Monday, October 31, 2011

One Last Jack-O'-Lantern

With my daughter going away to college next year, I realize that I have carved my last Jack-O'-Lantern. As always, it's as bland as it can possibly be, a reflection of my complete lack of artistic ability combined with my incompetence at sticking knives into pumpkins. Here's a column I wrote on the subject ten years ago.

Unjust Desserts

Seeing the allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain by two former employees of the National Restaurant Association reminded me of a story that has nothing to do with sex or harassment.

About 15 years ago, during my long run as a morning radio host in Washington, DC, I was invited to emcee the National Restaurant Association's annual awards banquet. Thinking that, at the very least, we'd get some really good food, I agreed and took my wife. I won't bore you with the details of the ceremony, which dragged on for almost three hours, but I will tell you how disappointed we were in the actual dinner.

Each of the five nominees for Restaurant Of The Year prepared a course -- appetizer, soup, salad, entree, dessert. We were fine through the first three, but then we got to the main course, which was squab.

That's pigeon.

Having spent most of my life in or near major American cities, pigeons were nothing more than an annoyance -- birds that don't get out of your way on the sidewalk and, if they do, take out their grievances on humans (both real and in statue form) by bombing us from above. Bottom line: I had never looked at a pigeon and thought, "You must be delicious!"

It isn't. It's also not a large bird, with seemingly more bones than meat. Picking apart and eating one is a challenge for the world's finest surgeons, let alone a hungry layman (does Swanson still make the Hungry Layman line of frozen dinners?).

I don't know which restaurant prepared that course, or the earlier ones, but I remember to this day which one prepared the dessert. It was (and still is) Vidalia. Naturally, when your business is named after an vegetable, you want to make it memorable by using it in your featured course. And with a name like Vidalia, that meant two things: onion ice cream and onion cake.

I have eaten a lot of ice cream in my life. At one point in my teens, I could have told you every one of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors and recited the Howard Johnson's menu by heart. There was never any onion ice cream. And there shouldn't be. No ingredient in ice cream should make you cry as you prepare it. If you went around the world and asked people which taste they would least like to have in their ice cream, I'm pretty sure onion would be way up there on the list. Right next to squab.

Happily, Vidalia did not win Restaurant Of The Year that night. If it were up to me, their membership in the National Restaurant Association membership would have been revoked right then and there.

Then I would have made them finish their foul-tasting leftovers and write, in chocolate sauce on a thousand plates, "I will never make dessert out of onions again!"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Zombies vs. James Van Praagh

The James Randi Educational Foundation is getting a little bolder with its Million Dollar Challenge (prove you have paranormal abilities, win the money) by targeting some of the bigger-name frauds. Several weeks ago, the JREF issued a direct challenge to James Van Praagh to prove that he converses with dead people -- talking to them is easy, it's the other way around that's impossible -- but he didn't respond. So, JREF President DJ Grothe thought that if JVP wouldn't talk to living skeptics, perhaps he'd talk to a small group of zombies. Here's what happened when they showed up last Wednesday in Laguna Beach at one of JVP's "Spirit Circles," where he charges $100/head...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Finally Figured Out Herman Cain

He doesn't want to be President. He wants to be famous, and he's following the Sarah Palin/Mike Huckabee model to add notoriety to his fortune.

Like Palin and Huckabee, Cain has no chance of becoming President Of The United States. However, he does have enough pizza money to finance a campaign that gets him known all over the country, sell lots of books, and ensure that he'll get a big contract for his next one. It gets him hired to give big-money speeches to both business groups and political sideshows for years to come. It gets his name and face on media outlets that he could never reach as CEO of Godfather Pizza.

When that's the goal of your campaign, it almost doesn't matter what you say or do, as long as it's simple enough to resonate with a portion of the American public that's barely paying attention. That's why Cain's numbers in GOP polls are so high.

But forget what the people in Iowa say. They chose Mike Huckabee in 2008, ahead of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson (!), and eventual nominee John McCain. What did Huckabee do with the attention those caucuses brought him? He got a book deal, lots of speech gigs, and a spot on Fox News Channel -- just like Palin.

If the goal is getting famous instead of getting elected, you can put out bizarre campaign material like the Cain ad that appeared yesterday, in which his chief of staff Mark Block talks right into the lens about "taking back America" while standing outside a building -- finishing by taking a drag on a cigarette and blowing smoke at the camera. I have no idea what the message of those last few seconds is, unless by "taking back America," Block wants to somehow get revenge on all those non-smokers who forced nicotine addicts like him to stand in the cold while inhaling their tobacco fumes.

Or he's the new spokesman for the Occupy Lung Disease movement.


Regardless, the commercial doesn't accrue to Cain's benefit, but it does get him more attention, and that's what this is all about. That's why he can continue promoting his 9-9-9 tax plan despite numerous reports that it would increase the burden on the middle class while giving more breaks to millionaires like him. When you're not really trying to be President, you don't have to offer specifics on foreign policy ("I'd ask my advisers," he told David Gregory on "Meet The Press"). You can make ridiculous comments about building an electrified fence along the US/Mexico border, then claim "it was a joke" and blame critics for not having a sense of humor, but then repeat that you'd still build it.

Cain is a businessman, and I gather he's pretty good at making money, but I don't know if he makes a good pizza -- there's no Godfather outlet here, and even if there were, I prefer my pizza to come from a local place, not a chain. However, his coffers are sure to swell (as well as his ego) from all of this, and he's sure to exploit the opportunity for as long as anyone will pay attention.

Which I guess, if you'll pardon the biblical pun, makes the media a Cain enabler.

Eddie Murphy Blows It

When you host a talk show with interviews, you're dependent on your guests turning up prepared to entertain the audience. Most guests only appear on these shows when they have something to promote, and some of them will go years between appearances. If they're a big enough name, the audience will be excited to see them, the host will be psyched and prepared to talk with them, and the hope is that something magical will happen -- but it can only work if the guest makes an effort.

That didn't happen last night when Eddie Murphy sat down with David Letterman. Murphy, who's promoting "Tower Heist" (in which he seems to be doing an older version of Billy Ray Valentine from "Trading Places"), got a big ovation from the crowd, but when he sat down, he didn't have much to offer. I'm assuming there was a pre-interview, as there always is for these shows, in which one of Letterman's producers spoke to Murphy about what he wanted to discuss on the air, which helps the host lead the guest to the topic. Whatever that was, Murphy didn't come through. Letterman gave him multiple opportunities, but Murphy never swung at the ball, never riffed on anything funny, never did much of anything except laugh at Letterman's remarks and give frustratingly-short answers.

You know a Letterman interview is in the tank when Dave starts reading off a list of movies the big-name guest has appeared in, hoping that one of them will spark a hilarious anecdote. He tried that with Eddie, but it went nowhere. Nor did he have much to say about his upcoming gig hosting the Oscars, a topic that should be ripe for comedy since Dave gave that a shot once and still regrets it.

Towards the end, when the conversation rolled around to the movie he was there to promote, Murphy had literally nothing to say about it. He didn't even know which "Tower Heist" clip they were going to show, which led Letterman to exclaim, "Oh, for chrissakes, do I have to do everything? Eddie, you're not even trying!"

It's been a very long time since Murphy has done anything successful that didn't have the word "Shrek" in it, but I'm sure that he's still surrounded by sycophants who tell him that every syllable he utters is hysterical, that he's a comedic genius, that he's an amazing storyteller. If any of those are true, he's certainly keeping them away from the TV cameras.

Here's Letterman earning every bit of his salary, trying to pull any entertaining morsel out of his guest last night...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Final Table #143: Dennis' Appendix + WSOP's Ty Stewart


Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we started with Dennis telling the amazing story of how he won a WSOP Circuit Event at Horseshoe Hammond last week despite suffering from severe stomach pains, and how he left the tournament several times to go lie down for awhile before returning to chip up again. In the end, he had all the chips, the $55,000 payday, and his first WSOPC ring. Unfortunately, a few hours later, that pain in his gut turned into a burst appendix, and he had to have an emergency appendectomy. The good news is he's alive to tell the story, and recovering enough to go home and rest up.

In our guest segment, we talked with WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart about the changes to the November Nine weekend, when all the hands will be shown on TV (ESPN2 on Sunday 11/6/11 and ESPN on Tuesday 11/8/11). Ty explained how the nearly-live coverage will work, when viewers will be able to see hole cards, restrictions on players using cell phones at the table, and why the WSOP and ESPN decided to present the Main Event finale this way rather than in the edited 2-hour highlights package they've used for the last 3 years. Ty also revealed how the WSOP hopes to expand to Asia and Australia, some changes they're working on for next summer's WSOP in Las Vegas, how he views the future of poker on TV, and whether they'll use the same TV format for next year's Main Event.

Finally, I recapped the congressional committee hearing on online poker that took place earlier today, and explained why Americans shouldn't plan on playing on licensed and regulated sites until 2014 at the earliest.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
We do The Final Table show every Tuesday 3pm to 4pm CT on 590 KFNS radio from the poker room of Harrah's St. Louis.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mr. Perspective Strikes Again

A car dealer in St. Louis is advertising that, if you buy a Chevy Cruze from him, he'll give you a $300 gas card. In the commercial he claims, "that's a free tank of gas every month for a year!"

While the Cruze is a fuel-efficient vehicle (its Eco model supposedly gets 42mpg), the math is wrong.

The Cruze comes in five models, four of which have a gas tank with 15.6 gallon capacity. The smallest (Eco) has a 12.6 gallon gas tank. At $300/year, that's $25/month. At the current price of $3.15/gallon, that's not even 8 gallons/month, let alone a full tank. The only way the gas card value works out is if you drive less than 300 miles/month every month all year.

I'm not saying the Cruze isn't worth buying, nor that $300 in gas isn't worth something. But if this dealer can't do the math on this correctly, you might want to double-check all the numbers on your sales contract when you buy a car from him.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

War Words

This weekend, the usual Republican suspects have been all over TV blasting President Obama for announcing that all US troops will leave Iraq by the end of this year. They claim it's a horrible decision, a subject they know very well since they're the same ones who thought it was a brilliant idea to go into Iraq in the first place.

Eight years later, what have we gotten for our efforts? More than 4,400 dead US soldiers, untold numbers of dead Iraqis, no hidden cache of weapons of mass destruction, yet another middle-east nation that can't pull itself together and form a real democracy, and a generation of soldiers who came home wounded, unemployed, and suffering from traumatic brain injuries and mental problems. Not to mention the expense -- over $800 billion!

Why do these politicians deserve even a second of airtime when it comes to foreign policy? When have they ever been right?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Picture Of The Day

When you're designing an intelligent life form to populate the universe, some parts are more difficult than others to get right on a limited budget...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Picture Of The Day

The Celebrity Division of the William J. Clinton Foundation -- Ben Stiller, Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Penn and others -- got together recently to help develop new global initiatives, and came up with some doozies...


It reminds me of a real-life brainstorming session I attended many years ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TAM9: Our Future In Space

This was one of the highlights of this summer's James Randi Educational Foundation Amazing Meeting 9. It's a panel discussing our future in space and, in particular, whether humans should continue exploring in person or stay on the ground while our technological marvels do the dangerous job of traveling beyond Earth gravity.

The panelists were Bill Nye (The Science Guy), astrobiologist Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronomer Pamela Gay, and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, with Phil Plait moderating. As you'll see, the conversation turned pretty intense at a few points, and it was fascinating to see such smart people debating what our space program should do next. This runs almost an hour, but is well worth your time.

Final Table #142: WSOPE, WSOPC, Bernard Lee


Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we started with details on a new tournament series coming to Harrah's St. Louis in December, The Gateway Poker Classic, with poker room manager Denise Taykowski explaining the different events, which begins with the unique format of a Jack And Jill Tournament and then proceeds through three tournaments a day with all sorts of buy-in levels from $125 to $1,100 for the Main Event. There will be lots of Hold'em events as well as several Omaha tournaments, plus a Seniors event and Ladies event. The full schedule will be posted soon on the Harrah's St. Louis Facebook page.

Next, Dennis discussed his trip to Cannes for the World Series of Poker Europe, which had a record turnout and a couple of new tournament formats, too, as well as a very odd rake structure for the cash games. Then I added some stories about playing in biggest WSOP Circuit event in history last week at Horseshoe Hammond, and we were joined by their poker room manager, Jason Newman, who explained how they've grown their fields so much and how they'll meet the $1.5 million guarantee for their Main Event later this week.

In our guest segment, ESPN Inside Deal co-host Bernard Lee joined us to talk about making the final table at the WSOPC at Horseshoe Southern Indiana, how he explains the large crowds that continue to show up for live events, and why he really wants an Epic Poker League card.

Then the three of us launched into a discussion of the changes to the WSOP Main Event November Nine broadcasts, which will now be shown on ESPN2 and ESPN3 (every hand on a 15-minute delay with hole cards) beginning Sunday, November 6th, beginning at 1:30pm CT with coverage continuing until there are 3 players left. Then they'll break until 7pm CT on Tuesday, November 8th, when play will resume and ESPN will stay with the near-live coverage until a new world champion wins it all. How will this impact what happens at the table if players can find out about a previous hand just 15 minutes later thanks to friends on the rail, online, and on smart phones passing along information -- and will it be good or bad for ratings?

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
We do The Final Table show every Tuesday 3pm to 4pm CT on 590 KFNS radio from the poker room of Harrah's St. Louis.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Back Bay Poker

Ben Mezrich, author of the books the movies "The Social Network" and "21" were based on, writes about the weekly poker home game in Boston that he's been playing in for years and its cast of characters.

McMush

A long time ago, I occasionally ate oatmeal. It was some brand of instant-in-a-packet with enough brown sugar and cinnamon to mask the actual flavor of the oatmeal. Then, one day, that flavor disguise stopped working for me and I realized that I was just eating a bowl of sweetened, wet, shredded cardboard. Haven't touched the stuff since.

Yesterday, I drove by a McDonald's with a sign out front advertising "Fruit and Maple Oatmeal All Day." It did not make me want to stop and order a bowl, but it did make me wonder if it could possibly be bringing in customers. Are there people driving around with an unsatisfied oatmeal craving who see that sign and pull right in, thankful for a place that will quench their desire? No matter how hard their marketing people try, the public is about as likely to identify the Golden Arches with oatmeal as they are to think of McDonald's as a salad bar.

I just hope no one's buying oatmeal at the drive-thru and eating it on the way to work. That's beyond distracted driving and on its way to disgusted driving.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Horseshoe Primer

I'm spending the weekend playing poker at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, just outside Chicago.  There's a World Series Of Poker Circuit tournament going on here, a series of events over 12 days that began Thursday.  I played in that first event (in a record field of 3,001 players) and had enough chips to make it to Day 2, which starts at 4pm today. 

Since I've been tweeting updates on how I'm doing in the tournament, several friends who have never been here have asked for some details about the venue.  So, here's what you need to know.

First, there's no hotel at the Horseshoe.  It's a shame, because the place would be packed all the time.  There are a Super 8 and a Ramada a few miles away, but I've heard bad things about both places and would never stay at either.  Instead, I always stay at one of the Marriott properties off I-80.  I'm at the cheapest of the 3, the Fairfield Inn, which offers a discount for Horseshoe players.  The Courtyard By Marriott and Residence Inn are right next door if you want to spend a little more and get the same amenities.

All of them have free wi-fi, free parking, a small pool and workout room, and your basic free breakfast including the now-standard Lobby Waffles.  If you sleep past 9am and want another breakfast choice, there's a Cracker Barrel nearby, but they always have a line.  I prefer to spend my money in a diner-like place owned and operated by the locals, and found one a couple miles south on Highway Avenue called Les Brothers Pancake House.  Nice people, good food, quick -- and you don't have to walk through a store full of potpourri to eat.

I mentioned the free parking because that's one of the reasons I don't stay in downtown Chicago, which is about 25 minutes north of the Horseshoe.  Not only is it difficult to get a room there at a rate competitive with these, but you'll have to pay for parking, sometimes as much as $30/day.  If you do stay downtown and don't have a car, there's a free shuttle from the Hyatt on Wacker (and a few other places) to the Horseshoe, which includes a food voucher, but make sure you know the schedule, especially late at night.

The 20-minute drive from the Marriotts to the Horseshoe is not particularly scenic, unless you enjoy driving along city streets at 30mph, but there are no other options.  The Horseshoe is in an industrial part of town -- not far from a BP refinery -- on the shore of Lake Michigan, and to get there you have to drive through some beaten-up towns and businesses and a lot of traffic lights.

The casino itself is huge, the largest in the Chicago area.  If you're going to play poker and want to save some time, park in the main valet or garage, because that will put you closer to the poker room.  The tournament area is upstairs in The Venue, a space big enough for 100 tables, and it's always well-run by the WSOPC crew.  If you want to play cash games, the poker room is in a back corner with 34 tables.  They run single-table satellites in the adjacent bar.

During tournaments, the waiting list gets ridiculous.  Yesterday, one of the $2-5 games had over 175 people signed up, but I only had to wait about a half-hour to get into a $5-10 PLO game.  When they have a turnout as big as for this first event, they put tournament players in the poker room, too, which means there are no cash games until players bust out and the tables are broken down, which takes several hours. Jason Newman, the poker room manager, has a solid group of dealers -- they can all calculate the pot-sized raises in PLO with no problem, a skill you won't find everywhere -- and there are A Touch Of Luck massage therapists for your aching back, too ($2/minute).

As for the action, the no-limit Hold'em and pot-limit Omaha games run from $1-2 up to $10-20, plus limit Hold'em from $3-6 to $20-40, and a $40-80 Horse game that goes regularly.  The rake is timed in the raised section ($8/half-hour/player) and 10% of the pot in the lower section (up to $5).  Of course, the higher you go, the tougher the competition, but there are always a couple of soft spots at every table.  Unlike St. Louis, Chicago gets enough tourists to supplement the locals and grinders who drive the poker business, but it won't take you long to figure out how they play.

Finally, here's a little food secret.  If you play in one of the higher-limit games ($5-10 or higher) in the raised area, you can order sandwiches and salads to your table, but there's no food allowed in the rest of the poker room.  For that, you can go to the buffet, steakhouse, or sandwich place -- or the hidden-away Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant, Foo Noodle Bar.  There are no signs for it, and you won't find it unless you go to the back of the Asian gaming area and turn a corner.  Foo only fits about 40 people and serves about a dozen items (soups, rice dishes, congee, and a couple of dim sum appetizers), but it's quick and pretty good.  Most of the other customers will have comp coupons from playing (and losing at) Pai Gow or Baccarat, but your cash works, too.

So that's the basics.  I'm headed over there to try to make a deep run in this Circuit Event -- and gather a few stories to tell on my Final Table poker show this Tuesday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another Movie You May Not Know


I have praised Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony" before but hadn't added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list because it wasn't available on DVD. That's changes today, as Warner Brothers has finally released it as part of their Archive Collection.

"One Trick Pony" is the story of Jonah Levin, a singer/songwriter who became a star in the 1960's by writing a folk song that became an anti-war anthem. But now it's 1980, and Jonah's still on the road, scratching out a living touring from town to town in a van with his four-man band (a helluva group, made up of Richard Tee, Tony Levin, Steve Gadd, and Eric Gale), while back home he has a small son and a wife (Blair Brown) who wants a divorce. All of the musical performances are great (the soundtrack includes "Late In The Evening," which became a hit) as is a scene in the van where the guys play a game naming dead rock stars, eventually grouping them by how they died -- plane crash, overdose, etc.

As he's struggling to keep his marriage together and work the road doing small club gigs, he's also trying to get a record company to give him a deal for an album. That's where he meets Rip Torn as an executive who might give him a chance, Allen Garfield as a Kal Rudman-type radio trade publisher who is legendary for being able to "hear a hit," and Lou Reed (in an ironic casting move) as a producer who takes one of Jonah's best raw songs and turns it into mush. But first, Jonah must endure the humiliation of auditioning new material for them in Torn's office, without his band...


Simon, who wrote the script and the songs, plays Jonah with equal parts talent, wit, and sadness. It's a shame the movie didn't do better at the box office, and that Simon never wrote another one. "One Trick Pony" is not about a loser, nor a man of destiny, nor a musician fighting his demons (a la Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart" or Robert Duvall in "Tender Mercies"). Jonah Levin is a guy fighting to reclaim his place in an industry that has shunted him aside, while keeping his integrity intact.

For more recommendations, check the entire Movies You Might Not Know list.

Occupy Wall Street

Eliot Spitzer says the Occupy Wall Street rally (and its spinoffs in other cities) are having an impact, despite the criticism that it doesn't yet have a defining message:

The major social movements that have transformed our country since its founding all began as passionate grassroots activism that then radiated out. Only later do traditional politicians get involved. The history of the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, labor movement, peace movement, environmental movement, gay rights movement, and, yes, even the Tea Party, follow this model. In every instance, visceral emotions about justice, right, and wrong ignited a movement. Precise demands and strategies followed later. So the critique of OWS as unformed and sometimes shallow may be correct, but it is also irrelevant.
Spitzer's entire piece is here.

How Not To Die Like Dinosaurs

My friend Phil Plait is one of the smartest people I know. He's an astronomer and author with real enthusiasm for his subject, which he put on display recently at at TedX conference in Boulder. In his 14-minute presentation, he described the dinosaur-killing asteroid that hit the Earth 65,000,000 years ago and how modern-day scientists are developing solutions to deal with the threat of our planet being devastated by another such impact...


For more on this subject from Phil, get his book "Death From The Skies" and check out his Bad Astronomy blog, one of the most-read science blogs in the world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Recommendation

"Exporting Raymond" is a documentary by Phil Rosenthal, the showrunner behind "Everybody Loves Raymond." The sitcom went from huge network hit to huge syndication hit to being produced in foreign countries in different languages. When a Russian TV network wanted to do their version, Rosenthal agreed to go to help with casting, re-writes, and to make sure their "Raymond" had the same sensibilities as his.

Rosenthal took along a film crew to document his adventure, and got pure gold. From Russian TV executives and writers who want to turn the show into something else -- including the wardrobe lady, who wants all the women on the show to dress like the "Real Housewives of Moscow" -- Rosenthal faces obstacles at every turn yet turns it into a funny running commentary.

It also gives you a peek inside the process of putting together a successful sitcom, starting with understanding the basic theme and never straying from it. Rosenthal is a master at that, but has a hard time getting the Russian to see it.

One of the best scenes in the movie is when Rosenthal, who doesn't speak Russian, is watching the actors do a scene that's been translated from one of his scripts with some modifications. He sits there for several minutes before pointing out that no one in the room is laughing; no one seems to be enjoying themselves. That's not good for a comedy. He knows that the lead actor has been terribly miscast, but can't convince the Russian network execs to make a change. The way he voices his frustration and his "I can't believe you don't get this!" expression are funnier than anything the Russians are doing.

"Exporting Raymond" is one of my favorite showbiz documentaries, on DVD now. Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recommendations


For the next several days, I'm going to share some recommendations for movies and books I've enjoyed recently, starting with two based-on-true stories, one of which is still in theaters and an older title that's on DVD.

"Moneyball" is an inside-baseball movie by any definition, starring Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland A's circa 2001. He's solid in the role, despite the fact that he's eating in every scene. From sunflower seeds to Twinkies to sandwiches, the guy's always munching on something. Maybe with all those kids at home, there's never any food left for him, so he eats at work.

It's the same character crutch Pitt used in "Ocean's Eleven," but thankfully the rest of his performance keeps the "Moneyball" plot humming, and Jonah Hill -- as the numbers-cruncher who helped change the way baseball owners pick their players -- gives a stand-out supporting performance. The dialogue is crisp, as you'd expect from Steve Zaillian ("Schindler's List," "A Civil Action," "Searching For Bobby Fischer") and Aaron Sorkin (every quote-worthy movie and TV show of the last 15 years).

Biggest complaint: not enough Robin Wright -- why cast her if she's only going to be onscreen for 3 minutes? Other than that, "Moneyball" is worth your money.

"Gideon's Trumpet" was a 1980 Hallmark Hall Of Fame production that I found on DVD, and I'm glad I did.

It's the true story of Clarence Gideon, a man accused of breaking into a bar/poolroom to steal wine and money. Gideon had no way to pay for a defense lawyer, and the court refused to appoint one for him because Florida only required it in capital offense cases. Gideon offered little in his own defense, which made it easy to convict him based on the testimony of a single eyewitness.

From jail, Gideon appealed his case all the way to the US Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case and appointed Abe Fortas to represent him. They reversed the lower court's decision, setting a landmark precedent which stands to this day, requiring that every criminal defendant have at least the services of a court-appointed attorney.

What's fascinating about the TV production is that it used virtually no music to accent the drama, letting the characters' words set the tone -- a marked contrast to anything else you'd see on TV or in a movie now. And how about this for a cast: Henry Fonda as Gideon, John Houseman as the Chief Justice, Jose Ferrer as Fortas, Lane Smith as a defense attorney, Dolph Sweet as a helpful inmate, and Fay Wray (!) in her final role at age 73 as the woman who runs the boarding house Gideon lives in.

A terrific legal drama, it's available from Netflix.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Final Table #141: Bart Hanson & David Tuchman


Today on The Final Table poker radio show, while Dennis is in Cannes at the WSOPE, I had an extended conversation with Bart Hanson and David Tuchman. They're the hosts of Live At The Bike, the streaming coverage of a live cash game from the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles. They also did some hosting and commentary this summer for ESPN's online and on-the-air streams of the World Series Of Poker.

Among the topics we discussed:
  • the Full Tilt Poker indictments and related stories;
  • the reaction of poker pros to showing hole cards during almost-live streaming of tournaments;
  • how cash game players forget to consider the effect of the house rake;
  • American citizens who have moved out of the US to continue playing online;
  • which poker pros provided the best commentary on the WSOP streaming coverage;
  • and much more.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
We do The Final Table show every Tuesday 3pm to 4pm CT on 590 KFNS radio from the poker room of Harrah's St. Louis.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Call It Terminal Love

You know those romantic comedies where the guy races off to the airport to catch up to the woman he loves moments before she gets on a plane and leaves him forever? Ken Levine has written the outline for how that scene would work in the world of modern airport security and travel frustration.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Wasted Drive


I should have listened to Leonard Maltin when he panned the movie "Drive," but I didn't, and now I've wasted two hours of my life.

There's nothing wrong with the cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks (who steals every scene he's in as a mob boss who understands that intensity doesn't equal volume -- he demands attention by speaking quietly, then sticking a shiv in your gut), Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, and Christina Hendricks (in a way-too-small role). Gosling plays a moody guy who is a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for small-time hold-up guys at night. Unfortunately, we only get a small sample of his driving ability (one quick car-flipping stunt on a movie set, and two getaways that are far from exciting).

When I say Gosling's character is moody, it's like saying Charlie Sheen is crazy. The driver doesn't talk much, even when he's falling for Mulligan as his neighbor. It's the kind of role Mickey Rourke would have played 20 years ago, a brooding loner who gets caught up in a relationship that leads to an ultra-violent situation that plays out slowly and disgustingly before our eyes, all without Gosling spewing as much as a paragraph at a time. He had fewer lines to learn than the waiter who runs down the menu at Morton's Steakhouse.

As I walked out, my first thought was of another movie about a man who drives for a living, falls for a young woman he wants to protect, and ends up covered in blood. That one was called "Taxi Driver," one of the seminal films of the early 1970s, with a groundbreaking performance by Robert DeNiro, a script by Paul Schrader, and the masterful direction of Martin Scorcese.

That was brilliant movie-making. "Drive" is a boring, gory mess.

Are You Ready For Some Free Speech?

Add another American to the list of people who don't understand the First Amendment: Hank Williams Jr.

After he compared Obama to Hitler on Fox News on Monday morning, ESPN yanked Hank's "Are You Ready For Some Football?" opening number from its Monday Night Football telecast. The next day, he admitted his comments were dumb, but the network announced today that it was parting ways with him permanently anyway.

Williams tried to play it off as his decision, posting on his website: "By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It's been a great run."

Hank doesn't understand how freedom of speech works. The First Amendment does not guarantee that you can say whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, however you want without consequence. It only guarantees that the government can't stop you. That's why you probably can't walk up to your boss, call him an asshole, and expect to keep your job. It's why you can't stand up in a house of worship during services and start reading "The Great Gatsby" at the top of your lungs. It's why you can't put up a billboard saying "Jimmy Jenkins Ate My Children" without expecting a call from Jimmy's attorney.

Now, the First Amendment does guarantee that Hank has the right to be rowdy and make his Hitler analogies elsewhere, as long as his employer or whoever owns the microphone allow him to. If it were my microphone, I'd take him aside and suggest he study some history until he understands that there's no one in the world today that reaches the Hitler standard, so any such analogies are moot. Then I'd have to explain what "moot" means. Are you ready for a dictionary?

I don't know how much Hank was paid to sing the Monday Night Football opens for the last 20 years, but I'm sure he blew a serious paycheck by sticking his foot in his mouth. He'll no doubt have a bunch of crazy right-wing Obama haters rally to his defense, but since his website lists exactly zero upcoming tour dates and he hasn't had a song played on country radio or released an album for a couple of years, his future career prospects in the short-term seems about as bright as that of the presidential candidate he's endorsed -- Michele Bachmann, another constitutional genius.

Meanwhile, I have a suggestion for who should sing the new Monday Night Football song, and I'm sure all of those who support Hank's right to speak out would agree this is the perfect choice: The Dixie Chicks.

In Case You Missed These

From my Twitter feed...

  • The best headline about Steve Jobs is this one from The Onion
  • I also enjoyed this personal remembrance of Jobs by WSJ tech writer Walt Mossberg
  • But here's a disturbing story about how Jobs turned to untested "alternative medicine," which worsened his health
  • That rushing sound you heard yesterday was all the reporters who covered Sarah Palin being reassigned to actual news stories
  • Penn Jillette says politicians have twisted the meaning of "Christian," when they should be hyping "American"
  • Another TSA outrage: a breast cancer survivor gets felt up against her wishes because her implants contain metal
  • Jeff Greenfield on how Herman Cain reminds him of some Hollywood heroes, except for one thing.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Final Table #140: Jared Tendler & Scott Long



Today on The Final Table poker radio show, Dennis was in London, where he played the EPT Main Event, while I was at Harrah's St. Louis, joined by Scott Long, publisher of Ante Up Magazine (which has a nice story on us in this month's issue).

We talked about the French businessmen who want to acquire Full Tilt Poker, what that would mean for players who still have cash on the site and whether they would return to play there, whether the DOJ and the Alderney Gaming Control Commission would permit new owners to re-start the business, and whether any pros would want to be sponsored by a business whose name has been de-valued so much in the marketplace.

Then Scott explained what it's like to be a poker media outlet dependent on advertising in this post-Black-Friday environment, and the effect it's had on the brick-and-mortar casinos he's been visiting. He also provided an update on the poker scene in Florida, where he's based.

In our guest segment, I talked with Jared Tendler, author of "The Mental Game of Poker" (which is now available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and pdf editions). He explained the different types of tilt players experience, how to handle them, and how tilt can be beneficial to your game if you recognize the problem. He also defined "mental game fish" and the role of emotion while playing.

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


We do The Final Table show every Tuesday 3pm to 4pm CT on 590 KFNS radio from the poker room of Harrah's St. Louis.

Follow us on Twitter: Dennis is here, Paul is here.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Award Winner Again!

I just received an e-mail from the US Commerce Association congratulating me for being selected for their 2011 St. Louis Award in the Book Publishing category. This is the second time I've won this award, and I'm so moved I decided to rerun the response I posted two years ago after the USCA's original e-mail to me...

The message says they have a lovely plaque waiting for me if I'll only click the embedded link. When I do, I'm taken to a page that asks for all sorts of business and personal information, which I'm not about to volunteer to some organization that has obviously targeted me as a random sucker.

How do I know they're not legit?

For one, I have never published a book. That would, under the best circumstances, tie me with about two million other people in the St. Louis area who have also never published a book. Anyone who has put out even one book would be so far ahead that I have very little chance of catching up at my historical pace of zero books a year.

Second, as far as I can tell, this organization (which is not the Chamber of Commerce) has only one business -- giving out awards. They even have a boilerplate press release posted for my use, to announce my receipt of this award I didn't earn.

Third, while I don't know how much they would charge me to receive this "free" award, I don't have space for it anyway, because my shelf is already full of honors I didn't deserve from the International Brotherhood of Bean Bag Chair Producers, the US Council on Cork Repair, and the American Lint Removal Institute.

No wonder I haven't had time to put out a book.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Obituary For A Visionary




St. Louis lost a visionary when Bob Cassilly died Monday at 61 in a construction accident. Cassilly was the man behind The City Museum, a unique venue that brought joy to tens of thousands of kids (and adults).

The City Museum is not a museum, in that it doesn't contain exhibits full of paintings or historical artifacts. It's a warehouse that Cassilly turned into a place where kids can play. We've taken our daughter many times -- even had one of her birthday parties there -- as well as my nieces and nephews from out of town who loved it so much that, whenever they visit us, they beg for another opportunity to go.

It's hard to give you a capsule description of what's inside The City Museum, but here are a few of the features: enchanted caves, a huge aquarium, a train, tree houses, a ball pit, a shoelace factory, and Circus Harmony (a troupe of young performers who tumble and twirl). And that's just the inside. On the outside, there's an area called Monstrocity, where kids climb through cages to get to really long slides or an abandoned airplane, or sit around a pit fire and roast marshmallows. Oh, and there's a ferris wheel on the roof, near the school bus that hangs off the edge.

By far, the greatest thing about Cassilly's creation is that it inspires kids to explore and discover on their own. There are no signs or staff telling you where to go next or what to do. The place is full of holes -- you can climb down this one into the tunnel under the floor and come up at the other end, or you can climb up through another hole and find yourself on a row of rollers hanging two feet below the ceiling, where you have to pull yourself along until you exit somewhere else. You can run around like a maniac on the curved walls of the indoor skateboard park (where skates and skateboards are prohibited!), or wait in line for your turn on the giant tire swing. It's up to you to make decisions, figure out what goes where, and then move on to whatever you want to do next.

Cassilly understood the value of teaching kids the importance of exploration, in doing things by trial and error, in getting out from under their parents and just winging it, in the simple joy of discovery. That sense, that curiosity, is how the world ends up with Google and the iPhone and the electric light and men on the moon, but too many 21st century kids lead a life that's limited. The City Museum removes those limits.

This concept is a little tough for some parents to deal with. They're so used to hovering over their children to make sure they know where and what they're doing at all times. But at The City Museum, you have to be willing to say to your child, "Go ahead and explore the caves, then come back and meet me over here at the whale's mouth," the spot that's become the unofficial family re-grouping area.

The first time we took our nieces there, my brother-in-law, an attorney, was stunned that, in our litigious society, The City Museum hadn't been sued out of existence. Sure enough, kids do fall down and get scrapes and bruises (just like everywhere else), and Cassilly has had to fight off several lawsuits, but the numbers are small compared to the 600,000 who visit each year.  The City Museum isn't a dangerous place; it's a wonderland shaped from reclaimed building materials, salvaged bridges, old chimneys, and miles of tile.

The genius behind it, Bob Cassilly, may be gone, but his unique creation will continue to entertain and inspire kids for a long time.  May that thrill of discovery stay with them forever.