Friday, December 30, 2011

David Pogue's iPhone Secrets

If you have an iPhone 4S, you probably don't know all the cool stuff it can do because Apple didn't give you a manual. There's isn't a complete guide to the iPhone in the box or on the website. Fortunately, NY Times personal tech columnist David Pogue has one for you -- it's his "iPhone: The Missing Manual," which he has just updated for the newest version (and the iOS 5.0 operating system you may have on an earlier version of the iPhone or the iPad).

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, Pogue revealed some of the features Apple didn't tell you about, including:

  • how to use Siri to learn who's in your family to make it easier to text and call them;
  • how to take a picture even faster without digging through several screens;
  • how using the iPhone's voice-recognition software makes driving safer;
  • how "assisted touch" makes using iPhone easier for the disabled and non-disabled;
  • how Apple's phone technology compares with what Google's Android phones can do.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


You can buy Pogue's book from Amazon here, or download the e-book version at half-price here until January 3rd.

It's Not Heaven, It's Iowa

With the Iowa caucuses three days away, I invited Josh Kraushaar (executive editor of National Journal's Hotline) to join me on KTRS/St. Louis and analyze how things look on the weekend before the first votes of the 2012 presidential election season are cast. I asked him why the caucus matters, considering that Iowa Republicans chose Mike Huckabee 4 years ago and rarely are a predictor of who will win the nomination. We also discussed why Mitt Romney's pressing so hard to win there, how much of a factor Ron Paul will be, and how much Newt Gingrich has faded from view. He also revealed an odd decision by the GOP in Virginia, where voters will have to sign a party loyalty oath before being allowed to vote in the primary.

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Say Something Nice

The number one fear people have is supposedly speaking in public, but that wasn't true for many folks who encountered a megaphone in New York's Union Square. It was placed there by ImprovEverywhere, which usually puts on stunts involving hundreds of people who know ahead of time what they're supposed to do. In this case, nothing was prearranged except for the plaque on the lectern, which provided three words of instruction: "Say Something Nice." As you'll see, most random passers-by did...


Of course, there will always be some who see this as an opportunity to speechify or do something other than the original intent. Here's a report on them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Frank Schaeffer

"I guess this 180, if you're talking about politics, would take me from being a radical, right-wing, bomb-throwing evangelical on the far right to a position of what I would call 'moderate sanity,' in terms of social views and political views."
That's Frank Schaeffer, talking with me yesterday on KTRS/St. Louis about "Sex, Mom, and God," his latest book about how he left behind a fundamentalist upbringing and years spent as one of the founders of the Religious Right to become an Obama-supporting critic of both the Republican party and the church, particularly in their dangerous overlap when it comes to political leadership.

In our conversation, Schaeffer went after the GOP candidates who prefer faith over facts regarding the economy, global warming, abortion, and more -- essentially taking the evangelical agenda (that he helped develop even before Reagan became president) and continuing to push it into the public policy arena today. He correctly sees the emphasis on social issues like gay marriage and abortion as a distraction from the real problems facing America. That's just what manipulative power brokers like the Koch Brothers and Goldman Sachs want, because they're not interested at all in the social issues, but rather in reducing regulation of their businesses. So, the more they can foment distrust of government and incite Tea Party-like resentment of all things official -- to the point where middle-class Americans vote against their own economic interests -- the better it is for their bottom line.

You don't hear many people explaining the synergy between politics, religion, and greed as well as Schaeffer does here. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


By the way, the full title of Schaeffer's book is "Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Merrill Markoe


Merrill Markoe helped change television as head writer of David Letterman's daytime and late night NBC shows. Since they broke up, she has continued to write, with several books to her credit. Her newest is a collection of essays entitled "Cool, Calm, and Contentious." In it, she explains how having a narcissistic mother is one of the keys to a career in comedy -- and hers certainly qualified.

As she explained to me this morning on KTRS/St. Louis, Markoe's mother believed in brutal honesty, which was not a good recipe for her daughter's self-esteem. That approach wasn't reserved solely for Markoe, though, as she discovered after finding her mother's travel diaries and noticed that they contained negative comments about nearly every place she visited -- in a way that would make you shake your head in disbelief.

We also discussed her suggestions for How To Spot An Asshole and why she likes tweeting as a platform for comedy (you can follow her on Twitter here -- and I'm here). Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Worth A Link

  • Not long ago, Andrew Sullivan endorsed Ron Paul for President.  But in light of Paul's non-explanation of the racist newsletters that went out under his name (which he profited from immensely), Sullivan explains why he has re-thought and retracted his endorsement.
  • Kevin Trudeau, who sold millions of phony cancer cures and other anti-science nonsense in thousands of late-night infomercials, has lost his appeal in federal court and must pay $37.6 million in fines.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Titanic Thompson


I like stories about con men. I don't ever want to be their victim, but I'm intrigued by their cleverness and the psychology of how they play their marks. I'm a fan of movies like "The Sting," "Criminal," and "Confidence," and as a kid admired the intricate plots of "Mission: Impossible" episodes.

That's why I was drawn to Kevin Cook's book, "The True Story of Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet On Everything." While some describe Thompson as a gambler, he was really a con man who never bet on anything unless he had the edge. He took tens of thousands of dollars off opponents on the golf course, in card games, at horseshoes, and any other way he could think of. As with any professional, he also had to practice a lot, but it was the way he cheated his victims that's so entertaining.

I invited Cook to join me on KTRS/St. Louis last week so we could talk about Thompson, his cons, and his exploits with Al Capone, Minnesota Fats, Houdini, golf stars Raymond Floyd and Lee Trevino, and Arnold Rothstein (who fixed the 1919 "Black Sox" World Series).

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


Security Theater

Three stories to consider as you travel during this winter break and think the TSA is making it safer to fly...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two Follow-Ups

Yesterday, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said "no" to the NTSB's proposed ban, which effectively kills it at the federal level -- for now. I wrote about why I opposed that proposed ban earlier this week.

Louis CK's online experiment (which I wrote about here) is an unqualified success and perhaps a paradigm-shifter. After more than 220,000 people downloaded his "Live At The Beacon" comedy special, he has announced on his website that he's going to give away $280,000 of the proceeds to five charities.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cell Phone Ban Reactions

Responding to my piece on why cell phones should not be banned in cars, Alan Keathley emails:

I do not agree with you in that all distractions are the same. Talking on the phone (hands free or not) is a lot different than listening to the radio or talking with another passenger in the car. Listening to the radio is a very passive act and one can automatically tune out when driving situations require it. The same is for talking with a passenger. The passenger is involved with what is going on on the roadway and conversations will change or stop as a result of changing situations. Talking on the phone is more active and the person or persons on the other end do not have that same vantage point.
I didn't say that radio is as distracting as using a cell phone. I said that when radios were first introduced in cars, they were a distracting technology that people had to get used to, just as we're still in the early years of learning to drive and communicate simultaneously. And while Alan is right that the person at the other end of the call doesn't have the same vantage point that a passenger would, I can always stop the conversation -- or drop the phone -- if an emergency situation arises on the road.

However, Alan and I agree on his next point:
You can rest assured that congress will not pass any such legislation as many of them, if not all, engage in cell phone use while driving. They could always exclude themselves from such legislation and other special interest groups that buy them tickets to next year's Super Bowl game. Not like that's never happened.
Bob Robinson writes:
The NTSB, among others, seems to be ignorant of the fact that most, if not all, states have laws on their books concerning “failure to pay due care and attention”. I know Maryland has one, as my older sister got cited for it in 1975! That particular case was bogus, as it was th other driver who should have been charged. But I digress. The plain and simple fact is that any state that passes a law against all cell phone use will be looking to accomplish only one thing – raise revenue.

Of course, if you’re going to implement such a ban wouldn’t it only be fair if the police charged with enforcing it were required to abide by it first? Yes, I am aware of the irony of expecting law enforcement personnel to obey the very laws they are charged with upholding.
Interestingly, all of the venues that do have cell phone bans in place -- including the one for commercial truckers that goes into effect next month -- have carved out an exception for CB radios. I suppose the thinking is that we've had that technology around long enough that drivers can use them safely. Maybe what we need now is an updated version of CW McCall's novelty hit "Convoy" with a bunch of suburban commuters on their cell phones in rush hour.

Iowa, The Bad Bellweather

The political media can't stop talking about the Iowa Caucus, which takes place in a couple of weeks and they tell us is the first official electoral event of the 2012 presidential campaign. They're all playing it up like it means something, like it's a predictor for what happens next and who will become the GOP nominee.

That's because they don't remember history and have no perspective.

If you don't believe me, ask President Mike Huckabee. He was the beneficiary of all the pre-caucus hype four years ago and ended up winning in Iowa with 34% of the vote, the kind of kick-start a campaign of destiny needs. How'd that work out? While it did get Huck a contract with Fox News, he was never really a threat to the eventual nominee, John McCain -- who came in fourth in Iowa with both Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson finishing ahead of him, too.

In 1988, then-Vice President George HW Bush finished a weak third behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson (!), yet somehow managed to succeed Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. Dole, by the way, did go on to win the nomination -- in 1996, after barely getting more Iowans to choose him than Pat Buchanan.

What does all this mean? Mostly that Iowa is a terrible bellweather state. Its Republican base is much more white-bread conservative than the rest of the country, so the more extreme a candidate's right-wing-ishness, the better their chances. Remember, this is the state that even liked Michele Bachmann for a couple of minutes.

But let's not allow the facts to get in the way of the hype. Let's play up Iowa as the most important place on the political map -- and don't let me hear you say anything bad about corn subsidies and the ethanol mandate mistake.

Why Cell Phones Shouldn't Be Banned In Cars


Last week, I saw a TV reporter doing a live shot from the side of the road discussing a report issued earlier that day by the National Transportation Safety Board which recommended banning the use of all cell phones while driving. It was already dark outside, and as cars drove by him with their headlights on, I couldn't help but wonder how distracted they were by the light on top of the camera that was pointed at the reporter -- and at the vehicles coming in the opposite direction. Maybe the NTSB should look into banning unnecessary live shots, and leave me alone so I can call my wife and explain that I'll be late for dinner because there's an accident ahead caused by a TV guy with a bright light shining in our eyes.

The NTSB's recommendation is bad policy because it's premature, based on anecdotal evidence, and ignores the technology learning curve.

Yes, it's sad that 3,000 people died last year in accidents caused by distracted driving, but there's not enough proof that cell phones were the primary cause. Drivers are distracted by all sorts of things in the car, from a crying baby in the back seat, to finding a radio station that didn't go to an all-Christmas music format on Labor Day, to the passenger loudly explaining why the Rams still suck -- not to mention juggling the Egg McMuffin and coffee they're consuming on the way to work. Yet no one would dare suggest we only be allowed to sit behind the wheel alone with no audio, nor will any fast-food restaurants be forced to close their drive-thru windows anytime soon.

One of the anecdotes that led to the NTSB's recommendation stemmed from an incident last year in the St. Louis area, when a pickup driver who had sent 11 texts in 11 minutes was paying so little attention to the road that he slammed into a tractor-trailer, and was then rear-ended by two school buses full of kids. The pickup driver and a 15-year-old died, and more than three dozen people were hurt.

That's a bad accident, but no one should conclude from it that all cell phone use must be banned. Texting and talking are not the same thing, as they require different levels of concentration. Most states already have laws against texting, and some ban handheld phone calls, but what's the difference between using a hands-free device and talking to someone you car pool to work with?

The NTSB's decision is premature because we're still fairly early in the cell phone technology timeline. When I got my first cell phone in 1994 when my wife became pregnant, most people didn't have them yet. But in the last decade, with the explosion in popularity of iPhones, they've become omnipresent. There are now more cell phones than people in the United States -- a number so large that the 3,000 deaths are a sad but small statistic.

Banning their use in cars ignores the learning curve required with any new technology. I'm sure that when a radio was first installed in a Model T, it took some time for people to get used to it. The same goes for the introduction of windshield wipers. Anything that caught the driver's eye could become a distraction, but we adapted to them and figured out how to drive safely and enjoy those options. We're still developing new multi-tasking skills behind the wheel with in-car navigation systems and other digital info on our dashboards. It's called progress.

Moreover, the technology is getting better and more useful. Hands-free devices and bluetooth connections have helped, as have services like Siri and OnStar. With the former, I push one button on my iPhone (without having to look at it), tell a voice-recognition personal assistant who I want to send a message to and what I want to say, she repeats the info out loud, confirms that she has it right, and then sends it. With OnStar, you can push one button and speak to a live operator, who can give you directions to your destination or contact the cops to report the crash that was caused by another driver who, instead of using her cell phone, was applying mascara at 60mph.

Regarding that learning curve, I have no problem with laws that keep new drivers from using cell phones. A teenager who is still getting comfortable with highway speeds shouldn't be on the phone, even with a hands-free device. But leave us multi-tasking middle-aged guys alone, because we've been ahead of the game since we mastered the ability to drive with our knees while enjoying a sandwich and a soda while singing along to "Won't Get Fooled Again" at top volume.

Will the NTSB's report lead to legislation prohibiting all cell phone use in cars, not just texting? There's already a federal ban set to go in place at the start of the new year for commercial truck drivers, and some companies already have regulations regarding cell phone use. But Rick Newman of US News told me last week that he doesn't think politicians will take that step for all drivers...

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Final Table #151: Poker Year In Review


Today on the Final Table radio show, we recapped the biggest poker stories of 2011, with help from two of the industry's top reporters, Chad Holloway of Poker News and Kevin Mathers of AllVegasPoker.com. Among the items we discussed:
  • the impact Black Friday had on players, tournaments, cash games, sponsorships, and the poker media;
  • how near-live streaming coverage of the WSOP Main Event has changed the way we watch poker on television;
  • the loss of most other TV poker shows, including "High Stakes Poker" and "Poker After Dark";
  • the launch of the Epic Poker League and its chances for success going forward;
  • whether we'll ever see Full Tilt founders Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson playing poker publicly again;
  • our picks for the person who had the most impact on poker this year.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Louie's Most Impressive Act

Much has been (and continues to be) written about Louis CK's new stand-up special, which is only available on his website, not on any TV network. The pieces are either about the economics of delivering his content to viewers this way (an experiment he deems successful), or a recap of some of the material he performed at the Beacon Theater while the cameras rolled (note to reviewers: standup routines are never funny in print and out of context, because you always need the comic's unique voice and delivery to make them work).

But not enough has been said about how prodigious Louis is. In addition to writing, directing, editing, and acting in his FX series, "Louie" (which begins production for its third season in February to air next summer), he also develops an entirely new hour of standup material every year. An hour a year may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Most touring comedians are lucky if they come up with 15 or 20 good new minutes in a year. They have to conceive it, write it, try it out in clubs, perfect the wording and timing, and do it over and over before it becomes an official part of the act. Once they get it right, they may perform that bit for several years, adding it to others that always work onstage.

If they're lucky, one of the TV networks will offer them a comedy special, and they'll cull their best bits from previous years to cram the half-hour (or hour) with stuff they know will kill. Meanwhile, they continue to work the road, whether it's comedy clubs or theaters, doing essentially the same act from town to town. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, some of the cleverest comedians I've ever seen have only been lucky enough to grab the brass ring of TV once, yet still had long, happy careers.

If they get a second TV offer, it's usually a few years later, which gives them lots of time to develop new material. Sometimes, the subsequent TV shot will even contain bits they did the first time around. I recently re-watched the first few HBO specials Robert Klein (once one of my comedy heroes) did in the mid-1970s and saw at least three bits he repeated -- not to mention the various versions of his "I Can't Stop My Leg" song that stopped being funny sometime around Jimmy Carter's inaugural but became a dead horse he was still beating in his stage show as recently as two years ago.

So, when Louis comes up with a new hour of standup, it's impressive. What's even more impressive is the fact that, each year, he throws away all the previous material. He may still discuss the same topics -- sex, parenting, his dreams and nightmares -- but it's all new every year. That's virtually unheard of. Jerry Seinfeld at one point took the material he'd done for 20 years, compiled it into a special called "I'm Telling You For The Last Time," and then never did any of it again. When Seinfeld decided to start developing a new act, he took along cameras to witness the journey, which became the terrific documentary "Comedian." But even he doesn't have an entirely new act every year.

The only other comedian I saw who regularly produced new material at that volume was George Carlin. The problem was that Carlin stopped being funny in his last decade. His later concerts and TV specials were overrated by an audience thrilled to be in the presence of a hall-of-fame comic, but his material didn't deserve the adulation. There would be some flashes of fancy wordplay, but too often he simply ranted about one thing or another he hated about the world. It's not that those weren't subjects worth ranting about, but somewhere along the line he forgot to be funny.

Louis may get to that point, too, as his career continues. Forcing yourself to create that much content -- and perfecting it to the point where you want to present it to the world -- can burn people out. Let's hope he's an exception, because at the moment, he's at the top of his game, one of the best comedians of his era.

The Best Christmas TV Tradition

You can have all of your TV Christmas traditions. I'll take Darlene Love's annual performance of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." She recorded the original version (written by Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry) in 1963, and since 1986 has done it on David Letterman's final show of the year, backed by Paul Shaffer and his band and a slew of other musicians and singers.

Here's video of Shaffer and Love behind-the-scenes, along with a montage of their performances through the years. It doesn't get better than this -- or maybe it will this Friday night when the 2011 version airs...

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Holiday Turkey


The first radio station I was paid to work for (after several years of volunteering at non-commercial college and high school stations) was WRCN/Riverhead. It was a classic small-town station on the east end of Long Island that played "album-oriented rock" to an audience that tripled in size as soon as Memorial Day rolled around and The Hamptons filled with an extra million beach-goers.

I started as a part-timer in April, 1978, doing the Saturday 7pm-midnight shift. Soon I was given the Sunday afternoon slot, too. A couple of months later, they started bringing me in during the week to help produce commercials. There was very little ad agency business, so we had to write, voice, and record almost every spot for local advertisers, and I provided an extra voice to supplement the other jocks, who all had production duties in addition to their six days a week on the air.

In a market that small, WRCN wasn't charging all that much for commercials. I think they may have gotten $20/spot during morning drive, the highest rated daypart, with some nighttime commercials going for "a buck a throw," or added on to a time buy as a bonus. There were also a very large number of spots that aired as a trade with the advertiser. If the radio station's owner needed new tires for his car, we ran free spots for the tire store. We did spots for the local gas station that filled up the tanks of our sales people. We ran freebies for John Duck Junior, a famous east-end restaurant where many of our clients were schmoozed over drinks and dinner (I begged the sales manager to let me take my parents there for their anniversary and finally tasted the duck, which was even better than I'd made it sound in their commercials).

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when the station owner added a special something to our pay envelopes in the week before Christmas that year -- a gift certificate for a free 15-pound turkey from a local supermarket that had just started advertising with us (retail value: about ten bucks). This wasn't exactly the kind of gift a 20-year-old guy could get excited about. I was making about $3/hour, so some extra cash would have helped. Plus, I had never cooked a turkey at that point in my life, and since I lived by myself, it was unlikely I was going to start with that frozen bird. Besides, I was the low man on the staff totem pole and in addition to my weekend shows, since Christmas fell on a Monday that year, I was going to spend the holiday filling in on the air for a six-hour shift that took up the whole afternoon.

I went to the supermarket and explained my situation to the manager, asking if I could use the coupon for regular groceries instead of the bird, but after casting a wary eye on me -- what kind of crazy person doesn't want a complimentary Butterball? -- he denied my request, explaining that the coupon had no cash value. I tried to trade the coupon for something else from a couple of my fellow staff members, but none of them needed another free turkey, so I ended up giving it to Ernie, the incredibly patient mechanic who ran the auto repair place down the block from the radio station and was always working on my car (a 10-year-old Ford Galaxie 500 with over 125,000 miles on it and a penchant for spewing blue smoke).

In the end, it all worked out. Ernie and his family had a nice, free turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and I got a complimentary oil change -- which was something of a Hanukkah miracle, because those five quarts of 10W40 lasted for about eight nights in my car.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Highlight Spotlight


James Brown is a very good sportscaster, a success for over 20 years, who not only handles the formatics of hosting the NFL coverage on CBS, but knows how to keep things moving as he describes highlights. Yet for some reason, the higher-ups at CBS Sports decided that rather than having JB handle those duties, he would just be the hand-off man while Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, and Boomer Esiason turned into the recap men.

That's not what they're there for. They're all pretty good as analysts, but they're not broadcasters, and they always stumble somewhere along the way, leaving Brown to play the role of safety net and traffic cop. It's a poor use of his abilities.

This leads to the awkward handoff that occurs every time they go to an in-game highlight, such as when Greg Gumbel pauses his play-by-play of a live game to throw it to New York for a clip from another game, only to have JB take it and toss it to one of his studio-mates. That's too many people involved in a replay that only takes about 10 seconds. And it's no better in the halftime show, when each of the four ex-jocks take turns reading the copy prepared by some associate producer (the staffer who's actually been watching the plays as they happen) as the various game highlights are aired.

The blame probably falls at the feet of the rival NFL show on Fox, where Brown used to work. Once he left and Curt Menafee took his place in the host chair, the highlights packages were handed to Terry Bradshaw to bungle in his inimitable style because he's the top banana. I'm sure that the agents for the Dan-Bill-Shannon-Boomer foursome saw that and made the case that CBS should use their guys more, and so JB's role has been diminished.

That's a shame because, as he proves on Showtime's "Inside The NFL," he's a total pro and a generous host, more than happy to set up his colleagues, but he's having the rug pulled out from under him by the other big men with big egos.

The Spielberg Face

What do all Steven Spielberg movies have in common? According to Kevin B. Lee, it's a close-up of an actor surprised, or in awe, or in shock. Here's his video essay providing evidence...

Friday, December 16, 2011

This Excuse Is All Wet

Jerry Sandusky doesn't just have one bad lawyer in Joe Amendola (who allowed his client to do that live TV interview with Bob Costas). Now he has another bad attorney in Karl Rominger, who told a local TV station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that there could be another explanation for why Sandusky was in the shower with young boys. Wait until you hear this...

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

Fighting Super PACs

It's been almost two years since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to spend as much money on political campaigns as they like. This will be the first presidential election impacted by that decision, and we're already seeing the influence exerted by Super PACs that are set up to support one candidate or another. It's legalized corruption and a corrosive influence on a government that long ago lost its right to be called "of the people, by the people, for the people."

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked this over with Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer, an outspoken advocate of overturning Citizens United, reducing the influence of the rich and powerful on our politics, and returning to public funding of presidential campaigns...

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

Hercules Has A Stroke


Kevin Sorbo was on top of the world a few years ago. The show he starred in, "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," had replaced "Baywatch" as the most-watched television show on the planet. Then he had a stroke or, more precisely, three strokes. How does an actor continue to work after that, particularly one who's been doing all his own stunts as the strongest man on Earth? That's what we talked about when he joined me yesterday on KTRS/St. Louis...

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


You can read more of Sorbo's story in his book, "True Strength."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kurt Anderson on The Protestors


Kurt Anderson joined me this morning on KTRS/St. Louis to discuss his cover story for this week's Time magazine, which named "The Protestor" as its Person Of The Year (apparently I was tied for second again!). We talked about the aftermath of the Arab Spring protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and what form of government will replace the dictators who ran those countries. That led us back to the Occupy protests here in the US -- from whether they can succeed without an outspoken leader to whether the protestors are worried about being co-opted by professional politicians.

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

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

John Feinstein One on One


John Feinstein is one of America's great sportswriters and a money-in-the-bank guest, too. He joined me on KTRS/St. Louis this morning to talk about his new book, "One On One: Behind The Scenes With The Greats In The Game," in which he looks back at some of the sports stars he has covered and written about in the last 25 years -- from Bobby Knight to Tiger Woods to John McEnroe to Mary Carillo to Mike Krzyzewski.

I asked him whether it's tougher to get access to athletes and coaches these days, which is the hardest sport to cover, whether it's important to befriend the subjects of his stories, and more. I also got John to explain what really happened when ESPN made a horrible TV-movie version of his "Season On The Brink" (one of the all-time bestselling sports books).

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



Also on Harris Online...

Congressional Insider Trading

On November 13th, "60 Minutes" aired a piece on insider trading by members of Congress, who use information garnered in private meetings from lobbyists or agency regulators regarding publicly-traded companies and then use what they've learned to buy or sell stocks -- all in secret, with no one looking over their shoulders. If that were done by a Wall Street executive, it would be a felony. But Congress has exempted itself from punishment and oversight.

After the TV show aired, dozens of senators or congresspeople hastily signed onto new legislation to curtail the practice, but as Professor Jonathan Macey of Yale Law School explained to me on KTRS/St. Louis this morning, the bill would not really solve the problem. In fact, he says, there's likely to be more congressional insider trading after the statute becomes law...

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Final Table #150: Jean-Robert Bellande



Today on the Final Table radio show, we recapped the final weekend of the Gateway Poker Classic at Harrah's St. Louis, as well as Dennis' weekend at the inaugural event of the CardPlayer Native American Casinos Poker Tour at Choctaw Casino in Oklahoma. That led to a discussion of other new poker tours that are planned for 2012 and the latest super-high-roller tournament at Bellagio. We also touched on whether remarks last week by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson (who said he was "morally opposed" to internet gaming) will affect ongoing efforts to legalize, license, and regulate online poker -- and whether players should direct anger about those remarks at The Venetian, a Sands property.

In our guest segment, we talked with Jean-Robert Bellande, the poker pro who was a "Survivor" contestant four years ago and is now living like a millionaire in Las Vegas, despite the fact that he's constantly broke. We talked about his huge Twitter fan base (over 30,000 followers), how he gets staked to play cash games and tournaments, which games are in the mix he plays in the Aria poker room, whether he played differently in this year's WSOP Main Event (where he finished 65th), and what his new website and bankroll management app will offer players. He also reviewed a famous hand on "Poker After Dark" earlier this year which did not end well for him.

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

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Newt Gingrich has signed an anti-gay-marriage pledge. Because it was The Gays who were responsible for the failure of his 1st two marriages. 
  • The Top Ten Comedic News Stories Of The Year, according to comedian Will Durst.
  • If you're seen me refer to Black Friday, the day the government shut down online poker in the US, but don't know the whole story, read this terrific summary by Jim McManus (while you're at it, here's the 2009 conversation I had with Jim about his book "Cowboys Full," a history of poker).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Look At All The Singing People

If I said I wanted to show you video of a guy singing "Eleanor Rigby," you might not care. If I said I wanted to show you video of 32 guys singing "Eleanor Rigby," you might be a little bit interested. But what if I said that all 32 guys singing "Eleanor Rigby" are the same guy? Watch Dan Wright in action (take it full screen for best effect)...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saving American Democracy

Here's one of the best speakers in Congress, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, introducing the idea of a constitutional amendment that would reverse the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows corporations and special interest groups to spend unlimited funds on political campaigns. Sanders says he does not propose this bill lightly:

The Constitution of this country has served us well for more than 200 years, but when the Supreme Court says that for purposes of the First Amendment, corporations are people, that writing checks from the company's bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, when that occurs, our democracy is in grave danger.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • An employer once offered me a deal like Albert Pujols is getting. If I worked 250,000,000 years, they'd give me 10 dollars. 
  • Guy in a Ford commercial asks about an F-150, "Where can I get one of these?" Yeah, what kind of small secret business would sell those?
  • Funny response to Rick Perry's anti-gay religious-zealot campaign ad.

Friday, December 09, 2011

One Man, Two Moms

Next time someone wants to argue with you about whether gays and lesbians should have the same right to marry that we do, show them this video from February that's making the rounds again because the Iowa caucuses are a few weeks away. It's Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student with two mothers who spoke about the strength of his family during a public forum before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, which was considering a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Despite remarks like Zach's the Republican-controlled Iowa House did pass the ban, but the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate hasn't voted on it (and likely won't anytime soon).


What was the impact on Zach of the video going viral? He wrote this week in The Daily Beast:
As crazy and awesome as this ride has been so far, I had decided to temporarily suspend my studies to focus on advocacy work because of a Facebook message I received back in February. At the guy’s request, I’m withholding his name, but here it is, verbatim: “man, i just watched your video on youtube. being from the south, the deep south, I have been raised ‘anti-gay.’ Pardon the slur. but that completely changed my view on the subject. Just amazing. Im leaving for the army in two weeks and was pretty upset about don’t ask don’t tell being repealed but again you changed my view on that. I just thought it would be nice for you to know you truley opened someones eyes. Thank you.”

On the one hand, it’s cool to know that folks like Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher, Rosie O’Donnell, and Melissa Etheridge know who I am, thanks to my video. But, sorry, stars, the previous message was way better. It’s a testament to the power of stories to change minds and a testament, too, to our willingness to reevaluate long-held convictions. And it’s that willingness—that open-mindedness—that has driven progress in this country for centuries. It is at the core of what made America possible in the first place.
In addition, Zach is finishing a book entitled "My Two Moms: Everything I Needed to Know About Gay Marriage I Learned in Boy Scouts," which will be published next spring.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Like It Or Not

A friend asked me to "like" his wife's jewelry store on Facebook because I have a few hundred followers there and he wanted some publicity for her. I agreed, although I very rarely accede to such requests, because I don't care about my Facebook page. I only started it for one reason -- to check on what my daughter's doing online. Yes, I have my Twitter feed sent to my Facebook page, but I have never posted anything directly to Facebook, and I'm not interested in receiving invitations to play games, go to meetings, or join groups.

Twitter is the only social media I use other than this blog, and I try to tweet and post something every day. But if you send me a request to connect with you on LinkedIn, I'll ignore it because I closed my account on that site when I realized I never checked it (despite having a couple of hundred connections, which I also never looked at). You also won't find me on FourSquare, Google+, Tumblr, Meetup, MySpace, or Friendster.

It's not that I'm internet-averse. I've been online for over 25 years, back to the early days of CompuServe, through AOL, right up until I started my own site with my own coding in the mid-1990s. But I don't need more phony friends or people who want to associate with me just to increase their own numbers. I also won't retweet your message because it's your birthday or you have a sick family member or you want to win a new car. That's just web clutter, which I want no part of.

While I'll never reach Andrew Sullivan or Mark Evanier levels of output, I'm making an effort to do more writing/venting for this site. If you want to read what I have to say, or get updates on when I'll be doing a radio show, or listen to the thousands of podcasts I've posted, or follow me on Twitter, I appreciate it very much. If you want to get in touch with me, my e-mail address is on the right side of every page of this blog.

But that's about as social as I'm ever going to get.

Sound Defect

Dennis Hartin e-mails:

Every so often, I hear a commercial that uses a sound effect to announce a 180-degree turn in the discourse, as in, "Sure, we're selling cars with 0% financing, but now...[sfx]...you pay no money down!" The sound effect used is the sound of a needle being shoved across a vinyl record. I know vinyl is making a comeback, but I suspect many of the people hearing that commercial have never actually heard a needle being shoved across a vinyl record. I wonder what they think the sound is.
That's a good point. The commercial was likely produced by someone over 40, for whom vinyl records were once a daily reality. But to my daughter's generation, it's as irrelevant as the sound of tape rewinding. Or a busy signal.

Disgraced But Embraced


Judge James Zaget listened to Rod Blagojevich plead for leniency yesterday, then slapped him with a 14-year prison sentence for corruption and other charges. Blagojevich's statement, in which he finally admitted guilt and accepted responsibility, was a big 180 from the public entreaties he'd made in the previous three years, a period in which he not only maintained his innocence and mocked his accusers, but also got more publicity than he deserved. It was also a period in which shameful decisions were made by media executives who happily exploited Blagojevich's infamy and portrayed him in a positive light instead of as the criminal he is.

WLS, a Chicago talk radio station I worked for in 2008 and 2009, proudly wrapped its arms around the disgraced governor. He appeared regularly on the Don and Roma morning show, not just to discuss his own case, but to comment on items in the news or joke around about other things. No one gave the impression that he'd done anything wrong. To the contrary, he was treated as if he were a victim. WLS liked the loudmouth-with-perfect-hair so much they gave him his own weekly Sunday show on which he could spout off about whatever he liked, and he used that megaphone to blast his accusers and attack his enemies.

This was after he'd been indicted by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and then impeached and removed from office by the state legislature. The man may have been a disgrace to his state -- another in a too-long line of disreputable Illinois governors -- but that didn't keep the radio station's management from embracing him as their guy. When I filled in for Don and Roma, I had to play along even though it made me very uneasy knowing I had to use kid gloves every time I talked to him. On my Saturday morning show, I avoided the topic entirely because treating him that way made my stomach turn.

Then there's NBC, which furthered the exploitation via its reality shows. The network wanted Rod on "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here," but to Judge Zagel's credit, so Patti Blagojevich went instead. But a year later, Rod was allowed to do "The Apprentice," where uber-weasel Donald Trump praised his courage -- because he admires people who game the system to enrich themselves, apparently. Again, everyone treated Blago as if he'd done nothing wrong.

It wasn't just broadcasters who wanted a piece of the action. Blagojevich got a book deal, which led to a book tour. He signed autographs at a comic book convention. He appeared at rallies and parties and anywhere he'd be perceived as a good guy, not a corrupt lowlife.

All this for the man who, while in office, received the lowest approval ratings in three decades from the public he screwed. But out of office, he got the highest approval ratings from everyone who could make a buck off of him.

Remembering Pearl and John

With important anniversaries yesterday and today, here are links to 2 previous columns of mine. With the 70th anniversary yesterday of the Pearl Harbor attack, here's what I wrote in 2009 about visiting the memorial there.  And here's my 2010 column on how I handled the morning after John Lennon's murder on my radio show in 1980.

Best Dance Routine Ever

Here's the kind of entertainment you'd be hard-pressed to find in a modern movie or TV show. It's a scene from the 1943 film "Stormy Weather," starring Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, although neither of them are in this scene, which takes place in a nightclub where Cab Calloway is performing "Jumpin' Jive" with his big band. At one point he strolls over to a corner of the audience where the Nicholas Brothers (Harold and Fayard) pop up from their chairs and completely take over. What follows is what many -- including no less an expert than Fred Astaire -- consider the greatest dance routine ever captured on film...


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Words With A Flight Attendant

Alec Baldwin had a run-in with an American Airlines flight attendant who insisted he stop playing Words With Friends on his phone even though the plane was still parked at the gate.  The result was Baldwin being escorted off the plane and having to take a later flight.  Afterwards, he wrote this blog entry, in which he apologized to his fellow passengers, yet managed to get in a few shots at the current state of misery that is flying commercial in the US these days.

On a related note, things are so slow for Baldwin's brothers Stephen, Billy, and Daniel that when they play Words With Friends, their rack is filled with nothing but consonants.

Final Table #149: Gateway Poker Classic


Today on the Final Table radio show, we recapped the first few days of action at the Gateway Poker Classic, including me playing in Friday's tournament, Dennis playing in today's event (he was being blinded off while we did the show!), the unique structure of Thursday's Jack and Jill event, and the schedule for the rest of this week, leading up to the Main Event this Saturday. We also discussed Dennis' weekend at a Heartland Poker Tour event at the Peppermill Casino in Reno, Nevada.

Among the topics in our news segment:
  • The revelation that Facebook is planning to expand into real-money online poker in the UK, while the CEO of Zynga Poker (the free-money poker site that has more players than any other) says his company has no plans to shift to a real-money platform;
  • Why Pius Heinz' net take from his WSOP Main Event victory was more than any other winner in history;
  • Why it took so long for PokerStars to sign a deal with WSOP Main Event runner-up Martin Staszko;
  • Why "High Stakes Poker" is being yanked off the schedule at GSN at the end of this month after a six-year run
We also answered several listener e-mails about Full Tilt Poker's potential settlement with the US government, including whether the Department of Justice will turn over players to the Internal Revenue Service, whether the DOJ can go after "phantom funds" never collected from players' accounts, and whether it would be worth it to take a piece of the new Full Tilt in lieu of cash still in your account.

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

The Power of Pictures

Amidst all the information available to us almost instantly, credit must be given to the news photographers around the world who bring us stunning images, often in the midst of devastation. Buzzfeed has compiled 45 of the Most Powerful Images of 2011, like this one by Yomiuri Shimbun from March 14th, showing a sightseeing boat tossed by the tsunami from 1300 feet off-shore onto the top of a two-story house...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • In a tribute to Herman Cain, the St. Louis Rams have suspended their effort to score any more points this season. Well executed so far.
  • A climate scientist fights back against a recent WSJ op-ed, charging that deniers are as bad as tobacco execs were.
  • It's not John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to "Imagine," it's his reminder to talk to the cable guy. Bidding starts at $30k!
  • Survivor's psychological examination of Brandon Hantz obviously concluded, "Yes, he's seriously crazy, so let's put him on TV!" 
  • Words we still use that now make no sense, by Ken Levine.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Squeaky Wheel Discount

"I guess I'll have to call Dish Network."

That's what I told the AT&T customer service representative this morning when she wouldn't give me a discount on my U-verse service. We'd signed on a year ago and received a $35 discount for 12 months, but that just expired, and I didn't want my rate to go up. So I called and -- after negotiating their voice mail tree of hell, and waiting for far-too-many minutes -- finally spoke to a woman who looked up my account and said there were no current offers available, so there wasn't anything she could do for me.

That's when I said the line about Dish Network (who we'd dropped when we switched to U-Verse because it has a better multi-room DVR system). Immediately, the customer service woman replied that, if I could hold for a minute, she'd transfer me to another representative who might be able to find some kind of deal for me. I agreed to hold.

When the new rep picked up, she'd been clued in to my 8-word magic sentence and asked, "What can I do to get you to continue as an AT&T customer?" I explained that she could dig through her computer to find me a discount close to what they'd given me for the previous year. "Let me see what I can find," she said.

Her search took exactly 10 seconds. "Well, if we put this promotion together with this promotion and don't charge you for the extra receiver and renew the discount on your high-speed internet service, would that work for you?" Since the number she quoted was close to the original $35 discount, I said that would be fine, that she'd convinced me not to call the rival company.

She punched a few keys, asked me another question or two, and we were done. The best part of this was the facade she put up, pretending that she was giving me a special deal, as if she doesn't do this all day every day for other customers savvy enough to know what one simple complaint will get you.

Now if she could only make the U-Verse DVR accept multiple simultaneous HD streams.

Starting Over

I solved a frustrating technical problem this morning with a solution I should have thought of days ago.

I use Quicken's money management software to say on top of my various financial accounts, download transactions, reconcile statements, update security prices, etc. For some reason, the software stopped accepting information from my bank 3 weeks ago. All the other accounts still updated, but not the ones with my local bank. The online connection was being made as usual from beginning to end, with no error reports, but there was never any new data.

I called the bank to see if they'd changed something, and the woman I spoke with said they hadn't. After a few basic questions that indicated I wasn't a novice at this ("Are you using the correct password?"), she ran a few diagnostics on my account, couldn't discover anything wrong, and suggested I try contacting Quicken. I knew that was a dead end, because they would just try to get me to upgrade to their latest version (which I don't want to do yet), and since there had been no changes to the software on my PC, it seemed unlikely they'd be able to offer a solution.

I let it sit for a few days until this morning, when I decided to completely deactivate and remove the online features from each account. Then I closed Quicken, waited a couple of seconds, re-opened it, and re-activated everything. Voila! Down came the transactions, integrating with my accounts just as they always had. Whatever the glitch was, it was gone, thanks to the solution I should have tried first. Ironically, I'd had to do the same thing with my wireless router just a week ago when it stopped connecting other devices to my printer. That one frustrated me for an entire hour until I remembered having the same problem last year and solving it by simply unplugging the power cord for a minute or two, then plugging it back in. Sure enough, everything reconnected automatically.

From now on, when a high-tech snafu occurs, I'll try to remember the first four rules of solving IT problems: revert, re-activate, re-install, re-boot.

Hope for Woody


My wife and I just finished watching the PBS American Masters special about Woody Allen that aired a couple of weeks ago. At 3.5 hours, documentarian Robert Weide took his time exploring Allen's life and career, including dozens of interviews, film clips, and behind-the-scenes stories on many of Woody's movies and the process of making them.

In the section on "Love and Death," there's a discussion of how Allen was essentially doing an imitation of Bob Hope, whose film work he so admired. My mind immediately flashed to this parody from SCTV, circa 1980. It aired on NBC when the network picked up the third season of the show and aired it late on Friday nights in a 90-minute time slot. That gave them plenty of time to do an extended bit like this, in which Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas do spot-on impersonations of Allen and Hope, with Joe Flaherty in a cameo as Bing Crosby. The premise starts a la Allen's "Play It Again Sam" and winds its way through several sharp scenes showcasing the differences and similarities in their comedic styles...


And here's a clip from the Weide documentary (which you can buy on DVD), in which Allen's neurotic opinion of his classic "Manhattan" is 180 degrees from everyone else's...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Ron Paul's doing Mitt Romney AND Barack Obama a big favor with this devastating takedown of Newt Gingrich's "serial hypocrisy." 
  • Herman Cain must've seen that acknowledged adulterer Gingrich was rising in the polls, so figured it wouldn't hurt if he was an adulterer, too.
  • In response to the new Cain allegations, Rick Perry just rearranged the letters on the rock at his hunting ground to read "GINGER HEAD."
  • Schadenfreude Story Of The Day: the former Sheriff Of The Year was busted & sent him to a jail that's named after him.

Stay Classy, NFLers

Thanks to Jay Weston for sending me a link to this Bob Costas rant, which I missed on Sunday night. In it, Costas goes after all the classless NFL buffoons who over-celebrate whenever they score a touchdown, sometimes to the detriment of their team when they're penalized by the officials. What he didn't mention are the guys who act like this at inappropriate times, like a defensive end who gets a sack in the fourth quarter of a game his team is losing by three touchdowns, yet still celebrates as if he's won the Super Bowl...


Updated 10:29am...The video I originally embedded was removed from YouTube, so I substituted another one, but I don't know how long it will remain available.  Unfortunately, NBC doesn't have the video -- embeddable or otherwise -- on any of their sites, so I'm adding the text of Costas' comments below.  It's not quite as good as seeing the accompanying images, but it still gets his point across:
For those of you too busy keeping up with the Kardashians to notice, we live in a culture that in many ways grows more stupid and graceless by the moment.  Sports both reflects and influences that sorry trend, so on playing fields everywhere, true style is in decline, while mindless exhibitionism abounds.

In the late sixties, the Giants had a receiver named Homer Jones.  He invented the spike — and it was great; a simple, elegant punctuation that somehow has devolved into this (imagine video of excessive celebrations here).

Given the tone of the times, it’s probably too much to expect that most players would appreciate that back in the day, this guy (Barry Sanders) was much cooler than this guy (Mark Gastineau), or that there is a difference between spontaneous and/or good-natured displays of enthusiasm and calculated displays of obnoxious self-indulgence.  No, that train has already gone so far down the wrong track, there’s probably no turning back.

So our suggestion here is a more modest one:  Hey, knuckleheads, is it too much to ask that you confine your buffoonery to situations that don’t directly damage your team? Week after week, game after game, we see guys who think nothing of incurring penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, costing their teams valuable yardage, even late in close games.

Today’s most conspicuous culprit:  Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson, who after a TD catch versus the Jets, thought it would be a good idea to go Marcel Marceau, pantomiming, among other things, Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg.  But in this case, it was Johnson who shot himself in the foot, as his display cost his team a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.  And given a short field, the Jets proceeded to score in a critical game that wound up 28-24, New York.

Which raises this question:  Where are the coaches in all this?  Guys are routinely benched or called out for blown assignments.  When is a coach going to make an overdue statement and sit a guy down on the grounds of pure selfishness and unprofessionalism detrimental to his team?

By the way, late in the loss to the Jets, Johnson dropped a pass that could have led to a Buffalo win. Shockingly, he didn’t follow it with a rehearsed “my bad” dance of apology.  Maybe he just forgot.