Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PokerStars, Full Tilt, and the DOJ

There was big news in the poker world today, as the US Department of Justice announced a settlement with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker that allows the latter to forfeit its assets to the former, which will pay the government $547 million over the next three years.  Any player who still has money frozen in their Full Tilt account will be able to get it back (if you're one of them, read this FAQ), and PokerStars says it will re-start Full Tilt Poker as a separate online poker site.

The links above contain the basics of the deal, but I've been bombarded with other questions today, so let me give you my best-guess answers...

Q: Does this mean online poker is going to become legal in the United States soon?
A: It depends on your definition of "soon." Since Black Friday (April 15, 2011, when the government shut down PokerStars, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker, and Ultimate Bet), I've been telling anyone who'll listen that I'd be surprised to see it happen until 2014. It certainly won't happen this year, because everyone in Congress is too busy trying to get re-elected. There will probably be federal legislation introduced in 2013, but it will have to establish the regulatory hoops that potential licensees will be required to jump through, and considering the speed of our bureaucracy, that's likely to take another year.

Q: If it's going to take that long for the federal law to be changed, how about at the state level?
A: That's likely to happen more quickly. The wheels are already in motion in Nevada, and other states will consider following suit if the tax revenue is juicy enough. However, I doubt that any single state -- with the exception of California -- has enough of a player base to make it worthwhile to play online only against other residents. The choice of games and opponents would be significantly smaller than what former online players were used to. That would change once several states pool their resources a la Powerball, but that's not imminent, either.

Q: Will PokerStars and Full Tilt be allowed to run US-facing sites once legislation is passed?
A: It depends on how the law is written, but the DOJ's settlement explicitly states that it has no objection to them becoming licensees anywhere online poker gets the okay.

Q: What does this mean for other online poker sites?
A: Companies like Caesar's Entertainment (which owns the World Series of Poker brand), Party Poker, and MGM/Mirage can't be happy today. They've been ready to throw the switch and turn on their own US-facing online poker sites after funding massive lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, but they were hoping to do it without having to compete with PokerStars. While Caesar's (Harrah's) has a large database of poker players and other gamblers it can market to, PokerStars (the world's largest online poker room) had tens of thousands of Americans playing online for many years and, after Black Friday, the company engendered a tremendous amount of goodwill by not hesitating to return money that players could no longer use on the site. None of the other online operators did that -- and PokerStars will get even more positive feedback from the poker community for ensuring that former Full Tilt players get their money back, too.

Q: Once Full Tilt Poker returns under the auspices of PokerStars, will former players still play there?
A: We'll have to watch how the rest of the world reacts, since they'll have exclusive use of the site until US law changes. There's no doubt the Full Tilt brand is tarnished, but PokerStars can overcome that by offering users an experience like the one they were used to there, only with player funds actually (not just promised to be) separated from company funds. My gut says that many former players won't withdraw their funds to play elsewhere because: a) they trust PokerStars; and b) they're worried about tax implications if they ask for a check for their balance. But the real bottom line answer will be even simpler -- poker players will go wherever they can find a good game they can beat, with plenty of action. If the new Full Tilt provides that, they'll be ready to click away.

Q: Does this mean Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson can come out of hiding?
A: Absolutely not. The former Full Tilt executives are still facing federal charges. Even after those are resolved one way or another, The Professor and Jesus will remain pariahs in the poker community for a long time before you see their faces at a poker table again.

Q: What about players who haven't gotten their money back from Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet?
A: Those companies' assets will be liquidated by the Department of Justice, which will then attempt to return funds to players -- but it's likely to be pennies on the dollar.

Q: Does this mean that poker TV shows like "High Stakes Poker" and "Poker After Dark" are coming back?
A: Not until the situation changes in the US. Those shows were bankrolled by PokerStars and Full Tilt, respectively, and they're not going to spend the promotional dollars until the market is open to them. Until then, the World Series of Poker coverage on ESPN (which began tonight and runs through the end of October) will be the only fresh poker programming on your TV.

Q: What does this mean for people who play in brick-and-mortar poker rooms?
A: Since Black Friday, there's been an influx of former online-only players who were looking for someplace to play poker, and started coming into casino poker rooms for cash games and tournaments. For many, the transition was a shock to the system because the pace of play is so much slower, they can only sit at one table at a time, and they have to wear actual pants. Some of them adapted and became regulars, and may continue to play live. But the larger majority that didn't make the switch are eager to get back to playing online -- as are some of those who patronized both virtual and real-world poker rooms.

Once online poker gets the governmental thumbs-up in the US, business may drop in the casinos at first, but there will also be an entirely new group of poker players coming to the game, and we'll have a boom period even bigger than the post-Moneymaker era. With the stigma of "I'm not sure it's legal" removed, folks who only play for free on Zynga and other sites will start giving online real-money poker a try, as will those who play in basement home games and charity fundraisers. From that point, poker will have a new growth curve that could easily double the number of entrants in the World Series Of Poker Main Event from its current level of 6,598 players, thanks to online satellite tournaments awarding free seats all year long.

We're still a couple of years away from the federal legislation that will light this fuse, but when it does, the poker fireworks will really begin.

Don't Blame Fred

ABC announced yesterday it's pulling the improv show "Trust Us With Your Life" off the air immediately, and some media outlets are claiming it's because of the recent legal difficulties of Fred Willard, the show's host.  I doubt it.  The more likely reason is that the ratings weren't very good.

The show was another excuse for the "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" crew to do a half-hour of improv skits in primetime, a concept that was worn out when Drew Carey imported the show from England and insisted on having three of the same performers return each week as regulars. Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady are all very funny, but the show developed a formulaic sameness that their talents couldn't overcome. The UK version had a rotating cast of improvisers, and though some of them appeared quite often (including Stiles and Mochrie, as well as Josie Lawrence, Stephen Fry, Tony Slattery, Mike McShane, Greg Proops, and Brad Sherwood), the show was kept fresh by the different interactions, and by its dry-as-a-bone host Clive Anderson. That version of the show ran for 10 seasons in England and was exposed to American audiences via Comedy Central, but hasn't been seen here for many years, unfortunately, leaving the show's legacy for most American viewers in the hands of the Carey-led version that was burned out by ABC for 8 seasons.

The irony of blaming the failure of "TYWYL" on Willard is that he was mis-cast as the show's host. His reputation is as one of the all-time great improvisational comedians (from "Fernwood 2Night" to "Best In Show"), but as host, he was never given the opportunity to use those skills.  Instead, he was tasked with interviewing celebrities to extract funny stories from their lives, which were then used as the basis for an improvised scene by the other cast members.  It was clear the guests had been pre-interviewed within an inch of their lives, so all Willard had to do was ask them pre-scripted questions, act surprised at the pre-arranged answers, and then introduce the others.

You don't hire Fred Willard to do that. You hire Drew Carey, or Clive Anderson. Blaming Fred for the show's failure is like crediting Ryan Seacrest for an athlete winning gold at the Olympics.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • How hard is it to watch your kid compete in the Olympics? Watch this gymnast's parents in action.
  • A good profile of Alec Baldwin, the cover story in Vanity Fair.
  • If local governments can ban businesses for their anti-gay views, can they ban them for being pro-gay? Or atheist? Or French?
  • When 25-year-veteran David Sheets was fired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the phone while on the toilet, he resisted the urge to flush.

2001 in 2012

Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "2001: A Space Odyssey," was mind-blowing in 1968, but its pace and still-confusing story wouldn't stand a chance against today's pumped-up special-effects-laden movies -- unless you could get people into the theaters with a trailer full of modern-day editing tricks (lots of quick cuts) and music (no classical!) that make the movie seem a lot more action-packed and exciting than it actually was...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gold Medal Complaining

When I had a daily radio show, I had to not only pay attention to everything that was going on in the news, but also watch and listen to a lot of pop-culture events, so I could talk about them on the air.  That included TV shows, movies, and sporting events that I didn't really care about, but had to have within my sphere of information in order to do my job.  I no longer have that obligation, but I can't help being suckered into some of those lousy experiences .  Despite knowing the phenomenon won't live up to expectations, I fall for the hype anyway.

The Olympics opening ceremony is a perfect example. It's all about pageantry and pomp, two things I've successfully lived my life without.  I know. from quadrennial experience, that the host nation's staged exhibition won't make any sense, will involve thousands of people doing things I don't understand, and be tainted by television announcers who talk too much (Matt Lauer) and know too little (Meredith Viera).  That's exactly what we got Friday night, and it's my own damned fault for watching, even on DVR delay.

What amuses me is all the people complaining about NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony and the athletic events thus far, as if they've never seen a network tape-delay the Olympics before.  They're outraged at the fact that, while social media and other outlets report on results as they happen, NBC holds the footage of some events for primetime, just as it has every two years for a couple of decades.  The vast majority of Americans don't actually care who wins any of these games -- they couldn't name five current Olympians if you put a gun to their heads -- but they're filling the Twitterverse with complaints about having to wait until 10pm to see some hairless human/dolphin hybrid touch a wall first, or some 84-pound teenager prounce around the gymnastics floor for a spot on the oh-who-the-hell-cares.

Meanwhile, ratings for NBC's primetime coverage are huge, just like the length of its commercial breaks, which means one of three things: a) the complainers are vocal, but clearly in the minority; b) the complainers are hypocrites who are actually watching more than casual viewers; or c) it's the dog days of summer and there's nothing else on TV.

Cheney vs. Cheney vs. Palin

Holy crap. I finally agree with Dick Cheney about something. Over the weekend, the former Vice President was asked by ABC's Jonathan Hart about Sarah Palin. His reply:

I like Governor Palin. I’ve met her. I know her, but based on her background, she had only been governor for, what, two years? I don’t think she passed that test of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake.
Keep in mind that when Cheney was hired by Dubya to find a good running mate, the only one he thought qualified for the job was himself, and we all know how that turned out. But that's not today's topic. For that, we turn to his daughter, Liz Cheney, who posted this remarkable tweet yesterday:
Rarely do I disagree with best VP ever, but @SarahPalinUSA more qualified than Obama and Biden combined. Huge respect for all she's done 4 GOP.
Let's begin our analysis with the second sentence ("all she's done 4 GOP"), which is clearly false. Palin's done much more for herself than for the Republican Party, which is why she has virtually no national role anymore other than as yet another propaganda spewer on Fox News (just like Liz Cheney). She does have a lot in common with George W. Bush, in that neither of them had any influence on this year's presidential campaigns, and neither of them will be allowed to speak at the Republican National Convention next month. On the other hand, the Palins are kicking Obama's and Biden's butts in the reality TV show category, as this list from the Charlotte Observer proves:
For those keeping count at home, we've had TLC's "Sarah Palin's Alaska," which featured the entire Palin family against one of the most beautiful backdrops in television; Bristol's first stint on "Dancing With the Stars," followed by a never-aired Bio channel "reality" show featuring Bristol, her son Tripp and her fellow "Dancing" alum Kyle Massey that was apparently re-purposed --without Massey -- to become her current Lifetime show, "Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp," which has also featured the rest of her family, including her sister Willow; and now "Stars Earn Stripes," in which Alaska's former First Dude will compete with the likes of Laila Ali and Nick Lachey to raise money for military and first-responder charities by participating in challenges based on military exercises.
Back to the first sentence of Liz's tweet, in which she claims Palin was "more qualified than Obama and Biden combined." Let's check the facts, rounding up to whole years to give everyone a little more credit:
  • Barack Obama: 4 years as US Senator, preceded by 8 years as an Illinois state senator.
  • Joe Biden: 26 years as US Senator, preceded by 2 years as a county councilman in Delaware.
  • Sarah Palin: 3 years as Alaska Governor, preceded by 4 years as mayor of Wasilla, preceded by 4 years on Wasilla county council.
That's 11 years in public office for Palin, 34 years in public office for Obama/Biden. I guess, by GOP thinking, where all government is evil and should be eradicated, the less time you spend in public office the more qualified you are for public office. Math, like science, isn't important.

By Liz Cheney's logic, Sarah Palin is more qualified to be her father than Dick Cheney.

Jim Vance vs. Sports Media

When I worked in DC (1986-1999), the only sports team anyone cared about was the Washington Redskins. The waiting list for season tickets was tens of thousands of names long -- they were handed down from generation to generation, and every game was sold out. Sure, the NBA's Bullets/Wizards and NHL's Capitals were there, but they were a second thought until the NFL season was over.  I went to two Super Bowls with the Skins, got to know many of the players, and happily joined in the city's obsession with the burgundy-and-gold.

One of the other things I always admired in those days was the frankness of WRC-TV's Jim Vance, who was always a take-no-crap kinda guy, and may be more so now.  Here's a commentary he did a few days ago about how sports media in DC -- including his own station -- are wrong to play up Redskins training camp and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III so much, while ignoring the baseball success of the Washington Nationals. Very few TV anchors get a regular segment like this, and fewer of them would use it to take a shot at their own sports department, but after 40 years in the anchor chair, Vance can do and say pretty much whatever he wants...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Live Tweeting The Opening Ceremony

My tweets while watching NBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics...

  • This is the night when people upset that US Olympic berets were made in China tweet about the Opening Ceremony on their China-made iPads, with no sense of irony.
  • My wife insists on watching every second of the Opening Ceremony, but can't stop yelling at Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera to SHUT UP!
  • Matt Lauer: Bob Costas & I agree this is a great cover of "Come Together" by Arctic Monkeys. So, naturally, we'll talk over most of it.
  • Americans thought berets were a bad fashion statement, but how about the British women athletes forced to wear bad bridesmaid dresses?
  • Let tonight be the last time anyone drags Muhammad Ali out for a public appearance in which he can't do anything. Enough already.
  • For many Olympians, The Beatles were the group their grandparents grew up with, so they don't know the lyrics to 42-year-old "Hey Jude"!

Gun Too Far

I haven't had a chance to write anything about the Aurora theater attack last Friday, but have had several thoughts running around in my mind that I have to let out.

Whenever the question of gun control comes up, opponents argue that there shouldn't be any restrictions placed on our Second Amendment rights. This strikes me as odd because I've had a good career in broadcasting thanks to the First Amendment, and there are plenty of restrictions placed on the rights it guarantees. There are words I'm prohibited from saying on radio and television. There are slander and libel laws that limit what I can say about you, your family, your company, etc. You can be thrown in jail for saying the wrong thing to a judge or at the airport. The "right of the people peaceably to assemble" is limited often, ostensibly for "security purposes," such as next month in Tampa at the Republican National Convention, when protesters will only be allowed to gather in certain spots at certain times for a certain duration -- rules designed to keep them out of the range of TV cameras and convention attendees, regardless of what the First Amendment says.

Another argument made by gun-rights extremists is that they have to arm themselves to the teeth so they can fight off a tyrannical government when it turns against its citizens. To my knowledge, the only time that's worked in American history was around 1776, when the weapons choices for both government and citizenry were limited to muskets. Firearms and munitions have come a long way since then, but no citizen group could possibly stand up to what the government now has -- unless the home stockpile happens to include tanks, fighter planes, and those newfangled drones. You think your rifles are going to keep the US government at bay? Forget about Ruby Ridge and Waco. Were you not watching during the early days of the Iraq war? I'm not talking about the wasted years since then, but the "shock and awe" phase that obliterated entire blocks at a time.

If you want to have a gun in the house because you think it'll help you defend against a burglar, well, fine, although I doubt you have the skills to use it under stress and hit your target as if you were any number of can't-miss-movie-heroes. But don't tell me you need a dozen guns, including automatic or assault weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition -- especially when you don't even lock your front door at night!

Will more gun laws keep insane people from acting out whatever violent fantasies are running around in their heads? No, particularly those whose insanity has yet to cross paths with The System via mental health professionals or the courts. Is there any way to guarantee that no one ever gets their hands on a gun they'll use to kill innocent people? No.

But it would help if much of the nation would stop being gripped by fear and the lies being peddled to them by the NRA and the firearms industry. They've been fed a line of crap about Obama's secret plan to take away their guns, so they've gone out and bought more. They watch their local newscasts and see random shootings taking place in a nearby community and vow they'll never be a victim because they have a concealed-carry permit and a handgun in their purse -- until they accidentally kill a family member after too many beers or because the meatloaf was cold.

Meanwhile, there's no useful discussion of the topic by any of our leaders, particularly in an election year. Last Friday may not have been the right time to talk about America's sick gun culture, but the respectful silence should not last until the next time tragedy strikes.

One last note to the media and politicians and local law enforcement: anytime anyone shoots several dozen people anywhere, that's terrorism, even if their skin isn't brown.

To Tell The Tooth

I've been out of action the last couple of days thanks to oral surgery which left me with a hole where two teeth used to be. It wasn't the most pleasant procedure, but since I have a good dentist and he has a good assistant, I was only in the chair for about 90 minutes.

First, he cracked the bridge I had over the two back teeth on the bottom left (actually, only one real tooth). Then he extracted the tooth, which was in serious trouble, leaving a hole where it and the bridge had been. Next came the fun part, as he drilled down into my jawbone to make a hole so he could screw in two implants that will be in there permanently. Then he filled in around the implants with bone grafts (from a dead person, thank you very much!) to keep everything in place, and sutured everything closed, including the gum line he’d had to cut open to get in there. My bone will eventually grow around the implants, keeping them in place. I go back in 2 weeks for a checkup, then will eventually have crowns put over those implants to act as teeth.

I had to make sure he didn't prescribe any narcotic painkillers like the ones I had major trouble with in the hospital three years ago when I had my back and gall bladder surgeries. That meant no Percocet or Oxycontin, but rather Tylenol with codeine, which isn’t as effective as hydrocodone, but it doesn’t make me super-nauseous and unable to walk around, so it's my best option. I’m also on antibiotics and steroids (anti-inflammatory), which temporarily took the bass out of my deep macho voice.

I spent all day Wednesday slightly dizzy and a little bit off my game mentally. I decided not to speak out loud because it made the pain worse, and my dentist recommended keeping it to a minimum for a day. My wife and daughter were both at work, and the phone rarely rings at home, so it was easy to get by with zero conversation.

Yesterday was my birthday, but I asked everyone to keep it as low-key as possible, and they did. I was still only eating soft foods -- thankfully, chocolate ice cream qualifies, and that was my birthday treat. Today, I'm back on a regular diet, off the painkillers, on the treadmill again, and a little bit sore, but the weirdest part is noticing that my tongue migrates towards the space where the teeth used to be (and eventually will be again), as if it were pining after long-lost friends. There's probably a name for it, but I call it Lonely Tongue Syndrome.

The good news is I'm ready for the London Olympics, because even with a reduced teeth total, I'm still ahead of your average Englishman.

Have That Medal Bronzed!

Whenever the Olympics roll around, I think of Jerry Seinfeld's line about the silver medal winners: "Of all the losers, you were the best."

That extends even further to the bronze medalists, a congratulatory concept that isn't applied in any other major American sport. If you lose the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup, at least you won your conference championship, but there's no praise for the teams that didn't get there because they lost in earlier playoff rounds. Winning the division in baseball doesn't mean anything if you don't advance in the post-season.

Even in "Glengarry Glen Ross," while the winner gets a car and second-place gets steak knives, third place gets fired. No medal, no recognition, just the brutal reality that you weren't even second-best. Sure, there's the "show" position in horse racing, but that's just to keep the bettors happy.

Unless you were a complete underdog who most people thought couldn't even finish the race, who's happy getting the bronze?

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Facebook lost $157 million because it wrote checks to its own execs & investors first. Also known as the Full Tilt Poker business model.
  • Seeing ads for "The Watch," I'm glad Vince Vaughn is finally being allowed to let his loud, wild side be seen after a career of quiet roles.
  • An extensive profile of Bruce Springsteen, from his early years to his current Wrecking Ball tour.
  • After 2 successful years, Harrah's St. Louis (in the process of being sold to Penn National Gaming) will not host a WSOP Circuit Event in 2012-2013.
  • Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings is doing a weekly news quiz for Slate. His latest is all about the London Olympics.
  • If you liked our Final Table Shows about sit-and-go tournament strategies, read this Pokerati piece for more basics on how to play them.

Siri's Taxi Driver

Apple has been running the Martin Scorcese commercial for Siri and the iPhone 4S a lot this week, but here's the version you haven't seen, in which the taxi driver is revealed...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Franken Remembers Davis

Al Franken took to the floor of the Senate to eulogize his old "SNL" writing partner Tom Davis, who died of cancer last week. I can only imagine how Senate staffers, bored with all the usual political nonsense they hear in speeches day in and day out, were happy to hear something different...

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wizard Wars

Two teams of magicians are each given an hour to create some tricks with four simple items.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Remembering Sally Ride

Dr. Sally Ride became an American hero as the first American woman in space in 1983. After two shuttle trips and eight years with NASA, she returned to academia as a physicist and for several years concentrated on climate change. She was a role model for thousands of American girls (and boys), encouraging them to study math and science and inspiring them with information via her company, Sally Ride Science.

Dr. Ride died yesterday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. In her honor, I'm re-posting a conversation I had with her in 2009 about her books, "Mission: Planet Earth" and "Mission: Save The Planet," both aimed at getting kids to understand the science and urging them to action at the local level. We also discussed what role she believes government should play in solving the climate problem, as well as what she sees as the future of NASA.

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Next Time, Ask Bain For The Money

The Romney campaign has been using an Obama quote out of context to make it seem that the president doesn't believe that small business owners built their own companies. What Obama actually said was that no one does it alone:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help…Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
When Obama said "you didn't build that," he clearly meant the roads and bridges of America's infrastructure.  But here's where it gets event better. Romney's campaign quickly produced a commercial featuring Jack Gilchrist, second-generation owner of Gilchrist Metals, acting offended and asking:
“My father's hands didn't build this company? My hands didn't build this company? My son's hands aren't building this company? Did somebody else take out the loan on my father's house to finance the equipment? Did somebody else make payroll every week or figure out where it's coming from? President Obama, you're killing us out here. Through hard work and a little bit of luck, we built this business. Why are you demonizing us for it?”
Of course, neither Obama nor anyone else is demonizing Gilchrist, but today's New Hampshire Union-Leader revealed that, in fact, his company has received government help -- numerous times:
In 1999, Gilchrist Metal received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority “to set up a second manufacturing plant and purchase equipment to produce high definition television broadcasting equipment. Last year, Gilchrist Metal also received two U.S. Navy sub-contracts totaling about $83,000 and a smaller, $5,600 Coast Guard contract in 2008. He also said his company received a U.S. Small Business Administration loan totaling “somewhere south of” $500,000 in the late 1980s. He said his business has also received matching funds from the New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (NETAAC), which is federally-funded.
So, Jack, if you did it all by yourself and didn't need those taxpayer dollars to make your company successful, can we have it back, please? Or maybe next time, you should ask Bain Capital for the money.

One more thing. Here's a quote from Romney himself, addressing Olympians in 2002. To be sure there's context, I'll give you two full paragraphs, but note the language in the second and see if you hear an echo:
Tonight we cheer the Olympians, who only yesterday were children themselves. As we watch them over the next 16 days, we affirm that our aspirations, and those of our children and grandchildren, can become reality. We salute you Olympians, both because you dreamed and because you paid the price to make your dreams real. You guys pushed yourself, drove yourself, sacrificed, trained and competed time and again at winning and losing.

You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Somewhere in Colorado

My daughter and some friends were among those who bought into the Batman hype and went to a midnight show of "The Dark Knight Rises." She came home happy, safe, and sound, but I can't imagine the horror that's ripping through the lives of the family members of those who were killed or wounded in Aurora, Colorado, this morning.

Somewhere, some idiot is already working up a commentary, either on the air or online, blaming movie violence for the real-life violence, perhaps even blaming this specific movie, even though the shooter could not possibly have seen it before.

Somewhere, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre is already working up a statement claiming that if more people in the crowd had guns, a tragedy like this could have been stopped because, they would have killed the murderous thug firing into the crowd, because everyone is Dirty Harry.

Somewhere, both presidential candidates and dozens of other politicians of both parties are making statements that don't actually say anything and won't affect policy in any concrete way, just as they did when a Congresswoman was shot in the head and nothing changed. Exception: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has called on both Obama and Romney to state, in specifics, what they're going to do about guns.

Somewhere, there are Americans who now will not see "Dark Knight Rises," or let their children go, out of fear that there will be another gunman waiting to kill them.

Somewhere, in Aurora, there are shooting victims having their lives saved, despite the fact that they don't have health insurance, while no one debates how the rest of us are paying for their care in a system that still needs massive reform.

Somewhere, an authority figure is claiming that the shooting was not "a terrorist act," as if mass murder of any kind doesn't qualify.

Somewhere, there's a relative of a victim who refuses to talk to the media and answer insipid questions at this time of immeasurable grief, realizing that the exposure won't help anyone.

Somewhere, there's a TV reporter doing a live shot, speculating and repeating unconfirmed information because they never leave the camera to go do actual reporting.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tom Davis, RIP

False hope is my enemy, also self pity, which went out the window when I saw children with cancer. I try to embrace the inevitable with whatever grace I can muster, and find the joy in each day. I’ve always been good at that, but now I’m getting really good at it.
Those are the words of Tom Davis, written not too long ago in a blog entry about his battle with neck and throat cancer. Today, he succumbed to the disease at age 59. Davis and Al Franken were among the original writers on "Saturday Night Live." While Franken has gone on to other successes, including a seat in the US Senate, Davis spent most of his life ingesting alcohol and narcotics. He was very frank about that in his book, "39 Years of Short Term Memory Loss: The Early Days of SNL from Someone Who Was There," and in two conversations I had with him in 2009.

In the first interview, Davis reminisced about those "SNL" experiences, from creating the Coneheads and Theodoric of York (Medieval Barber) to appearing as a talking mime in one of the show's classic sketches, "The Pepsi Syndrome." We also discussed the drug culture and what they got away with then that they couldn't do now, the disastrous "SNL in New Orleans" primetime show in 1977 that has never been rerun, and Franken & Davis' appearance in the movie "Trading Places."

Listen to that conversation here.

In our second conversation, Davis explained how he helped Bill Murray craft his Nick The Lounge Singer character, co-created The Coneheads, and became friends with Don Pardo, the veteran NBC announcer who worked all but one season of "SNL." We talked about why Davis and the rest of the original crew left after the first five years -- and how the culture had changed when he eventually returned -- as well as how much easier it was to get a sketch on the air then compared to now, and why they couldn't help drive some characters into the ground.

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

I'm Just Asking

Random questions about the arrest of Fred Willard in an adult movie theater last night:

  • In a world where you can find porn online for free anytime of the day or night, why are there still "adult movie theaters" showing the stuff? Seems to me like a business that's further past its prime than the daily newspaper.
  • Why would anyone go there? Why would anyone who did go there think it was okay to open their pants and imitate Pee Wee Herman?
  • I know Fred's 72, but couldn't someone have bought him a laptop or iPad and shown him how to "research" the material at home?
  • Do these movie theaters sell tissues and lubricants at the snack bar?
  • Isn't it nice to know that the rest of Los Angeles is completely crime-free, so the cops have time to regularly bust men in an adult movie theater?
  • This doesn't happen at screenings of Spider-Man and Batman movies, does it?
  • Was Fred really cast in a new movie called "The Yank"?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dark Knight Only Rises In 2 Dimensions

I wrote recently about my dislike for movies in 3-D after stupidly paying a few extra bucks to see the latest "Men In Black" sequel with those goofy glasses on, just to see pointy objects coming at the camera for no reason. So I'm glad to see that Christopher Nolan, whose "Dark Knight Rises" Batman sequel is about to blow up box offices, agrees with me about the technology:

“The question of 3-D is a very straightforward one. I never meet anybody who actually likes the format, and it’s always a source of great concern to me when you’re charging a higher price for something that nobody seems to really say they have any great love for. It’s up to the audience to tell us how they want to watch the movies. More people go see these films in 2-D, and so it’s difficult data to interpret. And I certainly don’t want to shoot in a format just to charge people a higher ticket price.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Final Table #181: Matt Affleck, Ari Engel, Asad Goodarzy

Today on the Final Table, we continue our coverage of the 2012 World Series Of Poker from the Rio in Las Vegas, with guests Matt Affleck, Ari Engel, and Asad Goodarzy.

Matt explains how staking deals work and how much harder they are to find now, why he likes to play smaller-stakes cash games, and why he dreams all year about playing the single table sit-and-go's at the WSOP.

Ari talks about moving to Toronto to keep playing online, but finding the games tougher without Americans able to play. He also discusses a tournament director's controversial decision regarding a hand Ari was involved in, and introduced the concept of "ring equity" at WSOP Circuit Events.

Asad reveals what it was like to play in the WSOP's new $3,000 buy-in heads-up no-limit hold'em/pot-limit Omaha event, why he doesn't play tournaments with 9 or 10 players at the table, and the mistakes players make when they get down to short-handed play at the end of tournaments.

Note: after this show, we're putting The Final Table Show on hiatus, hoping to bring it back later this year if we find a new sponsor. We appreciate your support, which has helped the show grow over the last three-and-a-half years to record listenership in the last month. If you use iTunes or the Stitcher app to listen to The Final Table, stay subscribed and you'll get new episodes when we make them. Of course, you can always come back to this site for updates.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Looking forward to getting back to St. Louis, where it'll be 25 degrees cooler than Vegas today. By cooler, I mean a high of only 93!
  • Gate agent just announced, "We're boarding in numerical order. That means 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on." Really? Can you explain the alphabet next?
  • President Obama not addressing NAACP is like Charlie Sheen not talking to a strippers convention. He figures he already has their vote locked up.
  • I was frustrated about being eliminated from the WSOP Main Event in level 8, but there's consolation in knowing I lasted longer than the best poker player in the world, Phil Ivey.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Lies About Obamacare

Like Wall Street prognosticators who "know" what the stock market will do next week, or a football fan who predicts now who will win the next Super Bowl, politicians and pundits who make claims about the impact ObamaCare will have when it goes into force in two years are simply lying. That's the conclusion Rick Newman comes to as he delves into what he calls The Healthcare Reform Festival Of Lies, including many that have been debunked by Politifact. But Newman adds three important points:

First, the Affordable Care Act is enormously complicated, which means hardly any Americans understand what it will actually do or how it will work. This was arguably a big mistake by Obama and Congressional Democrats who crafted the law. People don't trust what they don't understand, and the vast system of levers and pulleys required to make Obamacare work requires a suspension of disbelief, even among supporters.

Second, most of the law hasn't gone into effect yet, so people have no tangible sense of how it will affect them. My bet is that once the law begins to take effect in 2014, public discomfort with it will go way down, because not much will change for people who already have insurance, and many of the scariest predictions about Obamacare won't materialize. That may explain why opponents of the law are in such a frenzy now: They can make outrageous claims about Obamacare because it's still in the future, and ordinary people don't intuitively recognize the falsehoods.

Third, people believe what they want to believe. Psychologists call it "confirmation bias," which is a tendency to selectively seek information that confirms your own point of view, while disregarding information that conflicts with your preconceived ideas. So if you're opposed to big government in general, you're likely to find government-sponsored healthcare reform intrusive and offensive, even if it might potentially help you. And if you believe in big government, you're likely to expect more from Obamacare than it's likely to deliver (as Nancy Pelosi seems to).
Read Newman's entire piece here, and check Politifact's Truth-O-Meter on statements by various politicians and pundits on ObamaCare here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My Main Event Ends With A Whimper

About an hour ago, I was eliminated from the World Series Of Poker Main Event in the third level of Day 2. Return on my investment: zero.

I've had losing days at the poker table, but none as frustrating and boring as today. The frustration came from a complete lack of playable hands -- at one point, I went 64 minutes without voluntarily putting chips in the pot -- and the boredom came from the fact that no one at my table said a single sentence out loud in the six hours I was there. I thought of something Tony Dunst said on my Final Table Show today: "Without talking, a poker tournament is just a bunch of 24-year-olds in sweatshirts doing math problems silently." That's exactly what I lived through today. I had planned on not listening to music today, but I finally put on the headphones after 2 hours because I needed something to keep my brain engaged.

I don't have any bad beat stories where an opponent caught a two-outer or a gutshot straight. Most of my chips bled away slowly to the blinds and antes, and on the very few occasions where I raised pre-flop, two or three opponents called and hit what they needed while I missed. There was a series of three consecutive hands in the second level of the day that summed up how things went for me.

I raised with a pair of tens pre-flop in late position, only to get called by three other players. The flop was ace-king-five, and was bet and raised before it got to me, so I folded. On the next hand, I re-raised a loose player with my pocket jacks on the button, and was called by the small blind and the original raiser. This time, the flop was ace-king-six, so I never put another chip into that pot. On the next hand, I was the small blind. A good player raised in middle position, the player on the button called, and I looked down at ace-king and called. Did I flop an ace or a king? Of course not -- it was seven-four-deuce, and I was done with that hand.

It's not like I was waiting to have the cards magically come to me, but I just didn't have many spots in which I could make a move. I'd be shocked if someone told me I dragged 5 pots all day.

That's poker, of course, but some of the frustration also comes from having two guys move to my table at different times with huge chip stacks. As I said yesterday, in the early stages of any tournament, that can either mean they're very good or very reckless and lucky. For both of these guys, it was the latter. One of them played far too many hands and kept giving away chips. Unfortunately, none of them went into my stack. Ironically, one of my last hands was against that guy, when he was short-stacked and called my big re-raise pre-flop with jack-ten and then flopped a ten to beat my nines, taking almost all of my chips. Less than five minutes later, I was done.

Once I've had a couple of days to reflect on my Main Event run, I may be able to look back on it as a positive life experience. Friends have already asked me if I'll play in it again next year. The answer is yes, but I'd never pony up the full $10,000 buy-in. If I can get in cheaply via a satellite tournament, I'll take another shot. Hopefully, I'll make it to the dinner break on Day 2 next time.

I truly appreciate all of the words of support and advice from everyone who offered them, but for now I'm going back to the cash games and leaving the tournament world for awhile.

Final Table #180: Phil Collins, Tony Dunst, Shannon Shorr

Today on the Final Table, we continue our coverage of the 2012 World Series Of Poker from the Rio in Las Vegas, with guests Phil Collins, Tony Dunst, and Shannon Shorr.

Phil was one of last year's November Nine, so we started by asking about his strategy of limping pre-flop and often folding to raises, how the near-live ESPN coverage changed his play, and why he'd rather have the players sequestered at the final table of the Main Event so that no outside information affects the game. He also explained why it doesn't matter which day of a re-entry event you play if you're only planning to buy in once, because your results are more dependent on your table draw than anything else.

Tony discussed his expanded role with the World Poker Tour, doing the final table live streams in addition to his Raw Deal segments, and his relationship with Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten. He also talked about the other talented poker players he's sharing a house with this summer for the WSOP -- and how important it is to have regular maid service when a bunch of guys are living together. In our conversation, Tony gave us one of the greatest quotes in the history of our show when he explained why he had a problem with the WSOP's rule that players at a final table must verbalize all their actions (check, bet, raise).

Shannon has cashed in almost 2 dozen WSOP events and won over $4 million in the last 6 years. He told us about his first summer at the WSOP, his advice for amateurs playing in the smaller buy-in events, how to handle the stress and bad beats of big tournaments, and how the quality of online poker play has changed since Black Friday. He also revealed one of his pet peeves -- players discussing strategy at the table.

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

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Monday, July 09, 2012

Main Event Update: On To Day 2!

I'm happy to say I survived Day 1 of the Main Event of the World Series Of Poker. While this is my first time playing the world's largest poker tournament, I wasn't nervous or anxious because I've been around the WSOP for several years and have played in several others with big fields here and around the country. As in any poker tournament, the key is to remember that the thousands of other players don't matter -- you only have to concentrate on the ones at your table. I did that.

My table wasn't all that tough. The only really good player I recognized was Dan O'Brien, a well-respected pro with over a million dollars in tournament earnings. He was fairly aggressive, and we didn't play any big pots. The other player I knew by reputation was Victoria Coren, a British writer and broadcaster who has hosted several poker TV shows in England and now emcees a BBC game show called Only Connect. She's a member of PokerStars Team UK, and sat directly on my right, which was a good thing, because she was the only player interested in any kind of conversation. Considering that we were at this table for upwards of 12 hours, it was nice to have someone to chat with and joke around with. In contrast, the Australian guy on my left barely said ten words all day. Sure, we're playing for big money, but there's no reason we can't enjoy ourselves along the way.

I'm always happy to have female poker players at the table, because there's such a dearth of them -- only 5% of the WSOP field. Toward the end of the day, after a couple of players had been eliminated from our table, we were joined by another woman, Sissy Murphy, who runs the Nevada Poker League and, like Victoria, was happy to talk.

I was very happy with my play throughout Day 1, in which I increased my stack from 30,000 chips at the start to 63,650 when play ended after 5 levels. There are plenty of players with much bigger stacks, but that doesn't mean much now. Far too often, those who get lots of chips early do so by being reckless and getting lucky, or constantly playing aggressively without changing gears. The pros with lots of chips know how to adjust, while the amateurs who've been hit by the deck think they'll keep running over everyone, but instead start bleeding chips away. The monster stack at our table yesterday at the dinner break kept the pedal to the metal through the evening, and was gone halfway through level 5. History shows that the early chip leaders only make it to the money (which isn't until the middle of Day 4) half the time.

I wasn't involved in any hands that make a great story, but I used a combination of good cards at times and good moves at other times to chip up, playing smart, patient poker. I felt particularly good about my reads of the other players, two of whom had tells so obvious it was like they played with their cards face up.

There are three starting days. Saturday (1A) had 1,066 entrants, while Sunday (1b) had 2,144 players. Today (1C) will be the biggest of all, with likely around 3,500, which would bring the field close to last year's total. Each day, about a third of the field is eliminated. My Day 2 isn't until tomorrow, so I'm spending today relaxing, writing, reading, going to dinner with friends, and not playing any poker or going anywhere near The Rio.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter for my updates from the Main Event, with the caveat that I'm not tweeting while I'm playing -- only on breaks.

One note: if you look at the results posted on the World Series Of Poker website, you may notice they have my hometown listed as Alexandria, Virginia. That's where we lived in the 80s and 90s, which is probably when I first got a Harrah's Total Rewards card, and it's been stuck in the system ever since. I just asked WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla if he can fix that, and he's going to try, so hopefully it will list me as a St. Louisan from here on out.

Two On Tennis

In 2003, after Roger Federer won Wimbledon for the first time, a guy asked a bookie what kind of odds he'd get if he bet that Federer would win 7 Wimbledon titles. The bookie set the line at 66-1, which the guy accepted. Nine years later, the bettor is dead, but the bet isn't, so it was paid to a charity.

Speaking of Wimbledon, as I watched ESPN's pre-match coverage of the women's finals with Serena Williams hitting with Agnieszka Radwanska, I realized tennis is the only sport where you warm up with your opponent. Can you imagine Tom Brady playing catch with Eli Manning before the Super Bowl?

Telling A Complex Story Takes Time

I love process stories, pieces that take us behind the scenes of an event to tell us what happened in real time from the people who were part of it. The best one I've read in a long time is Tom Goldstein's report on the media's coverage of the Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare 12 days ago. Tom is the top guy at ScotusBlog, whose reporting team was an invaluable resource to anyone who wanted to know what the court said as the decision was handed down.

In his report, Goldstein delves deeply into why CNN and Fox initially got the decision wrong, while other media outlets were more patient and concerned about accuracy than being first. He breaks down those first ten minutes with insider information about how his ScotusBlog team analyzed the complexities of the decision quickly, how CNN's well-connected social media team exacerbated the problem by immediately distributing the network's incorrect information on other platforms, how Bloomberg News beat everyone in reporting it right, and how Obama's staff in the White House had to figure out what was going on without access to the actual decision because the Court's website had crashed from too much demand.
At the White House, the President of the United States has stepped out of his daily briefing into an adjacent room where he can see CNN and Fox News. He is about to learn the fate of a law that he believes is essential to the health care of millions of Americans, for which the Administration has sacrificed many other priorities, and which could be essential to his re-election. As he sees the banners flash across the bottom of the screens, it looks very, very bad.

In Press Secretary Jay Carney’s office, the communications team has three principal sources of information: monitors showing the cable networks; our conference call on speakerphone; and our Live Blog on the computer.

The announcements on CNN and Fox News in Carney’s office have been the first news of the decision, and both report that the mandate had been invalidated. Although the wire services have already reported the decision correctly, the communications team is not aware of those reports.

The staff goes quiet, but it does not lose hope. On the conference call, I had said that the Administration had lost the Commerce Clause argument, but that there was more to the decision and that it was complicated. So they continue to listen to the call, and to watch the Live Blog. Waiting for further word, they do not send out an email even to the working group of the communications and Counsel’s Office teams. And they do not move to tell the President, unaware that he is watching the incorrect television reports.
It's a must-read piece -- particularly for anyone in the media who still hasn't learned that no one remembers who did it first, but everyone remembers who got it wrong.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Big Day Of Poker

I'm in Las Vegas to play in the largest poker tournament in the world, The Main Event of the World Series Of Poker, in a field that will likely be between 6,500 and 7,000 entrants. The buy-in is $10,000, but the majority of players don't put up the full amount. They've won their way in via smaller tournaments or home leagues, or sold shares of their entry, or a combination of all three. I earned a seat by winning a $200 satellite tournament in St. Louis back in February, and no one has a piece of me.

Because my friend and Final Table Show partner Dennis Phillips got into the 2008 Main Event via the same route and finished third, winning $4.5 million (and then came back to finish 45th in 2009), several people have asked if I can make a similar deep run. I don't lack confidence in my poker skills, but Dennis is a far superior tournament player because he's had so much more experience in them, while I have spent most of my time playing cash games, which involve different strategies. I also prefer not to think about how my tournament might end before it has even begun. When you're climbing up a ladder, you don't start at the top, but with the first rung. For me, that means getting through the Day One minefield, past the dinner break, and through the rest of the night.

In the Main Event, we'll start at noon with 30,000 chips and blinds at 50-100, increasing every 2 hours. We'll play five levels today, so with breaks between levels and for dinner, the day will end around 12:45am, with those surviving returning for Day 2 on Tuesday.

I hope to be among them. You can follow my progress via Twitter, where I'll post updates during breaks, but I have vowed to stay offline and off my phone while playing so I can concentrate on the action at the table.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

100 Guitar Riffs In One Take

Alex Chadwick of the Chicago Music Exchange sits down with a 1958 Fender Stratocaster to play 100 famous guitar riffs spanning the rock and roll era. He does them all in one take, but I doubt it was the first take. If you're a classic rocker like I am, you may not recognize the most recent ones at the end, but this is still a remarkable medley...

Friday, July 06, 2012

Big Pharma's Big Fine

I was bothered by the story this week about pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline being fined $3 billion for the way it promoted its products. In the largest health fraud settlement in US history, the company pleaded guilty to promoting two popular drugs for unapproved uses (Paxil and Wellbutrin) and failing to disclose safety information on a third drug (Avandia).

Essentially, GSK lied to doctors and consumers about what the drugs were for, just to sell more pills.

Part of the DOJ's evidence was video of a GSK sales meeting, where reps from all over the country got together in a huge ballroom. On the stage, GSK executives excitedly told the crowd about the drugs like Steve Jobs introducing the iPad. A company official convinced them they'd all get rich by pushing these pills, at one point even asking the sales force, "Who wants to be a millionaire?"

You've probably seen pharmaceutical sales reps walking into your physician's office while you're waiting for your appointment. Often, they get to go in before you to do their spiel behind closed doors. In GSK's case, they weren't just leaving behind samples, but inducing doctors to prescribe one or another of the company's drugs by offering them bribes -- junkets to Hawaii, tickets to concerts, etc. In many cases, at the company's direction, reps weren't honest with doctors about what the drugs did or the dangers in prescribing them to the wrong people. For instance, they convinced doctors to give Paxil, an anti-depressant for adults, to children under 18, even though they had test results showing that Paxil caused suicidal thoughts in kids. They kept promoting it that way for 5 years.

They also promoted another powerful antidpressant, Wellbutrin, as a weight-loss pill and a cure for sexual dysfunction, substance addiction, and ADHD -- despite being approved by the FDA solely for people with serious depressive orders. Plenty of people have mental health issues, and there's nothing wrong with a drug that helps you overcome the screwy chemistry inside your head. But there is something wrong when doctors prescribe it for problems unrelated to mental health, as they did at the behest of the GSK salesforce.

This is a simple matter of ethics and morality. The company's sales managers stood on that stage hyping products as if it were an Amway meeting, except instead of household cleaners and containers for leftovers, the products were pharmaceuticals, which can be dangerous if prescribed for the wrong reasons (such as a pair of seats at a Madonna concert). GSK says this all happened years ago, and it did -- the late 1990s and early 2000s. But are we to believe this culture doesn't still exist at the company, and at others in Big Pharma? And how complicit were the physicians? Did their avarice and desire for free stuff override their allegiance to the Hippocratic Oath?

Sure, pharmaceutical companies and medical doctors are in the business of making money, but they're supposed to do that by making people healthier, not by turning patients into victims. A $3 billion fine seems like a lot of money, but it's nothing more than a wrist-slap for a multi-national corporation that made $28 billion from those three drugs alone while it stepped far across the ethical line.

Now, whenever I see a commercial for GlaxoSmithKline or its Big Pharma colleagues pushing some drug I've never heard of, I'm going to imagine the announcer, in a sudden fit of honesty, imploring me to "Ask your doctor about Greed!"

Previously on Harris Online...

A Time-Bending Conversation

When he was 12, Jeremiah McDonald videotaped himself saying he wished he could talk to himself in the future. Now, 20 years later, he's having that conversation with his younger self...

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Knuckleheads In The News®

  • How to guarantee a bad fireworks show: set them all off at the same time. Stay Disappointed, San Diego!
  • No means no, unless you accidentally vote yes & legalize fracking in your state by mistake.
  • Just what the church needs -- more tongue. To win a bar bet, this guy went across England licking cathedrals.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Final Table #179: Maria Ho, Cory Zeidman, Nick Jivkov

Today on the Final Table, we continue our coverage of the 2012 World Series Of Poker from the Rio in Las Vegas, with one guest who's appeared with us annually and two who just won their first WSOP gold bracelets.

Up first is Maria Ho, who last summer won the biggest prize for a woman in WSOP history when she finished 2nd in the $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em event. Among the topics we touched on with Maria: the shift in how players treat her at the tables since her success; what it was like to play the iSeriesLive winner-take-all event earlier this year; how she adjusts her strategy for smaller buy-in events; and how she found herself sharing a house this summer with fellow poker pros Vanessa Rousso, Vanessa Selbst, and Liv Boeree.

Our second guest is Cory Zeidman, one of the best stud players in the world, who finally picked up his first WSOP bracelet this summer in Event 4, the $1,500 buy-in 7-card stud high/low tournament. He talked about that achievement at a final table that included multiple bracelet winners, what it was like to play against the very talented poker veteran Chris Bjorin, how he got motivation from former NFL star Hollywood Henderson, and the mental strain of playing long hours of tournament poker.

Our third guest is Nick Jivkov, who won his first bracelet this summer in the $1,500 buy-in pot-limit hold'em event at the WSOP, cashed in a $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event, and is in the running for Player Of The Year. He explained what it was like to move his short stack to the "table of death" with Phil Ivey, Faraz Jaka, Jonathan Little, Gavin Smith, and other players who between them have 9 WSOP bracelets, 4 WPT titles, over 100 cashes, and over $38 million in tournament earnings -- and that was long before he got to the star-studded final table. We discussed a major difference between pot-limit and no-limit strategy, why it's sometimes better in a tournament to fold even if you think you have the best hand, and why he's being bombarded with media requests from Bulgaria.

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

Andy's Gone, Lonesome Rhodes Isn't

With the news that Andy Griffith has died, everyone's talking about his stint as sheriff of Mayberry and as Matlock. But as I did two years ago, when Patricia Neal died, I urge you instead to go back and watch "A Face In The Crowd" (TCM will air it on July 18th, 7pm CT).

That's the 1957 movie in which Neal plays a TV producer who finds a loudmouth small-town drunk (Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes) and turns him into a star by putting him in front of a camera and letting him spout off about everything, including politics. It doesn't matter whether he's right or wrong, as long as he's a rabble-rouser and the ratings keep rising. The formula for success: speak in the simplest possible terms, express anger over everything, and always be loud.

Nothing like that could happen today, of course, unless you were looking for the host of a primetime show on a cable news channel.

Here's Andy remembering what it was like to shoot the climactic scene of the movie...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Dara Torres won't be on the Olympic swimming team this year, but here's my 2009 interview about her amazing career.
  • Anderson Cooper admits he's gay, which won't affect his viewership much. Could a Fox News anchor come out and be accepted by its audience?
  • Katie Holmes wants a divorce due to irreconcilable differences -- Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, while she is a human being.
  • Poker Pet Peeve: another player raises, then I move all-in with a pair of queens. He has me covered and has a pair of aces but asks for a count, as if there's any amount he might fold for.
  • A list of several reasons why teachers oppose standardized tests.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Bye Bye Broadcasts

As Ann Curry did her tearful morning TV goodbye after being fired from "The Today Show" Thursday, I thought how that's a courtesy rarely afforded to people in the radio business. Far more often, the end comes much more abruptly. The radio show host is brought into the General Manager's office and told they've just done their last show. From then on, no mention of them is ever made again by anyone at the station on the air or online -- as if they never existed.

This is the reason why, even at stations where I worked for many years, I never filled my office with personal items. No pictures of my wife and daughter, no mementos or awards. I kept that stuff at home because I knew that, no matter how successful I was on the air, the day would come when my run would come to an end, and I wanted the departure to be as simple as possible.

I only got one opportunity to do a goodbye show. It was after a 4-year run at WHCN/Hartford, where I was the morning man, as I was leaving to grab the brass ring in New York City at WYNY, the FM station then-owned by NBC (when they were still in the radio business). WHCN's program director, Dan Hayden, allowed me to spend my final Friday morning doing a retrospective of some of my favorite bits, taking listener calls, and expressing my appreciation for all that had taken place during my stint there. He knew that I wasn't going to diss the place, since it was so important to my growth as a radio personality, and he had enough respect for our audience to allow them to know why there was going to be a change. More than a quarter-century later, I'm still grateful to Dan for how he handled my departure.

Contrast that to the first time I was suddenly thrust onto the unemployment roster. It was in 1981 at WRCN/Long Island, where I had risen from a part-time disc jockey to full-timer to music director to program director to morning co-host. I liked being on the air more than being a manager, so I gave up the PD job to concentrate on the morning show I was doing with Don Brink, the man who had hired me in the first place. We had a natural chemistry and a lot of fun on the air, until one April morning.

Barry Grant was the new PD, and as frequently occurs, he wanted to make his mark early on with some personnel changes. I was the first victim, but Grant didn't have the balls to tell me face-to-face. Instead, Dick Adrian, the GM/owner, beckoned me to his office, where he said something about making a change and handed me my last check. Then, after a pause, he asked, "Is there anything you want to tell me about what we're doing right and wrong at the station? Any areas you think I should address?" I sat there stunned for a moment before replying, "Dick, in the 3 years I've worked for you, that's the first time you've asked for my input. Yes, I have lots of ideas, but since -- as of 10 seconds ago -- I no longer work for you, I'm going to keep them to myself." With that, I stood up, went to my former office, grabbed my headphones and a stack of aircheck tapes and walked out the door for the last time.

At another station, WTEM/Washington, L. Steven Goldstein was the general manager who lowered the boom on my entire show (note for those in the industry: this was not the same Steve Goldstein who is the VP/Programming for Saga Communications -- this was a know-nothing former ad exec who for some reason had been given the opportunity to run this new radio station in the nation's capital but was in way over his head). As I sat down in his office with my sidekick of ten years, Dave Murray, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of us, Goldstein proceeded to tell us what his plans were for a new show and direction. Since we had almost 2 years left on our contract, I interrupted him: "Excuse me, but I really don't care what you're going to do. All I want to know is if you'll be mailing me my check every week, or do I have to come in here to pick it up?" Now it was his turn to be stunned, as if he had expected us to sit there and listen to his brilliant new strategy after he had fired us. I had no intention of doing that. Once again, we got up, gathered up the stuff in our office, and we were out of there (by the way, they mailed us the checks -- this was before the days of direct deposit).

The way talent is treated differently by radio stations and TV networks may be a function of the press. While there are plenty of reporters covering television, there are very few who write about radio. And in radio, there are a lot fewer people involved in personnel decisions, so the chances of the news leaking out are much smaller. But there's one even more important factor in why radio people rarely get to say goodbye after the station tells them they're fired -- volatility. Would you want to give a live microphone on your radio station to someone whose job it is to be outspoken and opinionated right after you've pulled the rug out from under them? Most managers prefer not to risk it, opting to pull the switch silently and deal with the uproar later.

NBC allowed Ann Curry to stay on the air and spend a few minutes crying her goodbyes because they knew she wouldn't go ballistic on them while still under a multi-million dollar contract. Try that with some loudmouth talkradio guy and you'll have the chief engineer running faster than Usain Bolt to dump the scorched-earth audio.