If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Media Wrapup 2009

On WLS/Chicago this morning, I talked with Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal about some of the stories that made big news this year on his beat, from Oprah announcing she'll give up her syndicated TV show to Comcast's purchase of NBC to the death of Paul Harvey.

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

In Recovery

Some gossip bloggers are reporting that Tiger Woods has checked into a rehab facility in Arizona for sex addiction.  What a convenient excuse, which you only hear from people who have no trouble finding partners who'll hop in the sack with them.  You're only an addict if someone keeps supplying you with what you need.

When you're a rich and famous guy like Woods, there are always women who will do anything you want.  When you're a regular guy like me, you can't even get the waitress at TGIFriday's to refill your Pepsi.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Goodbye, POTS!

It may be time to say goodbye to POTS.

That's not an outdated reference to Anson Williams' "Happy Days" character." It's a huge story regarding a paradigm shift in American communications. POTS is Plain Old Telephone Service.

AT&T has filed a petition with the FCC, asking that it be allowed to get out of the landline phone service. This is Ma Bell, the oldest and largest phone company in the nation. They want to expand in broadband and cellular, but say:
"...the business model for legacy phone services is in a death spiral. Revenues from POTS are plummeting as customers cut their landlines in favor of the convenience and advanced features of wireless and VoIP services. At the same time, due to the high fixed costs of providing POTS, every customer who abandons this service raises the average cost-per-line to serve the remaining customers. With an outdated product, falling revenues, and rising costs, the POTS business is unsuitable for the long run....

Due to technological advances, changes in customer preferences, and market forces, the question is when, not if, POTS service...will become obsolete."
We already have a generation of people, like my daughter, who rarely use anything but their cellphone. And since her current phone number will go with her wherever she goes in her life, and all she has to do is upgrade the actual phone she carries every few years, she's unlikely to ever have a landline once she leaves our home.

What a change in one generation.

As a child of the 60s, we had one phone in the house, just like everyone else. The whole family shared it, it didn't move very far, and the cord was tangled forever after you made your first call. You paid for each call in "message units," the price of the call changed depending on the time of day, and calling outside the immediate area was such a big deal that if someone walked in while you were talking to a relative in another state, you'd silence them immediately by saying, "Be quiet, I'm on long distance!"

I remember when I saw my first "princess phone" at a neighbor's house and marveled at how it had push buttons instead of the old rotary front. Then came a phone that hung on the wall of our kitchen -- it had a keypad! -- and soon we had two phones in the house, then three.

I got my first mobile phone when my wife was pregnant with our daughter 16 years ago. It wasn't one of the original "brick" phones, but it had that horrible little antenna, even worse call quality, and a battery that lasted almost the entire 30 minutes I commuted to work.

Now, my wife and daughter and I each have a cell phone that we carry everywhere that is more like a pocket computer than a simple communications device. With phones like those, who needs a landline? We wouldn't be abandoning AT&T because of our iPhone contracts (despite the ad onslaught by Verizon, I have very few problems with call coverage), but we do have some friends who no longer have a "home phone," and we're thinking about it, too.

Read the entire AT&T petition to the FCC in a PDF file here

Final Table #48: Setting Up The Bluff

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked about some recent poker news, including a debate about the "data mining" accusations against some of the players involved in nose-bleed-stakes heads-up matches. These online games have involved swings of millions of dollars, and the controversy revolves around some of the opponents of Isildur1 who shared information about hands they've played against him with another player who eventually beat him for $4.2 million in one session. When the data mining was made public, it resulted in at least one of the players being suspended from playing on one online poker site. We discussed the ethics of the matter and whether it is any different than players in a live game sharing information about a common opponent before sitting down to play against him/her.

In his Poker Coach segment, Joe McGowan offered one of his strongest lessons yet, about setting up the bluff and how, depending on various factors and opponents, you could count "scare" cards or "danger" cards among the outs that could help you take down a pot. Dennis and I both agree that this strategy has been rarely discussed elsewhere, so many listeners will go back to review it multiple times before invoking it at the table.

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

Nanny Of The Year

As chosen by the crew at Reason.tv...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Insider's View of Health Care Reform

Five months ago, I talked with Wendell Potter, the former insurance company public relations executive who turned against the industry and became a health care reform advocate at the Center For Media & Democracy. Today on KIRO/Seattle, I talked with him again to get his reaction to the bill the Senate passed last week.

We discussed the chances of reviving the public option, how the coverage mandate will mean a boon to insurance companies' bottom lines, whether opponents' claim that tort reform is the answer has any truth to it, the huge amounts of money the health business has poured into lobbying against reform, and much more.

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

Read Potter's blog.

Odd Politics Followup

Yesterday, I blogged about the bizarre and offensive campaign commercial being run in Illinois by a no-chance candidate for the US Senate seat once held by Barack Obama. Today on WLS/Chicago, I explored the story a little further with Sun-Times political reporter Abdon Pallasch.

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

Jib Jab Reviews The Year

Monday, December 28, 2009

Odd Politics

This morning as I was filling in on WLS/Chicago, a commercial played for a Republican candidate for Senate named Andy Martin. In the ad, he questioned whether Congressman Mark Kirk (the GOP front-runner) is gay. Martin based his claim on a "solid rumor," quoting two other Republicans. Kirk's spokesman has denied the rumor and called Martin's ad "degrading to the political process."

I was tipped off that the ad would run this morning by one of my bosses at WLS, so I was ready for it. Unfortunately, according to federal election law, no media outlet can censor, edit, or refuse to run the commercial message of a legally registered political candidate, regardless of its content. So the spot ran, but afterwards, I took a moment to remind our listeners of the law and that running it on this radio station did not mean any endorsement of Martin's allegations or remarks.

What I didn't say -- but will tomorrow -- is that it's sad that Martin thinks that a candidate's sexuality matters to voters a decade into the 21st century. It's even sadder to think that there are no doubt some listeners for whom it does matter.

The Illinois GOP has disavowed Martin's ad: "His statements today are consistent with his history of bizarre behavior and often-times hate-filled speech which has no place. Mr. Martin will no longer be recognized as a legitimate Republican candidate by the Illinois Republican Party." Whether that will stop Martin from running the ads remains to be seen. In the past, he has filed libel lawsuits against reporters who reveal his history of never being elected to any office, his inability to get a law license, and his "birther" beliefs.

It reminds me of a time two decades ago when a whack-job named Lyndon LaRouche kept running for president, even though his views were so extreme that he had no chance of getting even one percent of the vote. There was also the minor obstacle of the prison walls he was living in at the time, as an inmate doing time for a felony. None of that stopped him from running weird commercials full of odd claims, and funding the candidacies of others who thought like him.

I lived in Virginia at the time, and the state's US Senator was up for re-election. He was so popular that the other party didn't bother running anyone against him, which ensured his re-election. However, I was upset with the guy because, unlike all the other major politicos in the region, he kept refusing to appear on my radio show. As my own small protest, I decided to go to the ballot box on election day and mark the spot next to whichever minor party candidate was running against him. I had no idea what Nancy Johnson stood for, but I did know that she had no chance of winning and my vote wasn't going to tip the election, so what the hell.

It wasn't until that evening that I realized that the woman to whom I had given my vote was one of LaRouche's candidates, thus moving her up the ladder from "virtually no support" to "virtually no support plus one." I would have been better off writing in Groucho Marx's name. True, he was dead by that time, but I knew what he stood for.

If all Andy Martin stands for is trying to make an issue out of rumors about another candidate's sexuality, he doesn't even deserve a protest vote. The controversy over this ad is already bringing him more attention than he deserves.

TMZ Hoaxed

Yesterday, NY Times media writer Brian Stelter did a story on how TMZ, with its web site and daily TV show, "cemented its position this year as the celebrity news site to beat."

That was yesterday. Today, TMZ proved itself as yet another news source that should check the facts before going to print.

TMZ loves to post "gotcha" stories, so when someone gets them, a grin goes across the face of other media outlets. Such an instance occurred today when TMZ was trumpeting a black-and-white photo it claimed showed President John Kennedy lounging on a yacht while two naked women jumped off the side to cavort in the water. The headline read "The JFK Photo That Could Have Changed History." It was accompanied by text claiming that two Kennedy biographers and a forensic photo expert had examined the picture and declared it authentic.

Wrong. The photo was actually from a spread in Playboy magazine in November, 1967 -- four years after Kennedy was assassinated. The Smoking Gun, calling it "a collossal screw-up," has the story and the original photo. In color.

Almost 11 hours after posting their "exclusive," TMZ admitted it had been hoaxed.

Christmas Wrapping

No, it's not the holiday song by The Waitresses.

When Louie Sanders had to be out of town for a week, he left his apartment keys with his friend Adal Rifai. When he came back, he saw that Adal and some other friends had been very busy -- they covered pretty much everything Louie owned in Christmas wrapping paper...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

From My Twitter Feed

  • This evening I saw several dozen Chinese people waiting to have their traditional Xmas Eve dinner at a Jewish restaurant.
  • WABC should play "Come & Get Your Love" at 6pm to honor ex-DJ-turned-sportscaster George Michael, dead today at 70. For years, Michael played that Redbone hit to start his show every Friday night as "The Weekend National Anthem."
  • As we leave this decade, can advertisers finally get over their love of Dick Vitale? His "awesome, baby!" was old when the decade started!
You can follow me on Twitter here.

All I Want For Xmas

A new holiday song for these recessionary times, from Gary Stockdale...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sorting Truth From Lies

Bill Adair and the team at Politifact.com spent the year fact-checking hundreds of statements by politicians and pundits, and he joined me on WHAS/Louisville to report that, sadly, this was another bad year for the truth.

We discussed the many lies that were spawned during the health care reform debate, including the Lie Of The Year, along with various other issues in which Democrats and Republicans were caught with their pants on fire in 2009 by the Truth-O-Meter.

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

True Come Dreams My Make You

There's a video battle going on between two high schools in the Seattle area. At Shorecrest HS, Mr. Mitchell's video production class did a one-take lip-sync of Outkast's "Hey Ya" with a cast of dozens throughout the school.

In response, Mr. Ballew's class at rival Shorewood HS did a video version of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True" (which has become popular again because of this year's hit movie "500 Days Of Summer," which just came out on DVD). The difference here is that Shorewood's video was done backwards -- which meant the students not only had to time the stunts differently, but learn to sing the lyrics in reverse...

[thanks to Alan Light for the link]

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Final Table #47: Jack Effel and Jim McManus

Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Jack Effel, Tournament Director of the World Series Of Poker, about the schedule for next summer's tournaments, from the $1,000 buy-ins to the $10,000 Main Event to the $50,000 Player's Championship. We were especially curious about how Jack and his WSOP colleagues will avoid the problem that arose this summer, when several hundred more people than the Rio could handle wanted to play on Day 1D but were turned away.

Then we talked with Jim McManus about his comprehensive new book, "Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker." Among the topics included in our conversation:
  • the riverboats that cruised the Mississippi River;
  • how cheating was once considered the real skill of poker professionals;
  • why poker was not considered respectable for decades, despite being played by presidents, business leaders, and other powerful people;
  • how poker skills are used in the real world, such as the bluffs and re-bluffs during the Cuban Missile Crisis;
  • whether players in the Main Event are better than when Jim made it to the final table in 2000 (which he recounted in his earlier book, "Positively Fifth Street")
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Prayer Ricochet

I have nothing to add to what Mark Evanier said on his blog today, except that the caller must have heard Sen. Tom Coburn (R-NUTS) asking Americans to pray for exactly this:

A guy who phoned in to CSpan this morning identified himself as part of a "teabag group" in Waycross (Waycross, Georgia, I guess) and was almost in tears as he asked a question of Senator John Barrasso. The caller had been praying for Senator Robert Byrd to die or be otherwise unable to show up for the Health Care vote. He was concerned that since Byrd had shown up but Senator James Inhofe hadn't, perhaps the prayers got misdirected and took out one of their boys, instead.

Can we count the number of ways this is wrong? I don't believe prayers ever affect this kind of thing either way but this guy obviously does. What kind of sick puppy would you have to be to want to use that "power" to cause the death of another human being? Especially another human being who was on his way to vote to expand health insurance — and to therefore probably save an awful lot of lives?

Let's give the guy the benefit of way more doubt than he deserves and assume he wasn't just worried that the bill would raise his taxes. Let's say he honestly thought this bill would cost lives...which I think is a big lie but let's say the man bought into it. Wouldn't then the appropriate prayer be for all Democrats (not just Robert Byrd) to come to their senses and change their votes? That wouldn't change the outcome either, but at least you wouldn't be turning God into an assassin.

And of course, there's the whole inane assumption here that you pray for the death of Person A and since God is so confused and has such lousy aim, he kills Person B, instead. So he's not only an assassin, he's a stupid, inept one, at that.

But the worst part of the whole thing is that Senator Barrasso just sat there and told the caller that Senator Inhofe was probably fine and that his vote wasn't needed today. He did not say, "You should be ashamed of yourself for praying for the death of another human being!" As any decent person would.

Not On The Test

Folk singer Tom Chapin wrote this song with John Forster to express their disappointment with the lack of arts funding in public schools and the concept of "teaching to the test"...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Project On Government Oversight

The Project On Government Oversight is a non-partisan watchdog group that had some impact in Washington this year.

As Marthena Cowart, their Director of Communication, explained to me today on WHAS/Louisville, they were part of finally killing the F-22, an outrageously expensive airplane that couldn't fly in bad weather but cost taxpayers billions of dollars. POGO fought against other political pork and for more transparency in government, too, and they shone their spotlight on the raunchy activity by private contractors at the US Embassy in Kabul and made a lot of people aware of how much outsourcing is being done in these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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

Russell Was Robbed

As a fan of "Survivor," I was very disappointed in last night's season finale.

This season was dominated by Russell, who was such a student of the show that he understood how to manipulate everyone and everything for all 39 days. He found three hidden immunity idols with no clues, simply by taking the time to look for them all around camp. He kept his gang of four together by promising each of them he'd take them to the end, and then worked the other tribe's members so that, even when they outnumbered Russell's team 8-4, he and his colleagues still beat them and made it all the way.

The problem for Russell in the end was the same one we've seen on previous seasons with players who are too clever and too good -- the juries are made up of spiteful people who vote based on their own feelings rather than choosing who played the best game. The slogan of "Survivor" is "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast." Russell did all of those, yet the jurors couldn't see past their own wounded egos to recognize his complete dominance deserved the final reward. Instead, they gave the million dollars to Natalie, who did little besides ride Russell's coattails. Despite the fact that she, like him, had voted every one of them out of the game, she wasn't perceived as having done them harm.

That's no way to play the game. Imagine a baseball player being denied the MVP because he stole too many bases, or a college football player denied the Heisman Trophy because his spin moves helped him elude tacklers. If the voters in those sports made their choices that way (and announced them publicly, as "Survivor" jury members do), they'd be laughed out of town.

Yet too many people go on "Survivor" to make friends and build lasting relationships. Russell understood that's not what the show is about. It's about saying and doing whatever you have to do to avoid being eliminated at tribal council. He didn't break any rules along the way. In fact, he created new footprints that future players will follow. But much like Boston Rob, who dominated his season of the show but lost to nice-girl (and eventual wife) Amber, Russell had victory snatched from him by the wusses on the jury who simply decided to stick it to him out of revenge.

The experience they have for 39 days on location is distinctly different from the one we have over 13 weeks, but I thought that, by now, more "Survivor" contestants would understand that the admirable real-world qualities of honesty/loyalty/integrity are not what makes a great Sole Survivor. It's interesting that the home viewers voted Russell the game's best player this season, much as they did a few seasons ago for Rupert (who, like Russell, tried to turn things upside down by stealing other players' shoes and supplies). As Richard Hatch proved when he set the standard in winning the very first season, you gotta do what you gotta do.

You could see by the look on Russell's face that he knew he'd lost before Jeff Probst read the votes during the live finale. Any objective observer would have given him the million bucks. But, even during the final tribal council, he seemed to realize that his efforts had gone for naught because only a couple members of the jury were good enough at the game to recognize how and what he'd accomplished. Unfortunately, the rest cast their votes according to the rules of a popularity contest.

The next round of "Survivor," which begins in February, will pit the nice-guy "heroes" vs. the manipulative "villains" of previous seasons. It's unlikely that Hatch will be there, considering his history of legal problems, but if Russell is among the villains, it will sure make some interesting television -- and perhaps his fellow "Survivor" veterans will tell him he played a helluva game.

24 Days Of Christmas

On a very special holiday episode of "24," Jack Bauer tries to crack a suspected terrorist in a red suit and white beard...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

David Bianculli on The Smothers Brothers

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Smothers Brothers being fired by CBS. Despite their show being a major ratings success -- with an audience equaled today only by the likes of "American Idol" -- their material was deemed too dangerous by the network, which was getting pressure from people in high places, including the White House.

TV critic David Bianculli has compiled the definitive history of the show in "Dangerously Funny." He joined me to talk about how the Smothers Brothers (Tom in particular) didn't shy away from fighting for what they believed in and getting in the network's face on the air. They poked fun at their censors, re-introduced America to Pete Seeger after a 17-year blacklist, developed a relationship with and got support from The Beatles at the height of their fame, and eventually earned the respect of President Lyndon Johnson.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Joel Makower On The Climate Summit

Joel Makower is a writer, speaker, and strategist on clean technology and green business. He was in Copenhagen for the climate summit and joined me on KTRS/St. Louis to report on it.

He explained how complex the climate change issue is, what the attendees hoped to accomplish and what changes they might make in global policy, and how some nations were only there to look after their own self-interests. We also discussed how real environmental change is more likely to come from businesses embracing green technology because it props up their bottom line.

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

Joel is the author of "Strategies For The Green Economy" and editor/publisher of GreenBiz.com. You can also read his blog here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Joe Liberman Socks

From Moveon.org, Joe Lieberman holds the Senate hostage unless he gets a pony...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The People's Travel Agency

I bet you didn't know that, in addition to owning banks, insurance companies, and auto manufacturers, you also have a piece of a big travel agency.  Unfortunately, you can't use it to go anywhere yourself, unless you've been elected to public office.

A few years ago, Congress passed a law prohibiting lawmakers from taking trips paid for by private industry.  The idea was to cut down a little bit on the corrupt practice of companies paying off politicians they liked by flying them to various destinations, ostensibly on "the people's business," but really for a first-class vacation.

After the law passed, such privately-funded travel dropped 70%.  But the Wall Street Journal reports that legislators haven't taken fewer trips, they've just changed who paid for them.  So, if the corporate world isn't picking up the tab, guess who is?  Keep telling yourself this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, because it's We The People who are underwriting these trips now.  The cost to taxpayers has -- what a coincidence! -- jumped 70% as politicians continue to travel.

The Journal story reports on the expensive hotels they've stayed in, the extra rooms they booked and stocked with booze and snacks, the military liaisons who carry their luggage, and the sightseeing trips they take in chauffered vehicles.  It details how the politicians who were supposed to be attending conferences -- the reason for the trip in the first place -- have bailed out early to hit the spa, or just left altogether after a couple of days of relaxation.

Imagine trying that in the private sector.  Your boss asks you how things went at the conference he paid for you to attend, and you tell him that you didn't stick around because you had to get a back rub and some aromatherapy.  Then tell him you brought your spouse along -- at company expense -- so she could see the world and do some shopping.  How would that play at the office?

Now remember that these lawmakers are your employees.  What's the last time someone else paid for you, the boss, to take a trip like that?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hendra on Carlin, One More Time

Since I do radio shows for different stations in different cities on different days, when I find a good guest, I'll often book them for interviews on multiple outlets. Tony Hendra is one such money-in-the-bank guest. He's the co-author of his longtime friend George Carlin's autobiography, "Last Words," and I had him back again today for an all-new conversation on KTRS/St. Louis.

Among the subjects we discussed that we hadn't gotten to before: Carlin's desire to be a movie star, what made him change his act from the straight standup of the 1960s to the counter-culture appeal of his 1970s routines, whether that change affected his bookings for jobs, the impact of his cocaine addiction on his material in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and why he and HBO were such good partners.

I also asked Hendra, who was editor of National Lampoon, director of its stage show "Lemmings," and producer of its radio show, what he thought as he watched Carlin host the first "Saturday Night Live" in October, 1975, with many of the Lampoon stars who had jumped into TV with Lorne Michaels.

Listen, then buy "Last Words,"click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Listen to my other conversations with Hendra about Carlin: here's the first, here's the second.

Space Chair

Here's a British ad for Toshiba that, its creators claim, was shot at a higher altitude than any other commercial -- some 100,000 feet above the Earth. To get there, they attached a large balloon to an ordinary arm chair, rigged 8 HD cameras to capture the flight, and set the whole thing loose in the Nevada desert....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Final Table #46: Mike Sexton, Hall of Famer

Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Mike Sexton, the World Poker Tour host who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame last month.

We talked with Mike about how he got started playing poker, whether he thinks US online poker restrictions will be lifted in 2010, and whether he's interested in continuing with the WPT or becoming the next commissioner of the World Series Of Poker (since Jeffrey Pollack stepped down last month).

WSOP Main Event runner-up Darvin Moon got a lot of attention on our show last week when he explained why he lied to his wife about a hand because he was worried about people backstage getting information about his play and passing it along to the other players. Some listeners, and many in the blogosphere and poker forums, took that to mean that he didn't trust the ESPN crew televising the tournament finale. Dennis and I explored that idea on today's show, and concluded that's not what Darvin meant at all.

With Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan joining us, we discussed some of the recent online play at nose-bleed stakes with millions of dollars won and lost in a session, and Daniel Negreanu's blog comments about Phil Hellmuth being over his head against a lineup of Tom Dwan, Patrick Antonius, Gus Hansen, and Phil Ivey on the current big-cash-game episodes of "Poker After Dark."

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

Tiger Will Be Back

Rick Newman has a post at US News called "Why Tiger Woods Will Come Roaring Back," where he says anyone who believes Woods will quit golf is forgetting that America is Comeback Nation.

He cites Britney Spears, Newt Gingrich, Winona Ryder, Hugh Grant, and Mel Gibson as examples of people who "all violated a so-called social norm, bottomed out, and bounced back. Even Michael Vick -- whose illegal dogfighting ring was especially grotesque -- picked up his career again after getting out of prison."

I second Newman's point. If you need more proof, take a look at Monday's "Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." There was a bit with Conan, Andy Richter, and Max Weinberg all posing for a photo for the show's Christmas card. As they added snowflake sweaters and a Frosty The Snowman backdrop and a dog in a Santa hat, Andy kept insisting that something was missing.

That's when Mike Tyson appeared from the wings with a big smile on his face. He got hugs from the guys and a big laugh and ovation from the crowd.

Mike Tyson. The brutal boxer who did time in prison for raping Desiree Washington. Who beat up his wife, Robin Givens. Who spent the vast majority of his life with the reputation of an absolute thug who lived for hurting people, which made him a remarkably effective heavyweight champion, but not the guy you most associate with the holiday spirit. Especially with that ugly tattoo he still has down the side of his face.

But that was all the old Mike Tyson. This was the Mike Tyson who earlier this year was getting laughs in the year's biggest comedy, "The Hangover." Who now seemed all cuddly and loving and cute in his matching snowflake sweater.

If Americans can embrace that Mike Tyson, if they can still cheer for Kobe Bryant, if they can give standing ovations to Bill Clinton, if they can't wait to see Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2," then let there be no doubt that Tiger Woods will be back.

As soon as his wife lets him out of the house.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Derivatives 101

This has been going around online and just showed up in my inbox. Unfortunately, there's no author attributed (if you know who wrote it, please let me know so I can give them credit).

An easily understandable explanation of derivative markets:

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customer loans).

Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now, pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit .

By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively. A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so informs Heidi.

Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community.

The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from their cronies in Government. The funds required for this bailout is obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who have never been in Heidi's bar.

Now do you understand?

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Neil Diamond Hanukkah

With Hanukkah (that's my preferred spelling) beginning at sundown, here's a new animated version of Adam Sandler's holiday classic, as sung by Neil Diamond, who was left out of the original's list of Jewish entertainers...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spirograph in the Sky

What was that weird light spiral in the sky above Norway? Some sort of cheesy time-tunnel effect from a 1950 sci-fi movie? A promotion for the "V" miniseries on ABC? A once-in-forever refraction of the Northern Lights? Some crazy photoshop job?

It turns out there's a simple explanation for it, which planetary geologist Emily Lakdawalla -- my new go-to space consultant -- provided today on my KTRS/St. Louis show.

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

Here's the effect captured on video...

Sun Roof

For years, we've been hearing about how we can embrace alternative energy to save the planet and get away from coal-fired electricity and oil-guzzling internal combustion engines. Among those ideas was the concept of putting solar panels on the roof and get our house off the utility-provided electrical grid.

Now Lowe's, the home improvement store, is selling those solar panels and encouraging customers to buy and install them. But, as AP energy writer Chris Kahn explained to me today, buying them may be easy, but installing them isn't.

On the other hand, even with the expense of hiring someone to climb up on your roof and wire them into your circuit breakers, they could provide quite a savings if you think long-term. And don't mind staying on the grid at night.

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Someone Said Get Him, So He Did

On the football field, you're supposed to tackle the guys in the other uniforms, but one special teams player for the Las Vegas Cobras (a semi-pro team in more ways than one) forgot that important rule...

[thanks to Jim Delvin for the link]

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Final Table #45: Darvin Moon

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Darvin Moon, the logger from western Maryland who became a multi-millionaire by finishing 2nd in this year's World Series Of Poker Main Event.

We talked about a couple of famous hands he played in that tournament, including what was going through his head when he and Billy Kopp were the two chip leaders and Kopp moved all in with a small diamond flush and Darvin called with a bigger flush. The other one involved Darvin making a laydown with king-queen against Steven Begleiter's ace-queen, but then telling his wife that he had two queens! That raised a lot of eyebrows -- and so will Darvin's controversial explanation on our show of why he said what he said.

From there we got into Darvin's heads-up play vs. eventual winner Joe Cada, whether the long hours of the main event ever got to him, whether he'll play any other big tournaments in the near future, and much more.

For our strategy segment, a listener emailed us about a hand he'd played in the Main Event and wanted some analysis of his decisions, so we called upon Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan to dissect it, street by street (if you have a hand you'd like us to discuss, send it here). And Dennis talked about being at an event over the weekend for Albert Pujols' charity foundation, with some amazing guests and auction items.

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Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No

Dock Ellis was a major league pitcher who made a name for himself on the early 1970s as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team won the World Series in 1971, but it was Ellis' no-hitter the year before that put him in the spotlight.

During an interview in 1984, Ellis claimed that he had pitched that remarkable game while under the influence of LSD. Filmmaker James Blagden has taken the audio of that interview and added some hand-drawn animation to create this short...

[thanks to Jack Stabler for the link]

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Over Here, Rob!

The crew from Improv Everywhere has pulled off some amusing stunts over the last couple of years -- from a Best Buy store full of people dressed like Best Buy salesmen to subways full of people with no pants to humans walking invisible dogs.

In their latest, some friends go to a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. One of them, Rob, leaves to go to the concession stand, but when he comes back, he can't remember where they were sitting, so he wanders around looking for them. When his friends spot him, they shout out to him, but he doesn't hear them. Eventually, people nearby start shouting Rob's name to no avail as he remains clueless. This keeps building as more and more Knicks fans become concerned more with Rob's absence than with the game -- until whole sections of the arena are involved in trying to get him back to where he belongs...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Pearl Harbor

A few years ago, we went on vacation to Hawaii, and made the obligatory visit to Pearl Harbor. I wasn't sure what we'd see or how I'd react, but I got more than I bargained for.

As part of the tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, we joined a hundred other tourists in the park's movie theater to see a short documentary which gave an overview of the naval base's history and details about the attack of December 7, 1941. When it was over, a US Park Ranger asked us all to remain seated. He said that, from time to time, they get a visit from a survivor of the attack, and we had one in the theater that day.

He introduced a man who'd served aboard the USS Raleigh, a cruiser that was hit by a torpedo while moored at Pearl Harbor. While listing and nearly capsizing (pictured above), gunmen on the Raleigh still managed to shoot down five Japanese planes, including the one that dropped a bomb through the aft section of the ship. None of the crew died, though a few were wounded, as they saved the ship from sinking (here's a full report on what happened to the Raleigh that day). The Raleigh was repaired and back in action less than a year later, while most of the crew were transferred to other vessels, where they joined the fight in the Pacific when the US entered World War II.

The Ranger asked the Navy veteran to stand up, which he did, to a rousing ovation from the crowd. We all then left the theater and got aboard the launch which took us to the USS Arizona. When we docked, two Navy personnel escorted the Raleigh veteran off first, while we waited patiently.

As we took our time to observe all there was to see at the Memorial, I noticed that no one was approaching the vet, so I went over to him. I told him I didn't want to bother him, just wanted to thank him for his service. He looked up at me and nodded as he said, "I lost too many friends in this war." I told him I could only imagine the horror he'd witnessed that day. We stood there silently for a few more seconds before I thanked him again, we shook hands, and said goodbye.

When it was time to return to the launch, everyone was on board except the Raleigh veteran. He was talking quietly to two young sailors who were accompanying him outside in their starched-white uniforms. Just as they were about to help him onto the boat, he turned, brought his octogenarian body to full attention, and offered a crisp salute in the direction of the Memorial.

I teared up. My daughter grabbed my hand. No one said a word. We all understood.

One final show of respect for the long-gone but not forgotten.

Friday, December 04, 2009

iPhone App Of The Week

I have featured the work of Dr. Richard Wiseman several times on this blog, from my interviews with him about "Quirkology" to his Color-Changing Card Trick video. Now he and his colleague Sarah Angliss have developed Telepath, the iPhone app that reads minds...

You can buy it here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tiger Tales

The Tiger Woods story probably comes down to a cheating husband and a pissed-off wife, which means it's really none of our business. Will it hurt his endorsement deals? If so, he'll just have to learn to live on the billion dollars he's already earned. And the jokes flying around online:

  • The police asked Tiger Woods' wife how many times she hit him. "I don't know exactly...put me down for a 5."
  • I love Tiger Woods, but should we stop calling him Tiger and rename him Cheetah?
  • Phil Mickelson contacted Tiger's wife to pick up tips on how to beat Tiger.
  • What's the difference between a car and a golf ball? Tiger Woods can drive a golf ball 400 yards.
  • Ping offered Elin an endorsement deal for her own set of drivers; to be named Elin Woods..."clubs you can beat Tiger with."
As for the media coverage, no US outlet beats this TV news story from Taiwan -- and you don't have to speak the language to love the digital animation...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Win The Peace Prize, Go Directly To War

This morning on KIRO/Seattle, I spoke with Jere Van Dyk about President Obama's announcement that he's sending 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan. Van Dyk -- a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council and CBS News consultant -- authored "In Afghanistan" based on his many visits to that nation (more than just about any other American journalist).

I asked him whether he thinks escalating the war is a good idea, whether he believes that we'll only be there for a few more years, and what he would classify as "bringing the war to a successful conclusion" (to use the President's words from his West Point speech).

As to the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, I referred to a quote by National Security Advisor General James Jones, who said on CNN one month ago that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda remaining in that nation, with no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either the US or our allies. I asked Van Dyk whether the new mission is to get them all, or are we worried about those numbers growing under Taliban rule once we leave. And if that's the case, can we ever leave Afghanis in charge of their own country, something they have never shown the ability to take responsibility for?

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Slip-n-Slide Bikini Edition

The Japanese are famous for wacky TV game shows, and here's another example. It involves a middle aged man and several dozen greased-up women, plus a finale in which two guys reach into their boxer shorts and, well, see for yourself...

[thanks to Kelly for the link]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Final Table #44: Is He Strong or Weak?

Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I brought in The Poker Coach, Joe McGowan, for a great lesson about how to notice the difference between a strength tell and a weakness tell in your opponents, so you can figure out if they have a real hand or just a bluff.

We also talked about the advice Dennis has given 2009 WSOP Main Event runner-up Darvin Moon about finances (Darvin, who won $5+ million, is scheduled to join us next week). Then we moved onto a young online pro who played more than 40,000 hands in 24 hours to set a world record, billionaire Andy Beal buying up Donald Trump's casinos, and a bunch of grandmothers who had their home game busted up by the cops.

We also talked with John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance for an update on the 6-month delay in implementation of the UIGEA, the law affecting online poker players, and the efforts on Capitol Hill to get rid of any law keeping you from playing poker wherever and whenever you like.

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