Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT
Also: Thursday 5/26, 10am-Noon CT

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Upset Picks Still Undefeated

I told you to take Tampa Bay +3 at Carolina, and the Bucs ended up winning it outright, 20-7. That makes my Upset Picks season record 3-0-1.

I'll post my pick for Week 5 on Wednesday (because I'll be off Thursday and Friday).

In The Shadow Of The Moon

Until now, there were exactly three great movies about the US space program: "The Right Stuff," "Apollo 13," and Tom Hanks' HBO series "From The Earth To The Moon."

Add to that "In The Shadow Of The Moon," a new documentary about the Apollo program that stars the men who actually went to the moon, including those who went around it without setting foot on lunar soil. Chief among the latter is Michael Collins, the command module pilot who orbited the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became known for all eternity as the first men to walk on another world. Collins doesn't hold anything back, nor do Aldrin, Alan Bean, Jim Lovell, Gene Cernan, John Young, and other members of one of the most elite clubs in the world -- the lunar explorers. Neil Armstrong, still notoriously private, didn't sit for the new segments, but he and his colleagues appear in lots of the genuine NASA footage director David Sington has strung together.

They tell the story in their own words, from the earliest days of the space race to JFK's commitment to land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s to the Apollo 1 fire that killed 3 astronauts on the pad during a test to that triumphant Apollo 11 mission in July, 1969 and on through the last moon voyage, Apollo 17.

It's hard to believe we haven't been back in 35 years. As a fan of the space effort, I hope we go back again in my lifetime. Until then, "In The Shadow Of The Moon" is more than a history lesson about a great adventure; it's a terrific movie, too.

Headline of the Day

In the New York Times, the headline read "Despite Denials, Gays Insist They Exist, If Quietly, In Iran."

When the piece was reprinted in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the paper changed the headline to "There Are Gays Living In Iran, Say Gays Living In Iran."

Friday, September 28, 2007

More Movies You Might Not Know

New additions to my Movies You Might Not Know list:

  • "Wait Until Dark" is a 1967 thriller starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman who is terrorized by a couple of thugs who think there's some heroin in her apartment. Alan Arkin is wonderfully malevolent as the villain, ably assisted by Richard Crenna. It's as good as any Hitchcock classic.
  • "When We Were Kings" is the 1996 documentary about the 1974 heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinsasha, Zaire. This was long before Foreman became the cuddly grill salesman, when he was still the menacing Olympic gold medalist who hit harder than anyone in the world. Ali was attempting to regain his glory after going to prison and being stripped of his title over his opposition to the Vietnam War. When the fight was delayed for six weeks by internal African issues, Ali and promoter Don King turned it into a huge public relations opportunity, even bringing in James Brown and The Spinners for a concert. Filmmaker Leon Gast caught all of it in his lens, but the documentary wasn't released for two decades. It was well worth the wait.

Star Wars Holiday Special

In my interview with Bruce Vilanch yesterday, we discussed the "Star Wars Holiday Special" which he co-wrote. I mentioned that I hadn't seen it and thought that George Lucas had bought up every copy to ensure that it never see the light of day after its only TV airing on Thanksgiving weekend, 1978. Vilanch said that he had a copy, and that someone had posted it online, too. Listener Jeff Olsen found the link, and here it is, in its full two-hour glory...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Judge Nap on Patriot Act Ruling

Judge Andrew Napolitano was back on my show this afternoon to talk about US District Judge Ann Aiken's ruling that two provisions of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional.

As Judge Nap pointed out, the government has now lost every single Patriot Act case in court, with federal judge after federal judge ruling against it -- but, in a blatant disregard for the balance of power and the judicial branch, the Bush administration continues to use and abuse it.

Judge Nap explained the case which led to Aiken's ruling, regarding a US citizen whose house and office were searched by the FBI without a search warrant because he had mistakenly been linked to the Madrid train bombing. Those searches, the judge ruled, were a blatant violation of the man's Fourth Amendment rights.


Andrew Napolitano is senior judicial analyst for Fox News Channel and author of "Constitutional Chaos," "Constitution in Exile," and the upcoming book "A Nation of Sheep" (which we'll talk about at length when he returns to my show at the end of October).

Bruce Vilanch

Today on my show, I talked with comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, who you may have seen at the Fox Theater in 2004 as Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray," or as one of the celebs on "Hollywood Squares," or as the subject of the documentary "Get Bruce!"

We talked about all of those things and a few from his showbiz past, including the legendarily bad 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special," and the never-produced screenplay he wrote for close friend John Belushi just before his death.

Bruce is one of the go-to comedy writers in Hollywood, having worked on projects for all sorts of people -- some credited, many not -- and has worked often with my friend Jon Macks writing awards shows (he has two Emmys for writing Oscars telecasts).


Laws About Kids In Cars

Would the threat of a $200 ticket keep you from leaving your child in your car?

Michelle Struttman thinks so. She's one of the people behind Kids In Cars, and is advocating for a Missouri law to match the one in Illinois that makes it a misdemeanor to leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle.

She'd like the Missouri law to be stricter than Illinois', which makes it a crime only if more than 10 minutes have passed. Struttman says there have been too many cases of someone leaving a car running with a kid in the backseat for a few minutes and then having a carjacker take both the vehicle and the child.

I'm not sure that small a fine would be a deterrent, changing the attitude of people who aren't already concerned about the life of their baby. Some of my callers suggested it would only work if the fine were larger, while others think the whole thing stinks of more nanny state legislation -- but there were supporters, too, who say that if it saves one child's life, then it's a good thing.

Listen, then add your comments below.

Upset Pick, Week 4

Season Record: 2-0-1

This week, take Tampa Bay + 3 at Carolina. With Delhomme banged up, the Bucs defense will apply lot of pressure and, on their side of the ball, Cadillac Williams will rack up over 100 yards as Gruden calls his number often.

Highway House

When it came to moving his house from Santa Monica to Santa Clarita, Califonia, Patrick Richardson wanted to save some money by doing it himself. He got the necessary permits and started out on his wide-load adventure.

Unfortunately, he took a turn onto the wrong freeway and the top of the house hit an overpass, where it got stuck. Traffic was backed up for hours until he got the house free and limped a few miles down the road, where he found a spot on the shoulder wide enough to leave the house and its crippled trailer, and that's where it sat. As you can see, vandals moved right in, broke the windows, stole most of the stuff inside, and left graffiti all over the house.

After 10 days, the department of transportation was fed up with the congestion the house was causing, so they hired a mover who picked up the house and put it in some storage location. Richardson will have to reimburse them $20,000 before he gets his home back.

Story here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Iraq Vets Still Not Getting Care

Paul Rieckhoff returned to my show this afternoon to respond to a GAO report that says that the problems with care for our returning veterans are far from solved. In fact, there's been little progress since Congress and the President used all those photo ops earlier this year to promise that the system would be fixed and our soldiers taken care of.

I also asked Reickhoff for his reaction to the Iraq war status report by General Petraeus a couple of weeks ago. Rieckhoff is executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.


Jennifer Joyce vs. John Shelhorse

We had a stunning conversation on my show moments ago. In all my years on the radio, I've never had a prosecutor and defense attorney get into it with each other on the air.

It happened as we continued talking about Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce's decision yesterday not to prosecute the parents of Baby Sophia, because she couldn't prove criminal negligence on the part of the parents. In light of that, I invited her back today to discuss the case of Delea Payne, the daycare center driver who left 3-year-old Ricky Dixon in a van at the St. Louis Science Center for an hour on a hot summer day, August 7th. Joyce explained that she has offered a plea bargain where Payne would plead guilty, get probation and a suspended imposition of sentence, so her record would be purged if she stayed out of trouble.

We were joined by Payne's attorney, John Shelhorse, who didn't deny that the boy was left in the van, but claims that his client is not guilty and would not accept the plea bargain.

Joyce said that Shelhorse had just brought her new information about the case, but he responded that the information was not new, and that her office should have discovered it earlier. A heated exchange followed -- part of that disagreement has to do with whether Shelhorse is still Payne's attorney!

After Shelhorse revealed that Payne was not the only one with responsibility for the kids in the van that day, Joyce said that she will review the details and decide how to proceed. Shelhorse says they're both due in front of a judge next Wednesday.

You have to hear this.

Previously on Harris Online...

Robert Reich

Today on my show, I talked with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich about the broader issues behind the now-ended UAW/GM strike, and whether the paradigm has shifted for American workers when it comes to job security, healthcare benefits, and pensions.

That led us into a discussion of some of the issues in his new book, "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life." Reich says that we have become more a nation of consumers than citizens, and that capitalism in the US is stronger than ever, but democracy is weaker. To my surprise, he argues that corporate social responsibility is not only a counterproductive distraction, but also against the interests of shareholders.


Full disclosure: my brother Seth was a special assistant to Reich at the Labor Department for several years.

Here's the Robert Reich/Conan O'Brien buddy-cop promo I mentioned in our interview.

Dying Professor's Final Lecture

Professor Randy Pausch gave his final lecture at Carnegie Mellon last week. He won't be back because he has pancreatic cancer and his doctors give him only a few more months to live. He knows that the end of his life will be painful and not pleasant, for himself and for those around him, but he's not a morose, depressed man, who wants to wallow in his hardship.

Instead, he decided to do what he does best -- talk to a roomful of students. A few days ago, he gave his final lecture, "How To Live Your Childood Dreams," reviewing some of the things he had wanted to do as a boy and how his life has been about connecting those dreams to reality.

He wanted to be in zero gravity. He wanted to play in the NFL. He wanted to be Captain Kirk. He wanted to be a Disney Imagineer.

Sure, he hit some obstacles along the way, but Pausch says, "Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls aren't there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want things."

In watching the video of his final lecture, you can see why Pausch was one of the most popular professors at Carnegie Mellon.

[thanks to John K for the link -- note that this runs over an hour, in 4 parts]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

No Charges In Baby Sophia Case

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce was on my show today to explain why she isn't prosecuting the parents of Sophia Knutsen, the 7-month-old baby who died when her parents left her in their car on the Washington University Med School campus on August 23rd.

Joyce says it came down to two words, "criminal negligence," which she could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt, because her office couldn't prove that Russell Knutsen "knew his baby was in his care at the time he parked his car." As for the mother, Beth Ann Kozel, Joyce says that she assumed that her husband knew the baby was in the car when they made the switch, so she can't be held criminally responsible, either.

I also asked Joyce how this differs from the case of Delea Payne, the daycare center driver who is being prosecuted for leaving 3-year-old Ricky Dixon on a van during a field trip to the St. Louis Science Center on August 7th.


Here's Jennifer Joyce's press release on her decision.

Upset Picks Undefeated

Tennessee's 31-14 win over New Orleans last night moves my Upset Picks record for the season to 2-0-1. This week's pick will be posted Thursday.

Gorilla In The Air Tonight

British TV commercial math: Phil Collins song + Guy in gorilla suit = Chocolate bar.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dave Barry, Historian

Dave Barry returned to my show this afternoon to talk about his new book, "Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)." We discussed some of the stories that have made this year so much fun, and reached back for classics from 2000 like Elian Gonzalez and the Bush-Gore election, both of which kept Florida at the top of the Knuckleheads In The News leaderboard.

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

Brothers By The Horns

I missed this one during the Running of the Bulls this summer in Pamplona. This bull not only got two of the idiots runners simultaneously, but it turned out they're brothers. Bull-Butt brothers, as it turns out. [thanks to Jeff Olsen for the link]

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ace In The Hole

New to the Movies You Might Now Know list...

"Ace In The Hole," a 1951 Billy Wilder classic with Kirk Douglas as reporter Chuck Tatum, who stumbles upon the story of Leo Minosa, a man stuck in a cave in a tiny New Mexico town. Seeing this as his opportunity to get back to the bigtime on a newspaper in New York, Tatum orchestrates what we now call a media circus. He not only manipulates the coverage of the story, but Minosa's wife, the sheriff, the rescuers, and the public, too.

When you see it, think of all the stories that get blown out of proportion and exploited for days on end to fill the 24-hour info cycle on all those news networks. The parallels, more than half a century later, are remarkable.

Mark & Marcel

Quick, name the world's greatest living mime. Wrong! Marcel Marceau is dead. Now, who said Shields & Yarnell? While we're on the subject, Mark Evanier has a funny story about how he nearly ruined one of Marceau's TV appearances.

Rams Reality

It's time to be honest about the St. Louis Rams. Those of us here in town see the problems week in and week out, but for some reason, national media and sportscasters calling their games are blind to them. That's why they still refer to the Rams' "high-powered offense." It's a phrase that is not only outdated, but essentially meaningless, too.

As this season's Rams are proving again, the vaunted team that could put up 50+ points a game is a thing of the past, not the present. "High-powered offense" and "Greatest Show Turf" no longer apply -- they refer to the 1999 Rams, when Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and the rest were putting up so many points that they covered the spread virtually every week. That era lasted for a couple of seasons, but came to a screeching halt when the Rams lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots after the 2001 season.

Since then, the Rams offense has struggled to even get in the end zone. It's not good news when your highest-scoring player is your kicker. It means you couldn't convert a drive and had to go for a lot of field goals. This season, the Rams have exactly two touchdowns in three games. Not only do they choke in the red zone, but now Jeff Wilkins, the kicker nicknamed "Money" because he was such a sure thing, is missing from all over the field, too.

Scott Linehan's offense has gotten predictable, and the coach's habit of calling those quick outs on the line of the scrimmage to a wide receiver rarely work for more than a yard or two. Yes, Steven Jackson can still run the ball, and Brian Leonard helps pick up the backfield slack, but where are those 20-30 yard passes downfield that utilize the quickness and receiving ability of Holt and Bruce? Did anyone else notice that Rams castoff Kevin Curtis caught three touchdowns for Philadelphia today?

At least the Rams still have the same level of ability on the defensive side of the ball that they've had for years -- which means they still can't tackle and the pass rush is virtually invisible. That mattered less in the previous era when the offense was putting up so many points that it didn't matter if the defense gave up five touchdowns. But now, when you're making stars of opposition running backs like Carnell Williams and Frank Gore, it's yet another element of a team that's firing on no cylinders.

And yet, week in and week out, the national media and the broadcasters calling the games continue to refer to the Rams' "high-powered offense." It's time to knock it off and come up with a new catch phrase. I suggest "won't get to the post-season, even if they have a ticket."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jon Macks' Emmy Stories

In addition to writing jokes for Jay Leno's monologue every night, Jon Macks also works on a lot of big award shows. He was one of the writers on last weekend's Emmy Awards telecast and spent the evening in the green room with the various stars and semi-stars assembled there.

Today on my show, he shared stories about some of them, including Jeremy Piven, Leslie Caron, the casts of "Roots" and "The Sopranos," and many more. Listen.

Seth Gordon "The King Of Kong"

A documentary about two guys competing for the highest Donkey Kong score ever? Sounds boring -- but it's not! It's "The King Of Kong: Fistful Of Quarters," a new documentary by Seth Gordon, which opens today in St. Louis. I saw a preview a few days ago and really enjoyed it.

As I discussed with Gordon on my show this afternoon, he managed to find a hero (Steve Wiebe) and a villain (Billy Mitchell) to give his story some conflict. Mitchell in particular seems to relish his role as top dog on the classic arcade game ladder, a position he held for two decades until Wiebe came along to challenge him. By the way, according to Gordon, the rivalry continues to this day.

Whether or not you ever dropped a quarter into a Donkey Kong game (and, like me, never made it past the second screen before Mario died), you'll get caught up in this odd little world of guys -- what a surprise, it's an all-male world -- who make it their life to figure out how to beat the games.


Passengers Bill Of Rights Passes!

After months of Kate Hanni pressuring Congress to pass an Airline Passengers Bill Of Rights, we got some good news from Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL) today on my show. He's the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, and one of the legislators responsible for including several of those rights in a new bill that passed overwhelmingly yesterday.

Costello explained that there are still obstacles to overcome, including the Senate and a threatened veto by President Bush. Hanni, who was on with us today, promised to keep pushing until this becomes law. But at least we're one step closer to fighting back against the airlines, and their lousy customer service that leaves passengers stranded on the tarmac for hours at a time with no food, water, or bathrooms.


Couple Of The Year

Imagine living next to this loving twosome in Evansville, Indiana.

Connie Deweese locked the doors so her drunk ex-boyfriend Alejandro Valencio couldn't get in, but that didn't stop him. He climbed on the roof and tried to get in through the chimney. That didn't work out so well, and firefighters had to come and get him out -- but they had to call the cops because Connie was blocking the fireplace, telling them to leave him in there and let him die. The best part of the story is when a TV news crew videotapes Alejandro going back the next day, only to have Connie pelt him with bottles and a garbage can...

[thanks to Chris Files for the contribution]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brett Darrow, Case Dismissed

Brett Darrow, now infamous for his run-in with St. George Police Sgt. James Kuehnlein two weeks ago, was back on my show this afternoon for an update about another police encounter.

This one involved a female officer who accused him of making an illegal u-turn in the city of St. Louis. Brett had his video camera rolling that night, too, and took the evidence to court, ready for trial. Unfortunately, the officer didn't show up to face that (for the second time), so the judge dismissed the case.

I also asked Brett about posts on some online bulletin boards either about him or by him. On at least one CopTalk board, there have been some very ugly things said about Brett, allegedly by members of the law enforcement community (many have been removed by the moderators). On the other hand, some of them claim that Brett has made some very negative comments about certain officers, including the late Norvelle Brown. Brett admits posting on, but denies saying those things about Officer Brown.


Moments after this conversation, word came down that Sgt. Kuehnlein has been given a letter of termination by the city of St. George.

Ken Burns Returns

With his 15-hour documentary series "The War" about to debut Sunday night on PBS, Ken Burns returned to my show today. We discussed the reaction he's had from veterans at early screenings across the country, the difference in media coverage of World War II and the Iraq War,

We also talked about the level of national sacrifice that made up the war effort then, in stark contrast to now, when the war is rarely top-of-mind for most Americans and those of us who don't have family members serving in uniform haven't really been asked by our leaders to sacrifice anything at all.


Upset Pick Week 3

Season-to-date record: 1-0-1. A reminder that I'm only picking underdogs against the spread.

This Monday, take Tennesee +4.5 at New Orleans. After allowing the Colts only one TD last week, the Titans defense will have to step up again and force Drew Brees to hurry his throws behind a weak offensive line.

Don't Tase Me (Remix)

More fun with Andrew Meyer's run-in with the campus cops in Florida...

[thanks to Jon Grayson for the link]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Movies You Might Not Know

New additions to the Movies You Might Not Know list...

"Can Mr. Smith Get To Washington Anymore?" is a well-made documentary about Jeff Smith, a St. Louisan who ran for the congressional seat vacated by Richard Gephardt when he retired. Like "The War Room," this doc takes you behind the scenes with the young candidate and his even-younger campaign staff, as they go door-to-door and day by day in their efforts to win votes and raise money, while taking on a candidate with more name recognition and cash (Russ Carnahan).

"The Astronaut Farmer" is a quiet little Billy Bob Thornton movie about a Texas rancher name Farmer who was once in the astronaut corps, but is now a private citizen who still dreams of going into space. Well, he more than dreams of it. He actually builds a rocket in his barn, but when he tries to buy fuel for it, the FBI and FAA come poking around and try to put a stop to his efforts. Virginia Madsen gives another solid performance as Mrs. Farmer, and Bruce Willis has a small role, too (in his third movie with Thornton). This is a quality family movie, even if it gets a little corny at the end.

Laurel from "Kid Nation"

Just hours before the debut of "Kid Nation" on CBS -- which will be must-see TV in my house, if my daughter has anything to say about it -- I spoke with Laurel, one of the cast members, on my show.

I asked her about the controversy surrounding the show, which put 40 kids in a New Mexico town called Bonanza City to live without adults for 40 days. Laurel explained that, not only did she and the other kids enjoy the experience, she'd love to go back again. Sure, some kids had minor injuries, she says, but nothing worse than they'd get in everyday life.

I asked her what they ate, what jobs they had to do, whether she stays in touch with her co-stars, if she had anything to say about Michael (who will be one of the breakout stars of this show), and more.


Here's a terrific first-person piece by Tammie Womack, the mother of Kennedy, another kid on "Kid Nation":
Sure, kids fell down and went boom. Yes, indeed, kids bickered. Fair enough, they dirtied their hands. All right, my youngun' struggled to make ends meet on her Buffalo Nickel wages. But, haven't we all? Didn't our forefathers? Thus, I stand in judgment for hurling my youngster into the fire. If she got a cactus thorn in her behind, it's my fault. Slap me on the wrist. But, I'd take that whack again in a heartbeat. The kids proved us grownups wrong. Turns out that they don't need our mollycoddling. They can. They will.

Frank DeFord "The Entitled"

Frank DeFord was on my show this afternoon, discussing his new book "The Entitled," a tale of modern baseball.

As a longtime admirer of DeFord's work (particularly in Sports Illustrated), it was a pleasure to talk with him about baseball battles between managers and millionaire athletes, why the steroids scandal hasn't affected ballpark attendance, whether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handled the Bill Bellichek spying story correctly, and more.

I also asked DeFord whether he was happy with the movie version of his football novel, "Everybody's All-American," and whether he thought about how his new book would look as a screenplay. And I had DeFord explain why his 1990-91 attempt at a national daily sports newspaper (The National, which I was a fan of) failed, despite being full of really good writing.

That's only about half of what we talked about. For more, listen, then buy "The Entitled."

Don't Taze Me, Bro!

Listener Bob McCarty jumped on the Andrew Meyer story and is already selling "Don't Tase Me, Bro!" t-shirts and other products.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kathleen Madigan, "Last Comic Standing"

Kathleen Madigan -- one of my favorite standups -- was back on my show today to promote tomorrow night's season finale of "Last Comic Standing." After being one of the comedians competing on the show a couple of years ago, she's been a judge this season.

We talked about the special talent needed to succeed on a show like "LCS," the impact it had on her career, and advice she had for the competing comedians. With her St. Louis roots, we also talked about the Cardinals and Rams.

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

Jailing Parents For Teen Trouble

One of the recurring themes on my show is parental responsibility. Today, I talked with Bob Shockey, the police chief in Arnold (MO), which just implemented a new ordinance that would make parents legally responsible for criminal actions by their children.

The chief explained that this wouldn't be for first offenders, but for repeat offenders who are causing trouble in spots like the block around the Arnold 14 Cine, where dozens of teenagers are dropped off by parents on Friday and Saturday evenings. Some of those kids aren't going to the movie, but instead hang out and cause trouble for nearby businesses. When the police pick up those kids and call their parents, the response from home is often one of disinterest and certainly no desire to discipline their son or daughter.

Under this new ordinance, those parents could be cited and fined up to $500 or jailed for up to 90 days. The question is whether punishing the parents will have any impact on the actions of their offspring. Listen.

Secret Cop Shopper

My wife had an interesting point about Brett Darrow, the guy who videotaped his encounter with St. George Police Sgt. James Kuehnlein on September 7th. She wonders why some smart police department hasn't asked Brett to be their equivalent of a secret shopper.

Many retail outlets hire secret shoppers to come in, browse the items in the store, interact with the clerks, maybe buy something or return something, ask some typical and atypical questions, and take notes on how the staff responds and how well they do their job. Several restaurant chains use the same approach to make sure that their wait staff are at the top of their game. When the secret shopper reports get back to the boss, they can act on them and either reward or reprimand employees for how they're doing their jobs and how well they're keeping the customers satisfied.

Sunday night, my colleague Don Wolff asked St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa how he feels about citizens videotaping his officers on the job, and the Chief said he welcomed it. Jerry Lee, Chief of Police in St. Louis County, agreed and added that when police encounters are captured on video by cameras in patrol cars, the number of complaints has decreased by 40%. That could mean that officers are more aware that their actions are being scrutinized, or it means that the chances to fake a complaint are reduced when you know the video camera is there. Either way, both chiefs see the presence of the equipment as a positive, not a negative.

That's where someone like Brett comes in. As long as he doesn't break the law -- which St. George Police Chief Scott Uhrig admits he did not do on that Friday night -- you can use him as a secret shopper to evaluate how officers are doing in the field. Do they lose their temper too quickly? Do they respect the rights of the person they've stopped? Did they handle the always-dangerous possibilities of a traffic stop in a way that ensured their own safety? Are they pulling people over based on race? Did they read Miranda rights to a suspect? Did the suspect confess and provide information useful to a further investigation? And on and on and on.

If it's good enough for a store like Nordstrom's and a restaurant like Bandana's, surely the secret shopper concept is good enough for law enforcement.


During her life, Barbara Sue Manire was known for her sense of humor. When she died, her family wanted her to be remembered with a smile. So, next to her headstone in Highland Cemetary (in Okemah, Oklahoma), they installed a parking meter with the "time expired" tag sticking up...

[thanks to Michael Nichols for the contribution]

Monday, September 17, 2007

Passengers Bill of Rights update

Kate Hanni of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights was back on my show this afternoon to promote the Strand-In she's planning for Wednesday on the US Capitol lawn. She has set up a 28-foot long mockup of an airplane interior and invited all the members of Congress to experience how bad it can get onboard airplanes that are stranded on the tarmac for hours. Listen.

Jack Goldsmith "The Terror Presidency"

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General in the Bush Administration, about his book "The Terror Presidency."

As head of the Office Of Legal Counsel, Goldsmith got into heated debates with Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, and others regarding the surveillance program, the FISA court, torture policies, and more. We discussed all of that, and the famous encounter with Gonzales and Andrew Card (then White House Chief Of Staff) in John Ashcroft's hospital room over re-authorizing a secret program.

I asked Goldsmith whether the Bush administration used fear as a weapon internally, as it has so often publicly, to scare people into getting what it wants. As an example, Goldsmith says that when he questioned one Bush decision, David Addington (then legal counsel to Dick Cheney) told him, "If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands."

Goldsmith, a conservative attorney and law professor, found himself torn between protecting the nation and following the law and the Constitution. Although at the time he told people he left his position "to spend more time with his family," it's clear that the legal schism in the White House -- and the administration's unwillingness to respect the balance of power with Congress and the courts -- eventually drove him out.


Proposal Prank

Two co-workers had been pranking each other back and forth, raising the bar each time. The topper was when one of them arranged for a marriage proposal for the other's girlfriend -- on the big screen at Yankee Stadium...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Upset Picks Winner

Chalk up a winner in week two. I picked Arizona +3 vs Seattle, and the Cardinals not only beat the spread, but won the game 23-20. My record thus far: 1-0-1. Next pick on Thursday.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Richard Davis, Murdered Soldier

Richard Davis was an American soldier who came back to the US, only to be murdered by some of the men he went to war with in Iraq. It's the basis of the new movie, "In The Valley of Elah," a fictionalized account of Richard's story, starring Tommy Lee Jones as his father, an Army veteran who takes it upon himself to investigate what really happened to his son.

Today on my show, Richard's real father, Lanny Davis, told his son's story and revealed why he thinks his son was brutally killed, and how his disappearance was covered up by the military. This took place in the first year of the war, at a time when negative stories like the not-so-friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman were buried for public relations reasons. It's a tough, fascinating story, which will also be told in the book "Murder In Baker Company" early in 2008.


The Davis family has a website here.

"In The Valley Of Elah" has quite a pedigree, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon -- and it's directed by Paul Haggis, who did "Crash." Here's the trailer...

Finnish YMCA

I needed something silly to end the week, and a listener named Rick provided it. This is a band from Finland performing "YMCA" in Finnish.

Just when you thought you'd seen and heard every cheesy version of the already-cheesy Village People original, take a look at Gregorius. From the high school gym uniform the lead singer is wearing to the four dancers in the background (who look as though they may have just been picked up at the YMCA), this is a giant ball of cheese. The only disappointing thing is that, even with the song title translated to "NMKY" in Finnish, no one is spelling it out with their arms.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good News For Fat Dad

Finally, some good news for Gary Stocklaufer. He's the Missouri man who was told his weight (560+ lbs) was an obstacle to his adopting Baby Max, his cousin's son. With the state's family services department deciding that he was too fat for fatherhood, a judge not only ruled against him, but initially denied him a new hearing.

On my show today, Gary happily announced that the judge has changed his mind and agreed to a new hearing on November 29th, because circumstances have changed -- Gary had gastric bypass surgery and has lost 100 pounds already. He also has a new attorney who knows what he's doing.

But there's more. Gary explained that they've uncovered a money angle behind the state's decisions. Turns out there's federal money that goes to the state adoption agency if it places Baby Max with someone else (under the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which set state incentives for increasing adoption). In other words, Missouri will get thousands of dollars if it denies Gary the right to adopt his own blood relative!

How's that for having the system stacked against you? Makes me wonder whether the weight issue is just a bogus excuse being used by DFS.


Upset Pick, Week 2

Last week's pick (Miami +3 vs. Washington) was a push when the Redskins kicked a field goal to win 16-31.

This week, my upset pick is Arizona +3 vs. Seattle. They're just good enough to beat the spread as a home underdog.

No Flowers For You

Melissa Morin looks just fine in this photo, but her high school won't publish it in their yearbook. Why? Because she's holding that flower.

The school has a "no props in yearbook photos" rule. The principal imposed the rule after an incident in another New Hampshire school where a student posed for his yearbook picture with a gun.

In today's zero tolerance world, you can understand where the same rule that applies to a gun would also apply to a flower, right? Ah, no.

More on the story here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cop Gone Wild Follow-Up

Brett Darrow was back on my show this afternoon to describe his meeting with St. George Police Chief Scott Uhrig and the formal complaint he filed about his encounter last Friday with Sgt. James Kuehnlein.

It turns out that while Darrow has video of the incident, the video shot from the officer's patrol car seems to be lost -- what a surprise! Chief Uhrig admits that his officers have access to the tapes in their vehicles, and could erase or edit out any footage which shows them in a negative light. That's a scenario that's ripe for abuse, particularly in situations like this one.

Because so many have questioned Darrow's motives in having his own camcorder (plus radar detector and police scanner) in his car, I asked him to explain again why he installed the equipment and about his previous run-ins with police. I also asked him if he's contacted a lawyer and plans any legal action against Sgt. Kuehnlein or the city of St. George, and whether he thinks the officer -- who is currently on unpaid leave -- should be fired.

I've been laughing at the commenters who refer to Darrow as a "young punk." His age and his non-aggressive actions should not be a factor in how he was treated. The bottom line here is that Darrow did nothing illegal, which Chief Uhrig acknowledges. Even if Darrow was trying to "catch a cop," that doesn't justify Sgt. Kuehnlein's reaction. If it's okay for police departments and "Dateline NBC" to "Catch A Predator," what's wrong with what Darrow did? If he had caught a sex offender instead of an abusive cop, he'd be universally hailed as a hero.

We have all been in situations where someone abused their power. It may have been a police officer, it may have been a teacher, it may have been a boss, it may have been a politician (!). That doesn't mean that everyone in those positions is bad, but every profession has a few megalomaniacs who don't know when they're stepping over the line. When that happens, they need to be dragged back to the right side, and sometimes it takes a whistle blower like Darrow to bring it out into the open.


Randy Larsen on Homeland Security

This afternoon on my show, I talked with Colonel Randy Larsen, our homeland security consultant, about his new book, "Our Own Worst Enemy."

Randy knows more about this subject than anyone I know, and I like his approach, which is based entirely on keeping things in perspective. He says we're asking the wrong questions about how to keep America safe (like "is our city ready for evacuation in an emergency?"), and that our politicians waste tens of millions of dollars chasing the wrong answers to those wrong questions.


Your Rights In A Traffic Stop

In light of the Brett Darrow police encounter, what are your rights when a cop pulls you over? I invited Scott Morgan of onto my show this afternoon to explain what information you must provide, what you should and shouldn't say, what to do when the officer asks for permission to search your car, and on and on.

Of course, all this advice comes with the caveat that even if you do everything you're constitutionally permitted to do, the cop could still go ballistic on you or even take you off to jail -- a situation you'll have to deal with later, or a decision you should weigh at the time, because even if you're proven to be in the right later on, it may still be a lot more hassle than you want. That doesn't mean you should always be willing to give up your rights, just so you're aware of what you're facing, right or wrong.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cop Gone Wild

This afternoon on my show, Brett Darrow talked about his encounter with St. George Police Sgt. James Kuehnlein last week, in which the officer lost his temper and screamed at Brett while the whole thing was caught on video.

Once you've watched the video, draw your own conclusions on whether Darrow was baiting the cop -- and even if he was, should Sgt. Kuehnlein have taken the bait and gone over the top? You also have to wonder how much Darrow's age (20) had to do with this, whether his previous encounters with the law left him pre-disposed to situations like this, and whether the officer (who is on suspension) really knows the law, as he claims. What's most disturbing about this is Sgt. Kuehnlein's implication that he'll make up reasons to take Darrow to jail.

I also asked criminal defense attorney Chet Pleban -- who is not involved in this matter -- to offer some legal expertise on what information you have to provide if you're stopped by a cop and asked to provide ID and explain what you're doing in a parking lot in the middle of the night. Chet added a few questions for Brett, who provided a few answers.


There's a transcript of the St. George incident here. Darrow was involved in another incident caught on tape on December 30, 2006 -- that video and transcript are here.

Pool On The Road

What do you do when you don't have room in the garage for both your VW bus and your pool table? Combine them, of course...

No word on whether you use your cue stick to change gears, but there are more pix of it here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Michael Isikoff on the Petraeus Report

Today I called upon Newsweek's Michael Isikoff for some analysis of the congressional testimony by General David Petraeus on how The Surge is working. Isikoff says there was no major news other than the number of troops he wants to bring home by next July. That may not be fast enough for some, and it probably has more to do with the troops who will be completing their rotations at that point, and not enough left to replace them.

Either way, you can pick anyone at any spot on the political spectrum, and they'll turn the report into "told you so!" Democrats will frame it as "we're losing, let's get the troops home now" and Republicans will frame it as "we're winning, we can get the troops home now."

With a majority of Americans telling Gallup today that they wouldn't believe the report regardless, and a presidential election year just months away, you have to wonder if this isn't more about US politics than how the war is really going. Incidentally, nowhere in Petraeus' report does he claim that we're "kicking ass," Mr. President.


Stop Something

In 1933, MIT engineer Harold Edgerton invented the high-speed photo strobe. Over the next six decades, he did some experimenting with a camera to create stop-action photography of high-speed events. One of his classic shots was the bullet through the apple...

There's a wonderful compilation of Edgerton's work in the book "Stopping Time." It never ceases to get attention from visitors whenever they see it on my coffee table and become fascinated with his stunning photos.

In 2007, with high-speed video, a similar image is being used as part of an anti-gun commercial from the UK. Whether you agree with their agenda or not, you'll have to admit that this slo-mo video of a bullet destroying various objects is very, very cool.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Friday, September 07, 2007

Rick Ankiel and HGH

With the Rick Ankiel story hitting this morning, lots of people were speculating about human growth hormone and its effect on performance. Not me. I admit to knowing nothing about the stuff, so I called upon an expert, endocrinologist Dr. George Griffing.

I was surprised to hear that there's no evidence that HGH would help batters hit the ball further or enhance performance in any way. He also says that there is no reliable way to test for HGH, so even if it's now against MLB's rules, there's no way to verify that players are or aren't using it.


It amuses me that Cardinal fans are rallying around Ankiel without question. Take "Rick Ankiel" out of the story and put "Barry Bonds" in. What's the reaction then? Or if the name was "Alfonso Soriano" or another dreaded Cubs player?

Ankiel's alleged use of HGH doesn't bother me any more than Bonds' use of whatever he allegedly used. If you're willing to sacrifice your body for my entertainment, go right ahead. I just want to see the ball go over the wall.

Inches From Disaster

In Utah, a driver lost control of his pickup on Highway 59. He hit the guardrail, the truck went airborne, flipped over a culvert, did a 180, and landed on all four tires. Pretty remarkable, as you can see...

But that's nothing compared to the long view of the accident scene, which shows that the truck was literally inches from disaster...

This looks like a photoshop job, but it's an actual accident, as both Snopes and CNN have confirmed.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Worth A Link

James Poniewozik of Time magazine echoes my words from earlier this week and puts the hype and criticism about "Kid Nation" in perspective:

I don't want to minimize the charges against it--reportedly, kids accidentally drank bleach during filming (though they reportedly ended up fine) and one was splattered by hot grease in a kitchen. But I also don't want to join the rush to maximize them. The controversy seems to be much more about the context than the actual hazards. Kids getting injured, having accidents, trying things and getting hurt--sounds kinda like summer camp. The kids' parents also had to sign a long contract, reproduced at The Smoking Gun, releasing CBS from responsibility for injuries, illness or death--again, not unlike the boilerplate liability waiver for adult reality shows or amusement parks. But once a reality show is involved, the moral outrage is ratcheted up, because we all know that reality TV is the Official Most Evil Example of Whatever You Personally Believe Is Wrong With the World.
Read the whole thing here.

Eliminating Drunk Driving

Chuck Hurley, CEO of MADD, thinks drunk driving can be eliminated within 10 years.

Today on my show, he explained the steps that need to be taken to achieve that goal. One of them is something I've advocated for years, and I'm glad to see MADD has made it a priority of their agenda. When a first-time offender is convicted of DUI, they should have to install an ignition interlock on their vehicle, at their own expense. The interlock is essentially a breathalyzer that the driver must blow into, and if it detects too high a level of alcohol, the car will not start. The driver must then blow into it at various intervals during the trip, or the car will turn itself off. It should remain on the vehicle for at least 90 days for a first offense, and much longer for repeat offenses.

That's really the only way to make sure you can't drive when you've had too much to drink. Taking away someone's license after a DUI conviction doesn't get it done, because it doesn't prevent that driver from getting behind the wheel again.

Illinois will become one of the first states with such a law, already signed by Gov. Blagojevich, which goes into effect in January, 2009. The law has been proposed in Missouri, but hasn't made it out of committee yet. Since my advocacy of tougher drunk driving laws has seemed to have an impact on the state's legislators in the past, we'll continue to press them, on behalf of our listeners and ourselves, to ignition interlock legislation this session.

For more of MADD's four-point plan to eliminate drunk driving in the US, listen to my conversation with Chuck Hurley. Then visit the MADD website.

Continuing Fire Department Controversy

The controversy over personnel continues in the St. Louis Fire Department, and it may cost the Chief his job.

Sam Simon, the city's public safety director, has sent a letter to Chief Sherman George, ordering him to make all the promotions necessary to fill the more than 30 positions in the department which have remained vacant for at least three years because of a legal battle over the promotions test.

Today on my show, I asked Mayor Slay's chief of staff Jeff Rainford if this order really came from the mayor, what would happen to Chief George if he did not comply, whether this was a coordinated effort to push the chief out, and whether the Mayor's actions are the result of pressure from Local 73 of the firefighter's union.

We also discussed the appalling number of applicants who failed the fire department entrance exam this summer -- nearly 1,000 out of 1,350 -- and whether the city's withdrawal of that exam and cancellation of its results are because it fears litigation. If it turns out that the majority of those applicants are graduates of the St. Louis public schools, this is a harsh condemnation of a system that failed to teach the basic skills of reading, writing, and math.


In response to the city's letter, Chief George's attorney Tom Blumenthal spoke with my colleague Carol Daniel to rebut the city's claims, explain what the Chief will do now, and whether the order from Sam Simon is legal in the first place.


Shadow Puppets

2 hands + 1 projector = A Wonderful World.

[thanks to Gary Wallner for the contribution]

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Richard Wiseman "Quirkology"

Richard Wiseman's book "Quirkology" has just been published in the US, so he was back on my show today to talk about some of the curious psychology experiments he has conducted.

Many of them include studying lies, deception, and paranormal nonsense. In one, he pitted a "financial astrologer" against a stock broker against a 4-year-old girl to see who could pick winning companies. Guess who won.

Wiseman has also studied visual perception. In May, his Total Recall experiment put two subjects into a room and exposed them to 10,000 images over the course of two days, then tested them to see how many they could recall correctly, with surprising results. In another, he investigated the importance of how you look, whether you're running for political office or you're the defendant in a criminal trial.


If you've enjoyed Wiseman's videos (like the color-changing card trick), or similar books like "Freakonomics," I highly recommend you get a copy of "Quirkology: How We Discover The Big Truths In Small Things."

Here's the reveal on how "Corkology" was done.

The Baby Borrowers

If you think CBS' "Kid Nation" is sparking some controversy, take a look at this BBC show.

With England's high teen pregnancy rate, "The Baby Borrowers" follows several teenage couples as they are given a suburban house to live in and a baby to take care of for three days. If critics are concerned about the parents of the "Kid Nation" participants giving reality show producers responsibility for their children, how about the real parents of these babies allowing them to be taken care of by these teenagers? We're not talking about babysitting for a few hours while you're out to dinner, we're talking about complete control of the tots for 72 hours.

But that's not all. After three days with babies, the teen couples are given a toddler. Then they move on to a tween, then a teenage of their own, and finally, they have to take care of a senior citizen who lives with them.

If all of this seems alarming or strangely British, wait for the American version -- NBC has signed a deal to bring "The Baby Borrowers" here. And don't fool yourself. There will be plenty of teens who want to participate, and plenty of parents willing to give up their kids just to be part of a TV show.

Warning: strong language

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Steve Fossett

With adventurer Steve Fossett missing somewhere in western Nevada -- and his longtime connections to St. Louis -- take a listen to my interview with him from last fall when we talked about why he does what he does, despite the risks.

Weird Beards

Two entrants from the World Beard and Mustache Championships this weekend in Brighton, England.