Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Lost" Finds Itself Again

Before tonight's episode of "Lost," I had vowed that I would only stick around for one more if the producers didn't return the show to some of its earlier fun, getting away from the cages and conflict of the "Others" storyline. Well, they came through. I was about to write a big entry about it, but discovered that Alan Sepinwall has said everything I would have, and more, so go read that instead.

Kevin Pollak

Actor/comedian Kevin Pollak returned to my show this afternoon to talk about making the movie version of Buzz Bissinger's "Three Nights In August," about Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals, and about hanging around Busch Stadium last fall on the road to the World Series title. I also asked him about his pal Alan Arkin winning the Oscar and got him to do a little Albert Brooks.

Then Pollak told an amazing story about how he managed his first appearance as a comedian on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" by refusing to do a standup spot and holding out for a seat next to Johnny, where his Peter Falk impression (complete with the eye move) would be more effective. That's quite a gutsy move by a young comedian with no prospects at the time -- but it certainly paid off.

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

End of Homework

Earlier this week, a principal in Menlo Park, California, announced that he was cutting down on the amount of homework his teachers were allowed to assign to their students. David Ackerman, the principal at Oak Knoll Elementary School, sent home a letter which no doubt drew cheers from both kids and parents:

"The preponderance of research clearly shows that homework for elementary students does not make a difference in student achievement. . . . Even the most ardent supporters of homework have only been able to produce evidence of associative rather than causal relationships. In addition, it is not surprising that there is no research that demonstrates that homework increases a child's level of understanding, improves their attitude toward school or inspires a love of learning. For a large number of students we know the opposite is true -- large amounts of homework stifle motivation, diminish a child's love of learning, turn reading into a chore, negatively affect the quality of family time, diminish creativity and turn learning to drudgery."
We've talked about the too-much-homework question several times on my KMOX show, and today I invited Etta Kralovec on to discuss it some more. As author of "The End Of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning,"Etta would like to see all homework eliminated. Listen.


I disagree. While it certainly needs to be reduced, I see value in students doing some work at home to reinforce what they've learned in class. But when it becomes quantity over quality, when the amount of homework they're doing makes it impossible for them to have any kind of life other than studying, writing essays, working on math problems, and filling out worksheets for 3-4 hours every afternoon/evening, that's too much.

Principal Ackerman hasn't done away with all homework. Kids still have to read at home, they still have some weekly assignments, and they do have to work on some skills, but he has banned assigning homework for homework's sake. That sounds right to me, and I hope other school administrators and districts will pay attention and follow his lead.

I wrote about this in a column last September, and also spoke with Nancy Kalish about her book, "The Case Against Homework." Listen to that conversation here.

Secret Menu Items

If you've ever gone into a chain restaurant and wanted something they didn't have on the menu, take a look at this list of secret menu items they'll serve you. Since most of these are made from ingredients the place already has, it's not a big deal, but you have to know what to ask for and how.

I don't drink coffee, but I'm tempted to test the Starbucks policy of making anything you want, including ingredients you bring from home:

"Baristas might try and tell their customers that no, we can't do that with the blenders. This is a lie. Starbucks corporate policy is that the customer is ALWAYS right (even when the request is stupid). If you really insist that you want your iced soy latte blended, the baristas HAVE to do it. If they continue to refuse, ask to speak to a manager and either they'll realize they're about to get in trouble and will fill your request, or the manager will come out and politely tell the barista to make the customer happy. Absolutely any concoction that you can think of (involving any type of milk, syrup, coffee, etc.) will be made for you. The limits to Starbucks "secret menu" are merely the limits of your imagination. You can even bring supplements from home and ask the barista to please include that in your drink."

Beer-Launching Fridge

This one should be picked up by one of the beer companies for a commercial. An engineering student at Duke created a beer-launching refrigerator, complete with remote control for targeting.


He has photos of the inside of the mechanism here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Scott Turow "Limitations"


Scott Turow returned to my show today to talk about his latest legal thriller, "Limitations." We talked about why he brought back characters Rusty Sabich ("Presumed Innocent") and George Mason ("Personal Injuries"), the similarity between his plot and the Duke lacrosse story, the impact video cameras have on criminal cases, and what people ask him at book signings.

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

Is Terrorism Threat Overblown?


Today on my KMOX show, I talked to John Mueller about his book "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them."

Mueller says even the FBI admits there are no Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the US, and that the fact that we haven't had another attack as big as 9/11 is not proof that the Bush administration is doing a great job of protecting us. He contends that the number of people killed by terrorism is relatively small, but the anxiety level has been kept high by politicians, the media, and others, because fear is a simple emotion to exploit. The cost of that fear has been millions of dollars wasted on counterterrorism and an higher risk level assigned by the Department of Homeland Security than is necessary.

This is an important perspective that is all too rarely heard amid the clamor of voices promoting the way the war on terror is being fought.

Listen.

Airport Facelift

Lots of debate on my KMOX show about the five-year, $105 million facelift that's been announced for Lambert Airport. The basic thinking seems to be that we need a better, prettier airport to show visitors and business people that St. Louis is a city they should be happy to come to.

That won't be accomplished by beautifying the airport. That will be accomplished by having more flights landing and taking off from here -- and more real planes like the 737, as opposed to the 50-seat flying cigar tubes we have to endure for many trips now. Since American Airlines downgraded us from a hub, and the number of daily flights dropped by a couple hundred, we have a lot fewer people passing through, and thus the build-out may not be justified. If another airline committed to more flights more often, then it would make sense, but I doubt that will happen just because the terminal has a few more amenities.

All I want from an airport is to move through security quickly, have the plane on time, and get to wherever I'm going. Of course, I want my flight to be at Gate C1, not C33, and if I have to connect somewhere, I want to land at C1 and then depart from C2, instead of coming in at A22 and having to run a marathon to get to my next plane at gate D49.

When I return, I have no interest in lingering in the terminal -- I'm headed for the door, then to my car, then to my house. I'm not stopping to see what the stores are offering today.

The proponents of the plan talk about adding more retail and restaurant space. I know this has been done elsewhere, but I've never understood it. I don't go to the airport to go shopping. It's good to have a place where I can get a newspaper or magazine, some candy, and a bottle of water (that'll be $19, please!). I understand the place that sells cheap, cheesy local memorabilia for those on a business trip who remembered at the last minute that they promised to bring home a present for their kid and are now in desperate need of a Cardinals shirt or a Gateway Arch snow globe.

But I don't know who is shopping at the golf store (what, you forgot your plaid pants and had to have them for this trip?), or making last-minute jewelry purchases, or visiting most of the other retail outlets I've seen in other airports around the country. Frankly, if I'm at the airport, I'm probably going somewhere on a vacation that already is costing me more than I can afford, so I'm not looking for opportunities to spend a few more dollars before I even leave my hometown.

That's not to say there aren't things that should be fixed at Lambert that would make the experience of using the airport better for everyone. These are basic, functional problems that should be addressed before you build a mall inside the terminal:

  • Get the luggage to baggage claim faster. There's no reason people have to wait over a half-hour for their bags to come down the chute. No wonder so many of us cram all our stuff into carry-ons.
  • Fix the parking garage once and for all. You've been working on the thing for almost a decade, and it's worse than ever. While you're at it, get the cabs out of there. Set up a real taxi stand that's easier to access.
  • Fix the signs. I challenge anyone, on their first visit to Lambert, to find the main parking garage without having to go around the loop at least once.
  • Move the bagel place to the other side of security, so when I have to take an early morning flight and want to pick up breakfast, I can also get a bottle of orange juice without worrying about setting off the TSA's liquids-and-gels security alert system.
  • Tell the employees to smile every once in awhile. The airlines are in trouble because flying has become a pain to most passengers. It wouldn't hurt to have the people who are paid to work there show us a little courtesy and thanks for keeping their industry propped up. If you want to scowl at someone, wait for Carl Icahn to get on a commercial flight. In the meantime, show me a little appreciation -- I'm your customer!

No Flipping These Cards


Someone at Topps had some fun with a Derek Jeter baseball card one night and inserted Mickey Mantle in the dugout and President Bush in the stands. The card made it through the entire printing process, and is now creating a buzz among collectors, some of whom have already put theirs on eBay.

There's a chance this is all a publicity stunt to pump up interest in baseball cards just before the season begins. Ironically, the industry was going to get a lot of attention anyway, since this comes at the same time that the rarest baseball card in the world, the 1909 Honus Wagner, has just sold for $2.35 million.


Somehow, I doubt the owners want to flip or toss for them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jon Macks At The Oscars

Jon Macks was back on my KMOX show today for his annual Oscars followup segment. Since he helps write the show and is backstage during the telecast, he always has stories about his encounters with the stars. This year, he had run-ins with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Peter O'Toole, and Al Gore.

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


Jon Macks is a longtime staff writer for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," author of several books including "How To Be Funny," and is developing a major motion picture for Universal. He has also written for the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Comic Relief, A Capitol Fourth, and many other TV events.

Aaron Barnhart, TV Barn Radio

Today on KMOX, I talked with Aaron Barnhart about the Oscars telecast -- from the roly poly dancers to those great iPhone commercials to the interminable movie montages -- and why Ellen DeGeneres was okay as host, but next year Jerry Seinfeld should get the job. Then he previewed "The Black Donnellys," which debuts on NBC tonight.

Listen.


You'll find Aaron in print in the Kansas City Star and online at TVBarn.com. He's on my KMOX show every Monday at 4:15pm CT.

Sinkhole

Check out this sinkhole that opened up in Guatemala City on Friday -- it's 130 feet across, 200 feet deep, and swallowed a house and at least three people.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Craig Ferguson on Britney Spears

I spent some time today catching up on TV that I'd recorded earlier in the week, including Craig Ferguson's show. His monologues are consistently one of the most entertaining segments of the day because, as I have written before, he's not in the joke-telling business a la Jay Leno and others. Ferguson riffs on a topic or two at length, sometimes a news item, sometimes a story from his own life, and wraps it all into a very entertaining opening to the show, a cross between Regis Philbin and Jack Paar.

On Monday's show (2/19), he spent several minutes talking about why he wasn't going to make fun of Britney Spears for her head-shaving, tattoo-getting, in-and-out-of-rehab weekend. He explained that he recognized in her the same sort of desperation he endured before deciding to quit drinking 15 years ago, and that it was obvious she needed help, not ridicule. While still drawing a few chuckles from the audience, he told a very personal and serious story about his alcoholism and bout with suicidal depression.

It was the kind of soul-baring and intimate monologue no one else in contemporary television would dare do, yet Ferguson pulled it off because of his immense likeability and honesty.

Take a look:


Later, he explained to CBS News that he was astounded to discover that his decision to not make fun of a celebrity qualified as a news story.

Oscar Spoiler

If you want to be surprised by Ellen DeGeneres dancing with CGI penguins at the Oscars, don't read this piece by Nikki Finke about that and some other tricks the producers have up their sleeves for the telecast.

BTW, when Fink mentions that Bruce Vilanch, Carrie Fisher, and Carol Leifer are writing the show, she left out my pal Jon Macks -- who will be on my KMOX show Monday afternoon for his annual report on what it was like backstage at the Oscars. He'll be in that writers room in a tux trying not to piss off some of the big stars, as he has a habit of doing, by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. I'm talking about you, Sly Stallone.

Also, there has been some speculation that if "An Inconvenient Truth" wins for Best Documentary, Al Gore will use the acceptance speech to announce his candidacy for President. Not going to happen. While he's the star of the movie, he wasn't one of its producers, and those are the folks who get the Oscars. They might invite Gore onstage, but you're more likely to hear comments about global warming and why Al's happy the Oscar winners aren't chosen by the Electoral College.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Oscar Predictions

Let's see how many of Ellen DeGeneres' monologue jokes I can predict correctly.

Expect jokes about Britney in rehab with her shaved head (maybe even Ellen in a bald cap?), Tim Hardaway in rehab for his anti-gay remarks, Mel Gibson in rehab for his anti-semitic remarks, and Michael Richards in rehab for his anti-black remarks.

Then throw in a couple of lines about Hillary Clinton vs. Barrack Obama, David Geffen, the Dixie Chicks, Anna Nicole, and the crazy astronaut.

Update 2/25 11:13pm: I was wrong -- Ellen didn't do any topical material, so there were no jokes about any of those.

As for the awards...

Mark Reardon and I talked it over on my KMOX show this afternoon, and here's who we think will win. We disagree on only two categories, which may provide the only suspense of the telecast...

Best Picture: Mark says "The Departed" will have a big night, including the final award of the evening. I think "Little Miss Sunshine" might slip in if there's a split in the "serious movie" vote between "The Departed" and "Babel."

Best Supporting Actor: Mark thinks Eddie Murphy has the momentum for "Dreamgirls." I think that enough academy voters may have noticed how horrible "Norbit" is and decided to give Eddie's statue to Alan Arkin for "Little Miss Sunshine." As a longtime Arkin fan, I'd be happy to see him give what might be the only amusing acceptance speech of the night.

Other winners are pretty much a lock: Forest Whitaker for Actor, Helen Mirren for Actress, Jennifer Hudson for Supporting Actress, and Martin Scorcese (finally!) for Best Director.

Update 2/25 11:13pm: Mark was right about "The Departed," I was right about Alan Arkin, and we were both correct about all the rest.

Olivia Shelltrack vs. Black Jack

Last year, I wrote about Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving, an unmarried couple with three children who were denied an occupancy permit for their house by the town of Black Jack, Missouri. Mayor Norman McCourt and the city council thought they were the morality police and could impose their 19th-century concept of "family" on everyone who lives there.

Olivia and Fondray didn't back down and didn't move out. Instead, they fought back, and they won. Not only did Black Jack change its official definition of "family" last August, but this week, the city gave the couple a $28,000 check to settle the civil lawsuit they had brought with the help of the ACLU.

I invited Olivia onto my KMOX show today to talk about all of this and ask if that check is enough reimbursement for all the trouble the mayor and his cronies put the family through over the last year -- and whether she'll campaign to get defeat these politicians in the next election.

Listen.

MODOT Director Pete Rahn

Today on my KMOX show, MODOT Director Pete Rahn was in the studio to talk about the primary seat belt law, a cause he's a much better spokesman for than Rep. Neal St. Onge.

We also had a lengthy discussion of why Rahn is opposed to the Illinois proposal for a new Mississippi River bridge, even though Missouri wouldn't have to pay for it. He thinks it's only a short-term solution, so he's still pushing for the "big" bridge or a toll bridge, and wants more consideration of the new private/public proposal that came up this week. His Illinois counterparts are vehemently opposed to that idea, because they think tolls would put even more of the financial burden on commuters in the Metro East.

So, the stalemate continues, and congestion gets worse on the existing bridges.

Listen.

Walter Reed Whitewash

Dana Milbank has a terrific column in today's Washington Post about the whitewash going on at Walter Reed after the newspaper's expose by Dana Priest and Anne Hull of nightmarish conditions in at least one of the facilities housing wounded soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army, embarrassed, apparently rushed in some construction crews to paint over the problems, and then the PR crews to show off the repairs:

After the media tour of Building 18, the Army's surgeon general gave a news conference. "I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard," he said of a facility Priest and Hull found full of "mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses" and other delights. "We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren't serious, and there weren't a lot of them."

[Lt. Gen. Kevin] Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn't walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn't acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation. The general also seemed to miss a larger point identified by other officials: Walter Reed's problem isn't of mice and mold but a bureaucracy that has impeded the recovery of wounded soldiers.

The Army's vice chief of staff, only 24 hours earlier, decried "a breakdown in leadership" for the conditions in the place. And Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) noted that "you could put all the wounded soldiers in the Ritz-Carlton, and it wouldn't fix the personnel management and recordkeeping problems that keep them languishing in outpatient limbo out there for months."

Now Robert Gates, the new SecDef, has announced a review panel will inspect Walter Reed, and those responsible for the unacceptable conditions will be "held accountable." Let's hope he means it.

How To Shower: Women vs. Men

How women shower vs. how men shower. This is a little coarser than it needs to be, but you'll recognize yourself, regardless of your gender.

Grey's Shark

The commercial for the third episode of the "Grey's Anatomy" cliffhanger teased "Meredith Grey's time may have run out." As if anyone would believe that one of the most popular series on TV was going to kill off its main character.

This wasn't like Henry Blake's shocking death on "M*A*S*H," or Mark Harmon's character contracting AIDS on "St. Elsewhere." Shonda Rimes should give the audience a little more credit, to know that we know that the lead character -- the one the show is named after! -- was going to recover from her drowning.

As Charles Pavlack points out,

There have been at least two cases where a character whose name was in the title have died: "Chico and the Man," in which Freddie Prinze's unfortunate death caused them to scramble to bring in a new "Chico", and "Valerie's Family," in which Valerie Harper banked on just the point you were making and held out for more money or creative control or whatever, and found her character dead and the show renamed.

That said, I certainly understand and agree with your point: The number one show on TV is not going to kill off their title character unless she pulls a Britney Spears or something. In fact, I'd find the whole cliffhanger much more compelling if it involved Dr. Burke, a character whose actor has caused the producers much embarrassing publicity recently. You could see them killing off Burke, but not Meredith.

Has "Grey's" jumped the shark, or has Ms. Rimes been spending too much time working up her Addison spinoff?

The mantle of Best Drama on TV has passed this season to "Friday Night Lights," which has grown to become much more than a show about a Texas high school football team. "FNL" continues to chart new courses through topics like racism in a small town, disability, sexual harassment, and the trials and tribulations of high school.

This week's episode, with Coach Taylor and his wife dealing with their teenage daughter possibly having sex for the first time, was remarkably well written and acted. Kyle Chandler has been receiving a lot of praise for his work as Coach Tayler, but Connie Britton deserves an Emmy for the work she's done this season as Tami Taylor, the coach's wife slash high school guidance counselor. Her scene with Aimee Teegarden (Julie) in which mother confronted daughter after seeing the boyfriend buying condoms sparkled with intensity and relatability. And Teegarden and Zach Gilford (Matt, the shy QB) are wonderful in their scenes together, too.

Although I could do with fewer stories about Jason the wheelchair-bound former QB and a little less shaky camera movement, "FNL" is the best must-see TV of the season.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vote For The Worst on American Idol

Now that "American Idol" is up to the part of the season where the viewers decide who stays and goes, Dave Dellaterza from VoteForTheWorst.com is back on my KMOX show every week to talk about it. Dave's concept is that you should support the bad singers to keep them on the show as long as possible, and has thrown his support behind the equally horrible Sundance Head and Antonella Barba.

On his site, Dave also has stories about Antonella's party girl past, including pictures.

Listen.


Dave and the folks at AOL have compiled a list of the 12 Most Annoying and Overdone Songs on "American Idol," including the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," Phil Collins' "Against All Odds," R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," and Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman."

The other site we mentioned, which has been pretty accurate at predicting who would be voted off the show, is DialIdol.com.

William Cohen


Former Defense Secretary William Cohen was on my KMOX show this afternoon to talk about the Walter Reed scandal, the politics of "the surge," McCain's comments about Rumsfeld, echoes of Vietnam, and more. Then his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, joined us to discuss their book about their interracial marriage, "Love in Black & White: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Romance."

Listen.

Ladies Night

I have discussed several times the Ladies Night controversy, in which men feel discriminated against because bars or nightclubs offered free or reduced-price admission and/or drinks to women, but not to men. A couple of men have filed lawsuits over these promotions, including one guy in Colorado who drew the attention of John Oliver, one of the rising stars from "The Daily Show" ensemble. The inclusion of Kool & The Gang plus the Matthew Lesko nod at the end makes this piece priceless...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Un-Electable, continued

Last month, I wrote a column about what would make a presidential candidate un-electable. The list included everything from smoking to admitting drug use to religion to being gay to having an abortion, etc.

Now, the Gallup organization has done a poll for USA Today asking the same question with similar qualifiers:


Keep in mind that these are generic categories, and mean very little without the names of specific candidates and what they stand for. But it's interesting they asked that age question, because John McCain will be 72 when the 2008 presidential election rolls around.

Also keep in mind that no voters will go to the polls for even a primary for almost 11 more months, and the general public isn't really giving any of this a moment's thought yet or forming opinions on who they'll cast a ballot for (or against, as is more often the case).

Asteroid!

It sounds like the movie "Armageddon" -- an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and we have to stop it before it smacks into the planet and causes massive destruction.

Turns out that astronomers have their eyes on one such asteroid that will come close -- in space terms -- in April, 2036. However, unlike the movie, where they became aware of the danger just a few weeks before possible impact, our scientists are already on the case and coming up with ideas on how to deal with this asteroid and any others that might eventually be on a collision course with Earth.

Today on KMOX, I called upon astronaut Dr. Ed Lu, a space veteran who has logged more than 200 days in orbit. Ed is one of those developing solutions for this problem, including a so-called Gravity Tractor, which sounds like something they used on a "Star Trek" episode or two.

Listen.


I met Ed last year at James Randi's "Amazing Meeting," where they talked about how Randi had helped Ed become the first person to do a card trick in space, while Ed was aboard the International Space Station in 2003. Randi explained that experience here (scroll halfway down for the details).

Seat Belts Or Else

Lots of discussion on my KMOX show today about St. Louis County passing a primary seat belt law, which gives cops the right to pull you over for not wearing your seat belt. County Executive Charlie Dooley signed the law this morning, and it will take effect on March 8th.

This is bad legislation. The fine is only $10, with no additional court fees tacked on. It won't be counted as a moving violation, so it won't be reported to your insurance company and won't add points to your license. It's simply a citation, like those red light camera violations.

I asked my listeners who don't wear their seat belts if that $10 fine is enough of a deterrent to get them to change their habits, and none of them thought it was. Therefore, we have a completely ineffective law, which police officers aren't going to want to enforce -- considering how stressful and dangerous a traffic stop can be, they're not likely to embrace the concept. Unless there's a seat belt ticket quota they have to fulfill, that's just a waste of time. There is also the risk of racial profiling if some officers use the law as an excuse to hassle minority drivers.

Missouri is considering similar legislation at the statewide level, a law that hasn't passed since it was first introduced 7 years ago. However, now that the county has taken the lead, the state may follow.

You'd think that thousands of Missourians must be dying, but you'd be wrong. The supporters of this law say about 90 lives a year will be saved because they'll be wearing seat belts. In a state with five million people, that's not a big enough number to demand legislation, and if none of those 90 people were likely to have worn a belt with this law anyway, it's even more of a moot point.

I always wear my seat belt and won't let you in my car if you won't buckle up, but if you're in your car without me, how does it affect me to the point where we need a new law that won't change your mind?

Update 5:49pm: Towards the end of my KMOX show, Missouri Rep. Neal St. Onge, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, called to talk about the chances of the law passing at the state level. I pressed him for explanations of why is it the government's business to tell you that you can't engage in risky behavior, and whether we can expect legislation regarding diets full of fatty food and other things that might be unhealthy. He kept quoting statistics about how many lives would be saved and how, in other states, 11% more people wear their seat belts with laws like this in place. But when I asked him how anyone knows how many drivers are wearing seat belts, he fumbled and said something about "observers" keeping tabs on people on the roads, which is nonsense.

St. Onge also discounted the opinions of everyone who called me show earlier and said the law wouldn't change their habits, saying they were obviously against seat belts in the first place. That's exactly the point -- the law will change nothing because the risk of a $10 fine and some stats from a politician aren't going to change their minds.

Listen.

Four Drumsticks


Meet Stumpy, the four-legged duck.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Aaron Barnhart, TV Barn Radio

On KMOX today, I talked with TV critic Aaron Barnhart about a comedy feud between Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia, the death of "Studio 60," and the renewal of "Til Death." Then Aaron expressed concern about Keith Olbermann's new MSNBC contract, which will bring him an increased presence at NBC News, and what it says about the conflation of journalism, commentary, and sarcasm.

Listen.


You'll find Aaron in print in the Kansas City Star and online at TVBarn.com. He's on my KMOX show every Monday at 4:15pm CT.

Paul Reickhoff on the Walter Reed Scandal

In discussing the scandalous story of nightmarish conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on my KMOX show today, I called upon Paul Reickhoff again.

He's the outspoken director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has been pushing a legislative agenda on Capitol Hill on issues just like this. He called for a congressional investigation of how these outpatient facilities fell into such disrepair and why our veterans are being treated so poorly. Like Reickhoff, I want names named and people fired.

I also played some comments from Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) who claims that if Congress had known about this earlier, they would have stepped in and fixed it right away (you know, like they did with Katrina). This from a politician who was part of the Congress that offered no oversight of how the war was run in Iraq or at home.

Listen.

Goose Bump Beach

When I go out of town, I want the weather in the place I'm going to be better than it is at home. If I go to Florida, I want it to be 80 degrees and sunny every day -- but while I'm away, I want St. Louis to be cloudy, windy, and 10 degrees. It's nothing personal against friends and colleagues here, but what's the use of going away if I'm not going to enjoy a better climate than if I had stayed home? I want to hear, "Wow, you picked the perfect week to go away, because it was nasty here the whole time!"

My wife and I don't have a great track record in this regard with our winter vacations. It's not that the weather at home isn't as bad as we want it to be, it's that the conditions in the supposedly sunny, warm destination aren't as good as we hope it will be. We went to Hawaii for a week and it rained for five days. We went to Grand Cayman for four days and the sun didn't come out until the last one. We went to Cancun and the wind blew so hard the trees were parallel to the Earth, not to mention the rainstorm that hit just as we got to the top of the Chichen Itza pyramid. One year, we went to Antigua (in the Caribbean) and suffered through a cold drizzle while our hometown enjoyed a historic January heat wave.

This weekend, we went to Florida to celebrate my only surviving aunt's 90th birthday. Family members came from all over (even Paris!), and we had a very nice time seeing cousins and others we don't get to see that often. My brother was there with his wife and two young sons, and we figured we'd take our daughter and his boys to the beach at least once, where we could lay in the warm sun while they frolicked in the surf and sand.

That was the idea, anyway. The reality was that, the day before we arrived, the high temperature in South Florida was 82 degrees. The day we touched down in Fort Lauderdale it was 42, and didn't get much above the mid-fifties all weekend. Still, my nephews had never had a winter beach vacation, and since we live in the middle of the country, being on a beach isn't an everyday experience for us either.

So we hopped in the rental cars and drove over to Delray Beach, which would normally be packed with similarly-minded vacationers at this time of the year. At the very least, we figured the kids would play in the sand, dip their toes in the Atlantic, and that would be about it. Instead, the kids peeled off their clothes and jumped into the water, ready to do some wave-jumping and body-surfing, while my brother and I exchanged glances that said, "If anything goes wrong, you dive in with all your clothes on and I'll be your backup."

Although the water wasn't as cold as we thought it would be, as adults, our body thermostats had ruled out the possibility of actually getting wet. We knew that, despite the not-so-frigid water temperature, the air was cold enough to cause shrinkage all by itself, an effect that would only be heightened when moist. But kids have a different tolerance level for that sort of thing -- witness any number of goose-bumped children whose lips have turned a deep shade of blue while insisting to their parents that they weren't even mildly chilly. They played in the ocean for quite awhile before our parental instincts forced us to wave them ashore, at which time they were swaddled in more layers than a newborn at the North Pole.

It wasn't exactly the beach vacation the adults had hoped for, but smiles shone on the younger faces, which is what counts. Considering all the cheek-squeezing they had to endure at the hands of their relatives during the weekend's festivities ("look how much you've grown!"), it seemed like a good trade-off.

Naturally, as soon as we left our South Florida vacation behind, their daytime highs returned to the upper 70s and low 80s. The good news is that, now that we're home, St. Louis is getting over its own cold snap and warming up to the upper 50s this week.

My daughter will probably want to wear her swimsuit to school.

Johnny Carson, Pre-"Tonight"

Here's a clip from "The Johnny Carson Show," a 1955 series he did long before "The Tonight Show."

In this sketch, Carson -- forever a skeptic -- parodies Joseph Dunninger, a guy who did a mind-reader act. Sadly, no one on TV today would go after the contemporary equivalents of Dunninger (e.g. Van Praagh, Browne, Edward, et al).

This weekly Carson series only lasted 39 weeks, and it took him several years to get back on TV with "Who Do You Trust?" before beginning his legendary 30-year stint behind "The Tonight Show" desk. Shout Factory is releasing a 2-disc set of 10 episodes of that series, which comes from the original kinescopes that Joanne Carson (his second wife) has held onto since their divorce in 1971.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Support The Troops, Until They're Home

For those who have been screaming "support the trooops" as a pejorative against those who were against the war in Iraq, the response has always been to ask how well we support our men and women in uniform once they have returned home -- particularly those who don't come home in one piece. The unequivocal answer is "not so well."

Although we have lost over 3,100 soldiers during this war, there are ten times that many who have been wounded. That says a lot about how much better our military medical units are at saving lives, but once those soldiers get home, there is still a lot more work to do, both physically and psychologically.

Which is why reading this weekend's Washington Post piece by Dana Priest and Anne Hull was so disturbing. It's about how the system -- our system, the "support the troops" system -- is failing those troops so miserably. It is a story of soldiers stuck in red tape hell, shoved off to facilities where neglect has replaced care, where heroism is replaced by resentment. And once that has made you mad, there's more to make you madder.

The good news is that the stories brought an outpouring of anger and concern, to which the military seems to be responding and trying to make things better, as Priest and Hull report in a followup.

The question now is, how did it get this bad in the first place? Will Jim Nicholson, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, be brought in front of Congress to explain how many similar circumstances exist, and why our injured soldiers are being treated this way, further exacerbating their wounds? Will anyone point out that many of these soldiers don't qualify as veterans yet because they are still considered to be on active duty, and that Walter Reed is not a VA hospital, but technically part of the Department of Defense? That means these rotting and rotten conditions got that way under the regime of Donald Rumsfeld, infamous for his remark, "you go to war with the Army you have." He should have added "and you ignore them when they return, housing them in a mold- and mouse-infested nightmare."

Furthermore, where are the politicians who love attacking the news media so much -- when will they step forward and thank these journalists for uncovering this ugly story and forcing changes to be made?

Ironically, we just finished Salute To Hospitalized Veterans Week. It's obvious that a salute is not enough.

Video: Dana Priest discussed the story with Chris Matthews on "Hardball" tonight, complete with images of the facility in question.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Phil Keoghan, "Amazing Race All Stars"

Phil Keoghan was back on my KMOX show today to talk about "The Amazing Race All-Stars Edition," which premieres this Sunday night on CBS right after "Sixty Minutes."

Ironically, Phil was supposed to do this interview from New York, but he was stuck in Los Angeles because of bad weather on the east coast. I asked if that had ever happened to him while filming the show, and while he's never suffered delays like those JetBlue customers at JFK Airport yesterday, he was once detained and refused entry into the Ukraine during the race -- the teams kept going while he sat in a sparse detention room waiting to be freed.

Then we discussed how the relationships between team members have always been the essence of "The Amazing Race," and how that has changed for the all-stars who have been there before -- and whether their previous travel experience made it easier or harder this time around.

Listen.


Then listen to these previous "Amazing Race" interviews...

Hug It Out, Al

In the NY Observer, Bruce Fierstein imagines a memo from "Entourage" agent Ari Gold to Al Gore, regarding his upcoming appearance on the Oscars, where "An Inconvenient Truth" is a favorite to win Best Documentary:

The thing of it is, Al, the morning after you get the statue, every studio in this town is going to be asking: What do you want to do next? A sequel? A remake? Another Inconvenient Truth? But this time, they’re going to expect you to do it bigger, and better, with lots of special effects: Change the carbon emissions to meteorites; switch out the oil lobby for aliens; tweak the McGuffin, from man-made environmental catastrophe to the Big Bang theory and the impending collapse of the universe. Bruce Willis and Michael Bay, here we come.

But somehow, Al, I know it’s not you. It’s not where your career should be heading....

So, for all of our sakes, give it a think. Make the speech short and self-deprecating (no reason to bring in Naomi Wolf; go with the classic black tux) and say something to the effect of: “I think I’m supposed to say it’s nice to be nominated. But having been ‘nominated’ once before, I’ve got to tell you: I t’s a lot better to win …. Which is why, tonight, I’m announcing my candidacy for President. Together, with your help, we can return to the kind of people we once were, and go forward to become the kind of great nation were always destined to be.”

And that’s it. Over, done and out. And by the time you show up Graydon’s, there won’t be a full checkbook in the house.

Get back to me as soon as you can on this, Al. Obama is waiting in the wings.


See the whole piece here.

Tastes Like Truthiness


The rumors leaked out a few days ago, now Ben & Jerry's has confirmed it.

Their new flavor is Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream, described as "The sweet taste of liberty in your mouth."

Rejected TV personality flavors: Hannity & Cones. Anderson Scooper. Jimmy Kimmel & Bits. Regis & Jelly.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Movies That Smoke

On my KMOX show today, we discussed the new survey from the American Medical Association that says 70% of adults support giving an R rating to any movie with characters who smoke, because it encourages teenagers to start using tobacco. Sounds like a stretch to me, since most smokers I know started because of peer pressure or because their parents smoke, not because they saw some fictional character lighting one up.

A listener named Kevin e-mailed,

I think if you would add the phrase,"contains acts of smoking tobacco" to the PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 rating, you would let the consumer know and those that care can bypass the movie and those that don't can still enjoy "Superman" and "The Mask" without worrying about corrupting our kids.
I wonder how far we'd have to go with those warnings to protect our kids from bad influences:
  • "Includes characters eating fast food."
  • "Includes scenes of women dating bad boys."
  • "Includes bad driving by teenagers."
  • "Contains Lindsay Lohan."

The Truth, Inconvenient Again

Drudge has the following item on his site this morning:

SAVE IT FOR A SUNNY DAY: Maryville Univ. in St. Louis area cancelling screening of Al Gore's 'Inconvenient Truth' because of a snowstorm...
The implication is, "how could this happen if global warming was real?" But Drudge is as poorly versed in irony as Alanis Morrisette. Climate change doesn't mean the elimination of snow or other typical winter weather. The entire earth hasn't suddenly become the Caribbean, where a snowstorm is a freak event. Climate change happens gradually, like evolution, another scientific concept the deniers fail to grasp.

Crazy Astronaut Diaper


My BS detector is buzzing like crazy over this one, but I'll share it with you anyway. The owners of a B&B in Mississippi are auctioning off what they claim is one of the diapers former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak had with her on her trip from Houston to Orlando. The clean and unused diaper comes complete with the NASA logo and a bio-hazard warning. As of this morning, no one has bid on it -- not surprising, considering they want a couple grand for it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Aaron Barnhart, TV Barn Radio

On KMOX today, Aaron Barnhart and I talked about the overblown coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death, the debut tonight of a "Frontline" series about the TV news business, and other shows to look for this week -- the all-star edition of "The Amazing Race," "American Idol" finally moving past those awful auditions episodes, the HBO movie "Longford," and the terrorist thriller "The State Within" on BBC America.

Listen.


You'll find Aaron in print in the Kansas City Star and online at TVBarn.com. He's on my KMOX show every Monday at 4:15pm CT.

Keep Your Mortgage Big

My friend Ric Edelman, a top-notch financial planner, explains Ten Great Reasons To Carry A Big Long Mortgage. We have talked about this on my radio show a few times, and Ric has stunned listeners who were always taught they should pay off their houses as quickly as possible, which he says is a terrible decision.

Ric is working on his sixth book at the moment. I consider his earlier book, "The Truth About Money," a must-read for everyone.

GM Pulls Robot Ad

Followup to my earlier post about complaints about Super Bowl commercials, most notably the Snickers ad that was pulled -- now GM has buckled to pressure and pulled their ad, the one with the robot dreaming of committing suicide after dropping a bolt. It was supposed to run on Sunday's Grammy telecast, but was yanked.

Paul on Penn's Radio Show

Last month, while I was in Las Vegas at The Amazing Meeting, Penn Jillette's radio producer/sidekick Michael Goudeau grabbed me and asked if I would go upstairs and record an hour of his nationally syndicated radio show. Penn was banking some interviews that could air on the days when he was running back and forth to LA to record more episodes of "Identity."

Since Penn has been a guest on my show so often over the last two decades -- in fact, he has been a "money in the bank" guest, who I can always count on for a compelling discussion -- I was happy to return the favor.

During the hour, we talked about how Penn and I first met and how he introduced me to Randi, whether I get complaints when I go after so-called psychics on the air, the time I was almost fired for dissing Exxon on my show, and what kind of guests make the best interviewees. Then, without either of us noticing, the roles reversed and I was asking Penn questions about hanging out with former first son Ron Reagan and publisher Al Goldstein. We also got into an extended discussion of the Hold Your Wee For A Wii radio stunt in which a woman died after consuming gallons of water in an idiotic morning show contest in Sacramento.

Four weeks after we recorded it, my appearance on Penn's radio show aired last Friday (2/9/07) on the CBS Free FM stations in New York, San Franciso, Detroit, Chicago, San Diego, Baltimore, Vegas, and Washington DC. If you missed it, it is now available as a podcast that you can listen to here.

You can also listen to Penn's appearance on my KMOX show last year, when the DVD of "The Aristocrats" was released.

If you're in Vegas, be sure to see Penn & Teller's show at The Rio. Then go see Michael Goudeau in one of his other roles, as the juggler in Lance Burton's show at the Monte Carlo (he's also a writer on P&T's Showtime series "Bullsh*t").

OK, Go Win An Grammy

Here's one of the Grammy winners you may have missed this weekend. It's also one of the most-watched videos of the last year, which is why it won for Best Short Form Music Video. Later this year, it is a lock to win Best Use Of Treadmills, too. OK, Go!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Government On Drugs

This is your government. This is your government on drugs. This is your government's real addiction, spending money on useless programs.

Jacob Sullum was back on my show today to talk about the Bush administration increasing the amount of money spent on anti-drug ads, even though there is no evidence they are effective, and some evidence that they may increase the number of teens using marijuana.

Listen.


Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and author of the book, "Saying Yes."

World's Worst Dictators

Today on KMOX, I talked with David Wallechinsky about his list of the World's Worst Dictators, as seen in Parade magazine.

We talked about the massacres in the Darfur region of Sudan, the religious extremism in Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the continuing power of Muamma Al-Qaddafi in Libya. I also asked him whether he thinks China's record of human rights abuse will be part of the story when the Summer Olympics go to Beijing next year.

Listen.

The Media & Iran

Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, didn't like the NY Times, Washington Post, and other media outlets suggesting a slam dunk case for Iranian weapons killing Americans in Iraq based on one briefing and some unnamed sources. He explained why on my KMOX show this afternoon, and I asked him whether this was similar to the media's complicity in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003 (yes, I'm talking about you, Judy Miller!).

Listen.

Stop The Buck Here


By our apathy for the Sacagawea dollar and the Susan B. Anthony dollar, you'd think the Treasury Department would have learned its lesson, but they haven't.

This Thursday, the latest attempt at trying to convince Americans to use dollar coins instead of bills will begin, when new $1 coins will go into general circulation -- despite a new survey that says 3 out of 4 Americans don't want the change, both literally and figuratively.

This time, the government hopes to stimulate your interest by putting the US Presidents on the coin, releasing them in chronological order every three months (George Washington's first, then Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and so on). By my math, they'll get to the George W. Bush coin in the fall of 2017, just about the time we start withdrawing some of our troops from Iraq.

The hope is that you'll collect them, because they can just sense that you're clamoring for more Zachary Taylor and Chester A. Arthur memorabilia. Creating collectibles should not be the business of the US Mint -- leave that to companies like the Franklin Mint.

There's an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That's clearly the case here. I mentioned the Sacagawea and Anthony precedents, which might lead you to believe that this is only the third time the dollar coin has been foist upon us. In fact, it is the fourteenth dollar coin series in US history!

Through all those attempts, the Treasury Department has ignored the public's indifference toward a huge pocketful of change, just as it has dismissed the lack of cooperation from the private sector. Most vending machines still don't take dollar coins. Nor do parking meters. Slot machines are going coinless and using paper instead. Moreover, we have moved on to using plastic for a larger number of our purchases -- even fast-food places have accepted credit cards for years. For many of us, it is not unusual to go through an entire day without using any coins or currency, so why invest more in an outdated technology?

Clearly, the Treasury Department has lost its mind, along with huge amounts of money -- your tax dollars. With each failed attempt at launching a dollar coin, the federal government has lost more and more money. It takes time, manpower, energy, and materials to make those coins -- and then they have to find a place to store them when they fail and are pulled from circulation.

They'd better start building some new warehouses -- they have ordered 300,000,000 George Washington dollars so far, approximately one for every single person in the United States who won't use them.

Hoohaa Update

Update on last week's story about the comedy club and "The Vagina Monologues," in which the owner bowed to a single complaint from a woman who didn't like seeing the V-word on the marquee. Because she felt uncomfortable having to explain it to her young niece, he changed it to "The Hoohaa Monologues."

After two days, the marquee was changed back to the original title, after the group putting on the production -- a law school -- pointed out to the theater owner that their license to perform the play required that no part of it be censored, including the title.

Flying Home From The Super Bowl

A screen shot of the air traffic control system shows all the corporate jets leaving South Florida on the morning after Super Bowl XLI.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What Year Is It?

Heard on the Grammy Awards broadcast:

"Roxanne"
"Hotel California"
"Desperado"
"Life In The Fast Lane"
"For Once In My Life"
"It's A Man's World"
"Tracks of My Tears"
"Ain't No Sunshine"

Plus, appearances by Lionel Richie, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Earth Wind & Fire.

What year is this?

Also, when Al Gore appeared at this music celebration, did anyone remember his wife Tipper's attack on the industry and those content stickers her PMRC forced them to put onto albums in 1985?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Jon Macks

Today on KMOX, I joked with TV comedy writer Jon Macks about Anna Nicole Smith, astronaut Lisa Nowak, Pastor Ted Haggard, and other odd news stories of the week. Listen.


Jon Macks is a longtime staff writer for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," author of several books including "How To Be Funny," and is developing a major motion picture for Universal. He has also written for the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Comic Relief, A Capitol Fourth, and many other TV events. He's on my KMOX show Fridays at 4:15pm CT.

DVR Alert

If you're a "Friday Night Lights" fan in the St. Louis area and were upset that Channel 5 pre-empted it this week, they're airing that episode at 11:30pm Sunday. Or you can watch it on NBC.com.

An Apology

Dear Crazy Astronaut,

We're sorry we can't continue to exploit your story any further, but a rich large-breasted stripper has died, and we have to devote all our resources to showing clips of her drunk and speculating on which loser impregnated her last.

Sincerely,
The 24-Hour News Networks and Tabloid Shows

Pimp Your Bathroom


PC Magazine has compiled several bizarre bathroom contraptions, including one with an entire high-tech setup built in (which Roto-Rooter is giving away). It includes a flat-panel TV, an XBox 360, a DVR, an iPod dock, and a refrigerator with beer tap.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

How About A Dialogue?

A woman drove by a comedy club in Florida where a production of "The Vagina Monologues" was scheduled to take place and was offended by seeing the V-word displayed in public. So she complained to the club owner, who didn't cancel the play, but did change the marquee:


Keep in mind that this is an award-winning play that has been around for over a decade. The club owner had no problem having the play in his building, but buckled to a single complaint, because the woman didn't want to have to explain to her niece what a vagina is. I'm sure the curious girl won't ask what a "hoohaa" is.

Update 2/12: The marquee has been changed back to the original title, after the group putting on the production -- a law school -- pointed out to the theater owner that their license to perform the play required that no part of it be censored, including the title.

Offending Commercials

I'll admit that I don't understand what was so offensive about the Snickers commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. The company has pulled the ad because some gay advocacy groups complained that it was homophobic.

This is the ad that showed two men working on a car. One of them takes out a Snickers bar, sticks it in his mouth and starts chewing from one end. The other mechanic leans over, bites on the other end, and they chew towards the middle until their lips touch. They reel back in shock and one of them says, "I think we just accidentally kissed." The other replies, "Quick, do something manly," and the two proceed to rip off some chest hair.


It may be only mildly amusing, but where's the offense? Neither of them says anything negative about gay men -- they simply act the way many men would act if they accidentally kissed someone on the mouth. That doesn't mean they're against other men doing it, it's just that the act feels out of place. Are they not allowed to feel uncomfortable in that circumstance?

Let's change the scenario. Make one of the men gay, and the other person a lesbian (of course, you can't tell their sexual orientation simply by looking at them, so let's make it two people who are already out, like Carson Kressley and Rosie O'Donnell). He has no interest in kissing a woman, she has no interest in kissing a man. Yet their lips touch, and they recoil.

What's the difference? Does that mean they hate heterosexuals? Absolutely not, anymore than the Snickers spot is about two guys who hate gays. In fact, it's about two guys who are morons, and nothing more.

Besides, the entire premise is a direct rip-off of a famous scene from "Planes Trains & Automobiles"...


Are Steve Martin and John Candy homophobic, too? Should that film be removed from circulation? Of course not. This is just another case of people who are looking to be offended, and they were.

I'm with Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, a website for gay sports enthusiasts, who told USA Today that he saw the Snickers ad at a Super Bowl party with 30 gay friends, and none of them had a problem with it: "I just don't see how a couple of mechanics pulling out chest hair because they kissed is offensive."

Meanwhile, an Imo's Pizza ad has been pulled off local St. Louis TV stations because of bad timing. The spot, which was shot months ago, shows a prison inmate breaking out to get Imo's Pizza. He meets an Imo's delivery guy outside the prison, takes the pizza and says, "Same time next week," before slipping back to his cell to enjoy his meal.

So, what's the timing problem?

The commercial debuted just a couple of weeks after the arrest of Michael Devlin, the man accused of kidnapping and sexual assault in the Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby cases. Devlin was the manager of an Imo's Pizza place in Kirkwood. Even though Hornbeck's family and their attorney all say they're not offended by the spot, Imo's has yanked it anyway out of sensitivity for the situation. You can't blame them for not wanting their business associated with that case anymore than it already is.

Update 2/8/07 10:50am: Now a suicide-prevention group is insisting that General Motors pull their commercial that shows an assembly line robot making a mistake and getting so upset that it dreams of jumping off a bridge. The group says the ad may encourage people to commit suicide as a solution to their problems. As of this morning, GM is refusing to yank the spot. I hope no one at the suicide-prevention group gets so depressed about this that they end up doing something desperate, like getting a freakin' life.

Updated 2/13/07 11:38am:GM has buckled to the pressure and pulled the robot spot.

In their honor, here's the spot...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lost in College

When "Lost" returns to ABC tonight, among its most ardent viewers will be 21 students at Tufts University. That's because they're taking a course (for credit!) about the show. Today on my KMOX show, I talked with instructor Chadwick Matlin about what they cover in the class, which questions he wants the show to answer, and more.

Listen, then check out the syllabus for the "Lost" class at Tufts.

Astro-Nuts

On my KMOX show today, I called upon Homer Hikam for some insight on the bizarre story of astronaut Lisa Nowak (who flipped out, put on a diaper, and drove 900 miles to confront a rival for another astronaut's affections).

In addition to writing "Rocket Boys," which was turned into the underrated movie "October Sky," Homer trained astronauts for years with NASA, working with crews for shuttle missions and the space station program.

He contends that the astronaut office in Houston is part of the problem, that the astronauts live in a bubble, and that many of them have had difficulty -- particularly after they have been to space and back -- which NASA doesn't do a good job dealing with.

Listen.

Peeves

  • Coffee shops that serve pancakes that are the same size as the plate, so that when you pour the syrup on, it rolls off onto the table.
  • Cocktail parties with food but no tables, so you spend the evening standing with a plate in one hand and a glass in the other, then have to balance one on the other to eat.
  • Websites whose font gets smaller when you click the printer-friendly version.

Folding Chair

It's a chair. It's a couch. It's a loveseat. It's expandable, retractable, and simply amazing.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jeff Probst "Survivor: Fiji"

Jeff Probst was back on my KMOX show today to talk about the new season of "Survivor," which starts Thursday night.

We talked about the military coup that happened in Fiji while they were filming the show, the contestant who had a panic attack and bailed out just before filming began on the new season, and the new twists that Mark Burnett has come up with for this round.

I also asked him how Ozzie (the runner-up from last season) got on the show despite being on a Playboy reality show earlier, and why they don't screen out some of these obvious showbiz-wannabe contestants. Probst, who has filled in for Regis Philbin in the chair next to Kelly Ripa a couple of times, also revealed a conversation he had with Michael Gelman about the easiest gigs in television.

Listen.

Court Martial of Lt. Watada

Lt. Ehren Watada refused to go to Iraq with his unit and spoke out against the war publicly. The Army frowns on both of those, which is how he ended up in a court martial this week. He faces up to 4 years in prison for both missing a movement and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Watada's attorney claims that his anti-war remarks are protected free speech, an argument I don't buy. And in an all-volunteer military, I think his arguments are even weaker.

On my KMOX show today, I talked about the case with Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier, who represented another solider (Camilo Mejia) in a similar case two years ago (but is not directly involved in the Watada case).

Listen.

FedEx's Bad Astronomy

My friend Phil Plait debunks the bad astronomy in the FedEx "moon office" commercial they ran during the Super Bowl.

When Harry Stalked Sally

John Piscitello turned "When Harry Met Sally" from a romantic comedy into a stalker thriller, thanks to some clever editing and the "Batman Begins" soundtrack...

Sylvia Can't Stop Robert

A couple of weeks ago, Robert Lancaster was on my show to discuss his StopSylvia.com website, after he made public Browne's remarkably wrong predictions in the Shawn Hornbeck case. Since then, CNN's Anderson Cooper has done a couple of biting segments on her, including appearances by James Randi. Apparently, this has touched a nerve, as her lawyers have fired off a letter to Robert demanding that he stop and take down his site.

Being more familiar with the law then they are, Robert has not only refused to stop his efforts, he has also posted their letter to him. Go, Robert, go!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Aaron Barnhart, TV Barn Radio


Today on KMOX, I talked with TV critic Aaron Barnhart about the Super Bowl game and ads, the return of "Lost" and "Survivor," and why you should avoid the new David Spade sitcom.

Listen.


You'll find Aaron in print in the Kansas City Star and online at TVBarn.com. He's on my KMOX show every Monday at 4:15pm CT.

Super Bowl Ads Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to my annual Super Bowl quiz. With each spot costing $2.6 million for :30 of air time, did you remember what the product was they were advertising, based on a one-sentence description?

  • Two guys take rock/paper/scissors literally (Bud Light)
  • A guy crashes his car while checking out a woman on the sidewalk (Doritos)
  • A rabbit clicks a mouse with advice from a guinea pig (Blockbuster)
  • An employee with a bad comb-over gets fired (Sierra Mist Free)
  • Everyone at work likes Pierce and his new car (SalesGenie.com)
  • A self-defense lesson in a karate class (Sierra Mist)
  • A vehicle has to accelerate before doors close and stop at cliff's edge (Toyota Tundra)
  • Employees are weightless inside and outside the first moon office (FedEx)
  • A couple is married by an auctioneer paid off by the best man (Bud Light)
  • Two men work on a car kiss and rip off some chest hair (Snickers)
  • A woman checks out a guy at the gym and falls off her treadmill (Schick Quattro)
  • Carlos Mencia conducts a class in English for foreigners (Bud Light)
  • Everybody wants to work in marketing (GoDaddy.com)
  • It looks like a menacing video game, but it's a guy doing good deeds (Coca-Cola)
  • A hungry dog check out a butcher's window and a passing parade (Budweiser)
  • A driver-turned-superhero takes on Maposaurus (Garmin)
  • A jungle office comes under attack for a training seminar (CareerBuilder.com)
  • A supermarket cashier flirts with a customer (Doritos)
  • Men strip and dance to Nelly's "It's Hot In Herrre" (Chevy HHR)
  • The fist bump is out, the face slap is in (Bud Light)
  • A man walking down the street in costume is menaced by some thugs (BeatYourRisk.com, for King Pharmaceuticals)
  • A factory robot makes a mistake, is fired, and ends up jumping off a bridge (GM)
  • Famous moments in black history (Coca-Cola)
  • Connectile dysfunction (Sprint Broadband)
  • Proud black viewers watch the Super Bowl with kids and family (Tostitos/Lays/Doritos)
  • A man breaks out of a retirement home to do things he always wanted to (Coca-Cola)
  • After a performance evaluation, a man ends up with paperclips on his face (CareerBuilder.com)
  • Hospital employees trade gossip over a patient's bed (Sierra Mist)
  • Don Shula and Jay-Z play a virtual football game (Budweiser Select)
  • A couple skis, golfs, and swims in a snow globe (Izod)
  • A guy on a motorcycle talks about technology (Hewlett-Packard)
  • A car shows off to the tune of Elvis singing "Burning Love" (Honda CRV)
  • A rock can do a lot of things (Prudential Financial)
  • Crabs on a beach have a religious ceremony (Budweiser)
  • A couple picks up a hitchhiker with an ax (Bud Light)
  • Kevin Federline makes fries (Nationwide Insurance)
  • Eileen, Joy, Bob, Harry, and Mr. Turkey Neck (FedEx)
  • Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley have lunch (T-Mobile)
  • Robert Goulet messes up an office (Emerald Nuts)
  • Hauling 10,000 lbs through the desert (Toyota Tundra)
  • Lions watch campers and try to talk like Ricardo Montalban (Taco Bell)
  • Office gladiators fight for a promotion (CareerBuilder.com)
  • Sheryl Crow's "Not Fade Away" tour (Revlon Colorist)
  • Apes talking in a zoo while a woman takes a picture (Bud Light)
  • A man puts a quarter in a vending machine and we see the fantasy world inside (Coke)
  • A bank manager robs the customers in his own bank (E-Trade)
  • Guys go for a bike ride and a kayak trip (Flomax)
  • Things you can do with one finger (E-Trade)
  • Cars do a slalom around gas pumps (Honda)
  • Guy goes to Asian wise man for secret ingredient info (Snapple Green Tea)

You can see all the commercials again here.

Super Bowl Ads Quiz

Here is my annual Super Bowl quiz. With each spot costing $2.6 million for :30 of air time, can you remember what the product was they were advertising, based on a one-sentence description?

  • Two guys take rock/paper/scissors literally
  • A guy crashes his car while checking out a woman on the sidewalk
  • A rabbit clicks a mouse with advice from a guinea pig
  • An employee with a bad comb-over gets fired
  • Everyone at work likes Pierce and his new car
  • A self-defense lesson in a karate class
  • A vehicle has to accelerate before doors close and stop at cliff's edge
  • Employees are weightless inside and outside the first moon office
  • A couple is married by an auctioneer paid off by the best man
  • Two men work on a car kiss and rip off some chest hair
  • A woman checks out a guy at the gym and falls off her treadmill
  • Carlos Mencia conducts a class in English for foreigners
  • Everybody wants to work in marketing
  • It looks like a menacing video game, but it's a guy doing good deeds
  • A hungry dog check out a butcher's window and a passing parade
  • A driver-turned-superhero takes on Maposaurus
  • A jungle office comes under attack for a training seminar
  • A supermarket cashier flirts with a customer
  • Men strip and dance to Nelly's "It's Hot In Herrre"
  • The fist bump is out, the face slap is in
  • A man walking down the street in costume is menaced by some thugs
  • A factory robot makes a mistake, is fired, and ends up jumping off a bridge
  • Famous moments in black history
  • Connectile dysfunction
  • Proud black viewers watch the Super Bowl with kids and family
  • A man breaks out of a retirement home to do things he always wanted to
  • After a performance evaluation, a man ends up with paperclips on his face
  • Hospital employees trade gossip over a patient's bed
  • Don Shula and Jay-Z play a virtual football game
  • A couple skis, golfs, and swims in a snow globe
  • A guy on a motorcycle talks about technology
  • A car shows off to the tune of Elvis singing "Burning Love"
  • A rock can do a lot of things
  • Crabs on a beach have a religious ceremony
  • A couple picks up a hitchhiker with an ax
  • Kevin Federline makes fries
  • Eileen, Joy, Bob, Harry, and Mr. Turkey Neck
  • Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley have lunch
  • Robert Goulet messes up an office
  • Hauling 10,000 lbs through the desert
  • Lions watch campers and try to talk like Ricardo Montalban
  • Office gladiators fight for a promotion
  • Sheryl Crow's "Not Fade Away" tour
  • Apes talking in a zoo while a woman takes a picture
  • A man puts a quarter in a vending machine and we see the fantasy world inside
  • A bank manager robs the customers in his own bank
  • Guys go for a bike ride and a kayak trip
  • Things you can do with one finger
  • Cars do a slalom around gas pumps
  • Guy goes to Asian wise man for secret ingredient info

You can find the answers here, and watch all the commercials again here.

Thriller Wedding Dance

A wedding party recreates Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance at the reception.

I'm guessing this was the groom's idea, since he's out in front dancing a little overzealously while his bride is in the second row. I'm also guessing that he's done this in various forms since he was very young, considering that the original came out in December, 1983, when he was about 12 or 13, from the looks of him (ironically, that's Jackson's favorite age for a boy!). Anyway, give him credit for convincing everyone to do the routine and learn it so well.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl XLI

Tomorrow afternoon on my KMOX show, we'll start with my annual Super Bowl Ads Quiz to see if you remember what the commercials were for, and whether all those millions were well-spent. Meanwhile, random thoughts on Super Bowl XLI...

I have never been happier to watch a football game from home than tonight, thinking about all those suckers who paid hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to sit and soak while trying to see the game through the constant downpour.

This was the sloppiest thing I've seen on TV since Courtney Love's last on-camera appearance.

I liked the Bears +7 (a loser), but the bet of the day was the under at 49 (final total: 46).

Nice of them to make Billy Joel play a wet piano for the National Anthem.

Coolest CBS graphic: after one Colts TD, showing the span of the drive with the final play on a huge virtual widescreen TV on the field. Runner-up: the spinning intros of each team's offense and defense was a nice effect.

The new definition of ego: Devin Hester watching himself on the Jumbotron as he was still running back the opening kickoff for a TD.

Don't any of the CBS cameramen have a towel they can use to wipe off their lenses? At times, it looked like they were shooting an old romantic movie actress through cheesecloth or vaseline. Since we don't have HDTV, I wonder if the raindrops looked better in high definition.

Best question asked by my wife, who is not an NFL fan at all: "How heavy does the rain have to be before they stop the game?"

Best CBS promo: David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey on the couch together as a couple, shown only once. Worst CBS promo: all the rest, repeated ad nauseum.

All those 20-somethings on the field going crazy for Prince must have been paid to be there. He hasn't had a hit since they were in diapers, and he was in butt-less pants.

Speaking of halftime, nice effect to add the fake lightning over the stadium before Prince performed, as if the real weather wasn't enough of a factor for an outdoor performace. I bet the screaming, stomping crowd and the marching band didn't help the condition of the field in all that rain, either.

Speaking of marching bands, they have never improved a rock song by their presence. Didn't we learn anything from Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk"?

I'm not a Jim Nance fan. Give me Dick Enberg anyday. He's the greatest play-by-play man ever for any event, bar none. Nice to see CBS use him for a well-done profile of Bill Walsh during the endless pre-game show.

It's been said that you can either live up to your reputation or down to your criticism. Rex Grossman proved you can do both at the same time.

Did Tony Dungy think it was redundant to have the bucket of Gatorade dumped on him when he was already soaking wet from the rain?

"Tank Johnson, you've just lost the Super Bowl! What are you going to now?" "I'm going back to being under house arrest!"