Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Goodbye, Normund


On WLS/Chicago this morning, Dave Dellaterza and I mourned the loss of Nick Mitchell as an "American Idol" contestant. His Normund Gentle character injected more fun into the show than anyone else in the series' history, but chances are thin that he'll be asked back for the upcoming wild card round. Since Dave backed Nick/Normund on VoteForTheWorst.com, as he did Tatiana the week before, his track record this season isn't so good, but that doesn't keep him from having lots to say about which singers we've seen -- and will see this week -- deserve to stick around.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pat Congrats


Congratulations to Pat Walsh, a St. Louisan who just finished fifth in the LA Poker Classic main event, earning over $340k. Everyone here has known for a long time that Pat's a helluva player, and no-limit hold'em isn't even his best game -- he's an unbelievable pot-limit Omaha player with a national reputation. Since this was a WPT event, you'll see Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten talking about him when the final table airs in a few months.

Pat joins a group of guys who have been representing St. Louis very well in big tournaments for a couple of years: Dan Nassif (9th in the 2006 WSOP main event), Kyle Koechner (two final table finishes at the WSOP last summer), Pat McMillan (won a PLO event earlier at the LAPC), and of course, Dennis Phillips (3rd at the WSOP main event in November).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Final Table #5: Mori Eskandani


Of all the TV poker shows, "High Stakes Poker" is the best, because we get to see top pros playing real cash game poker strategies with their own money on the line, and talking it up around the table, too. With season five debuting this Sunday at 8pm CT on GSN, Dennis Phillips and I invited Mori Eskandani, the executive producer of "High Stakes Poker" (and "Poker After Dark" and the "Heads-Up Championship") to be a guest on my radio show, The Final Table.

Mori's the guy who recruits the players, and he has added some young internet pros and older high stakes cash players to the returning group, which includes Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Phil Laak, and others.

We asked Mori to explain how long they play and how much of the session we see, how Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza do their commentary, whether having ultra-rich players like Guy Laliberte changes the game, and whether he's thought of doing a show where they play Pot Limit Omaha instead of No Limit Hold'em. He also told us why he's limited the buy-in to a max of $500,000 this season while raising the minimum to $200,000.

Also on our show, Dennis talked about his adventures at the LAPC at the Commerce Casino, where he didn't play any particularly exciting hands, but a friend of his was involved in a triple-suckout. And you won't want to miss the story of the poker pro and the three hookers!

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amazing Windy Race


The new season of "The Amazing Race" is off to a good start, although its ratings were no doubt blunted by competing with the Oscars this week. I don't know why CBS insisted on beginning this edition of the show two weeks ago, knowing it would then be up against one of the most-viewed shows of the year, when they could easily have debuted it this Sunday instead.

Still, "TAR" continues to be the best reality competition on television, with the fascinating travelogue and detours (and less emphasis on airport drama) adding stress to the pre-existing relationships and quirks of the well-cast and extremely diverse teams. This season, along with some of the usual types, we have not only the mother-and-deaf-son team of Margie and Luke, but also the gay-guys team of screenwriter Mike White ("School of Rock") and his father Mel.

It was thanks to Mel, whose groin pull added extra drama to a hang-gliding roadblock Sunday night, that we got something rather unusual in reality TV, as Alan Sepinwall observes:

The drama with the shifting winds led to one of my favorite reality show moments ever, in Mel White's refusal to pray for them to change in his favor. It's such a staple of reality TV (and sports, for that matter) for people to crassly assume that God cares about who wins a game show (or a football game) and will reward whoever makes the loudest/earliest/most frequent prayers in His name, that it's so refreshing to hear someone instead believe that God has more important things to worry about. It sort of reminded me of David Cook's refusal to pimp out his dying brother for votes last season on "American Idol," in that reality TV has so lowered the bar for what we accept as human behavior in certain situations that it's almost startling to see people behave reasonably, or in any kind of manner that favors dignity over personal gain.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Sandy Day

Today's office time-killer: playing with sand, virtually [thanks to Mike Floge for the link]

Oscar Snark

The best commentary on last night's Oscars telecast is by Ken Levine.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Vote For The Worst


With "American Idol" entering its voting phase for season eight this week, I invited Dave Dellaterza back to my WLS/Chicago show this morning. He's the guy behind VoteForTheWorst.com, the website dedicated to keeping the least talented contestants on the show for as long as possible.

We talked about the now-departed drama queen Tatiana (who Dave hopes will return in the wild card round), the blandness of this week's other contestants, and our hopes for Nick Mitchell's alter ego, Norman Gentle. We also discussed the addition of Kara DioGuardi as the fourth judge, why Simon Cowell is more than just an adjudicator of musical talent, and why the show's producers shut down one contestant's website while allowing another's.

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

High Speed Rail


The Obama stimulus package includes $8 billion for high speed rail across the country, which is good news for Rick Harnish. He's the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and has been lobbying for more money to build out a better infrastructure to move Americans by train.

Today on WLS/Chicago, we talked about what that money means for people in this part of the country (as opposed to the Acela corridor on the east coast or the plans for high-speed trains connecting southern and northern California). He claims that within a couple of years, we could see trains moving at over 100 mph between cities. Although that's nowhere near the 200+ mph of trains in Europe and Asia, it's a beginning. I questioned him about whether there would be enough rail passengers to support such an infrastructure, considering how much Amtrak is already in the red.

For his answers, listen here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ebert on Siskel


To mark the 10th anniversary of Gene Siskel's death today, Roger Ebert remembers his colleague and close friend in a piece that will make you wish that someday, someone will say those words about you. He also includes video from "Remembering Gene Siskel," the show Ebert did a week after Siskel succumbed to brain cancer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Flying Economy

If you had walked into the East Terminal at Lambert Airport this morning, you wouldn't have believed we're in a recession.

I was there to catch a 7am flight to Vegas, where I'll play in a couple of tournaments this weekend. Normally, if I get there by 6am, I can breeze through, get a bagel and juice and a newspapers, and have plenty of time to get on the Southwest non-stop.

Today was anything but normal. The place was packed, with the line for the security checkpoint almost out the door. Only two airlines operate out of that terminal -- USA 3000 is the other one, and this was one of the days they fly to Orlando and other warm places.

Among the hundreds of people waiting to do the TSA dance were lots of families taking advantage of the holiday weekend to get away, with dozens of bleary-eyed children clutching teddy bears while trying to temper their early-morning exhaustion with their excitement about going to Disneyworld. I looked at them and thought, kid, if you think this is bad, wait until you see the line for Space Mountain.

Although one TSA agent went through the line lying to us ("this will only be a few minutes more"), another agent -- aware that some of these travelers may not fly very often and were thus unaware of the security rules -- kept going through the line offering plastic bags for liquids and gels and reminding people to throw away their water bottles. Still, there are always some people who don't pay attention, and they were the ones slowing down the proceedings even more. One guy in front of me either didn't understand what metal is, or he was begging for a strip search. If you listened closely, you could hear the more experienced flyers in line silently shouting, "C'mon buddy, I got a plane to catch!"

In the end, instead of the usual 5 minutes to clear security, it took me about 35 to get to the other side, where I quickly grabbed some breakfast to go and made it onto the plane with minutes to spare. Surprisingly, there was still room in the back -- even an aisle seat! -- but by the time everyone else made it, we were at capacity, and I wondered again what all of this said about the state of our economy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nanny MODOT

Last spring, MODOT added variable speed limit signs to Interstate 270. Instead of keeping it at 60mph all the time, they lower it (but never go higher) on occasion when they feel conditions warrant. Yesterday was one of those occasions, when the rain was really coming down during afternoon rush and traffic was jammed so much we were crawling at about 20mph, without an accident in sight.

My question: if drivers were already going that speed, why change the sign to tell us the speed limit was now 40mph? We didn't need the taunting ("you could be going twice as fast!"). In fact, we didn't need the state to spend who-knows-how-much to regulate behavior we were handling just fine on our own.

For decades, we've been able to determine what the correct speed was, based on traffic conditions. You just stayed with the traffic flow and you were good. Thanks, Nanny MODOT!

Eight Misbehavin'

Scott Reames wonders if this was the inspiration for Nadia Suleman's octuplets.

Final Table #3: Greg Raymer

On this week's installment of The Final Table, the poker radio show I'm doing with Dennis Phillips, we talked with Greg Raymer, who won the 2004 World Series Of Poker Main Event (and then went on to finish 25th in a huge field the next year, too).

Last month, Greg played in the World Cup of Poker, a international team event with a unique format. We also discussed all the requests he's gotten to back other players since becoming a poker millionaire, why he doesn't like the WSOP decision to do away with re-buy tournaments this year, and the poker training he's doing with his new video website.

In another segment, our regular contributor Joe McGowan, the poker coach, explained how to profile players from the moment you sit down at the table, and how important it is to pay attention even when you're not in a hand. And Josh Schindler, The Poker Lawyer, explained how tournament players can parlay their success at the table into lucrative endorsement deals.

You'll get all of that when you listen to the show, or you can click here to subscribe to get all of my podcasts each week via iTunes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jury Duty

Three weeks ago, on the day that Barack Obama became President #44, I became Juror #681.

That's the number assigned to me when I reported for jury service in the St. Louis County Circuit Courts, ready for a day that I knew would not include my being impaneled.

Several attorneys have told me they would never choose me because they try to keep the jury room free of opinionated people who might try to sway the verdict by injecting reason and rational thought into the process. Logic and the ability to persuade, while central to the talents of a talk show host, are apparently anathema to the jury process. Besides that, I have a beard, which is an immediate giveaway that I’m a witch who has the ability to cloud men’s minds. Wait, that’s The Shadow. Anyway, there was no chance I’d become a juror that day.

So, I brought along some reading material and some headphones and sat patiently in the Jury Assembly Room with several hundred other county residents. Court personnel made announcements about how to get reimbursed for our parking, how much we’d get paid for our service, which forms to take back to employers as proof we’d been there, etc. Every half hour or so, a bailiff from one of the courtrooms would appear, call out a couple dozen names, and those people would forlornly pick up their belongings and go off to do their part in the legal process.

Meanwhile, quite a few people had found chairs in one of the two areas with televisions, where they were watching the inaugural pre-game show going on in Washington. By 10:40am, with the oaths of office about to be sworn by Biden and Obama, those rooms were overflowing with American citizens who wanted to witness history, myself included.

At 10:42am, another bailiff appeared to call a group of jurors away. Everyone let out a moan in unison, and those whose names were called looked even more upset than usual. The ones left behind let out a sigh of relief as we went back to concentrating on the events in DC.

No bailiffs appeared for the next hour, so we sat there watching America’s first black President take the oath of office. Some applauded, some cried, some were just happy to have the diversion. While feeling proud of how far the US had come in my lifetime, I couldn’t help but think how odd it was to see this moment in our nation’s executive history pass while sitting on the sidelines of our judicial system.

I wanted to be chosen. I’ve been called for jury duty several times, but never served on a case, and would like to experience that at least once. I don’t want a civil case that’s going to drag on for months and include experts testifying about the chemical effects of exposure to chlorine gas under high pressure in a subterranean blah blah blah -- but I wouldn’t mind spending a day or two on a fairly simple criminal case.

Problem is, I know I’ll never make it to the jury box. The closest I’ve gotten was undergoing voir dire with 20 or so other prospective jurors several years ago. The attorneys were questioning each of us, before accepting or rejecting us as arbiters of justice:

They started with a woman who had applied so much hairspray to her head that she risked spontaneous combustion every time she passed anything as warm as a glowing incandescent bulb.

Attorney 1: Mrs. Jenkins, you say that your son has been the victim of a crime similar to the one involved in this case. Do you think that would keep you from rendering an impartial verdict in this matter?

Mrs. Jenkins: There’s no way I can be objective when it comes to scumbags like the guy you’re defending.

Attorney 1: She’s acceptable, your honor.

Next was a guy in his mid-20s who had last showered in junior high school and had come to court wearing an MTV Spring Break t-shirt.

Attorney 2: Mr. Belton, have you or anyone in your family ever been involved in an automobile accident?

Mr. Belton: Yes, all of us were in a minivan that was hit by an 18-wheeler last year. Although none of us was seriously injured, I tracked down the next-of-kin of the truck driver in order to steal their identities and ruin their financial life by filing false reports with two of the three major credit agencies.

Attorney 2: He’s acceptable, your honor.
Then it was my turn.

Attorney 1: Mr. Harris, I always enjoy your radio show.

Me: Thank you.

Attorney 1: You’re excused.
That was it, I was out of there.

On inauguration day, my role as a cog in the judicial wheel was complete at 4pm. Along with the hundred or so other leftovers, I collected my paperwork from the clerk, who assured us that in about three weeks, we’d get a check for $11.37 to reimburse us for our time.

She also told us that, even though we hadn’t been chosen, our presence had served as an impetus for some of the parties to settle their cases or reach plea bargains. I assumed their attorneys took one look at us and decided there was no way they were going to leave their clients’ fates in our hands.

After all, most of us at this point were men with beards.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Valet Values

As I was coming home from an evening out tonight, I noticed that the two women who were working as parking valets kept running to get the cars. There was a steady stream of customers, so they were fairly busy, but as soon as they brought a car to the door and handed over the keys to its owner, they ran to pick up another ticket and get another car.

It was good to see them hustle like that, particularly after a recent experience I'd had with the exact opposite behavior. A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Tunica, the valets at the hotel never ran anywhere. I didn't have a stopwatch, but I don't think it even qualified as walking briskly. Meandering, perhaps. Tortoises were passing these guys, despite a dozen or so people waiting patiently for their cars.

When the valet brought my car tonight, I tipped her nicely for doing her job so well and told her about my experience down south. She commented, "Sounds like a couple of idiots. Don't they realize we do this for tips, and the more cars we get, the more we make?"

Exactly! Then she ran off to retrieve another car.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Final Table #2: Barry Greenstein

On this week's edition of The Final Table, we talked at length with poker legend Barry Greenstein. Barry has won 3 WSOP bracelets, 2 WPT titles, and millions of dollars in both tournaments and cash games over the years. He's also author of the poker strategy book "Ace On The River."

Dennis says,

"I got to know Barry when he was nice enough to play in my Chip Leader Challenge -- a two-table $10,000 buy-in event I put on at the new Poker Lounge at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas two days before the final table of the 2008 WSOP -- along with Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Hevad Khan, David Benyamine, and several other pros. It was some very tough competition that helped me hone my skills at a crucial time."
Speaking of the WSOP, since Bary is on the committee that recommended changes for this year's series, he explained why they decided to get rid of the re-buy events. We also discussed his early days of playing poker around Illinois while working on his PhD in math, and what it was like in the days before you could go to a local casino and find a game any time.

Listen here, or subscribe to all of my podcasts via iTunes by clicking here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Schneier On Security

I have been impressed with the work of Bruce Schneier, a security expert who has taken on the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, questioning their methods and the whole notion of protecting us from attack.

Schneier joined me on my WLS/Chicago show yesterday to talk about whether we are in fact safer with current airport procedures than those before 9/11 and whether government and private industry are doing enough to harden security at possible terrorist targets like nuclear and chemical plants. We also talked about technology's role in global security (e.g. whether Google Earth deserved the criticism after investigators found that the terrorists who shot up Mumbai in November had used the imaging information to plan their attack), and about the restrictions on taking liquids onto commercial flights -- the 3.5-ounce rule -- and whether there was any proof that a terrorist could construct a bomb from two liquids they mixed in an airplane lavatory.

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


Bruce Schneier is the author of "Schneier on Security" and "Beyond Fear." Read his blog here.

Don't Blame The Game

Next month is the one year anniversary of the shooting at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. April will mark the second anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech and the tenth anniversary of the rampage at Columbine High School.

In each of those cases, along with many others in the intervening years, questions were asked about what turned the boys involved into murderers, and far too often there was a leap to judgment and part of the blame was put on violent video games. In our national desire to find a scapegoat cause for everything, conclusions were reached, hands were wrung, and laws were passed regarding the sale of those games. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that the shooters were any more obsessed with those games than the people of both genders, by the millions, who have played them and never shot anyone.

That's what Professor Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M, who conducted extensive research into the subject, told me yesterday on my WLS/Chicago show. You can listen to our conversation here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!