick of it, and it slows down the game.

Moreover, the show is a ripoff of Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" bit -- ask regular people basic questions that they probably learned when they were young but have long since forgotten, and make them look foolish as they try to come up with the answers.

That's not a bad concept, but when the first contestant didn't know what month Columbus Day is in, I wanted a new game show punishment to be inflicted: when a contestant can't answer the first, simplest question on any show like this or "1 vs. 100" or "Millionaire," a trap door should open in the stage, and they should be immediately dropped into the molten core of the Earth.

Then call the show "Thin The Herd."


Here's the video of President Bush trying to dribble a basketball while hosting last year's NBA champion Miami Heat at the White House. I'll bet someone on his staff got a talking-to about this -- either they deflated the ball, or made the bad choice of conducting the ceremony without a hardwood floor.