Friday, January 29, 2010

How To Do TV News

British satirist Charlie Brooker explains how to put together a piece for a TV news story...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

iTalk aBout iPad

When I bought the iPhone, it replaced three items I used to carry around with me: my cell phone, iPod, and Palm Pilot. Now Apple has announced the iPad, and I keep wondering what it's supposed to replace. Today on WHAS/Louisville, Todd Bishop of TechFlash.com helped me analyze the good and bad of the iPad, including whether he thinks it will have the predicted impact on printed material like books and newspapers...

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

Fact-Checking The State Of The Union

Bill Adair and the crew at Politifact.com kept track of President Obama's claims in the State Of The Union address and then fact-checked them. He joined me today on WHAS/Louisville to report on the results from the Truth-O-Meter...

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

KimMel

Mel Gibson's new project is a biopic of Jimmy Kimmel...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Half-Court Wackiness

A couple of weeks ago, I posted video of a basketball prank played on a guy who took a blindfolded halftime shot and was convinced by the cheering crowd that it went in. Some high school students decided to try it on Joel Branstrom, a science teacher and coach of the girls basketball team. The difference is that this time, the shot went in...


Here's the kicker. A local TV news reporter, Rob Low, went to the school in Olathe, Kansas, and while videotaping a tease for the story, tried his own half-court shot...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Final Table #52: Steven Begleiter


Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I were in the poker room at Harrah's St. Louis, where another local player just hit a bad beat jackpot -- this time for $113,500 -- with an incredible flop! We have all the details.

In our guest segment, we were joined by Steven Begleiter, one of the 2009 November Nine, who finished 6th at the final table of the WSOP Main Event a couple of months ago. We talked with him about the coaches who helped him prepare for the event, the advice he'd give the next group of November Nine, and how he assessed some of the other players, including Phil Ivey, Joe Cada, and Darvin Moon.

In our tournament segment, I talked about playing over the weekend in a World Series Of Poker Circuit event in Tunica, Mississippi, where I scored my second cash of the year by finishing 14th. With Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan joining the analysis, we talked about two key hands I played in the tournament (although neither of them is representative of the vast majority of hands I played during the event).

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

Worth A Link

  • Two directors of the Texas Board of Education banned the children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" because the author also wrote a book on Marxism -- except it's not the same guy at all, but another author with the same name -- making you wonder how these idiots are allowed to stay on the state school board in the first place
  • Trapped in the earthquake rubble?  Yes, there's an app for that
  • Which is worse, a two-bit drug dealer or a lying cop?

Watering Haiti

One of the biggest problems in Haiti is the lack of clean water. The infrastructure there wasn't very good before the earthquake, but in the aftermath of the disaster, it's even worse.

Today on WHAS/Louisville, I talked with Mark Hogg of Edge Outreach, which has ten members on the ground in Haiti to assemble water purification systems. They have already installed three of them around hospitals and other medical facilities, and are working on more. Hogg explained the conditions his crews have found in Haiti, and how they and other relief workers are surviving in a country with virtually no services available.

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

Tyranny Of The Minority

For many of us, we learned all we know about the filibuster by watching Jimmy Stewart take down Claude Rains in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." But that's not the political reality of the filibuster in modern-day DC. Since Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts special election last week changed the makeup of the Senate by taking away the Democrats' super-majority, the concept is being tested again.

Today on WHAS/Louisville, I talked with US News columnist Robert Schlesinger about how the filibuster has brought the tyranny of the minority, and how it has changed from its original intentions.

Listen, then read Schlesinger's US News column, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Breathless Blaine

David Blaine appeared on "Oprah" on April 30, 2008, to set a new world record for holding his breath underwater. It seemed like yet another of his extreme stunts -- standing on a pole, being encased in ice, being suspended in a glass cube, etc. -- but the question remained, how did he go 17 minutes without breathing? Here is Blaine's explanation (which takes 20 minutes, by the way)...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Detecting Bogus Detectors

Over the weekend, British authorities arrested Jim McCormick for fraud -- the kind of fraud that put lives at risk.

McCormick sold bomb-detecting equipment to security forces in Iraq, to the tune of $85 million. The problem is that his devices were useless. They were in essence nothing more than divining rods, the pseudo-science quackery that people have fallen for throughout history when a con man told them they could be used to find water, oil, missing persons, etc. For a fee, of course.

James Randi has written extensively on dowsers and debunked them, particularly those who tried to use dowsing to win his Million Dollar Challenge. The James Randi Educational Foundation has tested McCormick's bomb detectors and found them to be unmechanized tools that did absolutely nothing. Nothing except fool the Iraqi Minister of Defense, who insists that the detectors are useful.

I talked this all over with Randi today on WHAS/Louisville, and pointed out that this is not just a matter of wasted time and money, but also a risk to the soldiers and civilians in Iraq who have to deal with the very real threat of stuff blowing up every day. If they rely on equipment that doesn't find explosives, as advertised, their limbs and lives are on the line. Unfortunately, the Pentagon won't listen to Randi, or the National Academy of Science, or other organizations that can show the complete ineffectiveness of these dowsers/detectors. They'd rather rely on the defense minister, who has yet to offer any evidence that these devices work.

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

Lost Family

If you've never seen "Lost," or can't remember what's taken place over the last five seasons, here's a reminder, courtesy of Mike Antonucci and his large family, who act out the show in their living room...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

High Steaks Gambling

Yesterday, I tipped you to an unadvertised steakhouse special that you have to know to ask about. It reminded me of a story my friend Mark Evanier once told me about a battle between two casinos in Las Vegas over a prime rib dinner. I don't remember which properties they were, but let's say they were the Desert Inn and The Frontier, both of which are long gone.

Each of them offered a $9.95 prime rib dinner, which included salad, a baked potato, dessert, and a drink. They had plenty of business, because many of their clientele were getting it for free. One day, The Frontier decided to raise the price of its prime rib dinner to $11.95. They didn't change a thing about the actual food you got, just the price on the menu.

When gamblers at the Desert Inn heard that there was a "better" prime rib dinner available across the street, they either took their action to the Frontier, or they demanded that their hosts at the Desert Inn give them a better prime rib dinner, too. So the Desert Inn raised the price of its meal to $14.95. Same steak, same salad, same potato, same dessert, same beverage, but now a bigger price.

Naturally, the gamblers at the Frontier were outraged that their prime rib dinner was now the inferior one. So they went back across the street and lost at the Desert Inn instead. Not it was the Frontier's turn to lure those gamblers back with a better deal, so re-printed their menus with a higher price. It went head-to-head like that until both places ended up charging $24.95 for that ten-buck prime rib dinner.

What's most amusing about this is that it didn't really matter to the gamblers, because they were getting the meal for free -- or it seemed like it was free because they didn't think about the hundreds or thousands of dollars they were losing at slot machines and table games, which is where any casino makes its money in the first place.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rocking The House Edge

Casinos always have upbeat music blasting out of their PA systems, because the gambling psychology says the quicker the tempo, the more money you'll put in the slot machines.

The genre of music they play varies. In St. Louis, most of the tunes are recent pop hits with a little bit of hip-hop, but absolutely no ballads. When I was at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi a couple of weeks ago, most of the songs were by country artists. But a couple of hours away here in Tunica, the Harrah's PA system is rocking.

What's weird is that it's a classic rock playlist. As I waited for a seat in a poker game, here's a sample of the songs I heard, in this order:

Boston "Smokin'"
Foghat "I Just Wanna Make Love To You"
Beatles "Revolution"
Stephen Stills "Love The One You're With"
Fleetwood Mac "The Chain"

That's like a set you would have heard on a Lee Abrams Superstars station circa 1978. I know, because that's where my career started -- on FM 104, The Album Station, WRCN/Riverhead (NY), where I played all those songs approximately seventeen gazillion times from 1978 to 1981.

Little did I know we were developing the playlist that would be used 3 decades later to get more money out of Mississippi gamblers.

Worth A Link

Michael Ian Black offers some perspective on Conan, asking "when did he become Norma Rae"?

A Beef Break

The steakhouse at most casinos is a pricey place. Because so many of their players use comps for their meals, the casinos jack up the prices to make it look like their best customers are getting something really special. I mention this as prelude to a semi-secret that I took advantage of last night at the steakhouse at Harrah's Tunica, which is called '37 (named after the year Harrah's opened its first casino).

The prices on the menu were typically high, and since I don't play slots or table games, I didn't have any comps to use and neither did the other three St. Louisans I was having dinner with. But earlier that evening, a player in my pot-limit omaha game had tipped me to an unadvertised special this restaurant offered -- a filet mignon dinner with salad, potato, dessert, and a beverage, for $37 (about half what it would normally cost). This special wasn't listed anywhere on the menu, but if you asked for it, you'd get it.

Three of us did, and it was pretty good. Not the best steak I've ever had, but far from the worst. And we had a waiter, Nick, who understood that I needed to get back to the game in an hour before they gave away my seat.

There's a similar meal deal at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas at a place called Mr. Lucky's 24-7. Their word-of-mouth steak-and-shrimp dinner costs $7.77. I'm sure other places offer specials like these, so ask around before you eat at any of them. To my knowledge, none of the casino steakhouses in St. Louis offers that kind of bargain.

The Old Ace-King Trick

Here's an update on day two of the poker tournament I was in at the WSOP Circuit Event at Harrah's in Tunica, Mississippi.

We started Day 2 with 23 players. My chip count was about average and an aggressive young pro was on my left. I knew he'd be raising a lot of pots right from the start, which he did, trying to push people around. That wasn't a good spot for me, but I played patiently, eliminated one of the smaller stacks, and stayed out of the bully's way.

After an hour, five players were gone, so we were assigned new seats at the final two tables. I thought this would be good for me because I wouldn't have the young gun on my left any more. Unfortunately, my new table including the three biggest stacks of all. Fortunately, the biggest of them was directly to my right, and he was the one who was playing a lot of hands.

Once again, I chose my spots carefully and picked on the two smaller stacks, but could only tread water against the blinds and antes. Then I made a move against the chip leader and got him to lay down a superior hand, only to be called by the shortest stack at the table, who called with ace-king and hit a king on the river to take 40% of my chips.

My situation wasn't desperate, but I needed to make something happen.

The chip leader, who opened about 75% of the pots with a raise, liked to show his hands whether he won or lost. I was happy for the information, and could see that he was often raising light, meaning he didn't have to have a big hand because his massive pile of chips was intimidating to other players.

One round later, after the chip leader opened under the gun for a raise, I looked down at a pair of sixes. I wasn't in love with my hand, and would have waited for a better heads-up spot earlier in the tournament, but the blinds were about to go up again and I wasn't going to have a lot of time.

With 66, I might be a favorite to something like ace-rag, or even money to two unpaired overcards, or dominated by a bigger pair. Calling his raise would mean putting a quarter of my stack into the pot. I knew he'd bet out again on the flop, but if it didn't include a six, I'd have to fold and be stuck with a crippled stack. So it was either fold pre-flop and wait for a better hand or put all of my chips in the middle.

I chose the latter and shoved. He didn't hesitate to call and turned over ace-king, the hand that had been the bane of my existence in this tournament. When an ace came on the turn, my day was over in 14th place.

Ah, well. I walked away disappointed, but with four times the money I'd invested. My friend Mark came over to congratulate me on another deep run and said, "Now let's go make some more money in the cash games." We walked downstairs to put our names on the lists in the main poker room as I thought to myself that after finishing 15th in Biloxi, and now 14th in Tunica, I should be peaking just in time for the WSOP Main Event this summer if the trend keeps up!

Friday, January 22, 2010

On The Poker Circuit

I haven't posted anything for a couple of days because I'm in Tunica, Mississippi, playing in a poker tournament at a WSOP Circuit Event.

We started yesterday with 293 entrants, and after 14 hours, we're down to 23 and I'm still alive and in the money. With my finish in a similar event in Biloxi a couple of weeks ago, that means I've cashed in the only two tournaments I've played in 2010. Not a bad way to start the year.

I came down with three other guys from St. Louis, and have run into more than a dozen others -- including two who were at my tournament table yesterday, thanks to the luck of the draw. The action in the live games in Harrah's poker room hasn't been great, but I expect it to pick up considerably today and through the weekend.

On the last hand yesterday, with blinds at 2500/5000 and a 1000 ante, I raised in middle position to 12,500 with the king and queen of clubs. I had 163,000 chips, well above average. A player in late position with a short stack (40,000) moved all-in. I looked him over, decided it was a desperation attempt to pick up some dead money, and I called. He turned over the king and ten of diamonds, so I had him dominated.

The flop brought the queen of hearts, the seven of diamonds, and the five of clubs -- giving me one pair. The turn card was the jack of diamonds, which was not good for me at it gave my opponent a straight draw (he needed any nine or ace) and a flush draw (he needed any diamond). The river was both -- the ace of diamonds, giving him a back-door flush. If that card had been a blank, I would have been among the chip leaders, with over 210,000. Instead, I'm down to 123,000, but that's right around the average, so it's not a total disaster.

Obviously, to get this far, I had plenty of hands that weren't bad beats, including a couple of very interesting decisions that I'll discuss with Dennis Phillips and Joe McGowan on our Final Table radio show this Tuesday.

Play resumes in my event at 1pm CT today. I've been tweeting from the table, so if you want to follow me, click here.

Late Night Civil War

The other day I showed you Conan vs. Jay vs. NBC as seen in digital animation on a Hong Kong TV newscast. Now, here's The Late Night War as told in a Ken Burns documentary, via Jimmy Kimmel...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Final Table #51: Matt Savage


Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I were in the poker room at Harrah's St. Louis, where a local player just hit a bad beat jackpot for $212,655 -- and you won't believe how it happened. We have all the details.

Also in our opening segment, Dennis talked about playing over the weekend in the Heartland Poker Tour kickoff event in Las Vegas and revealed that, a few hours before we went on the air, he was invited to be one of the 64 select players in the NBC Heads-Up Championship at Caesar's Palace at the beginning of March.

In our guest segment, we were joined by Matt Savage, tournament director of the Los Angeles Poker Classic, which kicks off six weeks of events tomorrow at the Commerce Casino. And in the Poker Coach segment, Joe McGowan talked about letting go of a big hand instead of falling in love with it.

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

Digital Peacockery

What's been missing in the Conan vs. Jay vs. NBC mess? Asian animation of the whole story...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Party Like It's 1979

Each year, the Consumer Electronics Show is the place to see the cool new technology being introduced. The 2010 edition was all about tablets, iPhone competitors, and internet-enabled televisions. Someday we may look back on those inventions as quaint and low-tech, as you will when you watch this flashback to a piece by ABC reporter Irv Chapman at the 1979 CES, in which he breathlessly reports on the ability to see superstations from Atlanta and Chicago on your TV, plus movies on videocassette!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Francene


It's not easy for women in talk radio. While many do the news or traffic, very few of them are successful as hosts of their own show. My friend Francene Cucinello was one of the rare ones.

For six and a half years, she hosted one of the most popular radio shows in Louisville, Kentucky, helping WHAS remain the top-rated station in that town. Unfortunately, that run came to an end yesterday.

Francene was pronounced dead Friday at 3:15pm ET. She was just 43. She'd been hospitalized early Monday with what was originally thought to be pneumonia. Then she suffered a heart attack in the hospital, followed by a collapsed lung, and then a brain aneurysm. After all that, her body just couldn't fight any more.

I had filled in for her on WHAS all week, as I have many times, and it was tough doing her show each of these days knowing that she wasn't doing well in the hospital. But I knew how important her show was to her and to the community that had embraced her since 2003.

Earlier in her broadcasting career, Francene was a TV news reporter in Baltimore, Washington, and Nashville. It was in Tennessee that she became friendly with a morning radio guy named Darryl Ankarlo who encouraged her to call in and contribute whenever she wanted. Eventually, she was hired to be the news anchor and sidekick on his show, and when he was hired at KTRS/St. Louis, he suggested they bring her along. For a number of reasons, the show didn't click on KTRS and Darryl was let go, but Francene stayed on.

I was doing the midday show at the time, and we'd become friends. One day she came to me for advice on hosting a talk show by herself, something she'd never done before. I explained some of the basics of the business, from developing topics that listeners would want to talk with her about to which kinds of guests she could start with. And I told her the most important quality a successful radio talk show host has: passion. You have to be so compelled by whatever you're discussing that you force the listener to be interested.

It only took halfway through her first weekend show to realize that she got it. I knew she would never be anyone's sidekick ever again. While other women were afraid of being considered too aggressive or opinionated, Francene understood that she had to stand her ground and be herself on the air. Her intelligence, wit, endless curiosity, and sense of humor were all strong enough to knock back any criticism -- and her confidence showed.

She kept at it on a parttime basis until she moved back to Charlotte, North Carolina, to be closer to her mother. She was soon hired by that town's big talk station, WBT, and made such an impression that it didn't take long for executives at Clear Channel to take notice of her. They offered her the 9am-Noon show at WHAS/Louisville, and while she hated having to leave her mother alone, I told her to take the job and make the best of it.

She did, and the show worked because Francene understood passion. I don't mean that in any kind of romantic way, but in the way that she dug into her work. If she didn't know enough about a subject, she buried herself in research before presenting it on the air. If she still didn't understand it but thought it was important enough for her audience to know, she'd bring on an expert to explain it. That was her reporter's instinct. If a public figure was out of line, she never hesitated to take him or her to task for it. Politicians appeared on her show regularly, knowing that she would be fair, but wouldn't take any crap or let them get away with anything.

Several months ago, Francene decided she'd heard enough about the increase in unemployment due to the recession and decided to do something about it. She turned her show that Friday into a radio want ad, where employers called in and talked about available jobs that her listeners could apply for. The phones lit up immediately, and stayed lit. She did it again the next Friday, and the next, and by the end of the year, she had helped 500 unemployed people find new fulltime jobs.

Francene had passion off the air, too. She loved the horse races at Churchill Downs, particularly the Kentucky Derby -- and not just because it meant buying a bright new broad-rimmed hat every year. In 2009, she got a huge thrill from talking up Rachel Alexandra, the filly that won the Kentucky Oaks and then stunned the sports world by winning the Preakness. Francene was often seen in the stands rooting on the Louisville Bats minor league baseball team, and worked tirelessly raising money for charities around town. Somehow, she also found time to spend her weekends in Cincinnati as a reporter for WXIX-TV, appear as a pundit on Fox Business Channel, and write a weekly column for LEO, Louisville's alternative newspaper.

In her last LEO column, published Wednesday, Francene revealed that she'd been asked by a prominent local Democrat to consider running for Congress against incumbent John Yarmuth. She considered it, even though she considered herself a liberal Republican. She spent long hours thinking through what it would take, what her chances might be, where the campaign money might come from, what skeletons from her past might be dug up, etc. In the end, she wrote, "Ultimately, I decided I didn’t want the job enough to pursue it with the relentlessness a successful campaign would require. But never say never. In two years, I might very well change my mind."

To give you an idea how gutsy Francene was, she even called Yarmuth to ask what he thought of her possibly running against him. He told me Friday morning on her WHAS show that he was surprised to discover that people in his own party were looking for another candidate, but since he'd appeared on the air with her so often, he wasn't shocked that it was Francene and that she had turned to him for advice.

One of the reasons she passed on the electoral opportunity was because she loved her radio show, and her audience loved her, making her one of the most-listened to personalities in the entire state. When I filled in for her, I knew that her audience was always primed to join the conversation because she had trained them to participate day in and day out.

We talked on a regular basis. Francene would call for advice about how to handle a topic on the air, or tell me some crazy story about her personal life. She would thank me for mentoring her, and I would tell her how proud I was to see her become so successful.

Francene's sudden death leaves a void in Louisville, both on and off the air. There will be a memorial service for her on Monday morning. Thousands of her listeners will be there, as will the top political leaders in town. It will be a celebration of her life.

I hope they're as passionate about her as she was about everything.

Here are some condolence statements from Kentucky politicos.

Here's a Francene obit that ran on a Louisville TV station Friday night.

Priceless


Have you noticed that supermarkets are designed so that you go through them counterclockwise? Ever notice that menus in sit-down restaurants don't have prices that end in $.99? Ever think that a TV with a price tag that says it's $800, marked down from $1,000, must be better than another TV that's $800 without a discount?

These are among the topics I discussed yesterday on WHAS/Louisville with William Poundstone, author of "Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value and How You Can Take Advantage Of It." He explained how companies decide how much to charge you for everything you buy, with the help of pricing consultants. We also talked about companies that have figured out how to keep the packaging and price the same while giving you less.

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

Loathing Leno

Nathan Rabin has a very interesting piece on why comedians and comedy writers seem to loathe Jay Leno.

Satanic Letter to Pat Robertson

A letter to the editor by Lili Coyle, as seen in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune:

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher.

The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best,
Satan

Friday, January 15, 2010

Worth A Link

Nothing But Net

Ball meets basket in unusual ways...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not Too Bright

While I was filling in for John Brown on KTRS/St. Louis yesterday, I was talking with his co-host Trish Gazall, who is about to embark on her first ski vacation in Aspen, Colorado. I'm not a skier -- having tried it a couple of times as a kid and discovering that gravity was not my friend -- but I gave her some silly advice about the tow-rope on the bunny hill and some other things. Then someone else in the studio reminded her to take plenty of sun screen, because on the mountain, she'd be closer to the sun.

I paused as this idea rattled around inside my head for a moment. Then I pointed out that The Earth is approximately 93,000,000 miles from The Sun. Getting a mile closer is statistically insignificant. You're not going to get more sunburned because you've lessened the distance to 92,999,999 miles.

The reason skiers get sunburned is not because of their heightened proximity to The Sun, but because they don't think they need UV protection in the winter. They're used to lathering up on a hot summer day around the pool, not when it's below zero and the rest of their body is covered in GoreTex.

On the other hand, if Trish has as much skill on the slopes as I once did, she won't have to worry about the intensity of the sun -- because she'll be inside the lodge, enjoying a nice warm beverage. I hope she doesn't get too close to the cup.

Update 1/15/10 @ 8:52am...Several readers, including Dave Aronson and Rob Fugina, wrote to remind me that skiers also get sunburned for another reason -- the sun reflecting off the snow.  It's the same reason you can go "snowblind."

Update 1/15/10 @ 11:19am...Elvis writes, "Elevation matters because the atmosphere up there is thinner. That's similar to the reason why it is hotter in the northern hemisphere in July (when the sun's rays pass the most direct angle through the atmosphere) than December (when the sun's rays pass through the atmosphere at a shallow angle), even though the earth is slightly farther away from the sun in July. At a given solar angle, the UV rays that cause sunburn are relatively more intense at high elevation (or altitude) than at sea level. Astronauts, pilots and mountain climbers are well aware of this fact."

Anyone else?

Mark McGwire: Apology Rejected


Mark McGwire spent two days this week revealing he had used steroids, to the shock of exactly no one, then apologizing and explaining to anyone with a camera or microphone that he was really very sorry. Only he never explained who he was apologizing to or what he was sorry for.

He didn't have to apologize to me. It makes no difference to me what he put into his body. I enjoyed seeing him hit the ball over the wall, and the 1998 race with Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris' record was exciting even to someone who isn't a baseball fanatic (which I am not). If it took steroids to make that happen, I have no problem with that. If I didn't enjoy watching people sacrifice their bodies for my entertainment, I wouldn't spend so many Sundays watching the NFL (nor would I have liked the exploits of Johnny Knoxville and his "Jackass" colleagues). If our culture really objected to artificially-inflated bodies, there wouldn't be any more beauty pageants or strip clubs, would there?

Was McGwire apologizing for his success in the batter's box? Not one bit. He claims that his talent had nothing to do with the steroids, that he only took them for medical purposes. To my knowledge, he's yet to produce a note from any doctor who said he prescribed these things. You know you're outside the law when the drugs you're using are delivered in a brown paper bag and exchanged in the back of the locker room (or you have your maid get them from your dealer in the parking lot of a Denny's in Florida, as another highly-paid celebrity did).

Maybe McGwire should apologize to Barbara Walters, who had to be pissed off when she saw McGwire crying in all those interviews. Getting guests to cry is supposed be her job. Instead, the tears flowed as he talked almost exclusively to male sportscasters, proving wrong the Tom Hanks adage about crying in baseball.

It's funny to me that McGwire took the time in a couple of interviews to go after Jose Canseco, who was lambasted by the baseball establishment when he revealed inside information about steroid use by McGwire and others in his book, "Juiced." The irony is that, five years later, Canseco appears to be the only honest one in the dugout. By the way, I talked at length with Jose when we both played a poker tournament at the Venetian last summer, and I can tell you that he is still a huge human being. The man has his own zip code. He has muscles in places I don't have places. He must get his shirts at the Big & Hulk store.

McGwire also said that he's glad to finally have the chance to talk about this matter. Who does he think he's kidding? He could have discussed his steroid use at any time. One phone call to Bob Costas, Joe Buck, or Bernie Miklasz, and he'd get all the time and attention he wanted for his revelation -- particularly after his outrageous non-testimony before Congress in March, 2005. Or did he have to wait until some statute of limitations expired?

No, he's only on the record now because he's going back to work as batting coach for the Cardinals, who don't seem to mind that he lied to them repeatedly about the pills and syringes that were part of his workout regimen while wearing their uniform. He's coming clean because spring training starts in a few weeks, and if he didn't do this in January, he'd be hounded by reporters from day one in Florida -- and since he's never been very good with the media, he figured (or his publicists told him) it would be better to get this all of his chest now and then hope the matter would be closed.

You're sorry, Mark, but not in the way you intended.

Building Demolition Failure

In Lizhou, China, a demolition team was hired to bring down a building, but things didn't go according to plan...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Conan vs. Jay Leno vs. NBC

TV critic Aaron Barnhart joined me again today -- this time on WHAS/Louisville -- to discuss the latest in the ongoing Conan O'Brien/Jay Leno story, including the remarkable statement that Conan released yesterday, in which he said he refused to take part in "the destruction" of the legacy of "The Tonight Show" by moving it back a half hour.

Aaron explained the implications of Conan's statement, why Fox would want him even though he didn't pull in big enough numbers at NBC, and how other late night hosts are now treating Jay like the bad guy (or, in David Letterman's case, finally publicly expressing his dislike for Jay after all these years).

If it shakes out that Conan's off the air and Jay gets his old show back, it'll be interesting to see if NBC can regain the lead in that slot against David Letterman. Unlike Aaron, I've never been a big Conan fan, and never thought his taking over "The Tonight Show" was going to work. Nor was I a huge Jay fan. While I admire the guy's work ethic, his interviewing skills were never very good, and I only connected with his monologue because my friend Jon Macks has been writing jokes for Jay since he took over the show in 1992.

I have always been a Dave fan, back to the days of his morning show, because he's the only real broadcaster in the bunch. As he's done so many times before -- after his illnesses, or 9/11, or the John McCain cancellation, etc. -- Letterman has been doing some of his best work this week, with some funny and brilliantly incisive comments about the mess at his old broadcast home. Similarly, Jimmy Kimmel stepped up big time when he did his entire show last night as Jay Leno, complete with big chin, wig, and high-pitched voice.

As others have pointed out, there's no life-threatening consequence to this battle between millionaire TV hosts, but it's the most intriguing show business story in a long time. And for some of the participants who went through the original version of this squabble, the sequel must be bittersweet.

Johnny Carson's name gets thrown around a lot whenever late-night television is discussed, because he owned that daypart with a vengeance for so long. In his statement, Conan mentioned that, as a boy, he watched Johnny host "The Tonight Show" and dreamed of someday doing it himself. But Conan is overlooking something very important, and may need a history lesson.

In Bill Carter's "The Late Shift," there's a story about Letterman having lost "The Tonight Show" to Leno, but then possibly having a chance to get it back if and when NBC fired Jay. Letterman told his associates that getting Johnny's show was the pinnacle of the business and the only thing he wanted. Peter Lassally (the wise man who had helped guide Johnny's show, Dave's show, and now Craig Ferguson's show) had to remind Dave that it was no longer Johnny's show that Dave could inherit -- it was Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," which wasn't the same thing.

Someone needs to remind Conan of that.

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Final Table #50: Tales of Two Tournaments


Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, we were in three different locations -- I was in St. Louis, Dennis Phillips was at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan was in southern California.

We talked about a couple of hands that Dennis played at the PCA (in the main event and the $5k), as well as my adventures in an event at the Southern Poker Championships at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, where I cashed in my first tournament of the year. We also got into Mel Gibson's poker goo, a sick prop bet between Joe Sebok and Gavin Smith, and more.

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He's Got The Whole Song In His Hands

Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" has had multiple lives. There was the original hit. There was "The Sopranos" finale. There was the version on "Glee." And there was Gerry Phillips' version...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Faster Than The Elevator

If you build the world's tallest building, someone will try to jump off the top of it. In this case, two base-jumpers got their kicks from the new Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai the day after it opened last week. The soundtrack sounds like an episode of "The Amazing Race"...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who's On Last?


Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I had a long discussion with TV critic Aaron Barnhart about the NBC late-night debacle, in which Jay Leno's primetime show will leave the air in a month and then may reappear as a half-hour show at 10:35pm, moving Conan O'Brien back to 11:05pm (presumably still with the "Tonight Show" name).

Aaron explained the history behind the errors NBC has made with that daypart for years, the chances of success for the new line-up, what Leno's show will consist of (I'm guessing an extended monologue, some commercials, a JayWalking segment, and he's done). We also speculated about whether David Letterman will extend his deal through 2012 (which would tie Johnny Carson's 30 years in late-night television) and how these moves will affect the CBS duo of Dave and Craig.

I don't watch Jay or Conan, nor Jimmy Fallon, and certainly not Carson Daly. However, the schedule does matter to me, because I need to know when to set the DVR for "Poker After Dark." Since our local NBC affiliate airs an Oprah rerun somewhere in there, it's possible that I'll tune in and see Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer putting Al Roker all in.

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Blown Away

TV stations love to send reporters out to report in severe weather. We've seen them doing live shots in hurricanes, blizzards, etc. Here's one from KGW/Portland a couple of days ago during a wind storm with gusts that reached 100mph. The assignment desk sent one of their reporters, Keely Chalmers, to Crown Point, one of the highest spots in town, for a story on what it felt like to be in that much wind. They probably should have sent someone a little sturdier...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Airport Insecurity

Two quick airport notes as I begin my trip home from Biloxi.

Delta charges passengers $25 for each checked bag, but on their regional jets, which are too small for most carry-ons to fit in the overhead compartment, they offer “planeside valet,” where you gate-check your bag at the end of the jetway. A baggage handler then takes it, puts it in the cargo hold, and it is returned to you in the jetway at your arrival city.

Delta does not charge for this service. Yet. Perhaps that’s because they haven’t noticed that everyone gate-checks their bags. There were at least five times as many “valet” items as “checked” items on each of my flights this weekend. It may be the only benefit of flying via airports that don’t get bigger jets. It also cuts down on the boarding time because you don’t have to wait for your fellow fliers to stuff their carry-ons into the overhead. On the other hand, it makes things a little longer at security.

Speaking of that checkpoint, at Gulfport/Biloxi Regional Airport this morning, they had a GE EntryScan -- a puffer machine that blows a quick gust at you, then analyzes the air for explosives or residue. Several studies have found that these machines don’t work effectively, but even if they did, the policy at this airport made no sense.

They did not require everyone to pass through the puffer. If the TSA believed in the puffers enough to equip this small airport with one, why not have everyone pass through it? We’re not talking about a heavy volume of passengers, with only a dozen or so flights per day.

Instead, most people were sent through a regular metal detector and then given an above-the-waist pat-down by a TSA employee. Following the attempted bombing on Northwest 253, what kind of “heightened security” is that? Umar Abdulmutallab had the explosives mixture in his underwear, which today’s pat-down would not have discovered. To my knowledge, not one terrorist has been caught with an explosive in their shirt. Since there no chance Americans will put up with a TSA screener grabbing us (male or female) in the crotch, there is still no protection against the kind of plot that failed on Christmas day.

Sadly, too many people have the attitude that the TSA should do “whatever it takes” to protect us when we fly. So they take off their shoes, put liquids in plastic bags, walk through useless puffers, and get pawed by security guards. Not enough say, “Stop wasting time, energy, and money on policies that won’t work.”

Fire Alarm

"May I have your attention. For your own safety, please remain calm, head for the nearest exit, and leave the building. Do not use elevators. Thank you."

That’s the announcement that woke me out of a sound sleep and scared the hell out of me at 2:40 this morning at the Beau Rivage, where I've spent the last three days playing poker in a tournament and cash games. The announcement was preceded by a loud bwoop-bwoop alarm sound. At first, I wasn’t sure where I was or what was going on, but the announcement was loud and kept repeating. I thought it might be some false alarm that would be turned off in a minute or so, but when three minutes had gone by and it was still blaring, I looked out the window to see if I could get a clue as to what was happening. I don’t know what I was looking for (the other side of the hotel in flames?), but I figured I ought to get dressed and leave the room, if only to get away from the noise.

I walked down to the exit stairs at the end of the hall, opened the door, and saw a stream of people on their way down. They looked stunned, but kept moving, albeit slowly. Guests in a casino hotel tend not to be the fittest people in the world. Many are senior citizens, who wouldn’t be moving too quickly if this were 2:40pm. Others, who spend their sedentary leisure time in front of slot machines and blackjack tables, aren’t in the best shape either. Then there was the woman who weighed 500 pounds, minimum, whose body was not happy about the 14 flights of stairs she was being forced to descend. Neither were the people who were backed up behind her rather large behind.

With the outdoor temperature at 19 degrees, no one was anxious to go outside –- particularly Gulf-Coasters who aren’t used to this kind of weather and weren’t dressed for it. Still, there was a minimum of complaining, particularly since we could hear fire engine sirens in front of the hotel. Thankfully, no one was panicking. I think that was because we couldn’t smell anything. The first whiff of smoke would have changed things dramatically. Ironically, as we emerged through the exit door, the first thing we encountered besides the cold was a phalanx of smokers, whose bodies had been forced into some physical activity against their wills, so they were going to make up for it with a few Marlboros.

A Beau Rivage employee pointed passers-by toward the lobby, saying we could go in there to stay warm -– an odd thing to say considering the alarm announcement was still repeating inside. Since we nothing seemed ablaze, we tromped through into the atrium. Or maybe some folks were hoping something was on fire because it would warm them up.

Once there, many guests kept moving towards the casino, as if the only thing to do during a fire alarm was try to hit a jackpot. I stayed put in the lobby, observing how people were handling the situation. I ran into Eric Harkins, whose ImageMasters company is the official photographer for most major poker tournaments. He had been in the hotel nightclub when the alarm went off, but said the announcements couldn’t be heard over the music, so most people were still in there.

Eric told me that this was the third alarm at the Beau in the last few days, and chalked it up to some idiot inconveniencing everyone by smoking too close to a smoke detector. We chatted for a half-hour or so until the all-clear signal came over the alarm system. At that point, the crowd headed for the elevators, but I knew it would take at least another half-hour for the crowd to get back upstairs, so I talked some more with Eric and poker circuit veteran Doug Carli and his wife. Doug had just been knocked out of that day’s tournament (he cashed, which he does a remarkably high percentage of the time).

Finally, around 4:00am, with the elevator queue down to a few people, I headed to my room, knowing my iPhone alarm was set to wake me in four hours for my trip home.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Ball And Bird Trick

Now that Randy Johnson has announced he's retiring from baseball after a remarkable career, how about a look back at March 24, 2001, the day he vaporized a dove with his fastball in the 7th inning of a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Take Two Tablets

Today, Microsoft introduced its new tablet computer in an attempt to beat Apple to the punch (Steve Jobs will announce a new device in March). This morning on KIRO/Seattle, I talked with Todd Bishop of TechFlash.com about what tablets are, how the companies' offerings will differ, and how they compare to Amazon's Kindle. We also talked about other new pieces of technology being introduced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including 3-D televisions, Google's new Nexus One phone, and more.

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Capitol Hill Vacancies

As Chris Dodd was announcing that he won't run for re-election for the US Senate seat from Connecticut that he's held for 30 years, I was talking on KIRO/Seattle with Josh Kraushaar of Politico about the implications of that decision (and a similar one from Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota).

We also discussed how all this will affect the electoral balance on Capitol Hill, how a member of the professional wrestling world could enter the race, the attempts by Democrats to finish the health care reform legislation without GOP interference, and whether President Obama will make any changes in his national security personnel in the wake of the failed bombing of Northwest 253 on Christmas Day.

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Stuffbusters

A commercial from the Cartoon Network parodies Adam & Jamie from "Mythbusters," complete with blueprints and explosion...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Final Table #49: Dennis At The PCA


Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, while I was sitting at a table at Harrah's St. Louis, Dennis Phillips was on the phone from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

As play got under way today, he took time away from the Main Event to talk with me, Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan, and our friend Larry Conners, the dean of St. Louis anchorman (he's on KMOV-TV-4), who also plays a lot of poker. Larry was in a game at Harrah's today hoping to hit the bad beat jackpot, which is over $410,000!

We talked about the WSOP Circuit Event that Harrah's will host in April, as well as some changes at a Bellagio tournament this spring that will be made up of nothing but re-buy events. Then, as Dennis went back to play, Joe and I answered e-mail from a listener who wanted to know how he could have avoided running into trouble when he flopped trip jacks.

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Hey Newark

You're stuck in Newark Airport on Sunday evening because some TSA guard didn't notice the guy entering through the exit, and now everyone's had to evacuate the terminal to be re-screened. What do you do? If you're musician Josh Wilson, you take out your guitar and lead them in a singalong...

Monday, January 04, 2010

Announce This

CBS announced today that they're finally retiring Walter Cronkite, six months after his death. His voice has remained in the intro to the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," but tonight they debuted a new voice in that spot. It's clear they're targeting a much younger demographic with their choice of...drumroll, please...Morgan Freeman.

Freeman must be used to doing the voiceovers for famous white people by now. That's what he did in "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Bucket List," and "Million Dollar Baby," to name a few. Plus, at 72, he was born some 21 years after Cronkite. And 13 years after most of Couric's viewers.

So now CBS has Freeman and NBC has Michael Douglas introducing Brian Williams. It can only be a matter of time before Wilford Brimley is saying Diane Sawyer's name on ABC.

There was a time when this job fell to a professional voiceover guy, the booth announcer who spent a lifetime at a network introducing regularly scheduled newscasts, special reports, and the occasional game show or talk show.

I can still remember working at WYNY, NBC's FM radio station in New York in the mid-1980s. We were located in that same art deco palace at 30 Rockefeller Center that the company still calls headquarters. I made it a habit of wandering down to the fifth floor to the Broadcast Operations Center, the point every broadcast for every time zone passed through on its way to the affiliates. I'd stand in the control room and talk to a friend as he monitored the feeds for both the network and the local owned-and-operated station, WNBC-TV.

Across the room, there was a glassed-in booth where an announcer sat at all times, ready to break in to introduce a bulletin, or record a promotional announcement, or whatever. When I was in there, I was most likely to see Bill Wendell, fulfilling his network responsibilities before going up to the 6th floor to tape "Late Night with David Letterman." Or there would be Don Pardo, the voice of "Saturday Night Live," performing his weekday duties as booth announcer.

When an urgent news story had to be reported, the anchorman and news crew would be in another studio, but they couldn't go on the air until BOC made the arrangements, which meant not interrupting a commercial on any of their time zone feeds, if possible. Only then would BOC cut into all the feeds with a quick read from the booth announcer and then switch to the news studio.

On one occasion, I was in there when WNBC-TV had a breaking news story it had to get on the air. Bill Wendell was in the booth at the time. The BOC director pushed a button to tell Bill what was going on and that they'd be on the air in about 60 seconds. Without looking up, Wendell nodded his head and continued eating what looked like a tuna sandwich.

There were three lights in front of Wendell -- green, yellow, and red. It was almost always green, because that meant the booth wasn't in use or on the air. With 10 seconds to go, the yellow light would come on as a signal to the announcer to get ready. When it did, I saw Wendell reach up to a looseleaf in front of him and turn to a specific page as he finished chewing and swallowing.

He took a quick gulp of coffee just before the red light went on and his mike went live. Without changing his posture one iota, Wendell announced in that famous deep baritone, "This is a special report from WNBC, New York. Now, in the newsroom, here's Chuck Scarborough." Then he took another bite of his sandwich as the light turned green. The anchorman stared doing his thing as Wendell calmly turned the page of the newspaper in front of him and finished his lunch.

Let's see Morgan Freeman or Michael Douglas do that every day.

It wasn't exciting to Wendell or anyone else in the room, as they'd been through this hundreds of times. By that time, I had done thousands of my own radio broadcasts, and probably acted pretty much the same way when I was on the job. But this was still very cool.  I wanted that job.

A few years later, I got my chance. 

I was working in Washington, DC, as the morning man on WCXR, the classic rock station.  I had done a few promotions with WDCA-TV, the independent station in town, and developed a friendship with Mark Feldman, their director of marketing and promotion.  I told him the Bill Wendell story and about my desire to do what he did.  Mark said he could make that happen, but not on a fulltime permanent basis.  It turned out that his voice guy was going on vacation the next week, and he needed someone to record all the intros and outros and promotional announcements and public service announcements for the station.  I accepted the offer before he even finished making it.

It wasn't live, but I treated it like it was, recording everything in one take each day in his little booth, directly onto carts.  When I heard them on the air, I felt a twinge of pride.  Then I remembered that my fulltime job was as the highly-paid host of one of the city's most popular morning radio shows and that this was only a temporary parttime job.  But I would have gladly traded places with the guy who did it for a living.

Unfortunately, those positions exist in fewer and fewer places.  There are no announcers sitting in booths just in case they're needed.  Everything's recorded and digitally stored so it's ready at a moment's notice.  The networks are using big-name actors instead of professional announcers to introduce their newscasts. They're not getting a single new viewer with their big-time actor intros, but I guarantee they cost a whole lot more.

I'm not saying that because I'm still available for work as an announcer. Even with less work to do, there's still plenty of competition in the industy.  But I can offer one thing Freeman and Douglas never could.

I promise to bring my own tuna sandwich.

Dan Pink on What Motivates Us

Dan Pink had a bestseller a couple of years ago with "A Whole New Mind." Now he's back with "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." With the book hitting stores today, I invited him to talk with me on KIRO/Seattle about the new ways companies are motivating employees after discovering that freedom and self-direction work a lot better than the carrot and stick.

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

It's Winter And I Wonder

It was five degrees in St. Louis this morning. I had to run out to get a haircut at a place that's about 15 minutes away. I froze all the way there because it wasn't until I reached my destination that the car was warmed up enough for the heater to work.

In my house, we have a space heater that blows hot air as soon as you turn it on. I mean instantly. One second you're cold, the next second you're not. Why don't we have heaters like that in cars?

Don't tell me it's cost. The space heater in my house cost about $25. It can raise the temperature of an entire room in mere minutes. Surely there's an air-forced heater small enough to warm up the interior of a car at a moment's notice that wouldn't cost much more. Hell, offer it as an option and dealers will sell ten million the first day!

Here's another one. The rear window of the car has wires running through it. You touch a button, those wires warm up the glass and defrost the window. Thus my question: Since we have to wait forever on a cold day for the heater to be effective enough to defrost, why don't we have wires in the front window -- the one we spend 90% of our time looking through? They're more efficient than a fan blowing from below, and before you argue that they'd be a distraction in front, remember that we're used to seeing them in the back window -- a view we see reversed through a mirror!

Those wires would really help on all those frigid mornings when you have to scrape the ice off your front window, but you only do a small portal because you're freezing your butt off and just want to get inside the car, even if it means driving with a periscope-like view the whole way because the regular defroster won't help because your commute isn't long enough.

I'm asking, seriously. If you can explain this, please e-mail me at the address at the top of this page.

Schneier On Security

Bruce Schneier, an aviation security expert, joined me on KIRO/Seattle this morning to talk about the still-changing response to the failed attempt for blow up Northwest 253 on Christmas.

We talked about whether the full body scanners now being deployed worldwide will truly help us catch an Al Qaeda member intent on creating mayhem, and which methods would be more effective in protecting us.

We also discussed a report out of England that quotes Kevin Murphy, an executive at a company that makes body scanners (Qinetiq), as saying that the devices would not have sensed the chemical ingredients that Umar Abdulmutallab had in his underwear when he boarded the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

I found myself wondering what Murphy's colleagues said to him when his quote appeared in the paper? Think they were happy that he could potentially hurt sales at a time when governments and security agencies intent on preventing the next undie-bomber are lining up around the block to buy those scanners? More importantly, why is everyone investing so much money in technology that won't really help?

It's all part of what Schneier called "security theater," a facade of procedures designed to make you feel safe without really protecting you.

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Bruce Schneier's latest book is "Schneier On Security."

Just A Gigolo

I played Louis Prima's "Just A Gigolo" for my daughter in the car a few weeks ago, and she loved it so much she had to hear it again and again, laughing and singing along every time. Yesterday, when I took her and a friend out for lunch, we were blasting it in the car with my daughter joining in at the top of her lungs and I thought, "I'm going to get a call from the other girl's parents tomorrow asking why I was teaching their daughter a song about a gigolo." Of course, there's a chance the parents know the song from David Lee Roth's 1985 remake, but it's the 1956 Prima version that contains all the goofiness and wildness that makes the song so much fun.

Don't know Prima? He and wife Keely Smith, who sang and played straight-woman to his zany onstage antics, are said to be the model that Sonny & Cher later copied. He voiced the orangutan song "I Wanna Be Like You" in Disney's "Jungle Book."  His music has appeared in movie soundtracks like "Swingers," "Casino," and "Analyze This."   His non-appearance is central to the plot of the Stanley Tucci/Tony Shalhoub film "Big Night."

I can't find video of the full-length (4:45) version of the song, but here's an edit -- with Prima, Smith, and that crazy horn section -- from the opening of a 2001 documentary called "Louie Prima: The Wildest."  The video's slightly out of sync, but you'll get the idea...


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Yet Another Reason I Love Apple

I just returned from another satisfying quick stop at the Apple Store. I don't have a MacBook or iMac, but have loved their iPod and iPhone from the moment they were introduced.

In preparation for a trip to Biloxi later this week for a poker tournament, I needed an extra iPhone-to-laptop cord. The store was busy with holiday-weekend shoppers, but there were plenty of staff helping out. I found the item I needed and looked around for a clerk to pay.

At the Apple Store, you don't have to go to the counter or wait in line for a cashier -- any employee can handle the transaction. In about five seconds, I found one who wasn't busy. She took the item, swiped my credit card in the slot on the side of her iPhone (!), asked if it was okay to e-mail me the receipt, verified my e-mail address, and asked me if I wanted a bag. I said no, so she handed me my item and credit card, said, "Thank you."

Total time of the transaction: 60 seconds. Total time in the store: 5 minutes.

Now that's how you run a retail outlet.

Friday, January 01, 2010

His Daughter's On The No Fly List

Chris Kelly, a writer for HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," writes in the Huffington Post:

My middle daughter's name seems to be on the No Fly List. Since she's only twelve years old, and neither practices nor endorses acts of political violence, I can only assume there's been some kind of mistake.

No one at the airport will tell us how she made the list. They won't even confirm that she's on it. Every time we go to the airport, the electronic kiosk simply refuses to issue her a boarding pass, and we're sent to the ticket counter, where five people look at the whole family's I.D., and then specifically hers, and then someone calls someone, and they call someone, and that person tells the person on the phone, "No, she's a little girl." And eventually we're allowed to run for our flight.

Which beats explosive decompression, I guess. But it's still a drag.

It also kind of feels like a waste of our time, the airline's time, the TSA's time, and the time of whoever's on the other end of the phone, who could be torturing someone.

So I should hate the No Fly List. Besides the personal inconvenience, it runs counter to a solid third of the Bill of Rights. But I'm conflicted. Because I have a pretty good idea why my daughter's on the list. It's because she has the same name as this guy:

In 1993 this IRA thug walked into a fish shop in Belfast with a bomb that went off prematurely (of course) injuring 57 people, including a 79-year-old woman and two two-year-old boys. It also killed ten people, including a thirteen-year-old girl named Leanne Baird, and her little sister, Michelle, seven. Just like Jesus would have wanted.

But I have some disappointing news for Mike Gallagher: The killer's name isn't Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed. It's Sean Kelly.

Which is why America has to wake up, get serious about terrorism, and racially profile all Irish Catholics. Because you never know where they'll strike next with their religion of hate. Wait, that can't be right.
The whole piece is here.

Overreaction and Immaturity

I don't agree with much of what David Brooks writes, but his column today about overwrought reactions to the undie-bomber is right on the money:

In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don’t worry, little Johnny.

When that didn’t work the official line went to the other extreme. “I consider that totally unacceptable,” Obama said. I’m really mad, Johnny. But don’t worry, I’ll make it all better.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, “Security Theater” — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.

At some point, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We’ve done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that’s wise, maybe it’s not. But we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do.
The whole column is here.

Saluting The Boss

At this year's Kennedy Center Honors, Jon Stewart was called upon to begin the celebration of Bruce Springsteen's career. His words matched the poetic lyrics of the man he saluted...


What you didn't see on CBS was the Springsteen appreciation written by Dave Marsh that appeared in the theater program that night. Here it is.

And here's a montage of the evening before, when President Obama hosted Springsteen and the other honorees -- Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, and Grace Bumbry -- in a testimonial dinner at the White House...