Friday, May 29, 2009

Leno's Last, Until Fall

With Jay Leno's run on the "Tonight Show" ending tonight, my thoughts turn to my friend Jon Macks, who has been on Jay's staff as a monologue joke writer since the very first show 17 years ago.

When Jon and I spoke a few days ago, I asked if he was going to be on Jay's new primetime NBC show this fall.  He said he didn't know yet.  As far as the staff is concerned, their jobs end tonight, and they'll find out sometime in July if they're going to be part of the new crew.  I'm confident Jon will be back with Jay, because he's one of the best joke-writers in the business.  Meanwhile, he's very in demand writing awards shows, the PBS July 4th show, and speeches for all sorts of big shots.

As for Leno's finale, it won't be anything like Carson's goodbye because Leno's really only going on hiatus before changing dayparts.  And whether you liked him or not, you have to give him credit for 17 years of success that many people thought couldn't possibly happen (particularly in the early years when Helen Kushnick was still running his career and show).

Mark Evanier has much more to say about this, and I agree with everything he's written on the subject.

Worth A Link

Your underwear is a leading economic indicator.

Tweeting in Vegas

Several friends have suggested I try Twitter for updates from Vegas, where I'm headed tonight for a week at the World Series Of Poker. When I can, I'll post about the tournaments and cash games I'll play, and whatever side nonsense I get caught up in. My tweets will show up at the top of this blog, and I'd be happy to have you subscribe by following me. Let's see how this goes.

KIRO Friday


I'll be back on KIRO/Seattle today from 11am to 2pm CT. Among my guests:You can listen live here.

Baseball Dance Off

You're a college baseball player from University of South Florida or University of Connecticut, and you're in the Big East Tournament, but your game is being held up by a 5-hour rain delay. What do you do? Dance, of course!


[thanks to Jon Michelson for the link]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Phil Plait vs. Jenny McCarthy

My friend Dr. Phil Plait has been taking on Jenny McCarthy lately. Why does an astronomer (and one of the web's top science bloggers) have a problem with a has-been actress? Turns out McCarthy is part of the anti-vaccination movement, and has been going around proclaiming that vaccines cause autism -- a claim that has no basis in scientific evidence whatsoever, and is thus truly dangrous.

Today on KIRO/Seattle, I invited Phil to explain the battle between people of reason and people of nonsense, the role Oprah Winfrey is playing in the story, and whether he blames anti-vaxxers for the recent death of a four-month-old child in Australia who died of whooping cough.

Then we moved on to Phil's role as President of the James Randi Educational Foundation and its upcoming Amazing Meeting 7, his thoughts as an astronomer on the new "Star Trek" movie, and why we spent a billion dollars repairing the Hubble Space Telescope.

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


Update 5/31/09: The father of the Australian girl writes:
Hi Paul,

Thanks for your support & interest in our daughter's short life. On your site you say Dana was 4 months old when she died. She was 4 weeks old when she died, so was not old enough to have have the vaccination for pertusssis. She depended on herd immunity for protection, unfortunately our area of NSW on the North Coast is home to Australia's anti-vac movement. The AVN has affected the rate of vaccination, as Phil says. Could you fix up your site, as I know the anti-vac people will jump on her age as a point of debate, when there really shouldn't be one.

Cheers
David McCaffery

Bad Mother

Four years ago, best-selling novelist Ayelet Waldman wrote an essay for the New York Times in which she called herself a bad mother and admitted that she loved her husband more than her four children. There was more to it than that, but those were the points that raised hackles across the country, and brought down a storm of derision upon her. She was crucified on "The View," lambasted by Oprah's studio audience, and bombarded with hate e-mail.

Today on KIRO/Seattle, she recounted her story, expanded on what she really meant, revealed how much positive feedback she also received, and talked about her new book, "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace." By the way, she has a helluva sense of humor.

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

Tax This

There's been some buzz this week about instituting a national sales tax (or value added tax, as the Europeans all it), which would apply to not only goods you purchase, but services, too. Supporters claim it would cut down on income taxes while raising billions to fight the national debt. Opponents counter that it would be regressive, in that those at the bottom of the economic ladder, who don't pay much in income tax, would be penalized because they spend more on everyday consumables as a percentage of their income.

On KIRO/Seattle, I talked it over the pros and cons with Bob McKenzie of the Center For Tax Justice.

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

Tim And Tom


When I was on WHAS/Louisville a few weeks ago, I planned on talking with both Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen about their years as America's first (and last) interracial comedy team, as recounted in their book, "Tim & Tom: An American Comedy In Black And White." Unfortunately, Tim couldn't make it, but Tom and I had a good conversation. Afterwards, he promised me that he'd get Tim to join us another time, which is exactly what happened Tuesday on KIRO/Seattle.

With both of them on the phone, we discussed the genesis of the act, how difficult it was to get booked into nightclubs, and why there hasn't been a black-and-white comedy team since they broke up. We also discussed their individual careers, including Tim's years as Venus Flytrap on "WKRP In Cincinnati" (and his attempts to fight racial stereotyping there) and Tom's career as a touring standup (including many years opening for Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and others).

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


Here's my original interview with Tom Dreesen.

KIRO Today


I'll be back on KIRO/Seattle today from 11am to 2pm CT. Among my guests:You can listen live here.

Worst Slide Story

From editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsman, here's a recession parody to the tune of some songs from "West Side Story." [thanks to Stuart Snyder for the link]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bloggers On The Bus


What role did the blogosphere play in electing Barack Obama? Eric Boehlert says bloggers' influence was both enormous and historic. He makes the case in "Bloggers On The Bus: How The Internet Changed Politics and the Press," which we discussed today on KIRO/Seattle.

Boehlert explained how and why so many individuals got involved online, and how the Obama campaign used their passion to develop widespread internet support unlike any other. He also offers props to Ron Paul, the only Republican who understood the power of netroots, but found his party unwilling (or unable) to run with that ball.

Boehlert talked about which bloggers became stars, capable of driving the day's news agenda with their investigations and commentary, even without recognition from the mainstream media, which continues to ignore them (what's the last time you saw a powerful blogger included on a cable news panel of pundits?). I also asked him whether the liberal blogosphere's targeting of Sarah Palin last summer was over the top, or merely a mirror image of the way conservative broadcast media attacked and drooled over the Clintons and Nancy Pelosi.

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

Umping It Up


Bruce Weber went to an umpire training academy a few years ago and was fascinated by the experience and the people. Over the next three years, he spent time with umps at both the minor league and major league level, learning about their profession and listening to their stories. He has now compiled them into "As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travel's In The Land Of Umpires."

He joined me today on KIRO/Seattle to talk about the book, from why there's no such thing as a consistent strike zone to how much a catcher can influence what an ump calls to whether umps treat baseball's superstars differently. We disagree on the use of instant replay, as Weber is a purist who doesn't mind using it for boundary and home run calls, but doesn't want it used for close plays on the bases. I also asked him if, in all the stories he heard from umpires, any of them has ever reversed a call because a manager came up and yelled in his face.

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

Department of Duh

I just received my electric bill from AmerenUE. Inside was my Personal Energy Report, which lays out how much electricity we've used in each of the last three years, broken down monthly. And right there in the middle of the page is this useful reminder:

"Remember...reducing your usage will reduce your monthly bill!"
Gee, thanks. Right back atcha:
"Remember...reducing the amount of useless information you mail to your customers will cut down on your printing and postage costs, allowing you to pass along the savings and reduce rates!"

Madame Justice

About an hour after President Obama announced his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, I spoke with Robert Klonoff, who was a classmate and friend of hers at Yale Law School. From his position as Dean of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, Klonoff explained why he knew she was destined for a huge career all those years ago.

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

Final Table #18: WSOP Eve

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked about last-minute preparations for the 2009 World Series Of Poker, which starts tomorrow.

After we talked about the busy two days Dennis will have after landing in Vegas this morning, we made prop bets on how many people will show up for some of the best-known events and which former champion has the best chance of winning the Champions Invitational, and revealed our fantasy picks for which pros are likely to have the best success at this year's WSOP.

Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan explained why he likes wearing sunglasses at the table, and Dennis explained why he doesn't. That led into a discussion of facial tells to watch for, including what it means when your opponent is staring you down. Then we got into a hand I played recently where I flopped a set of jacks and, before I had a chance to bet, had to make a big decision against three opponents.

Next week, we'll do the show from Vegas, where all three of us are looking forward to playing in the WSOP (I'll get there Friday night).

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

KIRO Today


I'll be back on KIRO/Seattle today from 11am to 2pm CT. Among my guests:You can listen live here.

Ask President Carter

In March, 1977, President Jimmy Carter took to the airwaves for a live radio call-in show to answer questions from average Americans. The response was enormous -- some 9,000,000 phoned the White House during the show, and many of them got through to ask whatever they wanted, unscreened.

Not long after, "Saturday Night Live" aired this parody, with Bill Murray as the show's host, Walter Cronkite, and Dan Aykroyd as the President (never mind the moustache). The highlight was Aykroyd's Carter talking down a caller who had dropped some acid by suggesting he have a beer and listen to some Allman Brothers...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Debate Du Jour

I love the irony of California, supposedly the most liberal state in the country, banning something that's legal in Iowa and four other states. In light of the California Supreme Court's ruling upholding Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage, here's a column I wrote on the matter about five years ago which still holds true.

Bill Of Rights Monument


Several years ago, I told you about efforts by my friend Chris Bliss to erect a monument to the Bill of Rights. It began as his response to activists like Judge Roy Moore erecting monuments to the Ten Commandments, but took on its own momentum when Chris discovered that there is no such Bill of Rights monument anywhere in the US.

So, he took on the cause and is now close to his first success story. The state of Texas (!) has approved a Bill Of Rights Plaza -- a beautiful display that's more than just a plaque on a wall -- and Chris is now raising funds to make it reality. He joined me on KIRO/Seattle yesterday to talk about the bipartisan support he's developed in Austin.

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


You can see artist's renderings of the proposed Bill Of Rights Plaza and make your contribution via MyBillOfRights.org, where Chris also has info on how to get a similar project started in your state (or municipality).

In his alternate universe, Chris is a comedian and juggler, who become an internet star via the viral video of one of his performances to the tune of a Beatles classic...

Today on KIRO/Seattle


I'll be back on KIRO/Seattle today from 11am to 2pm CT.

At the top of the show, Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen will join me to talk about their book, "Tim & Tom: An American Comedy In Black & White." It's about their years as America's first (and last?) interracial comedy team, long before Tim became Venus Flytrap on "WKRP In Cincinnati" and Tom became one of the top touring comics and Frank Sinatra's headliner for years.

You can listen live here.

Cap & Gown & Ellen

If you're a celebrity and you're invited to give a commencement address, don't give them the standard stuff. You're better off making it funny, as Ellen DeGeneres did at Tulane a few days ago...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Who Served?

Gerald Seib has a piece in the Wall Street Journal bemoaning the diminishing number of military veterans in Congress.  He compares the numbers to those of 30 and 40 years ago -- when you had a higher percentage of men in the Capitol, and they were likely to have served (and/or been drafted) during the Vietnam or Korean War, not to mention WWII -- and wonders what effect this has on national policy.

In reading it, I thought of the many listeners I've talked to who believe that if you haven't served in the military you're somehow less of an American.  As one who was too young for the draft and never volunteered for service, I find this notion ludicrous.  While I have respect for those who serve, and greatly appreciate their making the sacrifice so I didn't have to, I reject the notion that wearing the uniform somehow puts you on a higher plane as a citizen of this great nation, or makes you more of a patriot.

With so many ways to contribute to this society, why argue over who's a "better American"?  Did the armed forces veteran contribute more than the elementary school teacher, or the cop on the beat, or the operating room nurse, or the legal aid lawyer, or the entrepreneur who created jobs for a community?

Rather than debating patriotism, it's more important to recognize all of those contributions and, in the case of our veterans, ensure that they're taken care of properly when their service concludes.  From those who come home missing a limb to those who suffer from PTSD to those who return mentally and physically intact, it is incumbent upon our system to guarantee that each of them receives the attention they require.

That's why the matter of how many veterans serve in Congress is less relevant than how much Congress serves our veterans -- and not just on Memorial Day.

China Dull

Nancy Pelosi is getting some criticism today because of what she didn't say.

It has nothing to do with waterboarding or the CIA. She's in Beijing, and some human rights groups are upset that she didn't use the opportunity to denounce China's horrible human rights record -- particularly with the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre a week away. Hillary Clinton heard the same complaints when she went to China a few weeks ago. In Pelosi's case, she has never been shy about criticizing the Chinese government from her soap box in the US, so why is she remaining silent on it while there?

Simple: you don't diss the landlord to his face. And China is our landlord. Without their loans, the US would be in even bigger financial trouble than we are right now. They've invested huge amounts in us, and the last thing we need is for them to get pissed off and call those loans.

Talk is cheap, and so is the dollar.

Worth A Link

Memorial Day In Seattle


I'm filling in for Dave Ross on KIRO/Seattle (now at 97.3 FM) today from 11am-2pm CT. Among my guests:
  • Chris Bliss, the man behind the Bill Of Rights Plaza in Texas
  • Alaska radio personality Rick Rydell, on Sarah Palin, oil drilling, and more
You can listen live here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Good Morning, Chicago


I'm on The Big 89 WLS/Chicago this morning from 5 to 8am CT. You can listen live here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tom Davis, Again


I had so much fun talking with Tom Davis a few weeks ago on WHAS/Louisville, that I invited him back for another conversation today on KIRO/Seattle to touch on some topics we didn't get to last time.

Tom was one of the original writers on "Saturday Night Live," along with his partner Al Franken. While there, he helped Bill Murray craft his Nick The Lounge Singer character, co-created The Coneheads, and became friends with Don Pardo, the veteran NBC announcer who worked all but one season of "SNL" before retiring last weekend at the age of 91.

We talked about why he and the rest of the original crew left after the first five years -- and how the culture had changed when he eventually returned -- as well as how much easier it was to get a sketch on the air then compared to now, and why they couldn't help drive some characters into the ground.

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

Tom's autobiography is "39 Years of Short Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There."

Politics of Pot

Since President Obama took office, there's been some talk about changing the federal government's attitude about illegal drugs, specifically marijuana. Today on KIRO/Seattle, I talked it over with Jacob Sullum (senior writer at Reason magazine, author of "Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use," and an expert on the failed war on drugs).

We discussed the case of Eddy Lepp, who was sentenced this week to 10 years in prison, with no chance of parole, because of horrific federal statutes. Lepp was growing medical marijuana in California, where it's legal, to try to help sick people, and we can't have that.

Jacob also explained the chances of pot becoming deregulated and taxed -- at a time when federal and state coffers could use every dime -- and we talked about a recent piece by Michael Winerip in the NY Times in which he says that, when he was younger he was much more tolerant of drug use than he is now as an adult with his own kids.

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

Fact-Checking Cheney

After Dick Cheney's speech yesterday, the journalists at McClatchy's DC bureau fact-checked what he said and found a lot of omissions and misstatements. This morning on KIRO/Seattle, bureau chief John Walcott joined me to recap them.

My favorite part of the speech was when Cheney accused the Obama administration of not following through on its promise of open government. That's like Barry Bonds accusing another player of not taking a drug test. Or Bristol Palin being a spokesperson for abstinence. Or the "Lost" writers complaining about another show's plot being too confusing.

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

Radio Torture

At first, it seemed like a wacky radio stunt idea -- a host who doesn't think waterboarding is torture, so let's have him waterboarded live on the air. It took all of five seconds to change his mind.

The host is Erich "Mancow" Muller, who's on the air 9-11am CT on WLS/Chicago with Pat Cassidy. Watch how a few closely-monitored moments made him reverse his opinion, and he was still shaking an hour later...

KIRO/Seattle Today


I'm filling in for Dave Ross on KIRO/Seattle (now at 97.3 FM) today from 11am-2pm CT. You can listen live here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mr. Deputy Secretary

For the last couple of months, all the members of the Harris family have been waiting for Congress to approve one of us. He's my brother, Seth, who was nominated by President Obama to become our next Deputy Secretary of Labor.

I haven't said anything about it publicly because he was going through the vetting process and a confirmation hearing in the House, and the last thing Seth needed was for me to open my mouth and give some right-wing nutjob a reason to block his nomination. We went through that scenario in the 1990s when Seth worked in the Labor Department as a Special Assistant to both Secretaries Robert Reich and Alexis Herman, but was prevented from ascending to the office of Deputy by one GOP senator who didn't like something Seth had written in a law review piece many years ago.

For me, it was yet another lesson in why I hate the machinations of politics. For Seth, it was business as usual.

This time around, things were a little easier. He overcame the objections of another GOP senator, who didn't like a policy put in place by current Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and used Seth's confirmation hearing as an opportunity to grandstand and show the folks back home that he was on their side -- even though Seth had absolutely nothing to do with it, and said so at the hearing. Once the Senator got his C-SPAN moment, he and the rest of the committee gave Seth their vote without objection earlier this week.

A few minutes ago, Seth called to tell me that he had just received approval from the entire United States Senate, which signed off on his nomination under a "unanimous consent" vote. That means he's been officially confirmed, and on Tuesday morning will be sworn in as Deputy Secretary of Labor and start the job immediately. He'll essentially be the department's COO, overseeing 17,000 employees and helping to execute the strategies laid out by the Secretary and the President.

After 9 years of teaching law in New York, this means uprooting his wife and two sons from their life, selling their home in New Jersey and buying a new place in the DC suburbs -- but it's what Seth has wanted for a long time, a return to public service and to Washington, a city he loves.

I couldn't be prouder of my not-so-little brother.

Kimmel Upfront

Jimmy Kimmel created a buzz in media circles earlier this week when he appeared at ABC's upfronts presentation, where the network shows off its fall series and stars to advertisers and agencies. Kimmel -- who introduced himself as ABC's entire late-night comedy lineup -- does this bite-the-hand-that-feeds-him schtick every year, but the industry must have a short memory. Still, it's refreshing to see him ask questions like why, if the network has so much confidence in those shows, they've already announced the midseason replacements.

A lot of this is inside-TV-industry stuff, but funnier than the crowd gives him credit for. Watch it quickly, before ABC yanks it off YouTube...

Even The Winner Was Shocked

I was going to write some snarky comments about Kris Allen upsetting Adam Lambert on the "Idol" finale, but I don't have anything to add to Alan Sepinwall's explanation for why Kris won, and Ken Levine's recap of the many low points of this season.

Dana Carvey Show

The Dana Carvey Show lasted all of 8 episodes in primetime on ABC in 1996, despite a cast that boasted then-unknowns Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Robert Smigel, and others. Some of it worked, some of it tried too hard. From the newly-released DVDs of the series, here are two skits from the second episode, with Carrell as a hockey goalie trying to get in some extra practice, and the debut of Smigel's "Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoon...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quick Movie Review


Saw "Star Trek." Good effects, good acting, decent plot. Zoe Saldana, who plays Uhura, is an 11. The guy who plays Spock looks 11. The guy who plays Leonard Nimoy looks 111. The guy who plays McCoy channels DeForest Kelley perfectly.

But here's my problem. Why is it, that in a future this sophisticated technically, humans have still not evolved past fighting on top of things they can fall to their death from? Here's a space platform -- oops, we're near the edge and I'm dangling by one arm. Here's a walkway in the bowels of the ship -- oops, you almost knocked me off and into the machinery several hundred feet below. Here's a cliff on Earth -- oops, got too close and nearly fell into the chasm below before pulling myself back up by my fingernails.

You wanna save the future of mankind? Stick to wider surfaces, particularly if you're engaging in hand-to-hand combat (don't even get me started on 23rd-century sword fights).

Final Table #17: More WSOP Strategies

This week on our poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked about plans for the 2009 World Series Of Poker, which begins next week. Dennis revealed the events he'll play in and gave me advice on whether it's worth playing in the opening weekend $1,000-buy-in "stimulus special" tournament, or skip it and play in the Venetian's Deep Stack tournament instead.

We also continued our series on WSOP strategies with Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan, this time focusing on late-tournament play, from how to handle your short stack to why a king-nine can be a better hand to move all-in with than a king-queen to what happens as the money bubble approaches to how players tighten up considerably as you squeeze down towards the final table.

Our guest this week was Andrew Brown, who won a bracelet in Omaha high/low at the 2008 WSOP, went deep in the Razz event, and recently had a big online cash in pot-limit Omaha. Andrew also revealed some info about those underground poker rooms that have been part of the New York card scene for so long.

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

Suspense Night

Tonight, I'm emceeing the fourth annual Suspense Night at the St. Louis Public Library. It's one of their most popular events, and we always get a packed house. If you're coming and want to be guaranteed a seat, arrive no later than 6:30pm for the 7pm start at the Headquarters Branch of the library.

The lineup of authors this year includes Reed Farrel Coleman, John Lutz, SJ Rozan, and Scott Phillips -- all of whom spend their lives plotting and planning mysteries and thrillers so intricate, yet so entertaining.

Early Letterman

Here's almost four minutes of a David Letterman appearance on a local Los Angeles TV outlet circa 1976, about a year and a half after he'd moved west from Indiana to jump-start his standup career. The other guy on the panel is Gary Muledeer, who was by then making regular TV appearances with Carson, on "The Midnight Special" and "Don Kirschner's Rock Concert," and other shows. I'm not sure who the comedienne in the middle is (although her first name is Dottie), or who the hosts asking the typically inane questions are...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Final Table Tonight

Tonight on The Lumiere Place Final Table, our weekly poker radio show, Dennis Phillips and I will continue talking with Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan about strategies you might want to use if you're going to Vegas for the World Series Of Poker (which begins next week). We'll also introduce you to Andrew Brown, a hot young player who won a WSOP bracelet last summer and recently racked up some big bucks in a SCOOP event online.

We do The Lumiere Place Final Table live from Lumiere's poker room every Tuesday at 7pm CT on KFNS/St. Louis. If you've missed previous shows, the podcasts are always available right here.

Sidewalk Hole

An artist named Edgar Mueller spent five days turning a standard sidewalk into a deep crevasse with nothing more than paint and the mind's ability to play tricks on itself. Even better were the passersby who saw the finished product and played along...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Piano Man


It's easy to forget what a good piano player Elton John is. Through the decades of well-crafted hits and flamboyant showmanship, he's become a pop icon, not someone known for his skill at the keyboard. But last night, he gave a master class in rock and roll piano.

It was the St. Louis stop for this year's Elton John/Billy Joel Face To Face Tour. I've seen Billy over a dozen times, so I knew what to expect from him. But I haven't seen Elton in concert for over 20 years, and thought I'd have to sit through a lot of those treacly tunes from the 80s and 90s like "Sad Songs Say So Much" and "Can You Feel The Love Tonight."

Instead, Elton reached back into his classic rock catalog from the 1970s. In the early part of that decade, Elton had an interesting dual appeal on radio. While Top 40 stations were gobbling up "Rocket Man," "Honky Cat," "Crocodile Rock," and "Daniel," Album Oriented Radio stations (which is where I started my career) were going deeper into his albums to find songs that had a different mood and sound. It was those songs he pulled out last night -- "Burn Down The Mission," "Madman Across The Water," "Levon," and "Tiny Dancer" -- that shocked me.

Looking around the arena during those songs, I could see a lot of fans with disappointed looks on their faces (and streaming up the steps towards the bathrooms and concessions stands), because they came to see Elton The Pop Icon, the guy who recently ended a long run at Caesar's Palace, where I guarantee he played Nothing But The Hits. Instead, they got Elton The Incredibly Talented Musician/Composer. Those AOR classics allowed him to stretch and do extended improvisations on the piano, and that's when he really impressed me. This guy can play.

Later on, once Billy had done his half of the show, the two performed together with both of their bands onstage (something like 14 people, including Davey Johnstone, an original member of Elton's band, on guitar) and reverted to the songs the whole crowd could sing along with. But for a large portion of Elton's half of the evening, he transported me to a different era of originality and experimentation.

Top Tenure

David Letterman has had lots of people read top ten lists over the years. Some of them aren't showbiz pros (the accountants who appear each April 15th), some of them are sports figures, and occasionally he gets well-known actors to do the bit, usually when they have something to plug.

A few days ago, Leonard Nimoy did a list of Top Ten Signs You're Obsessed With Star Trek. Nimoy was okay, but a little too stiff for comedy. On the other hand, Ron Howard did the list last night -- Top Ten Things You Don't Want To Hear From Your Director -- and really got into it. You can see how much joy he's getting in delivering this material, and you can also see how all those years of starring on sitcoms helped hone his sense of timing. Here he is, gumping it up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Final Table #16: Norman Chad

This week on our poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with the always entertaining commentator on ESPN's poker broadcasts, Norman Chad.

We discussed how they edited down the 17 hours of November Nine coverage into 2 hours of primetime TV in such a short turnaround time, and how many of those hands he and Lon McEachern watched live. We asked Norman how much of an impact Dennis' 350 friends and family in the audience had on ESPN's increased ratings at the Final Table, why no pro since Chris Ferguson has won the Main Event, and why, this year, ESPN will only show no-limit hold'em events (no pot-limit omaha, no HORSE, no stud).

Since we got such strong response to last week's segment with Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan -- in which we talked about strategies you can use in the early rounds of a WSOP event -- we moved on this week to mid-tournament strategies such as how the introduction of antes should affect raises, what to do when your table breaks and you're faced with a new group of players you haven't seen before, and Dennis' own perspective on eating, drinking, and sleeping during the long hours of the tournament.

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

Pelosi's Tortured Argument

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has gotten some heat this week over when she knew about waterboarding and why she didn't protest it.  It's been a nice way for the right to attack her and take some heat off Bush administration policies, but Pelosi hasn't been doing herself any favors in how she's handled it.  The simple fact is, if she knew about the torture and disapproved of it, she had an ethical responsbility to say so -- even if the material was classified and she couldn't go public, she could have expressed her opinions directly to Bush and others, which she did not do.

Today on WLS/Chicago, I talked it over with Politico's senior congressional reporter, Glenn Thrush, who has taken the lead in covering this story.

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

Who Will Lose To Adam?

This morning on WLS/Chicago, I talked with Justin Guarini about the "American Idol" final three. Or, rather, will it be Kris or Danny who loses to Adam next week?

We discussed how Simon's in the tank for Adam, how Kris may have an advantage with younger females while Danny appeals to the Taylor Hicks demo, and why Clay Aiken was kicked out of the "Idol" studio a few days ago.

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

Worth A Link

  • Ken Levine on why you don't mess with sitcom writers
  • Richard Wiseman on testing a paranormal-powers claimant for the James Randi Educational Foundation's Million Dollar Challenge
  • Phil Plait asks "did they get the science right?" in the new "Star Trek" movie
  • Dick Cavett on the embarrassment of coincidence

WLS This Morning


I'm on WLS/Chicago this morning from 5 to 9am CT, filling in for Don & Roma. You can listen live here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rx: Blue Jello


No one needs to be awakened at 5am to be served blue jello.  I speak from experience.

I spent most of the last few days in Barnes Jewish West County Hospital recovering from a gall bladder infection. It hit me, hard, on Wednesday night, and you don't want to know the details. Ironically, I was scheduled to go into that same hospital first thing Thursday morning for surgery on my spine to relieve some rather intense pain that I've been enduring for over a year now. But that's been postponed until later this summer because of this recent incident.

Being stuck in a hospital bed for a few days is less fun than you'd think.  All you want to do is sleep and let the medication take its course.  Unfortunately, long periods of sleep are hard to come by, because the medical staff has to enter the room to take your blood, your blood pressure, your blood oxygen level, and your temperature. They have to administer another antibiotic through the intravenous tube, they have to replace the bag of saline solution, they have to stop the IV pump from beeping because you rolled onto your side, and they have to empty the catheter bag.

Ah, the catheter.  What a chick magnet that is.  Forget about puppies.  If you want all the women in the neighborhood to pay attention to you, get a catheter inserted in your manhood (if there's a more emasculating procedure, I've yet to endure it). Then, watch their eyes follow you as you hobble down the hallway, trying to get some exercise while pushing your IV stand with one hand and carrying your catheter bag in the other.  With these twin marvels of modern science at my disposal, I was just like Brad Pitt.  At the beginning of Benjamin Button.

That's where the blue jello comes in.  There's a knock on the door and a very pleasant voice says, "Good morning, Mr. Harris, I have your breakfast."  Even through the early-morning haze, I know that this cheerful announcement doesn't mean anything good has arrived.  No one wakes you up with good news at 5am.  Because of the infection, my diet was limited to clear liquids, which meant breakfast consisted of a couple of ounces of apple juice, a cup of soup that someday hopes to be upgraded to bland, and a small bowl of blue jello.  

That's how sick I was.  I was living in a world where "clear" and "blue" are synonymous.

Eventually, all of this care and modern medicine got me healthy enough that I could go home, where I am doing fine, thank you.  I'll be back in the good graces of the BJC West County Hospital staff in a few weeks for some more work on my gall bladder and then, ultimately, get that spinal problem taken care of.

For now, I'm planning on returning to work for the poker radio show on KFNS/St. Louis Tuesday night and an early-morning fill-in gig at WLS/Chicago on Wednesday.

Most of all, I'm happy to be looking up at a clear blue sky instead of down at a bowl of clear blue jello.

Star Trek Stars

A pretty clever appearance on "SNL" by the new "Star Trek" stars (and one old one)...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Final Table #15: WSOP Tips

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, we had a World Series Of Poker theme (the 2009 WSOP starts 3 weeks from today).

Dennis Phillips and Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan shared tips on how to play in the WSOP Main Event (where Dennis finished third last year) -- particularly the lower-limit events -- from the range of hands you should play early on, how aggressive you should be to build your stack, whether you should worry about where you stand in relation to the average chip count, and much more.

We also talked with Nolan Dalla, media director for the WSOP, about some of this year's changes, including the new $1,000 buy-in "stimulus special" tournament on the first weekend (which is expected to draw thousands of players), and the $40,000 buy-in anniversary event (which will be probably draw fewer than 200 players). As far as TV coverage goes, Nolan revealed that ESPN is increasing the number of hours they'll dedicate to the Main Event, but eliminating any non-hold'em events from the coverage (so you won't see HORSE, Stud, Omaha, or any other kinds of poker this year).

Then we discussed his recent interview with legendary gambler Amarillo Slim about the incident that made Slim a pariah in the poker community, pleading guilty to child molestation involving his granddaughter in 2003.

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

The Big Sign

If you're driving on I-70 in downtown St. Louis, you can't miss the really tall video sign outside of Lumiere Place Casino & Hotel, and if you're there at just the right time (about every ten minutes around the clock), you might see these two scary faces staring down at you. We can't understand why there haven't been more accidents on that section of the road...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Dom DeLuise

Dom DeLuise died Monday at age 75. While he was known for his movie work with Burt Reynolds and Mel Brooks in the 1970s (and a small dramatic part in 1964's "Fail Safe"), he also made lots of TV appearances, including the night he did the Egg Drop Trick for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show."

Two things struck me as I watched this again. One is how easy the camaraderie between Carson and DeLuise was, and how both of them knew how to make the bit really pay off. The other is how a scene like this is unlikely to unfold on any of the current late night shows, where even guest appearances are so tightly scripted that comedic spontaneity is rare.

Would You Like To Buy A Monkey?

TV critic Alan Sepinwall mentioned this in passing last week on his blog and, since I hadn't seen it in years, I thought it would fun for all of us to enjoy this. It's from the 1995 Oscars telecast, hosted by David Letterman, who that year had done a cameo in Chris Elliott's "Cabin Boy." However, as Letterman explained, several other actors had auditioned for the role -- including a hilarious Albert Brooks -- and here's a montage of their screen tests...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Random Thoughts

Putting the words "Open Immediately" on the envelope does not make me more interested in junk mail. The only thing urgent about your enclosed offer (which I'll never see) is the speed with which I toss it in the trash.

The annual report from our insurance company came today. Not the one about our policy. This is the one where they tell me how well they're doing, what they're up to, and blah blah blah. It went right in the trash, too. I browsed through one of these a few years ago and had a headache by page three. Here's what it should have said: "We've decided to lower your premiums because we have eliminated the cost of printing millions of glossy annual reports that no one reads."

Why does the audience on "Jeopardy!" applaud when a contestant finds a Daily Double? I know they're prompted to by the warm-up guy and the applause sign, but there's nothing impressive about randomly landing on one of those questions. You deserve applause if you make a big bet and get it right, but not just for saying, "Potent Potables for $1200, Alex."

I was in Target today, but couldn't find what I was looking for. So I picked up one of their red customer service phones nearby and the person on the other end was able to direct me to exactly the part of the store I needed to go to. That's a very customer-friendly feature that more stores should have.

I heard a radio host today ranting about the price of Michelle Obama's shoes. I guess the swine flu story is over and America has moved on to something really important.

Does anyone renew a magazine subscription when the first notice arrives in the mail? I have one on my bulletin board that arrived at the beginning of March, even though the subscription doesn't expire until October. Not surprisingly, they want me to renew for three years, because it's their "Best Value!!!" That's true, unless you multiply their one year offer times three and figure out that it's the exact same price per issue. By the way, that 128-ounce tub of soda for $15 at the movie theater is your "Best Value!!!" too -- because the cup doubles as a urinal.

I just realized this blog entry reads like Larry King's old USA Today column, without the dot dot dot and such classic lines as "if you're making chocolate chip cookies, put out a plate for me!"

The Truth About Poker

Gary Reed has a terrific op-ed piece in the Denver Post, "The Truth About Poker." He wrote it on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance to help convince the state of Colorado to legalize poker in its casinos and card rooms.

Song Around The World

Filmmaker Mark Johnson started a project last year called Playing For Change, which involves musicians from around the world sharing songs -- a different kind of peer-to-peer structure -- by playing them together, even though they've never met. He started this one on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica with a busker named Roger Ridley doing the Drifters classic "Stand By Me." Then he added singers and performers from New Orleans, Detroit, and New Mexico, before going international with his audio equipment and laptop to include musicians in Russia, the Netherlands, the Congo, South Africa, Venezuela, Spain, and Italy...


[thanks to Robert Knotbob for the link]

Saturday, May 02, 2009

When Pigs Flu

Yesterday, I saw a man walking down the street wearing a surgical mask. He was not headed into the operating room, nor was he a Michael Jackson impersonator. He was just another addle-brained American who bought into the swine flu panic.

The media deserves much of the blame. The panicky tone of coverage this week has made it seem like we have an epidemic on our hands, that the entire US population is near death, that this was a repeat of the 1918 pandemic. Once again, as with SARS and West Nile Virus and other overblown public health scares, the story has been hyped completely out of proportion.

The truth is that, so far, only one person outside of Mexico has died from swine flu. A few hundred people have come down with it across the US. A few hundred. In a nation of 300 million. Do you know how many people die from the regular flu each year? About 35,000.

Yet the reporting lacks any perspective, and it didn't help when Vice President Joe Biden -- whose entire medical training consists of being treated regularly for foot-in-mouth disease -- spouted off about not letting his family into a confined space like a train or a plane. This from a guy who rode the train to and from work in the Senate for three decades and never got sick from his fellow commuters. Idiocy. Just what the airline industry needs, too -- an official lack of perspective.

I've had the flu, several times. It's no fun lying in bed, feeling like garbage, wondering how it's possible for your head to produce your body weight in mucus every hour. But if you're in relatively good health, you get over it. There's no reason to go to an already-overcrowded emergency room and take up valuable time and space while heart attack and gunshot victims listen to you moan about that achy feeling in your head. There's not much the doctor can do for you, anyway. Stay home, where you can't infect anyone else, and take your favorite over-the-counter medications (mine end with the suffix "-quil") -- which, by the way, didn't exist in 1918.

Last week, my daughter had a cough that wouldn't quit, so we kept her home for a few days (it really bugged her, because she loves school, although lying on the couch watching TV all day worked as a consolation prize), because we know that we have a responsibility to the other parents not to send our child into the classroom while she's spewing germs all over everything. I assumed this was the way all parents handled the situation. We must be unique, though. The Chicago public schools announced yesterday that, beginning Monday, any kid that goes to school with a cough and a fever of over 100 degrees will be sent home.

Beginning Monday? Wasn't that the policy already? Why does it take the swine flu to put that policy in place? Because people in authority assume we're idiots who can't take care of ourselves. Maybe we are. That's why the President Of The United States went on television this week to remind you to wash your hands. In the mind of the US government, you're three years old and need to be told everything.

Next thing you know, we'll get a bulletin from the CDC reminding you to wipe your ass after you take a dump.

Souter, Specter, and More

This morning on WLS/Chicago, I called upon Josh Kraushaar of Politico.com to talk about the impending retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter. We discussed possible replacements, and the obstacles to getting them confirmed.

Then we turned to Arlen Specter's party switch, which puts the Democrats in even firmer control of Washington, but means they'll now have to live up that burden. We also discussed what this means for the ever-shrinking GOP, whether other Republicans might jump ship, and whether they'll become less focused on social issues (like gay marriage) where they're out of step with the majority of the nation.

Throw in Joe Biden's flu gaffe and Jim Bunning's possible departure from the Senate, and you have a comprehensive look at the week in Washington.

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

Idol Update

With four contestants left, who will win "American Idol"?  Can the show exist if Simon Cowell leaves after next season?  Why did Adam Lambert end up in the bottom two this week?  Have the really lined up Slash to be next week's mentor?

The answers to all these questions and more are in my conversation with Dave Dellaterza from VoteForTheWorst.com, this morning on WLS/Chicago.  

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


VFTW is doing a charity auction for Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society, so if you're looking for Idol-related items, click here.

Derby Day

What's it like at Churchill Downs on Derby Day? With the race later today, Francene Cucinello joined me from Louisville this morning on WLS/Chicago. She's the most-listened-to talk radio host in that town (middays on WHAS), so she knows what it's like for locals and visitors to go to the track today -- from the horses to the hats to the infield parties to the grandstand.

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

This Morning on WLS/Chicago


I'm on WLS/Chicago this morning from 5 to 7am CT. Among my guests:
  • Josh Kraushaar of Politico, discussing the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Arlen Spector's party switch, and the shrinking Republican Party;
  • My friend in Louisville, Francene Cucinello (that town's most popular talk radio host) talks about Derby Day;
  • Dave Dellaterza of VoteForTheWorst, on American Idol's Final Four.

You can listen live here.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Snow Rollers


Thanks to Sheila Kramer for tipping me to this unusual natural occurrence, as explained on the website of the National Weather Service's office in Spokane, Washington:
On the evening of March 31st, 2009, Tim Tevebaugh was driving home from work east of Craigmont in the southern Idaho Panhandle. Across the rolling hay fields, Tim saw a very unusual phenomenon. The snow rollers that he took pictures of are extremely rare because of the unique combination of snow, wind, temperature and moisture needed to create them. They form with light but sticky snow and strong (but not too strong) winds. These snow rollers formed during the day as they weren't present in the morning on Tim's drive to work.
According to the NWS, those snow rollers are 18" to 2' high. See more of Tim's photos here.