Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Aaron Barnhart on TV

TV critic Aaron Barnhart joined me on KTRS/St. Louis today to talk about how the death of Michael Jackson has been covered by the various networks, the huge rating BET got for its awards show Sunday night, and why MSNBC continues to run documentaries instead of live news programming on the weekend.

I also asked Aaron about the published report that Simon Cowell wants a raise from $36 million/year to $144 million/year (and whether he's worth it), and who's winning the late-night battle between David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. Then Aaron previewed the new Dylan McDermott show, "Dark Blue," which debuts on TNT in two weeks.

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

Leaving Iraq To Iraqis

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I wanted to get some perspective from someone who served in this war on the US military handing over control of Iraq's major cities to their own security forces today. So, once again, I called on Paul Reickhoff, who had his boots on the ground before coming home to form Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Paul offered his analysis of where things will go once the US Army isn't involved in protecting Iraq on a daily basis, whether we'll see an increase in sectarian and other violence as the US scales back, and how our troops feel about the change in their role there (particularly those who have done multiple tours of duty already).

We also discussed whether the care of our veterans has improved since his group started lobbying Congress several years ago, what the economy has done to the jobs those veterans were promised when they returned home, and whether President Obama --who has been getting more pressure from gay groups -- will end the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy anytime soon.

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

Final Table #23: Eli Elezra & Phil Hellmuth


Tonight on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I continue with stories and interviews from the 2009 World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas. Our guest list includes:
  • Eli Elezra, explaining how he organizes the "Big Game" in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio -- where the best players in the world play for the highest stakes -- as well as the Chinese Poker game that goes on in the VIP Room during tournament breaks at the World Series Of Poker
  • Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan goes one-on-one with Phil Hellmuth, while they're playing against each other at a tournament table
  • Amarillo Slim opens up about the legal trouble that made him a pariah in the poker community over the last few years
Also, The Art Of The Chop -- a detailed discussion about how to split the winnings when you get down to two or three players at the end of a tournament. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

KTRS Tuesday


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from Noon to 3pm CT. You can listen live here

A Day In The Life

Neil Young has been performing The Beatles' "A Day In The Life" as the encore on his current tour, but when he closed his concert with it in London's Hyde Park this weekend, a special guest walked out of the wings to join him...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Could Madoff Make Good?

After Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison today, I called on a regular KTRS contributor, investment advisor Jeff Lapidus (a/k/a The Retirement Coach), to offer his perspective on what Madoff had done, how you can avoid being ripped off as Madoff's clients were, and whether the sentence makes sense. Jeff suggested an alternative to pure imprisonment that I found interesting...

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

KTRS Monday


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from Noon to 3pm CT. You can listen live here

Steve & Michael & Billie & Lorne

In 1983, Steve Martin did a parody of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." It aired at the top of the first episode of NBC's "The New Show," a primetime project Lorne Michaels did after leaving "SNL."

In The New Yorker, Martin explains:

I’m not sure whose idea it was; it might have been Lorne’s. Pat Birch choreographed it. The hard move was that little leg twist that he did. You really have to throw your leg. I did it a thousand times in about three days. And a couple of weeks later I noticed -- er, I have a pain here. The pain lasted about two years, then it went away on its own.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Worth A Link

Maureen Dowd on SC Governor Mark Sanford's alter ego:

With Maria, he was no longer the penny-pinching millionaire Mark, who used to sleep on a futon in his Congressional office and once treated two congressmen to movie refreshments by bringing back a Coke and three straws.

No, he was someone altogether more fascinating: Marco, international man of mystery and suave god of sex and tango.

Mark was the self-righteous, Bible-thumping prig who pressed for Bill Clinton’s impeachment; Marco was the un-self-conscious Lothario, canoodling with Maria in Buenos Aires, throwing caution to the e-wind about their "soul-mate feel," her tan lines, her curves, "the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light."

Mark is a conservative railing against sinners; Marco sins liberally. Mark opposes gay marriage as a threat to traditional marriage. Marco thinks nothing of risking his own traditional marriage, and celebrates transgressive relationships.
The whole column is here.

Worth A Link

Comic book writer Mark Sable was detained and questioned by the TSA, and they weren't happy when they went through his things and found his manuscript about a comic book writer who is questioned and detained by the TSA for writing a book about terrorism. The agents didn't seem to enjoy the irony. [thanks to Miguel Paser for the link]

Saturday, June 27, 2009

World's Fastest Amputee


What's it like to run really fast with only one leg? Marlon Shirley knows. He's the world's fastest amputee. Among his achievements: first to run 100m in under 11 seconds, 2-time ESPY winner, and gold medalist at multiple paralympics.

Since I love hearing first-person stories from people who have had experiences I'll never had -- and Marlon was willing to answer all of my simple, basic, what's-that-like questions -- we had a great conversation on KTRS/St. Louis.

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

WLS Saturday


I'm on The Big 89 WLS/Chicago for my regular Saturday morning show from 5am to 7am CT. You can listen live here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Radio



No time to run away to Appalachia today with my Argentinian mistress. I have to be on WHAS/Louisville from 8am to 11am CT. You can listen live here. Then, I'm off to KTRS/St. Louis for 3pm to 6pm CT. You can listen live here.

Medieval Tech Support

The guys in tech support have always had to explain the simplest things...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

One Liver, No Waiting

Did Steve Jobs cut the line to get his new liver?

The Apple CEO went to Tennessee recently for a liver transplant, which may be related to the rare form of pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with five years ago. But with 16,000 people on the national liver waiting list, did he pull some strings or game the system to get a life-saving organ transplant?

On issues like this, I often call on Dr. Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics. Here's what he told me on KIRO/Seattle...

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

Double Shot Thursday



Two more shows today. First, I'll be on WHAS/Louisville from 8am to 11am CT. You can listen live here. Then, I'll be back on KTRS/St. Louis from 3pm to 6pm CT. You can listen live here.

Kinetic Sculpture

This kinetic sculpture is on display at the BMW Museum in Munich. It consists of 714 balls that seemingly float into different shapes (including cars, naturally), but are really suspended individually by string from the ceiling...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lunar Litter

Next month marks the 40th anniversary of humans on the moon. We went twelve men there on six trips between 1969 and 1972. We also sent a lot of equipment, but not all of it came home. Here's an inventory of the items we left behind.

Twofer Wednesday



Just a twofer today. First, I'll be on KIRO/Seattle from 11am to 2pm CT. You can listen live here. Then, I'll go over to KTRS/St. Louis for 3pm to 6pm CT. You can listen live here.

This Season on "Entourage"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Final Table #22: Kristy Gazes & Chino Rheem


On this episode of The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I continued with stories and interviews from the 2009 World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas. Our guest list includes:
  • Kristy Gazes, who has made 11 WPT final tables and is trying to win her first WSOP bracelet
  • Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan goes one-on-one with Chino Rheem, one of the November Nine (with Dennis) at last year's WSOP Main Event
  • Nick Schulman, who just won a bracelet in the $10,000 World Championship of Deuce-To-Seven
  • Jose Canseco, who just happened to be sitting at my table in a Venetian deep stack event
  • Amarillo Slim, telling his story of ping pong and Coke bottles
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Human Calculator

Scott Flansburg calls himself The Human Calculator because his mind is wired just a little bit differently, giving him the ability to do math quicker than you, even if you use a calculator. He has taught tens of thousands of kids around the world why they shouldn't be afraid of math -- and in the nearly 20 years I've known him -- I've seen him motivate children who thought they could never do even simple arithmetic and turn them into the star students in their classrooms.

Scott joined me today on KTRS/St. Louis, where we discussed something we have in common -- doing addition from left to right, instead of right to left, as almost every US school teaches. This leads to frustration for kids who can do the math in their heads, but have teachers who won't give them credit because they didn't "show their work." Making those calculations mentally, not on paper, goes against the curriculum that has been used in classrooms for decades, which leads to math anxiety that those kids don't need.

Scott talked about how and why he does what he does, why he believes the number 9 is the key to learning math, and what he's trying to do now with his in-school seminars and Mathletics program. He also showed off the amazing quick-addition skill that landed him in the Guinness Book of Records.

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

Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer first appeared on my radio show several years ago to talk about his non-fiction books about his son's experience in the US Marine Corps. It wasn't until later that I learned of his background as an evangelical who, at one point, was one of the insiders in the religious right movement. Since then, Frank has repudiated much of what he once stood for because he found himself disgusted by people like Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

Frank joined me today on KIRO/Seattle to discuss his latest book, "Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back." He views the recent actions by the theocratic thugs in Iran as a warning to Americans to keep an eye on the religious extremists in our own country -- those who had such influence in the Bush administration, and who are responsible for the diminishing size of the Republican party, which they now have control of.

In our discussion, he drew a straight line from his work of three decades ago to the leaders of the today's religious right and to the ugliness of their followers, who have recently murdered an abortion doctor, caused havoc at the Holocaust Museum, and continue to use fear and lies about President Obama as a motivator.

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

Ed McMahon

With the news that TV legend Ed McMahon died a few hours ago, I dug into my archives to find an extended interview I did with him on April 5, 2000.

Ed was a money-in-the-bank guest who made many appearances on my radio show over the years, and always came through with an upbeat attitude and terrific anecdotes. This was my favorite conversation with him, because it was the first time we were in the studio together. He was passing through St. Louis as part of his national tour for NextBigStar.com, which was an attempt to replicate the success of "Star Search" as an online-only show. After discussing that, we touched on several other subjects.

We talked about one of the key skills that made him such a great second banana -- how he knew when to jump in and help Johnny Carson (or whoever he was working with) and when to sit back and stay out of the way. He remembered the night Carson took him aside after the show and said ominously, "I know what you're doing out there."

We also discussed two parts of his life that were not on television. McMahon was very proud of being a Marine Colonel -- once a Marine, always a Marine -- so I got him talking about his role in World War II, teaching fighter pilots how to land their six-ton planes on aircraft carriers at sea. And since Ed was one of the greatest pitchmen ever, I asked if he could recall the spiel he had perfected on the Atlantic City boardwalk half a century before to sell the Morris Metric Slicer. He remembered it verbatim.

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

Triple Tuesday




Today's a triple duty day on the radio. First, I'll be on KIRO/Seattle from 11am to 2pm CT. Then, I'll go over to KTRS/St. Louis for 3pm to 6pm CT. And I'll finish the day at The Lumiere Place Final Table, talking poker with Dennis Phillips, on KFNS/St. Louis from 7pm to 8pm CT.

Nothing But Net

During a gym class at at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School in Ohio, eight grader Aaron Shutway combined a front handspring with an unbelievable three-quarter-court basketball shot...

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Reporter's Perspective on Iran

Today on KIRO/Seattle, I got some perspective on what's happening in Iran from Robin Wright, the former Washington Post correspondent who has been to that nation many times in the more than three decades she has spent covering the middle east.

We talked about the historical nature of some of the protests this weekend (particularly those that were openly defiant to Supreme Leader Khamenei), how the demographics of Iran are affecting its present and future, what happens next in US/Iran relations, and whether Moussavi would really be the reformer some are painting him to be.

Wright's latest book is "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East."

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

It's The Economist, Stupid

I had a very interesting discussion on KIRO/Seattle today with economist Robert Frank. He made the case that tax cuts don't help the wealthy or the poor, argued that financial services CEO's should have their pay capped, and explained why we'll never get our money back from our bailouts of AIG and GM. We also talked about what should be done to repair our health care crisis, and the downside of being a nation that spends more than it saves and lives on credit.

Frank's book is "The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times."

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

Double Monday



Today's a double duty today, the beginning of a week in which I'll do 12 shows in 6 days on 5 radio stations. First, I'll be on KIRO/Seattle from 11am to 2pm CT. You can listen live here. Then, I'll go over to KTRS/St. Louis for 3pm to 6pm CT. You can listen live here.

Movie Balloons

I didn't realize how many classic movies had balloons in them until Jerry Rees made this compilation. My fave is "Singing In The Rain." [thanks to Jerry Agostell of Portland for the link]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jocks vs. Nerds

John Hodgman, at Friday night's Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner, holds forth on the age-old differences between jocks and nerds and quizzes Obama about his nerd credentials...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Moments of Magic


My wife and I went to see "Up" this afternoon, and walked out of the theater with smiles on our faces. The Pixar team has done it again, for a remarkable tenth time.

Ironically, before "Up" began, we had to sit through previews for other upcoming animated movies, including "Ice Age 3," "The Princess and the Frog," and "Planet 51." It didn't take long to see, via their trailers, the huge creative chasm that exists between those efforts and the work by the geniuses at Pixar. If I'd produced one of those other animated movies, the last thing I'd want is pit my work against the best in the business and give people an opportunity to see how it pales in comparison.

Pete Docter's crew consistently melds wonderful storytelling and character development with amazing computer animation and lifelike scenery -- but they never neglect the little details, those extra moments that make you say, "wow!"

For example, in "Up," shortly after Carl's house lifts off its foundation and begins its airborne adventure, we see reaction shots of various people shocked by the sight of a house suspended below thousands of balloons. At one point, the point of view is from inside a little girl's apartment bedroom and, as the balloons pass by her window, the sun shining through them causes a kaleidoscope of colors to dance on her floor. The girl is delighted at the sight before turning around to see the source of the refracted beauty, and then smiles even wider. It's a scene fragment that only lasts a couple of seconds, but it was the first thing my wife and I mentioned to each other after the credits rolled.

The filmmakers didn't have to include that scene -- no one would have missed it if they'd left it out -- but once they thought of it, I bet they worked their butts off to make it perfect. That's the kind of bonus creativity I look for in a movie.

Iran So Far Away

The best part of this story is the way Iranians are making sure that images of today's government-created violence are making their way out to the rest of the world, via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. While not as huge as the coverage would be if western journalists were still there to tell the story, the whole world is still watching, listening, and reading about what the Iranian theocratic dictatorship is doing to its own people. It is that information, and those images, which will set the tone of what happens next, and determine whether Iran's younger, more open and tech-savvy generation can wrestle control from the hardliners, who have all the ammunition of oppression.

Watching yesterday's coverage, I was struck by the difference in the crowds at the day's two big events. At the prayer meeting led by Ayatollah Khamenei, there were no women present at all. The place was instead filled by angry middle-aged men, followers of Ahmadinejad, who were quick to join chants of "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" At the protest rallies in Tehran and elsewhere, the crowd was younger and included both men and women, visibly hopeful for a new direction for their nation, carrying signs proclaiming freedom of speech and calling for the truth about the recent elections.

As for how the matter is handled from Washington, it's one thing for an American leader to stand for freedom and all that embrace it, and denounce violence by those who seek to restrict it. It's another for him to stick his nose into another nation's internal politics -- which the United States has done far too often, and almost never with positive long-term results. Despite the calls from some in Congress who never miss an opportunity to aim meaningless invective, President Obama has wisely leaned towards the former in his public comments about the situation in Iran, even after things turned ugly today.

Last night on CBS, Harry Smith asked President Obama, "People in this country say you haven't said enough, that you haven't been forceful enough in your support for those people in the street. To which you say?" The president responded:

To which I say the last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That's what they do. That's what we've already seen. We shouldn't be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard.

Now, what we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the, you know, incredible demonstrations that we've seen is a testimony to, I think what Dr. King called the the arc of the moral universe. It's long, but it bends towards justice.
For some historical perspective, check this quote from Fareed Zakaria, who was asked by a CNN anchor today whether the US (meaning President Obama) should be more vocal in supporting the protesters in Iran. He answered:
I think a good historic analogy is President George H.W. Bush's cautious response to the cracks in the Soviet empire in 1989. Then, many neo-conservatives were livid with Bush for not loudly supporting those trying to topple the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. But Bush's concern was that the situation was fragile. Those regimes could easily crack down on the protestors and the Soviet Union could send in tanks. Handing the communists reasons to react forcefully would help no one, least of all the protesters. Bush's basic approach was correct and has been vindicated by history.
One last thing. When the House of Representatives voted almost-unanimously in favor of a measure condemning the Iranian government, the only "no" vote came from Congressman Ron Paul, who offered this explanation from the House floor:
I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about "condemning" the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives.....I have admired President Obama’s cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the House had acted similarly.

I adhere to the foreign policy of our Founders, who advised that we not interfere in the internal affairs of countries overseas. I believe that is the best policy for the United States, for our national security and for our prosperity. I urge my colleagues to reject this and all similar meddling resolutions.

WLS Saturday


I'm on The Big 89 WLS/Chicago for my regular Saturday morning show from 5am to 7am CT. You can listen live here.

Poke The Press

At last night's Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner, President Obama pokes fun at Brian Williams, Wolf Blitzer, Mika Brzezinski, Chuck Todd, and others...


Here are the last 3 minutes, in which Obama blows the delivery of a joke about Oprah and the car companies...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Worth A Link

Neil Scovell, a former Letterman writer, wonders what Johnny Carson would say about the recent Letterman/Palin nit-pick.

Remote Twits

Prof. Richard Wiseman joined me this morning on WLS to talk about his recent remote-viewing-via-Twitter experiment, in which he asked people around the world to try to picture in their minds where he was at a certain time on a certain day. Thanks to Twitter, he was able to compile instant feedback, and we discussed the results.

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


More: Richard's been on my show many times, including this interview we did about his book, "Quirkology."

Video: Andy Jordan did a Tech Diary piece on Wiseman's experiment.

Friday Morning in Chicago


I'm back on The Big 89 WLS/Chicago this morning from 5 to 9am CT, filling in for Don & Roma. You can listen live here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Murder In The White House

PETA's trying to get some attention with the Obama fly-swatting story, claiming he should have used a non-lethal method of removing the fly from the room. I run into this nonsense at home from my daughter, who doesn't like bugs, but doesn't want them killed.

She'll scream, "Daddy, there's a bee in the house! I'm afraid of bees! But please don't squash it! Take it outside!"

I'll reply, like I'm suddenly channeling Charlton Heston, "Sorry, honey, that bee is going to have to miss the last few hours of its lifespan because it made the mistake of entering my home without authorization. The law says I have the right to kill any being that does that."

My wife didn't like to kill bugs when we first met, either. She'd find some creepy crawly thing on the floor and, instead of exterminating it, would put a piece of Tupperware over it until I could take care of business. This created a problem when I'd come home late at night to our first apartment and nearly break my ankles on all the bug-dome obstacles she'd placed all over the carpet.

These days, she kills them, too. I think what turned her around was when my friend Frank gave us an electric fly-swatter. No, the batteries don't move the swatter around in a flailing motion -- you still have to do the manual labor -- but they do run enough juice into the wires of the open swatter face to send a helluva jolt into that insect invader. And yes, there's that satisfactory sizzling sound when justice is done.

As for the bugs, I leave it to Stephen Colbert to mourn for them...

Financial Fix


After President Obama announced his plan to overhaul the financial system and the Republicans offered their response, the debate is on. While everyone agrees we went too far without enough oversight, the arguments now get down to the role of government vs. the role of the free market, how to fix things without breaking them even more, and how much more all of this will cost taxpayers like you.

This morning on WLS, I talked it over with Sen. Byron Dorgan, one of only 8 senators to vote against bank deregulation, and author of the new book, "Reckless: How Debt, Deregulation, and Dark Money Nearly Bankrupted America (And How We Can Fix It)."

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

Get It Off My DVR!

I felt like washing my eyes sockets out with acid after watching "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here." I had managed to avoid the show completely until I had to watch last night's episode because WLS booked ex-gov Rod Blagojevich to talk with me this morning about his wife Patti, one of the contestants on the show. Oh, the sacrifices I make for my listeners.

This may be the worst TV show ever aired -- proof that NBC now barely qualifies as a major network -- and the people on it couldn't even spell "celebrity," let alone qualify as one.

Stephen Baldwin? Ken Levine refers to him as the Fredo of the Baldwin family. Perfect.

Janice Dickinson? I don't know which is uglier, her personality or her plastic surgery. Makes Joan Rivers look like Anne Hathaway.

John Salley? Wasn't he once considered the heir-apparent to Arsenio Hall?

Lou Diamond Phillips? What the hell happened to him? Talk about not living up to your potential. Here's a guy who burst onto the scene in 1987 in "La Bamba," did a good job the next year in "Stand and Deliver," then did a couple of "Young Guns," and then pretty much drove his career into the ground. You know it's over when you agree to appear on this NBC piece of crap.

There's only one form of the human species lower than the kind of has-been or never-was that appears on this show. That's the people who not only watch it, but then call and vote!

What a waste of time.

Supreme Twitter

George Stephanapolous just told me on WLS that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has opened his own Twitter account. That allows him to monitor what people are saying, and to send out his own dispatches. Here are the Tweets he posted this morning:

  • Running late for the mosque. Be there in ten.
  • Can't wait to get the new iPhone. Hope I qualify for a free upgrade.
  • Just finished cleaning my beard. Now headed to Hamel's to play Madden '09.

An Olympic Error

The big story in Chicago this morning, where I'm on WLS, is Mayor Daley signing the Olympic funding guarantee yesterday, putting taxpayers on the hook for the cost of the 2016 games (if they're awarded to to the city).

I don't understand why cities fall in love with the idea of hosting the Olympics. They never make money. In fact, they lose money -- lots of it. Every Summer Olympics in the last two decades has lost huge amounts of money, and so will the next few. The 2012 games in London were originally estimated to cost $4.9 billion, but that has now shot up to $13.5 billion, meaning the "experts" were only off by eight and a half billion dollars, with two years still to go.

The Olympics may be fun to watch on TV, but when they're in your town, they mean incredible amounts of congestion and hassles, with little long-term return. The whole event takes less than a month, and when the Olympians exit after the closing ceremony, you're not left with anything you didn't have already. Chicago doesn't need new sports facilities, they don't need the lakefront closed down for months at a time, and they don't need the expenses that will never be recouped.Let'em go somewhere else. We'll watch the next Michael Phelps from the comfort of our home, for free.

Here's what Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass had to say when we talked about it this morning on WLS...

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

WLS This Morning


I'm back on The Big 89 WLS/Chicago this morning from 5 to 9am CT, filling in for Don & Roma. You can listen live here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Weird Al on Craigslist

Al Yankovic's new parody takes on Craigslist, by way of the Doors (with keyboard work by Ray Manzarek!)...

Worth A Link

Movies She Knows Now

One of the joys of this summer has been having the time to introduce my daughter to movies she's never heard of, while giving me more titles for my Movies You Might Not Know list.

The other day we watched the original "Taking Of Pelham One Two Three." Seeing the way Manhattan was portrayed in 1974 was a time-warp shock, and the scenes in Gracie Mansion were too cartoonish, but the movie's simple plot (a hijacked subway train?) worked because of the clever dialogue and solid acting. I'm sure Denzel Washington and John Travolta are good in the remake, but it would be hard for them to be better than Walter Matthau, Martin Balsam, and Robert Shaw (plus nice smaller performances by Jerry Stiller, Hector Elizondo, and Tony Roberts).

Yesterday, we watched Woody Allen's 1985 fantasy, "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

It stars Mia Farrow as a depression-era wife who finds the only escape from her lonely world and abusive loser husband in the local movie theater. One day, as she's sitting through that week's feature for the fifth time, one of the movie characters notices her from the screen and is so taken that he steps out of the movie and into the real world. She's shocked, but elated, to find herself swept off her feet by the adventurer and raconteur, and he's so giddy with the thought of exploring what real life is like that he refuses to return to the movie. Meanwhile, the other characters in the movie can't proceed with their plot, so they sit around talking and begging the theater owner not to turn off the projector.

Jeff Daniels plays both the wandering movie character (Tom Baxter) and the actor who plays him (Gil Shepherd) to perfection, and Allen manages several scenes with real-life and fictional characters interacting very smoothly, especially considering the technical limitations he worked under a quarter-century ago. Best of all are the Hollywood executives who fear that the Baxter character might walk off the screen in other cities, and who knows what they'd be responsible for then.

If only today's Hollywood executives were responsible for original ideas like this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Final Table #21: Mike Matusow & Marcel Luske

Tonight on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I have more adventures at the 2009 World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas. Among our guests:

  • Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, who says he's playing the best poker of his life, and talking about his autobiography, "Check Raising The Devil";
  • Joe Sebok and Joe Stapleton, two of the stars of Poker Road, a fun website full of forums and podcasts;
  • Marcel Luske, the Dutch poker star known for wearing his sunglasses upside-down, goes one-on-one with Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan;
  • Amarillo Slim tells another story about life on the road with his old buddies Doyle Brunson and Sailor Roberts.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

My Medical Mess

I knew something was very wrong when a large nurse grabbed me by the shoulders, forcing me to remain sitting up on the edge of the hospital bed. All I wanted to do was lie back down and pass out, but she wouldn't let me, telling me in a loud voice to keep my head up and my eyes open. "Look at me and keep breathing," she said urgently.


This was not supposed to be part of my Thursday. I had gone into Barnes Jewish West County Hospital to have my gall bladder removed after it became inflamed last month. Done laparoscopically, it's a fairly easy procedure, and I would be released on Friday morning to recover at home.

I didn't get there until Sunday. In the intervening days, I had two units of blood transfused after my blood pressure and hemoglobin count dropped dangerously low, consumed who-knows-how-many bags of IV liquids, and given up all hope of modesty under my hospital gown. My doctor said he'd encountered something he hadn't seen in 43 years of surgery -- a gall stone the size of a marble that had ripped almost entirely through the wall of the gall bladder. Another centimeter or two and I'd have suffered peritonitis, another problem I didn't need.

Eventually, I was moved from the recovery room and checked into a regular hospital bed, happy that they weren't too busy to give me a room of my own. The nursing staff did their best to keep me medicated and comfortable, but sleep was hard to come by. I've heard of people being diagnosed with exhaustion and checking into a hospital, but that's not the place to get rest. Between the blood tests, vital signs, beeping equipment, conversations in the hall, and delivery of food you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy -- you haven't lived until you've been served the all-liquid hospital diet -- sleep comes in short fits.

Twice a day, a nurse would help me out of bed and onto my feet so I could go for a walk down the hall, in full Abe Vigoda mode, with one hand on the rolling IV stand and the other around someone's shoulder for support. Sometimes I'd make the 100-yard round trip in as little as a half-hour.

My family came to visit -- my daughter, wife, and mother -- and I could tell from the look on their faces how horrible I must have looked on the first day. There's no more awkward silence than the one created by people visiting a hospital room who can't think of anything upbeat to say. I knew I had their love and support, but I needed them to offer some distraction from what I was going through, not to sit there and stare at me, looking frightened. Eventually, as they got used to my surroundings and situation, we all lightened up a little. And then I'd fall asleep again.

Now that I'm home, getting healthier by the day and looking forward to getting back to work, the mood is much better. I know that I'm lucky I have good medical providers, and even luckier that I can afford it, thanks to my union's good health insurance plan. I shudder to think how much more of a nightmare this would be when those bills start rolling in, were circumstances different.

It's Been Five Days

...since analog TV went away, and the world is still with us. What was all the fuss about? Could it be that those who didn't know about the digital switch were the ones who don't watch much TV and were least likely to be affected?

Worth A Link

Much has been written about the David Letterman-Sarah Palin joke/controversy/apology. I agree with Mark Rothman's take on it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Recovery

I'm back home and on the mend after a weekend in the fun world of health care, minus one gall bladder and a lot of blood. Details later.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Organ Withdrawal

Several weeks ago, I blogged about being hospitalized for a gall bladder infection. Now the time has come to have the thing removed, which I'm scheduled to have done this morning. Since they won't let me blog from my hospital bed, you won't see any updates here for a couple of days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Late Night Winner


There's been a lot written in the last two weeks about the shift in late-night television created by Conan O'Brien replacing Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."

Conan's initial ratings were high because even those who didn't watch Leno were curious what the "new guy" would do. Answer: pretty much the same thing he used to do, only an hour earlier and with a much bigger stage. Now his ratings have settled down and he'll eventually stabilize at a smaller number than Leno had, giving Letterman the lead in that slot again -- not because Dave will have a lot more viewers, but because Leno's fans will have found something else entirely.

David Letterman can still create magical moments, like his show with money-in-the-bank guest Julia Roberts last night. With word that he's likely to sign a new deal to stay on CBS through 2012, he'll match the 30-year record of his hero, Johnny Carson. While he hasn't dominated the time slot as Carson did because the marketplace has changed so much, that's still a very impressive feat.

Meanwhile, Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Kimmel have carved out their own niches, but Conan's replacement on "Late Night," Jimmy Fallon, still hasn't figured out what works and what doesn't, leaving him just slightly higher on the midnight pegboard than Carson Daly (a/k/a The Guy You Didn't Even Know Has A Show).

But while the hosts on NBC, CBS, and ABC are getting all the attention, the truly original late night television continues to be created on a regular basis on Comedy Central by Jon Stewart and, especially, Stephen Colbert.

Colbert is having a great week with shows he recorded in Baghdad, in one of Saddam's former palaces, for a huge crowd of active-duty soldiers. Many performers have gone on these USO-sponsored trips, but none recently have turned them into special TV events.

From the pre-recorded segments at basic training (the funniest since "Stripes") to his military haircut (done by General Ray Odierno under orders of President Obama) to his rapport last night with a couple of grunts (one a woman who has earned a combat medal, the other an American Arab who volunteered for duty because he didn't like what the enemy had done to the image of Arabs and Muslims in the US), Colbert understands his dual responsibility to entertain both those in uniform and us at home. He is even savvy enough to be carrying a golf club with him during his monologue, a nice nod to Bob Hope, who did a couple of generations of shows for those in the service during wartime.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Final Table #20: Jamie Gold & Jeffrey Pollack


Tonight on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I are at the 2009 World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas with Jamie Gold, who just played in the Champions Invitational with 20 other former Main Event winners, including some true legends.

Then we talk with Jeffrey Pollack, commissioner of the WSOP, about the surprisingly large numbers of players who have showed up for the early events, what he'll do about expanding in the future, why they have trouble getting big corporate sponsors, whether he thinks the UIGEA will be repealed soon, and whether the WSOP is looking to get into online poker.

We finish with Bryan Spadero of the Poker Players Alliance, for an update on the Barney Frank legislation that would reverse the UIGEA.

A quick plug: in upcoming weeks, you'll hear interviews with Eli Elezra, Mike Matusow, Kristy Gazes, Joe Sebok, Marcel Luske, Peter Eastgate, and more, so keep coming back here for the podcasts!

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

Tuesday on KTRS


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from 5 to 9am. Guests include:You can listen live here

Monday, June 08, 2009

TJ's Mystery Hand

Last week in Vegas, I was sitting in a cash game at the Rio, talking with a guy next to me, Stephen Roselius, about the poker radio show I do with Dennis Phillips. We shared some stories about things we'd seen and heard at the poker table, and he told me one I hadn't heard before, involving poker veteran TJ Cloutier.  It involved a hand in which the dealer pushed the chips to TJ even though he no longer had any cards.  Stephen said he'd find TJ's version of the story and send it to me, and here it is.  It's from an interview he gave a few years ago to Dana Smith:

I was playing pot-limit hold'em down in Shreveport. We'd been playing for quite a few hours and there was a lot of money on the table. A hand came up in which I had the stone nuts on fourth street. I had $5,000 in front of me and made a $2,000 bet. Wayne Edmunds was in the game and he had a habit of putting his head down after he called a bet, so that he never saw what was going on anywhere else. As I was making my bet, the dealer grabbed my cards and threw them in the muck. Of course, Wayne didn't see it happen. "What do I do now?!" I was wondering. I have big hands and so I just kept them out in front of me like I was protecting my cards. The dealer burned and then turned the river card. I bet my last $3,000 and Wayne threw his hand away. I won the pot without any cards! Everybody at the table except Wayne saw what had happened, but nobody said a thing. So, this is what I call my "mystery hand" play.

Sally Ride

Dr. Sally Ride became an American hero as the first American woman in space in 1983. After two shuttle trips and eight years with NASA, she returned to academia as a physicist and for several years has concentrated on climate change.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with Dr. Ride about her new books, "Mission: Planet Earth" and "Mission: Save The Planet," both aimed at getting kids to understand the science and urging them to action at the local level. We also discussed what role she believes government should play in solving the climate problem, as well as what she sees as the future of NASA.

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

Here's the website for Sally Ride Science.

The Day The Media Died

Here's a parody of the problems Madison Avenue and media outlets are having in this depressed economy, to the tune of "American Pie." It was produced for the ad community, so it's full of insider stuff. "Mad Avenue Blues" was done by L. McDuff, the pen name of Terence Kawaja, who had a hand in the AOL-Time Warner merger...

KTRS This Morning


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from 5 to 9am. Guests include:
  • Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who has a new book for kids about climate change
  • Missouri State Senator Jeff Smith, on what's new in Jefferson City
  • St. Louis Beacon media critic Dick Weiss
  • St. Louis Post Dispatch TV critic Gail Pennington
You can listen live here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Worth A Link

  • Nina Shen Rastogi wonders how many balloons it would take to really lift a house like the one in Pixar's "Up"
  • Andreas Lorenz on how Tiananmen Square is still taboo in China, 20 years later
  • The Chicago Tribune turns Roland Burriss into a you-fold-it papercraft Pinocchio
  • Huan Hsu says if we want a new generation of American tennis stars, we need a new generation of insane tennis parents.
  • Richard Wiseman conducts the first scientific experiment on Twitter, testing whether there's such a thing as remote viewers
  • Joel Makower on the green future of the new GM

Exploding Drink

Wired magazine comes up with a Mentos-and-Diet-Coke prank -- freeze the Mentos into the ice cubes, and when they melt, stand back!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Frozen Soap Bubbles

No video today, just a beautiful still shot of a frozen soap bubble. The photographer went outside with a bottle of those soap bubbles you played with when you were a kid, the ones with a wand you dip in the soapy solution and blow through to create a bubble. The night was so cold that the bubbles froze as they fell...


More pix here. [thanks to Donna Rooker for the link]

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Oprah's Crazy Talk

I'm getting great response to my Phil Plait interview, in which he went after Jenny McCarthy and other anti-vaxxers -- as well as Oprah, who allows her guests to spew all sorts of medical claims that have no scientific evidence to support them.

When Oprah endorses pseudo-science -- with claims that go virtually unchallenged, without any real equal time for skeptical rebuttal -- it carries tremendous weight with her audience, and that can be very dangerous. So, it was nice to get some reinforcement from Newsweek, which just published a cover story on Oprah's crazy talk, exposing some of the ridiculous medical claims she and her guests have been pushing on her show and website and magazine, and their impact with the world of women who worship All Things Oprah.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of coverage of Colleen Hauser, the Minnesota woman who refuses to follow medical advice and allow her 13-year-old son, Daniel, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma, to have radiation and chemotherapy. She disobeyed a court order and took Daniel on a road trip, probably headed to Mexico for some "alternative" medical treatment, before returning home and agreeing to obey the judge. Hauser and her husband were rightly lambasted for their anti-science beliefs and claims, and called child abusers for denying their son a treatment that is effective with 95% of cancer victims.

The Hausers didn't learn their anti-scientific viewpoint from Oprah, but they could have. How is their belief system any more bizarre than Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccination campaign or the other new age quackery espoused and endorsed by Oprah? It's not just a matter of some of her viewers getting some weird procedure done after seeing it on her show. It's the "don't trust science" attitude that she engenders, in an atmosphere that we know sways viewers' opinions (look at her impact on book sales).

I'm not holding my breath for Oprah to do a show spotlighting real medical experts who can easily debunk the junk science she has preached for so many years, but it's good to see other media outlets picking up and running with the story.

Even Stephen Colbert is going after her (wait for it)...


Note: this video will not be available after July 1, 2009.

Not So Open Government

Glenn Greenwald is outraged at the Obama administration's not-so-open government policy regarding those detainee photos:

The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 -- that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." As long as the Defense Secretary certifies -- with no review possible -- that disclosure would "endanger" American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure. The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.
He wonders how we'd feel if another country did this, and then goes on:
Other than creating an illusion of transparency and accountability, what's the point of having laws that purport to restrict what the Government can do if political officials just retroactively waive those laws whenever they want? What's the point of having a FOIA law if the Government will simply pass a new law exempting itself from FOIA's mandates any time it loses in court and wants to conceal evidence anyway? And what conceivable rationale is there for limiting the President's new secrecy powers to post-9/11 photographs? Given that anything which reflects poorly on our Government can be said to endanger our troops and American citizens, why stop here? Why not just have a general power of suppression whereby the President can keep any evidence secret as long as his Defense Secretary decrees that its disclosure will "endanger" the troops?

The debate over whether there is value in disclosing these specific photographs is entirely misplaced. That isn't how open government works. The burden isn't on citizens to prove that there is value in disclosure. Everything that government does is supposed to be transparent to the public unless there is a compelling reason for secrecy -- and the whole point of FOIA always has been that mere embarrassment, the mere fact that information reflects poorly on our government, isn't a legitimate ground for concealment. That's a critical principle for open government. This new law explicitly guts that principle. It institutionalizes the pernicious notion that secrecy is justified where disclosure would reflect badly on the Government and thus "endanger" American citizens and/or our troops.
More here.

Not Brought To You By...

I find it odd that the World Series Of Poker can't find any big corporate sponsors. Where are Apple, Pepsi, and AT&T?

You know who we get in their place? Jack Link's Beef Jerky.

We can't get the people who make the iPhone, but we can get the makers of dried meat products. That's the big title sponsor of the WSOP this year, replacing Milwaukee's Best Light, which has a couple of years to go on its contract but has taken a lesser role. Where's a beer brand you've heard of, and might actually have consumed, like Bud Light?

Another sponsor here is Gamma-O, a pill that allegedly boosts testosterone levels. If there's one thing we don't need in a poker room, it's more testosterone.

Thousands of people traveled to Vegas to be part of the WSOP -- where are the travel company sponsors, like Travelocity and Expedia? Where are the video game companies, whose target demo of men in their 20s is also the largest growing demographic of poker players?

This event is the equivalent of an ongoing huge convention in Las Vegas, lasting more than a month and a half. The WSOP telecasts on ESPN draw more viewers than regular season NBA games and the NHL finals. All these corporations can't be staying away because of the narrow-minded nitwits who look down their noses at poker, can they? If so, why does Apple have so many best-selling poker apps in their online store?

It's time for corporate America to step up and support a game that's rooted in America with growing worldwide appeal.

Slim vs. Dolly

Here's the race scooter race between two 80-year-old poker legends and lifelong friends, Thomas "Amarillo Slim" Preston and Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, that we talked about with Slim on last night's Lumiere Place Final Table radio show. It took place in the long walkway and foyer on the way to the Amazon Room at the Rio. When I talked to Slim afterwards, he said, "Being good friends cost me money. Anybody else I could have taken for six figures instead of five!"

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Final Table #19: Amarillo Slim & Andy Bloch


Tonight's edition of my poker radio show, The Final Table, comes to you from Las Vegas, where I'm playing in some of the early events of the 2009 World Series Of Poker, along with Dennis Phillips and Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan.

In addition to our tournament stories, you'll hear part of an extended interview we did with the legendary gambler and member of the Poker Hall Of Fame, Amarillo Slim. Slim is full of great stories, including one about a prop bet he has with Doyle Brunson involving scooters they'll race. In future weeks, we'll insert more of Slim's stories in the show -- we have enough to get us through at least a month!

Also on tonight's show, we talk with Andy Bloch, the onetime MIT blackjack team member who has cashed in many WSOP events and come close to a bracelet, but hasn't won one yet. Since Andy is a good friend of Annie Duke, he has something to say about that rigged "Celebrity Apprentice" finale.

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

Bach To The Floor

Remember the scene in "Big" where Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia jump around on the giant floor piano at FAO Schwartz in New York? The store still has the piano, plus employees who demonstrate it for crowds of onlookers. Here they are doing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor...


[thanks to Carrie Soper for the link]

Monday, June 01, 2009

WSOP Sunday

Today was an amazing day in the Amazon Room at the 2009 World Series of Poker.

Although I'm not happy with my result -- I just busted out of the $1,000 buy-in tournament, after lasting ten hours -- it was cool to be part of an event with just over 6,000 entrants. That's so big that I beat 82% of the field and still came in around 1,100th (the top 621 will be in the money, with first place getting about $770,000). I outlasted Dennis Phillips, but not Joe McGowan, who was knocked out an hour after I was.

While we were playing, the final table of the $40,000 no-limit hold'em event was taking place at the ESPN feature table. Greg Raymer continued to prove that he wasn't a one-shot main event winner by grabbing the chip lead and holding it until he took a bad beat and then finished third. I could easily make a case that he's the most talented of the recent champions.

At the same time, the Champions Invitational was taking place. Obviously, Greg couldn't be in two places at once, and the $40k was a lot more lucrative than the Champions tourney (winner gets the Binion Cup and a classic Corvette -- I think Greg can buy one if he wants it), but there were 20 other former champs in there, including Peter Eastgate, Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, Huck Seed, Joe Hachem, and Amarillo Slim. They were introduced to the whole Amazon room, with Doyle getting the biggest applause and Phil getting the obligatory boos.

Both of those events, plus the final table of the $1k, will be on ESPN later this year, along with the Main Event -- but that's all they'll air. No pot-limit Omaha, no HORSE, no stud, etc., because the WSOP and ESPN find that the ratings are only there for the big no-limit hold'em events.

Dennis, Joe, and I are going to do some interviews tomorrow for Tuesday night's Lumiere Place Final Table radio show. I'll post details when I can. My next tournament is Tuesday at noon, the first $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold'em event. As I did yesterday and today, I'll post Tweets at the top of this page or you can click here to follow my adventures on Twitter.

Nuts For Drew Carey

When a contestant on "The Price Is Right" guesses the correct amount for a drum and acoustic guitar set, she goes nuts on Drew Carey. Or, more precisely, that's where she hits him -- but doesn't seem to notice.

BTW, she's Rita Verreos, who was on "Survivor: Fiji." I guess being on one CBS game show doesn't disqualify you from being on another. Next thing you know, she'll accidentally drive her car into the "Big Brother" house.