Sunday, April 29, 2012

Final Table #169: Amarillo Slim

Amarillo Slim died last night at a hospice in his hometown in Texas at the age of 83. Slim won the World Series Of Poker Main Event in 1972, which got him an invitation to "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and other media outlets, making him the first poker superstar -- for many people, he was the only professional gambler they'd ever seen on television.  He was inducted into the Poker Hall Of Fame in 1992.

In his memory, we're releasing this special edition of The Final Table poker radio show, consisting of an interview we did with Slim in the summer of 2009 at the Rio in Las Vegas. The conversation was only supposed to last 10 minutes, but Slim kept telling stories, and we weren't about to stop him. In all, he talked for about 45 minutes before his agent finally told us to wrap it up so he could get to another appointment.  We cut up that discussion and ran it in pieces later that summer on several Final Table radio shows, but this is the first time we've released it in its entirety.

Among the topics Slim touched on:
  • his friendship and adventures with Doyle Brunson and Sailor Roberts, as the original road gamblers;
  • how he beat a world ping-pong champion by playing him with unusual paddles;
  • his adventures on the horse track, including beating a race-horse in a foot race;
  • how he won a blindfolded bowling bet.
In this interview, Slim was also very candid about the child molestation allegations made against him six years earlier.  He explained what happened that day, why he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, and how the charges made him a pariah to many in the poker world.  Slim hadn't spoken publicly about any of this until earlier that year in a published interview with Nolan Dalla, and this was the first broadcast interview he'd given on the subject.
One of Slim's last public appearances was at the WSOP Circuit Event here in St. Louis in April, 2011, where he played in a few tournaments and cash games.  I hadn't seen Slim since our 2009 conversation, but was happy that he remembered me as we sat down in a pot-limit-Omaha game.  As always, it didn't take much to get him to share some stories, joke around with the other players at our table, and even sign a few autographs.  Both of those occasions are on my mind today as we remember Thomas Austin Preston, Jr.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Facebook's Campaign Impact

What happens when the Facebook generation, with its lack of online privacy and embarrassing photos, grows up and runs for office? The Onion has the answer...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Read what Stephen Colbert said in tribute to his fellow Time 100 Most Influential honorees. 
  • If you've seen the classic movie "The Great Escape," look at this obituary about one of the real-life POW forgers.
  • Remember when Gingrich and Santorum said they'd never give up and would campaign all the way to the convention? How'd that work out?
  • Patton Oswalt's gracious apology to Roger Ebert for not being able to attend his film festival.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Final Table #168: Faraz Jaka + Douglas Tirola

Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we covered the second week of the World Series Of Poker Circuit stop in St. Louis, which concluded yesterday. We also discussed the breaking news of the Bernard Tapie Group's purchase of Full Tilt Poker falling through, rumors that PokerStars might buy FTP, what that would mean for players still waiting for money they had on that site, and under what circumstances the US Department of Justice would agree to a deal.

In our first guest segment, we talked with Douglas Tirola, director of "All In: The Poker Movie," a new documentary that is now available for download from iTunes. He explained how he had to change the entire film after Black Friday, why he still included interviews with Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson after the Full Tilt scandal broke, and how he included some of the history of the game (watch the trailer for the movie here).

In our second guest segment, we welcomed back Faraz Jaka, who has been playing tournaments in Europe for the last couple of months, including the debut iSeriesLive event, where online viewers could bet on the players, the flops, and more. He analyzed a couple of hands of early action and whether the betting element affected play at the table, then explained what it's like to be a traveling poker pro who hasn't been home in a long time.

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

Amazing Apple Facts

After Apple announced its earnings late yesterday, Twitter was abuzz with amazing facts about the company:

  • Profit was up 94% in the last quarter alone.
  • Apple is selling 500,000 iPhones & IPads every day, reaping a daily profit of $125 million.
  • Apple's cash reserves ($110 billion) would fill 50 Olympic swimming pools with dollar bills (how'd they figure that?).
  • Apple has sold 67 million iPads in two years. It took them 24 years to sell that many Macintosh computers.
My question: is that why Siri seems so slow to respond to basic commands this week?  Is she mad that she didn't have a profit-sharing deal with the folks in Cupertino?

The Forecast: Bears!

Kurt Aaron, meteorologist for WNEP-TV in Scranton, was about to do the forecast from the station's backyard when several bears showed up and decided they would do the live shot instead...

Monday, April 23, 2012

AA Spreads Anti-Vax Lies (updated)

Phil Plait is rightly angry with American Airlines for putting an interview with an anti-vaccination liar in the July and August editions of their in-flight magazine and on-board TV service. This is dangerous propaganda, but AA has dismissed criticisms via Twitter: "This program is produced by a third party and opinions expressed don't represent AA opinions or position. Listening is optional."

That's nonsense.  It's their branded magazine and entertainment service, so someone in-house is approving its contents.  Editors make choices every day about what to include and what to exclude, and this anti-science garbage should have been tossed back onto the trash heap from which it emanated.

There's an online petition asking American Airlines to cancel the anti-vaccination message here.

Updated 8:25pm...
Victory! A couple of hours ago, Phil reported that he had received a tweet from American Airlines saying, "This interview has not been submitted to AA yet. We have decided not to air this audio & thank those who shared their opinions." When he asked on Twitter about the printed version, they replied almost immediately, "It will not be included in any printed material as well."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Big Nephew Is Watching

It was a blue envelope with my brother's return address.  Inside, I found two things.  One, the official invitation to my oldest nephew's Bar Mitzvah in a couple of months.  The other was a white piece of paper topped with the Internal Revenue Service logo.  It was Notice 1256:
The enclosed correspondence was misdirected to us by the Post Office.  The large volume of mail we receive daily is first opened by machine.  Therefore, your enclosed envelope was opened before we discovered that it was not addressed to the Internal Revenue Service.  We are sorry for any inconvenience caused you.
I assume that the invitation got caught up last week in the midst of all the last-minute tax filing, which is how it ended up at the IRS.  No problem, since it wasn't time-sensitive and did eventually get here.  But it raised three questions:
  1. When the envelope arrived at our house, there was no slit across the top, as I'd think a letter-opening machine would create.  And the flap was sealed in a perfectly normal fashion.  If the IRS note had not been inside, we would never have known someone else had seen its contents.  How did they do that?
  2. Since my brother is a big shot in the federal government, did a friend in the IRS see the invitation and wonder why they didn't receive one?
  3. More importantly, now that the Internal Revenue Service knows the date of my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, will he have to file a gift tax return?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Not-So-Secret Services

Ronald Kessler (who I interviewed 3 years ago for his book, "Inside The Secret Service") is the reporter who broke the Secret Service/Colombian prostitute story, so I invited him to discuss the latest developments with me today on KTRS/St. Louis.  He explained why it was not only dangerous, but evidence of faulty management in the agency that's been evident for years and continues to put the President's life in danger -- in an administration that has gotten more death threats than any other in history.

As I pointed out on Twitter when the story first made headlines, this would never have come to light if the men involved had just paid their prostitutes what they were owed the morning after.

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

Tracy Crow, Woman Marine

Tracy Crow joined the US Marine Corps in 1977, at a time when men outnumbered women by more than 20 to 1, and she wasn't allowed to go through combat training.  Still, she stayed in the corps for a decade, married an officer, and then was discharged after having an affair with a prominent general.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, she joined me to tell some of the stories she's shared in her memoir, "Eyes Right: Confessions From A Woman Marine."  We discussed why she wanted to be a Marine in the first place, the abuse she took from the men on the bases, how she and the General were treated differently when their affair was uncovered, and whether things are different for women Marines now."

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

MPAA Bullies "Bully"

There's been quite a bit of controversy over "Bully," a new documentary about the millions of kids who are bullied in the US every year. Some of the controversy comes from the MPAA's ratings board, which originally slapped an R rating on the film, meaning that kids under 17 couldn't see it. The Weinstein Company tried to go around that decision, but found that theaters wouldn't accept it without the MPAA's approval. Finally, more edits were made and the rating was lowered to PG-13 and it was allowed onto more screens.

I talked about this today with director Kirby Dick, who didn't make "Bully" but did make "This Film Is Not Rated," a 2006 documentary about the MPAA rating board, the secret way it conducts business, how certain studios control the ratings process to help themselves and hurt competitors, and why their oversight in this case was so harmful.

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

No Dick Clark Tributes Here

Ten years ago, I made it clear why I was not a fan of the man (with the exception of his work on "The $10,000 Pyramid," which he hosted but did not produce) in a column entitled, "Dick Clark's TV Junk."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Winning Is Nobody's Business

This morning, a couple from Red Bud, Illinois, were introduced at a press conference as the third winners of the MegaMillions jackpot.  Their take, after taxes and in a lump sum, will be about $110 million.

Good for them, but these people should not have been dragged in front of the cameras.  While the winners from Maryland and Kansas were allowed to remain anonymous, Illinois has a law that forbids anonymity for lottery winners (as does Missouri). That's a bad law.

I'm sure it's so lottery officials can get all the free publicity that comes with hauling out the big prop check in an attempt to convince others to play the longshot odds.  Some might argue that you have to announce the winner to prove the integrity of the game, but does that mean there's no integrity in MegaMillions in the other two states?  You don't see press conferences like this when the prizes are much smaller, but no one complains about an integrity problem when the winner only gets $1.8 million (or $650,000 or a $3 scratch-and-win).  If huge lotteries are played across state lines, the same rules should apply to everyone everywhere, and that rule should be that lottery officials will not make your name public unless you do.  Your financial information is no one else's business.

By forcing them onto the stage today, the state has exposed the Red Bud couple to the Vulture Culture, and I don't just mean the media.  Our world is too full of people who lie in wait to take advantage, and will now inundate this couple with scams, business offers, charity demands, investments, and on and on.  They'll have people ask them to loan some cash, claiming incredible hardship and then asking, "You have the money, why can't you help me?"

This morning, the media horde was all over Red Bud and in full overkill mode.  As early as 5am, St. Louis TV and radio stations were doing live shots from the MotoMart where the winning ticket was bought, as if there were anything to report five hours before the press conference.  Now that the winners' identities are known, the media will do everything it can to invade their privacy and reveal every possible detail of their lives, but I hope the couple will avoid the spotlight as much as possible (you'll note that I'm not mentioning their names or showing their picture here).

Hopefully, the couple spent the three weeks since the drawing gathering some good financial advice, consulting an attorney, and making plans to keep their family happy for generations to come.  Their lives will be irrevocably altered, but if they handle it right, the spotlight may fade quickly.  My advice to them is to not give any interviews, turn down all requests from reporters, and stay as far out of the way as possible or risk being run over.

Meanwhile, those state laws forcing winners to be identified should be changed.

Denunciation Nation

Ted Nugent went off on one of his rants this weekend at the NRA convention, calling the four liberal justices on the Supreme Court "evil, anti-American people" and adding "if Barack Obama becomes the President in November again, I will either be in dead or in jail by this time next year."

I have no idea what that means, but because the outburst contained the words "Obama" and "dead," the Secret Service had to investigate to make sure he wasn't planning on using one of his many weapons to assassinate the President.  He wasn't.  Nugent's remarks were pure nonsense, the kind of idiotic proclamations he's been making for years, irrelevant to any real discussion of politics and policy.

Of course, that didn't stop the punditocracy from going crazy and calling upon Mitt Romney to denounce Nugent for his words.  That's the new sub-division of the Blame Game -- even if you had nothing to do with what someone else said, you're linked to it until you denounce it. 

When Hilary Rosen made her dumb comments about Ann Romney on TV, Obama's press secretary and campaign manager had to publicly denounce her.  The fact that Rosen doesn't work for the campaign didn't matter -- she calls herself a "Democratic strategist," so she must be a White House mouthpiece.  Except she isn't.

The same happened with Rush Limbaugh's "slut" remarks.  It wasn't enough to go after the radio blowhard for saying something stupid -- all the Republican candidates were forced to weigh in, and when Romney's objections in particular weren't forcefully enough ("those aren't the words I would have chosen"), he was lumped into the same sludge heap, as if he'd uttered the derogatory phrases himself.

Yes, we have freedom of speech, and yes, there should be consequences for making irresponsible remarks.  Hold the speaker accountable, but stop the guilt-by-association game of forcing others to denounce any loudmouth who spouts something silly.

Now, let's get the conversation back to something important, like the War On Moms, the War On Women, the war on Dogs, the Secret Service Sex Scandal, and whatever the hell Nancy Grace is pissed off about today.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Time magazine announced this year's 100 Most Influential People In The World. I'm happy to see I've moved up to 6,094,355th on the list!
  • This just in: a grandson of the Red Bud couple that won MegaMillions has already gotten a marriage proposal from Kim Kardashian. She must have a 72-day hole in her schedule.
  • I'm occasionally asked why I rail about con artists pretending to be psychics. After all, it's all in fun, so what harm can they do? Here's an example.
  • Preet Bahrara, the prosecutor who killed online poker in the US, is on Time's list of the Most Influential People. 

Final Table #167: WSOPC St. Louis

Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we covered the World Series Of Poker Circuit stop in St. Louis, which began Thursday and continues through this weekend. Nolan Dalla, media director for the WSOP was in town, so he sat down at the feature table in the Harrah's St. Louis poker room with us.

We discussed my cashes in 2 of the first 4 events, the record turnouts -- including the largest poker tournament in Missouri history, helped by many players who are "chasing circuit points" -- as well as the tournaments that are still to come between now and the Main Event on Saturday. We also explained how, for just a hundred bucks, you can end up in the $1,000,000 buy-in event at the WSOP this summer.

We also took a few minutes to acknowledge the legacy of Amarillo Slim Preston, the poker hall of famer who is on his deathbed in a hospice in Texas. Nolan shared some Slim stories, having spent quite a bit of time with him over the years, and we added our own memories of sitting down with him at the Rio a few years ago. We'll resurrect that interview for a special edition of The Final Table soon.
Finally, we discussed the unbelievable result of a hand at last week's Big Game in Europe involving Phil Laak, Andy Moseley, Tony G, Scott Sevier, Alec Torelli, and a considerable amount of sleep deprivation.

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

Paintballing With Hezbollah

Mitchell Prothero is a journalist who has reported from all over the Middle East for several years and is currently based in Lebanon. While there, he has been trying to learn more about Hezbollah, the Shiite military/quasi-governmental/terrorist group based in that country. To that end, he recently challenged some Hezbollah fighters to a paintball match against him and three other Western writers (plus one ringer, former Army Ranger/counterinsurgency expert Andrew Exum). It took quite awhile to negotiate and coordinate, but one night several members of Hezbollah did show up at the paintball arena beneath a Beirut strip mall, and the competition was on.

After reading Prothero's story about this odd event online, I invited him to join me on KTRS/St. Louis to explain why he did it, what he got out of it, how his opponents acted, and how difficult it was to get trained terrorist fighters to agree to basic ground rules. He explained what he learned about the Hezbollah members, whether they hate Israel and the USA, and much more. It's a fascinating story, which is why I extended our conversation a little longer than usual.

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Making Fleetwood Mac's Rumours

In January, 1976, Ken Caillat went into a studio in Sausalito, California, to engineer and co-produce a new Fleetwood Mac album. When it was released a year later, it spawned four Top-10 singles, became one of the biggest selling albums of all time, and won the Grammy for Album Of The Year. But those were a tough twelve months, because all five of the band members -- Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsay Buckingham -- were in the process of break-ups and divorces, mostly from each other, and those relationship problems were a constant factor in the studio, where screaming sessions broke out regularly. Caillat has written about that adventure in a new book, "Making Rumours: The Inside Story Of The Classic Fleetwood Mac Album."
Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with Caillat about how he helped them get through that recording process, despite the antipathy, by focusing on the music. He explained some of the keys to the sounds, including why Buckingham played a Naugahyde chair on "Second Hand News," the unique sound of Nicks' vocals on "Gold Dust Woman," why not all of the band members liked Bill Clinton using "Don't Stop" as his campaign theme song, and how McVie and Fleetwood felt about their longtime blues/rock group being turned into a hit-making pop band.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Simon Says Watch Lou Goldstein

The world's foremost leader of Simon Says games, Lou Goldstein, died a few days ago at age 90. He developed his shtick over four decades as the tummler at Grossinger's in the Catskills, and did it for corporations, parties, and a few times on TV. You can read about him at this tribute page, but here he is in action on some Dick Clark show...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mistreating Veterans

Kudos to NY Times columnist Nick Kristof for this:

Here's a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.....

One reason for veteran suicides (and crimes, which get far more attention) may be post-traumatic stress disorder, along with a related condition, traumatic brain injury. Ryan suffered a concussion in an explosion in Iraq, and Michael finally had traumatic brain injury diagnosed two months ago.

Estimates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury vary widely, but a ballpark figure is that the problems afflict at least one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. One study found that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than one-quarter of soldiers had such mental health problems.

Preliminary figures suggest that being a veteran now roughly doubles one’s risk of suicide. For young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples the risk of suicide, according to a study in The American Journal of Public Health.

I've never served in the military, and don't have anyone in my extended family currently in uniform, but I've been talking about this subject on and off for the last decade with people like Paul Reickhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and former Senator Kit Bond, whose son Sam did two tours in Iraq as a Marine officer. Yesterday, David Wood of the Huffington Post won a Pulitzer for his 10-part series on wounded veterans. They have gotten the Veterans Administration to do better, but it's still not good enough.

The VA continues to be under-funded and mismanaged, which is why we have a veterans hospital in St. Louis that is still dirty and dangerous. Two years after it was discovered that dental instruments weren't being sterilized -- exposing 1,800 veterans to HIV, hepatitis, and other viruses -- not much has changed, despite a Congressional investigation, repeated inspections, and a federal report full of recommendations for improvement.  One inspection even found rust on equipment in an operating room, which was then shut down.

The fact that we "support the troops" when they have boots on the ground in another country but ignore their problems when they return home is nothing less than shameful.  It's hypocritical, demoralizing, and un-American.

Giving New Meaning To Hand Sanitizer

As if last week's story about Tennessee passing an anti-science bill that will force teachers to explain "alternative theories" to evolution and climate change wasn't bad enough, that state's legislature has gone even further into the land of the lost. On Friday, the Tennessee senate approved an update to the state's abstinence-only sex education law to make teachers warn students that holding hands and kissing are "gateway sexual activity."  Talk about an alternative theory.

No more holding hands.  This is going to throw fire drills out of whack in elementary schools, where the kids used to buddy-up and hold hands to ensure that no one got lost.  Who knew that being led to the nearest exit in an orderly manner could also lead them to intercourse?

That's right, kids, holding hands is the new first base.  When you play Red Rover, don't lock your arms together, because that's the new second base.  And I don't want to see any high-fiving, which is the new foreplay.

Meanwhile, how's that abstinence-only curriculum working out?  In Memphis, the largest city in Tennessee, 61% of high school students say they've had sex, as do 27% of middle-schoolers.  I'll grant you that "students say" is not the most scientific way to guarantee the results are true, because most teenagers are going to lie on the positive side for peer image reasons, but when compared to other teens in other areas, Memphis is way higher than the national average.

I hope they didn't do the survey by a show of hands.

Backdraft Booker

Two things came to my mind this weekend when I heard the Cory Booker fire rescue story

My first thought was that I admire the man for doing something I like to think I'd be brave enough to do -- run into a burning building and carry a woman out on my shoulder -- but have to admit I probably wouldn't be.

My second thought was that this should pretty much seal his re-election as mayor of Newark. For life.  How do you run against a guy who saved a citizen from a fire?  What kind of negative ad can you run against him? I can see him at a debate:
"Yes, I'll get to your question about crime and the municipal tax code in a moment, but first, I'd like to see a show of hands of which of my opponents has risked death to save a constituent from being roasted to death.  Oh, I'm the only one?  Okay.  Now, what was the question?"

A Valuable Lesson

For you kids who are considering a career in law enforcement, there's a valuable lesson you should learn from the Secret Service scandal in Colombia: be sure to always pay your prostitutes before curfew.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Smoking Woman Naked At Airport

That's the headline you put on this Knuckleheads In The News® story when you want to get a lot of guys to click on your website. But they may be a little disappointed when they see that the word "smoking" is not a description of how she looks, but what she was doing. The capper on the story is that the woman, who was taken to a hospital, was not arrested nor charged with anything. Meanwhile, if you forget about a bottle of water in your carry-on bag, you're subject to a personal patdown by Officer McFeely. On the other hand, if everyone traveled the way this woman wanted to -- with literally nothing concealed -- we wouldn't need the TSA at all, would we?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Neither N Stands For Numbers

When my wife started out in the TV business, one of her jobs was to make sure that the graphics on the screen were correct and made sense. If she worked at CNN, this would never have made it on the air yesterday...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

AJ Jacobs "Drop Dead Healthy"

AJ Jacobs is an "experiential journalist" who commits himself to odd projects and writes about them, often hysterically.  He read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica (when there was a print edition) from A to Z.  He lived by the strict rules of the Bible for a year.

His latest immersion experiment was to become the healthiest man alive. That meant making every part of his body better (through diet, exercise, etc.) often through extreme methods.  For instance, he tried "chewdaism," in which you have to chew every bite of food a hundred times before swallowing.  He learned that it's healthier to squat on the toilet than sit on it, so he did that.  For exercise, he built his own treadmill desk so he could walk and use his computer at the same time.  That's how he produced his newest book, "Drop Dead Healthy," which he discussed with me today on KTRS/St. Louis.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Tennessee vs. Evolution, Again

There's a new law in Tennessee that will hurt science education in that state by allowing creationism and global warming denial to be taught alongside the real science of evolution and climate change.  It amazes me that these same ignorant arguments are being made nine decades after the Scopes monkey trial took place (in the same state!). Supporters of the law say students should hear "alternative theories," so I suppose it's okay to teach them that the Earth is flat and storks deliver babies, too. The fact is that there is no controversy about these subjects among scientists, but there's a political and religious agenda at work, and it's winning in the Volunteer State.

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I discussed the new law with evolutionary biologist Josh Rosenau of the National Center For Science Education.  He explained what it means for science teachers in Tennessee and the impact it will have on students who go on to college. 

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

Defective Novelties

In the wake of Mike Wallace's death this weekend, I couldn't help but think of this "60 Minutes" parody from "Saturday Night Live," circa 1985.  It was a filmed piece with Harry Shearer doing a perfect Wallace impression, with Christopher Guest and Billy Crystal as owners of a novelty products company, plus Martin Short in his first shot as weaselly attorney Nathan Thurm (complete with long-ash cigarette and ultra-defensive answers)...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • In a single press conference, a star was born this afternoon -- her name is Angela Corey, the State Attorney in the George Zimmerman case.
  • Question the media should be asking: who paid Zimmerman's ex-attorneys, and how did they begin working for him, anyway?
  • Dear Mark Zuckerberg: my website makes no money and won't help Facebook's bottom line -- just like Instagram. Can I have $1,000,000,000?
  • What does it say about us that restaurants have to have trash cans with holes smaller than the trays & baskets to ensure we don't throw them away?

Ozzie's Bogus Cuban Firestorm

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen had to apologize yesterday after complaints regarding an interview he did with Time magazine, in which he was asked for his thoughts on Fidel Castro:
I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that son of a bitch is still there.
Everything in that last sentence is correct, but it's a single word in his first sentence that got him into trouble: "respect."  In his press conference, Guillen (who was born in Venezuela) explained that he originally spoke of Castro in Spanish and "the translation to English was a bit confusing," but he still apologized and admitted he'd made a mistake and should not have commented on anything outside of baseball.

I don't know what Spanish word Guillen used that was translated as "respect," but I don't think he meant it sarcastically -- like those times you're arguing with someone and they say something completely dumb and you say, "Look, I respect your opinion, but you're wrong about this."  You don't really respect them or their opinion, but you're trying to soften it (as you do when you add "no offense intended" after saying something you know is offensive).

There was no reason for the Time reporter to ask a Major League Baseball manager about Fidel Castro in the first place, except to solicit a response that would create controversy.  Which brings us to the most important point, regarding power and politics.

The "firestorm" over Guillen's comments can be traced directly to Little Havana, the Miami neighborhood that's full of Cuban ex-patriots. I think there are only about 11 original guys who floated to the US on a raft in 1962 and are still alive, but they and their offspring have grown into a powerful special interest group.  They still hate Castro so much that you can't even say his name without their radar picking it up, followed by ginned-up anger and controversy. 

How much power to these ex-pats have?  They are singularly responsible for the US continuing to have a hands-off policy when it comes to Cuba.  You see, Little Havana controls the Spanish-speaking voters of Miami, which is in the electorally-impaired state of Florida, which just happens to be one of the key swing states in presidential politics.  No politician on the national stage would dare piss off the ex-pats by softening our Cuba policy for fear of losing Florida and its power-granting electorate.

I'm no fan of Castro or any other dictator, but foreign policy towards his regime (and now his brother Raul's regime) is completely inconsistent with our attitude towards every other country.  Cuba is the only nation on earth that the US forbids its citizens to travel to* (except under certain special conditions, or to serve at the base at Guantanamo -- in other words, there's no general tourism from America to Cuba).  Meanwhile, citizens of other countries can (and do) travel to Cuba all the time to enjoy its beautiful beaches, because their governments aren't afraid of blowback from Little Havana.

The US restriction on travel to Cuba is not because it's a communist, totalitarian state.  If that was all it took to create a travel ban, you couldn't go to Vietnam, a nation we fought a war with!  Not only are you allowed to travel to Ho Chi Minh City, but American companies do lots of business there.  The same is true for another tiny communist country you may have heard of.  Its name is China, and you could fly there tomorrow if you wanted to (and had a visa).  You could even go there, then come back and put on a one-man show full of lies about an iPad factory, and our government wouldn't stop you.  American businesses do billions of dollars of business with China, but don't you dare try to sell Pepsi and Pizza Hut in Cuba!

Why are you allowed to go halfway around the world to Vietnam and China, but not to Cuba?  For the same reason that the Marlins suspended Ozzie Guillen for five games -- because of those ex-pats and their outsized political influence in Miami.  You may not know that Guillen made similar comments about Castro in an interview with Men's Journal:
He’s a bullshit dictator and everybody’s against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him.  Everywhere he goes they roll out the red carpet. I don’t admire his philosophy. I admire him.
But that was in 2008, when he was managing the White Sox in Chicago, a city apparently outside the sphere of influence of the Cuban ex-pats.  Their power only reaches as far north as Washington, DC.

*No, you can't go to North Korea, either, but that's because of their restrictions, not ours. 

Update 4/15/12 10:43am: Two nights after I posted this column, Bill Maher made essentially the same points in the New Rules segment of HBO's "Real Time."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Final Table #166: PLO Basics & Black Friday +1

Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we talked about some strange rulings Dennis witnessed at the World Series Of Poker Event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in which players were penalized when they shouldn't have been -- and not penalized when they should have been.

We won't have those kinds of problems when the Circuit Event kicks off at Harrah's St. Louis Thursday, so we ran down the entire schedule of tournaments, from no-limit hold'em to pot-limit Omaha to HORSE to the seniors event to the ladies event and the Main Event two weekends from now.

In our guest segment, with the first anniversary of Black Friday coming up, we talked about the prospects for the return of online poker in the USA -- at both the federal and state levels -- with John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance.

Then, Daniel Skolovy joined us to introduce you to the basics of Pot Limit Omaha, which he has been writing about for If the only poker you've played is Texas Hold'Em, here's a chance to learn the other game that is gaining in popularity, particularly here in the midwest.

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

Monday, April 09, 2012

Pertussis In Boulder

I have written often, as has my friend Phil Plait, about the dangers the anti-vaccination movement has caused.  Today on his blog, Phil has the sad story of how there have been more than 3 dozen cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in Boulder so far this year -- 30 of those were under 18 years old -- a remarkably high rate for a disease that's supposed to have become very rare thanks to vaccines.  The problem is the growing number of parents who don't have their children vaccinated, which isn't just a danger to them, but to everyone because it decreases herd immunity. 

This outbreak might shock you, especially considering Boulder is one of the most educated cities in the United States. But in fact, I’ve been wondering if and when something like this might happen here. Denial of the benefits of vaccination is strong in educated areas, like Boulder or Marin county, California — being educated doesn’t mean you get things right, and in fact can make people believe in their own knowledge even more strongly. They go online and find antivax literature which magnifies their own beliefs.

Also, these tend to be more left-leaning areas, and the antivax movement does better there. The result? A little baby, not even two months old, is recovering from a nearly-fatal event that was totally preventable if enough people were vaccinated. Herd immunity would have prevented this whole thing.
Read Phil's entire entry here.

Friday, April 06, 2012


I missed the debut of ABC's new "Scandal" last night, but caught it online today and liked it -- mostly.

It was created by Shonda Rhimes, the woman behind "Grey's Anatomy," which got off to such a promising start before every episode became exclusively about the relationships between the characters, who ended up sleeping with each other in every possible combination.  Then TR Knight left and Katherine Heigl went off to set the record for the most Bad Romantic Comedies Not Starring Jennifer Aniston, and we stopped watching.  I was amazed while browsing the listings last week to see that "Grey's" is still on the air.

As for "Scandal," I said I "mostly" liked it because Kerry Washington is both likable and intense in the lead role of a DC fixer, the ensemble around her does a good job, and the plots seem clever (even when they cover the same ground as "Lie To Me" did on Fox) -- although I bet they won't make it through a full season before at least two of her employees end up in the same bed.

But a couple of things really bugged me as I watched the first two episodes online.  One was the way the interior scenes were shot, with the camera constantly panning past windows, with the wooden frames or beveled glass getting in the way and distorting our viewpoint.  There may be an "artistic" reason for that directorial choice, but it's annoying as hell.

The other is that the ads that run on during the episodes are repeated ad nauseum.  Sure, each of the breaks only lasts :30 instead of a few minutes, but it's the same commercial over and over again.  In the first episode, it was a spot for Crystal Light. In the second, it was for the re-release of "Titanic."  Neither spot is particularly bad (in fact, the Crystal Light ad is well done), but seeing it four or five times in a 46-minute show was irritating.

I'd like to hire Kerry Washington to fix that.

Call It A Studio Apartment

In 1980, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" had been on the air for five years, its original cast had left, and it was about to embark on what is universally considered its worst season ever.  That's when ABC saw an opportunity to launch its own late-night sketch show, but instead of competing directly against SNL, they put it on one night earlier and called it "Fridays."  The show lasted 3 years with an ensemble cast of ten, but only two of them went on to become stars -- Michael Richards and Larry David.

Here they are in a sketch about a couple (David and Melanie Chartoff) showing their new apartment to friends (Richards and Maryedith Burrell), who are surprised to discover that the place has a unique feature -- a studio audience.  Very meta...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Springsteen's Teleprompter

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post recently wrote a ridiculous column criticizing Bruce Springsteen for using a teleprompter onstage:
Springsteen sings about 25 songs each night on his current tour. As with all Springsteen shows, the set list varies somewhat from night to night, but only somewhat. Most of the songs are the same each time out, from old standbys such as “Badlands” (and, of course, “Born to Run”) to material from his new album, “Wrecking Ball.” Which means the total number of songs he’s likely to perform on any night might range to fewer than 40.
Republicans have criticized President Obama’s use of teleprompters; they say it betrays a kind of scripted quality, an insincerity, even phoniness. But this seems different. Can we reasonably expect the leader of the free world, whose every utterance can cause an international crisis, to memorize every word he speaks?
On the other hand, shouldn’t we expect a musician, especially one as accomplished and experienced as Bruce Springsteen, to know the words to 40 songs?
Nils Lofgren, longtime member of the E Street Band, wrote an open letter in response:
Your teleprompter article left out some important points. Last E Street tour, we played 192 different songs on that tour alone. Dozens of those songs were from audience-request signs Bruce would collect and dump in front of the drum riser. He would then rifle through them, sailing them around him until he found a song to attempt — much like the college kid rummaging through the pile of dirty laundry in search of one clean shirt.

Many songs were covers we had never performed live. EVER! He would show us the sign and then immediately “frisbee” it down the stairs to the teleprompter crew to surf the net and find the lyrics while we all talked up a quick arrangement at his microphone, knowing he’d be counting it off in 20 seconds.

Many of those audibles were Bruce songs unrehearsed or played in years or decades. With our collective musical memory, hand signals and teleprompter, it allows for those ambitious, ad lib moments and an inspired, musical recklessness I believe is unique to our shows. These points might have brought some additional perspective to your article. In our case, the teleprompter has a much more ambitious use and purpose than your article indicates.

Honda's Anti-Theft Negotiator

On Sunday, Honda introduced a new feature coming to its 2013 cars.  While Apple has Siri, with its voice recognition software, Honda has gone another step with Terii, "the most advanced vehicle theft-deterrent system ever made." Here's a demo of how it works...

Note: this makes more sense if you remember what the date was on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Worst Opinions Ever

You're entitled to your opinion, but when you're wrong, someone's going to remember the dumb thing you said -- which is how we end up with this list of some of the worst opinions ever.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Final Table #165: Daniel Negreanu

Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we discussed a couple of hands Dennis played in a tournament at Caesar's Palace this weekend and whether a new site that offers insurance to online players who want to cut down on variance is a good value.

In our guest segment, we welcomed back Daniel Negreanu, one of the most recognizable pros in the poker world, who is in Dublin, Ireland, to take part in iSeriesLive, a 10,000-Euro buy-in winner-take-all event you can watch live online on Thursday -- and (if you're not in the US) wager on the outcome.

Among the other topics we touched on with Daniel:
  • why he doesn't regret his recent comments about Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Ray Bitar of Full Tilt Poker;
  • why there's more anger at Full Tilt than Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet, which also haven't returned funds to players;
  • which new event at this year's WSOP he's looking forward to;
  • advice for WSOP Main Event rookies (like me);
  • how he might sell shares of his entry into the $1,000,000 buy-in One Drop tournament at the WSOP;
  • whether legalized intrastate poker can work if it's only in Nevada or New Jersey;
  • whether he still wants to be on Survivor, and which of this season's contestants he couldn't stand.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

James Brown on The TAMI Show

There's a lyric in The Police song, "When The World Is Running Down" that I didn't understand when I first heard it.  It sound like Sting sang, "James Brown on Tammy's show." I did some research and discovered that the line was actually "James Brown on The TAMI Show," a reference to a legendary filmed performance from 1964.  Unfortunately, there were no DVDs and no Netflix and no internet in 1980, so for the next three decades I'd been frustrated that I couldn't see the performance The Police had referred to -- until this weekend, when we finally got a copy and enjoyed it so much I've added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

"The TAMI Show" was a pair of designed-for-the-cameras concerts in late October, 1964, less than 9 months after The Beatles' debut on Ed Sullivan, when rock and roll was on the mind of every American teen, and businesses were trying to figure out how to make money off this young demographic.

The promoters put together a stellar lineup that included Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Jan and Dean (who served as emcees), Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the hottest female vocalist of the year, Lesley Gore. The house band supporting most of the acts was The Wrecking Crew, the group of LA studio musicians I wrote about here. There's also a troupe of go-go dancers that included Teri Garr and choreographer Toni Basil ("Hey, Mickey!") and a crowd of frenzied teenagers screaming their heads off (free tickets were given to students at local high schools).

The concerts were quickly edited and distributed to movie theaters at the end of December, 1964, where they had a brief run and then weren't seen again (except for bootlegs) for more than 40 years, until Shout Factory acquired the rights and released "The TAMI Show" on DVD in 2010.

The show closed with the Rolling Stones, who were just starting to break into the US market, but they were overshadowed by the act that preceded them: James Brown. Keith Richards later said that agreeing to follow Brown was the biggest mistake the Stones made in their careers. Here's some evidence supporting that argument -- Brown doing things onstage that no one else was doing, from the outrageous dance moves to the cape-on-the-back and every crowd-pleasing trick in his book, backed up by his own band of musicians (arguably were the greatest funk group ever).  Towards the end, even the members of the Wrecking Crew, as well as the onstage dancers, couldn't help but applaud in amazement at what they've just seen Brown do.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Either A Bagel Or A Lender Be

Murray Lender, the man behind Lender's Bagels, died recently. The obit I read called him "the man most responsible for the popularity of bagels in America." What it didn't say was that Lender's Bagels were (and are) terrible, mostly because they're frozen. Bagels, like anything else made of dough, should never be frozen. They're best when consumed fresh, or within a couple of days at most. If the store you're buying them in didn't actually make the bagels that day, you're in the wrong place.

People who like frozen bagels are the same ones who refrigerate bread. That's just wrong. Flour does not want to be colder, and certainly not that cold. But even when thawed, Lender's don't taste the way bagels should. They're bland, not chewy in the right way, as if they're nothing more than bread dough formed into a circle. Anyone who's ever been to Bagel Oasis in Queens, New York, knows how good a bagel can be -- a consistent 10 out of 10, while Lender's never topped a 1. Anthropomorphized, those frozen dough circles would be embarrassed to discover that anyone calls them bagels.

Saying that Lender was most responsible for the popularity of bagels is like giving Domino's credit for Americans loving pizza, proclaiming Olive Garden the home of real Italian food, or praising Radio Shack for the prevalence of smartphones.

Quantity does not equal quality -- particularly when frozen.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • What do Blue Man Group, The Who, and Celebrity Apprentice have in common? Art and money and showbiz, says Penn Jillette 
  • Congrats to my 3 long-lost cousins who won MegaMillions. The party will be at my house whenever you're ready to pay for it!
  • The best piece I've seen on the Keith Olbermann/Current TV split, through the eyes of Tim Goodman.