Sunday, December 30, 2012

Suggested Resolutions

Arianna Huffington has a pretty good list of suggested New Year's resolutions for some famous folks. Here are just some of them...

  • "I'll find better uses for my $150 million than trying to buy an election." ~ Sheldon Adelson
  • "I will reach the fifth stage of grieving -- acceptance -- about Ohio, and send out a 'Sorry I blew that $300 million' card to my 2012 donors." ~ Karl Rove
  • "I will stop living my life on camera and have an actual childhood." ~ Honey Boo Boo
  • "We will go away." ~ Members of the Westboro Baptist Church
  • "I will finally quit making excuses and coming up with crazy ideas, like armed guards at every school, and admit that guns really do kill people, and lots of them." ~ NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre
  • "I will enjoy my last months of privacy." ~ Will and Kate's baby
  • "I will enroll in a legitimate Biology 101 class." ~ Todd Akin
  • "Two words: New password." ~ Scarlett Johansson
See her full list here.

Official Review

Remember the climactic moment of the Packers-Seahawks game in week 3 of this NFL season, captured in that classic photo by Otto Gruehle? It was the play with the controversial call by replacement referees that brought so much embarrassment to the league that the NFL was forced to negotiate an end to its lockout of the regular refs quickly enough to get them back in action three nights later. In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, Ben Reiter talked to several of people involved in the ruling on the field and in the booth, and comes to the conclusion that the play was much more confusing than it seemed to the average (and outraged) viewers -- and the refs got it right.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Five GOP loudmouths who owe the hospitalized Hillary Clinton an apology.
  • Since 2007, the St. Louis Rams' penalties/game stat has increased each year. With an astounding 14 more today, they finished this season leading the league in lack of discipline at the line of scrimmage.
  • When I think of Norman Schwarzkopf, I think of the only war the US has won in my lifetime -- over 50 years.

The Congressional Cram Session

Members of the US Congress remind me of myself when I was a student. It didn't matter how far in advance a teacher told me an assignment was due -- two days, two weeks, or two months -- I rarely got around to working on it until the deadline was in my face.  I vividly remember one mid-term essay we were assigned three weeks before it was due in sixth grade, but I didn't expend an ounce of energy ahead of time, planning to get it done at the last minute, and thrilled when when a major snowstorm rolled through and forced school to remain closed for several days. Even then, I still didn't work on it until enough snow had been removed from the roads for the schools to announce they'd open again.

We're seeing the exact same lack of advance effort from our elected representatives on Capitol Hill, who have known for 16 months, since passing the Budget Control Act in August, 2011, that the over-the-cliff date will be January 1, 2013. Yet they didn't plan ahead and develop a solution last year, or last spring, or last summer, or even last month. In fact, last week, they all went home for Christmas break without an economic resolution, despite promising they'd get it done. That's like a kid telling his parents he'll study for finals and write the big semester-ending essay while sitting in the car as the family drives to Disneyworld. Not only is the work unlikely to get done under those conditions, if it is, it's going to be rushed and sub-par.

So now, Congress has re-grouped in Washington on the final weekend of the year, trying to make us believe they're committed to working together. We know better. We know both sides are stubborn, more interested in protecting their jobs and parties' images than in cooperating and leading the nation. We also know there's no snowstorm coming to allow them to procrastinate further.

But they will anyway, probably by extending the current laws for a few months, announcing a new deadline, and then not doing anything else until a few days before the new cliff date. Is it any wonder approval ratings for Congress are lower than they were for that NBC sitcom with the monkey doctor?

Friday, December 28, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Piers Morgan shouldn't be fired for his opinions on guns. He should be fired for being a hack and a bad interviewer.
  • Here's the story I discussed on KTRS about TSA officers laughing at your naked image when you go through the airport scanner.
  • Behind the scenes on making "Argo" with director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Review: "This Is 40"

Judd Apatow's "This Is 40" is Ron Howard's "Parenthood" with raunchier language and situations. Both are about an upscale married couple dealing with the problems of parenting, failing businesses, and dependent parents.

Where Howard had Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen, Apatow has Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Where Howard had Jason Robards as the cranky father, Apatow has Albert Brooks.  Where Howard had cute kid actors, Apatow has his own daughters (with built-in comedic chemistry). Where Howard's supporting cast included Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, and Tom Hulce, Apatow has Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Robert Smigel, and Jason Segel. Both movies have some good performances and funny scenes, but in the end, not much cohesion. They don't have a plot as much as they do sketches stitched together around a theme.

What they also have in common -- spoiler alert! -- is a plot twist involving the wife, who is surprised to find herself pregnant years after what (she thought was her) last child was born but, like the couple in "Parenthood," Apatow's Pete and Debbie (Rudd and Mann) don't even pause for a discussion of whether they should keep the child. I know that abortion is a dicey topic for a comedy, but if Amy Heckerling worked it into "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" 30 years ago without creating controversy or bringing the story to a screeching halt, there's no reason Apatow can't have his characters at least talk about the choice, including the financial burden another child will place on their already fragile fiscal condition.

But responsibility when it comes to finances isn't a factor in this couple's decision-making. Despite his failing independent record label losing money hand over fist, and her boutique's employee theft problem, Pete and Debbie still take time to spend a weekend away at a fancy resort, and then return to throw a big backyard birthday party (they're both turning 40 at the same time), complete with a tent, a caterer, and dozens of guests. There's no effort made to explain how they can afford this, just as the topic is avoided when it comes to the impending new addition to their family.

Wacky comedies don't have to stick to normal everyday logic, but they do have to hew to their own internal logic, and "This Is 40" doesn't do that. It didn't have to get bogged down in ponderous discussions of these matters, but it shouldn't have skated completely around them, either. Perhaps Apatow should have studied Brooks' classic "Lost In America" for ideas on how to make Pete and Debbie deal with their money problems while still being hysterically funny.

One thing that "This Is 40" does very well is provide a showcase for Mann, who happens to be Apatow's wife, in her first real starring role. She's a good comedienne, very attractive, and not shy about showing off her body -- although I wonder what the negotiations between actress and director regarding her topless scenes in the movie were like at home.

I'd bet that Leslie and Judd talked about the matter a lot more than Debbie and Pete would.

Been There, Done That

Much is being made of the expected lower attendance for Obama's second inauguration. While 1.8 million people showed up to see him take the (botched) oath of office in 2009, only 800,000 are expected for his reprise next month.

My simple explanation: last time was a historic event -- the inauguration of America's first black president, a very big deal. This time it's all about a guy getting to keep his job. In that vein, I don't understand why we have to go through all the pomp and circumstance when any president (or governor) is re-elected.

Has your boss ever done that for you? "Jenkins, we've decided to let you work here for another few years, so we're throwing a big party for you in the hotel ballroom next door tomorrow night." Highly unlikely. I've had quite a few employment contracts in my radio career, and while the boss may have taken me out to a congratulatory dinner after I signed on originally, whenever I renewed one at the same radio station, no one called the caterers to order even a single cocktail frank.

What To Do With Old Tech Toys

So, you got some new high-tech toy for Christmas or Hanukkah, and don't know what to do with your old one. Today on KTRS, I asked Blade Tech's Scott Schaffer to explain your options -- from selling to trading to donating to recycling -- and how to get all of your personal information off those devices first. We also talked about what to expect in tech in 2013, from Apple TV to Microsoft's continued emphasis on Windows 8 to new advances in medical technology to providers capping the speed and bandwidth of your internet connection as more users stream audio and video.

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


During this discussion, I mentioned my earlier conversation with Paul Bloom, IBM's Chief Technology Officer, about what to expect from our computers and smartphones in five years. Listen to that podcast here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vente's Ready, If You Want It

From an ABC News report today: The world's biggest coffee chain is asking employees at cafes in the Washington, DC, area to scribble the words "Come Together" on cups for drink orders. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says the words are intended as a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the "fiscal cliff."
Well, that should do it. Surely, members of Congress will put aside their differences once they've received the coded messages from baristas around town. Except that Congress isn't in DC right now, and when it is back in session, the gesture will have no effect.

It's ironic that Schultz would choose the title of a John Lennon song for his fiscal cliff publicity stunt, because I'm reminded of Yoko Ono recently taking out yet another full-page ad in the NY Times declaring "War Is Over If You Want It," just as she and Lennon did 40+ years ago during the Vietnam War. In the intervening years, if there's anything we've learned about war, it's that wanting and wishing won't make it stop.

I don't drink coffee, so I'll never be in a Starbucks to see this play out, but I'd like to compare the baristas' scribblings as the work day goes along. I'd bet they're writing "Come Together" clearly at the beginning of their shifts, but after four or five hours, it'll look more like a prescription written by a harried physician: "Cami Tgrelfer."

Your vente frapuccino is ready, if you want it.

The Science Of Rock

A new exhibit called The Science Of Rock has premiered in Kansas City, so I asked Alan Cross (Director Of Content for the exhibit) to join me on KTRS today to discuss it. We talked about how music delivery systems have been changed by technology, and how the music itself has been affected through the years. He told stories about the accidental invention of the fuzz pedal for guitarists, and how the Beatles are responsibility for the development of CAT scans. He also explained what's pushing the envelope of musical science and technology going forward.

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


The Science Of Rock exhibit, which includes several interactive elements, will be at Kansas City's Union Station through May, 2013, before embarking on a worldwide tour. There's more info here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bunker Mentality On Guns

Finally, some responsible talk about gun control, from one of America's savviest citizens...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Picture Of The Day

Here's another lovely illusion from Prof. Richard Wiseman...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

You Can Wish Me A Merry Christmas

At work yesterday, I said "Merry Christmas" to a colleague who was leaving early to start his long holiday weekend. Knowing that I was raised Jewish (but now practice no religion), he responded, "Thanks, and Happy Hanukkah to you!"

I held my tongue instead of saying, "Um, thanks, but Hanukkah ended five days ago. Wishing me Happy Hanukkah today would be like wishing someone a Merry Christmas on December 30th." The reason I didn't say anything was because I know that he didn't know when Hanukkah was, but he assumed it was always at the same time as Christmas, as if it were a Jewish version of that holiday -- which it isn't -- and I wasn't up to explaining the difference yet again. Besides, I appreciated his attempt at inclusion.

There was a time in my life when, if someone said "Merry Christmas" to me, I'd be offended by their assumption that everyone celebrates that Christian holiday. But then I became less defensive when I realized that, even though Christmas means nothing to me, I can still have a merry day. There's nothing wrong with "merry." In fact, Christmas is the only day of the year to which that adjective should be appended. No one ever says, "Have a Merry Thanksgiving, Stephanie" or "Merry Arbor Day, Bill!"

These days, I not only accept all merry wishes, I even offer them. So, from my family to yours, may you have a very Merry Tuesday.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a boy with a basket full of surprises, a guy who really didn't want a cheeseburger, and a groom who was speeding in more ways than one. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge -- Christmas Edition

Play along with this week's Harris Challenge, which doesn't include five golden rings, but does have five categories connected to Christmas. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Paula Poundstone Pop-Tarts

On Thursday, I linked to an interview with Jerry Seinfeld that included video of him explaining a routine he's been working on for two years about Pop-Tarts, which I called "a well-worn comedy topic." Reader Ethan Markell wanted to know of another comedian who has talked about the delicious breakfast pastries in their act, and the first one I thought of was Paula Poundstone, whose late-1980s bit was so popular that fans started bringing her boxes of Pop-Tarts -- for example, in this 1990 HBO special...

Friday, December 21, 2012

No-Pocalypse Now

Here's a complete explanation by my friend (and new Slate blogger) Phil Plait of why the world isn't ending today, despite all the nonsense about the Mayan Apocalypse.

I don't have any interest in predictions about the present made a thousand years ago by members of a dead civilization -- especially since they didn't actually make any such predictions. Modern-day fear-mongerers have misinterpreted the end of the Mayan calendar as the end of the world. I'd wonder if they've ever bought one of those 16-month calendars and thought the Earth would blow up at the end because they ran out of days, or if they just went out and bought a new calendar. Perhaps the Mayans simply got tired of carving more dates this far into the future.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Arm Teachers


I keep hearing from people who think, in the aftermath of the Newton school massacre, that we ought to arm teachers and school administrators.  It doesn't sound like a good idea to me, for several reasons.

First, I'm the son of two teachers, my brother's been a professor, and I have a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who still teach in elementary schools. None of them is proficient with a gun and, to my knowledge, none of them as any interest in becoming proficient with a gun. They got into the teaching profession to help children learn, not to be their armed bodyguards. In a room with an armed madman, they'd be nothing more than a target, at best, like the vast majority of men and women who spend their days in America's classrooms.

Second, much of this talk comes from what I call Dirty Harry Syndrome. While some pundits love to blame violent movies and TV and video games for negatively influencing people to become sadistic psychopaths -- a theory that has never been back up by evidence -- I believe those elements of pop culture have another side effect. They make people think that, if they had a gun in their hand, they could always stop the bad guy with one shot. Because they'd be the hero, and the hero never dies in Hollywood. Even if wounded, they never fail to get the enemy because they're always a better shot. Those who believe they'd be that hero have ignored all the stories about police officers (who have been trained to use firearms and spent hours on shooting ranges practicing) getting into a shootout and not getting the bad guy on the first shot, or being killed in the line of fire. Bottom line: the good guy doesn't always take out the bad guy with a single magic bullet, or even several rounds.

Third, and most importantly, let's imagine that teachers and administrators were armed in school. And that they kept their guns locked in a drawer so no student could stumble upon (or break in and steal) a loaded pistol. And that the teacher could get access to that drawer in a hurry and retrieve the gun very quickly (remember, it only took Adam Lanza 10 minutes to create the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School). And that the teacher is not just a popular and excellent educator, but also has experience with a weapon. Assume all of that. Now imagine that one of the bullets from that gun doesn't end up in the bad guy, or the wall, or the blackboard, but in the head or chest of a kid -- a little six-year-old first grader, or a big sixteen-year-old sophomore -- who dies from the injury.

How's that going to go? Do you think the parents of that school community will rally around that great teacher and praise them for a heroic effort, or demand that they're removed from the classroom, ending their career? Do you think those parents will still want other teachers and administrators armed? Do you think you could convince them that sacrificing their child was worth it? Even if the bad guy might have killed the kid, it's so much worse if the fatal round came from the educator's gun -- the paradigm would be immediately shifted in the other direction. And what guarantee is there that the armed teacher won't go nuts for some reason and use that concealed weapon of mass destruction?

My daughter's out of public school now and studying in a major urban university, but I didn't worry then (and I don't worry now) about her safety in the classroom, because I know that the overwhelming majority of American educational institutions are safe places for our children, despite rare events like Newtown, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. And they will remain so, even if no teacher is armed.

Caught In An Avalanche

Cold weather is anathema to me, so I don't ski or see its allure. Yet I was fascinated by a NY Times story about extreme skiers who got caught in an avalanche in the Cascades last February. The story is told in breath-taking detail, including first-person perspective from a woman buried by the snow -- and the web design is unusually brilliant, likely to win some awards. See it here.

Opinions Are Not Science

In a piece for the New Statesman, Brian Cox and Robin Ince argue against politicians and others who mistake opinion for evidence and elevate it over scientific understanding and discovery...

Climate science is one of a series of areas that, for primarily non-scientific reasons, has become controversial; and these controversies risk undermining confidence in the very idea of science. Others are the use of genetically modified crops, vaccination policy and even (God help us) the teaching of evolution in schools. These socio-political-religious controversies risk damaging public confidence in science, partly because of the tactics employed by their advocates, which, if unchecked, will have grave consequences because we live in a society dominated by science. People who rail against science risk becoming disenfranchised, because many of the most important decisions we face as a society have a scientific component. And the larger and more vocal the disenfranchised minority, the less likely we are to make decisions based on the best available evidence and understanding.

Science is the framework within which we reach conclusions about the natural world. These conclusions are always preliminary, always open to revision, but they are the best we can do. It is not logical to challenge the findings of science unless there are specific, evidence-based reasons for doing so. Elected politicians are free to disregard its findings and recommendations. Indeed, there may be good reasons for doing so. But they must understand in detail what they are disregarding, and be prepared to explain with precision why they chose to do so. It is not acceptable to see science as one among many acceptable “views”. Science is the only way we have of exploring nature, and nature exists outside of human structures.
Read their entire column here.

Two Years To Write A Joke

As part of a NY Times magazine feature on him, Jerry Seinfeld opens up about how, for two years, he's been constructing a bit for his stand-up act about a well-worn comedy topic: the Pop-Tart...

Taking Stock

It's long been obvious that Wall Street reporters and analysts are making things up as they go along, unable to come up with valid reasons for the market's overall mood -- and this week was no different.

Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a hundred points, and the explanation repeated everywhere was, "Wall Street remains uncertain about the fiscal cliff."  Today, the DJIA was up 60 points, and the explanation was, "Stocks rebound as investors grow upbeat on the economy."

Absolutely nothing changed in the fiscal cliff negotiations or the economy at large between yesterday and today, nor between yesterday and Tuesday, when the DJIA was also up a hundred points. There's been no deal between the White House and Congress, no move towards leadership, no plan going forward, on any of these days. Yet the Dow was on its fairly typical up-down roller coaster of small (plus or minus 1%) gains and losses.

And that's why I keep all my money invested in unicorn futures, shares of Ray's House Of Raw Pork, and over/under bets on NFL concussions.

Alan Sepinwall on Revolutionary TV

In his new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," Alan Sepinwall (TV critic for HitFix.com) makes the case for a dozen shows that changed TV in the last decade -- from "The Sopranos" to "Deadwood" to "Mad Men" to "Breaking Bad."

I'm enjoying the book so much that I invited Alan to join me today on KTRS/St. Louis to discuss how they revolutionized the industry while appealing to smaller audiences than the previous generation's best shows. I also asked him to explain the origin of "Lost," the unique shooting style of "Friday Night Lights," and why so many great shows had final episodes that made their fans mad (from "St. Elsewhere" to "Seinfeld" to "The Sopranos"). And we discussed the impact of DVDs and streaming video via Netflix, social media and blogs giving showrunners immediate feedback, and how TV has surpassed movies as a vehicle for creative storytellers.

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

Click here to order your copy of "The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changes TV Drama Forever."

Your Phone Will Smell You

Each year at this time, IBM releases its Five In Five list, a group of prognostications of what to expect from computer technology five years from now. As Paul Bloom, the company's Chief Technology Officer, explained to me on KTRS/St. Louis today, the predictions for 2017 are about the five senses -- that is, computers that can smell, taste, touch, see, and hear. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include Christmas lights in dog droppings, a man in a smokestack, and two cops busted for drunk-driving the same car. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Touring The Space Station

Here's one of the coolest things I've seen in awhile, particularly for someone who's been a fan of the manned space program since its inception. This is Suni Williams, who holds the record for longest space flight by a woman, and was most recently commander of the International Space Station crew that returned to Earth last month. Prior to departure, she led a guided tour of the ISS to let us see what life is like onboard -- how and where the crew works, eats, sleeps, and (probably the most-asked question) goes to the bathroom...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Sad Off

Anne Hathaway and Samuel L. Jackson each have major motion pictures debuting next week, so they're promoting them together -- but things get a little competitive...

Monday, December 17, 2012

SNL's SCTV Moment

This bit from "SNL" reminded me of some of the best things that "SCTV" was doing 20 years ago -- a pop culture parody jam-packed with great impressions. Perhaps I'm making the link because Martin Short appeared on both, but it's the first time I've seen spot-on imitations of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Keaton, and Edie Falco...

Worth A Link

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shots Fired, Nothing Changed

After Columbine, things were supposed to change. After Virginia Tech, things were supposed to change. After Aurora, things were supposed to change. After Gabby Giffords, things were supposed to change. After every mass shooting, things were supposed to change.

Nothing has changed.

What makes anyone think things will change after the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, today? There's already talk about gun control, just as there was after those incidents, as well as the mall shooting in Portland, and the murder of a woman by a Kansas City Chief who then committed suicide. Someone always wants to start a discussion about guns, and someone else always says it's too early, we're still grieving. So the discussion never begins, or never continues, or when it does, it's always the same old points made by the same old parties.

And nothing changes.

I'm not a gun guy. I've never fired any weapon more lethal than a water pistol. I plan on going my entire life without shooting anything. I don't believe people need as many guns as they have, and wish there were a rational way to reduce the number of victims who die from gun violence (34 Americans every day!).  But I've yet to hear anyone elucidate what changes in the law would have kept today's murders from taking place, since the guns were purchased legally by the killer's mother (who became one of his victims) and they weren't assault weapons (so any ban on those wouldn't have saved a single life today).

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun-control advocate, issued a statement today, urging action from President Obama, but he wasn't specific in what he wants either the White House or Congress to do:

The country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for "meaningful action" is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama said in his own emotional statement today:
We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
Forget about fighting the NRA and minions on Capitol Hill. What explicit solutions can government undertake to change our crazy gun culture? What non-rhetorical answers would these leaders enact?

I can't imagine the horror of having a small child killed while at school, or even having my daughter live through the horror at her school and have to deal with the psychological trauma afterwards. While the overwhelming majority of schools in the US are safe, there have been far too many pins added to our national of school shootings map.

But I also can't understand why any parents allowed their little kids to be interviewed on TV and radio today. On ABC, Chris Cuomo made a girl essentially re-live the nightmare by asking her to describe everything that happened in her classroom in great detail. Shame on him and every other reporter who stuck a microphone in a kid's face in the wake of the worst day of their life. We live in a society that shares far too much, that doesn't hesitate to open up to the media or post on Twitter and Facebook. It's bad enough when adults do that, but children (as young as five!) should be shielded from that and considered as off-limits as the crime scene inside the school.

Today was shameful in other ways for the media. In their rush to report, accuracy went out the window again. Three decades after Frank Reynolds implored his colleagues to "nail it down," being first (and putting up a "BREAKING NEWS!" graphic) still matters more than getting it right. That's why the shooter's name was reported incorrectly. That's why several websites posted pictures of people who shared the shooter's name but hadn't murdered any children today. That's why they told us the shooter's mother was a teacher who was killed at the school, when it turns out she didn't work there and was killed at her home.

Over time, errors are corrected, but not before our instant-information-distribution system repeats the mistaken details over and over again -- on multiple platforms. The horse gets out of the barn so fast these days that no one even bothers to see if the door is open.

And that's not going to change anytime soon, either.

The Bill Of Rights Monument

I have often mentioned the Bill Of Rights Monument my friend Chris Bliss has been working on in Phoenix for nearly a decade, so I'm happy to see that the limestone carvings (some of which weigh more than three tons) are in place on the statehouse grounds, where the monument will be officially dedicated this Saturday. Not coincidentally, that's the 221st anniversary of the ratification of the Bill Of Rights, one of the greatest documents in human history.

Chris pushed this through the Republican-dominated Arizona legislature in such a bi-partisan manner that no one voted against it. Then he went out and raised several hundred thousand dollars in private donations to fund it (there's not a single taxpayer dollar paying for the monument). To give you an idea how widespread support for the project has been, Chris will be joined at the dedication by staunch right-wing GOP Governor Jan Brewer as well as staunch left-wing Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was just elected as the state's first bisexual member of the US Congress.

Chris joined me on KTRS/St. Louis this afternoon to talk about the monument, the all-star comedy concert that helped fund it, and the process of getting it done. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


The NY Times has posted a big article on Chris and the Bill Of Rights Monument, and here is a time-lapse montage of the monument's ten pieces being installed at the site last week...

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a restaurant receipt for fat girls, a surprise for a burglar, and 2 guys who didn't know what they were snorting. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge

Play along with this week's Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Physical Cliff," "Fuzzy Math," and "Bill Is Right." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When Wilton North Went South


Long before "The Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report," there was a late night show doing topical humor with correspondents and field pieces. It was on for an hour a night, five nights a week for all of 21 nights, making it the shortest-lived show in late night TV history, despite having an all-star crew of writers (including Conan O'Brien and Greg Daniels). One of them, Nell Scovell, looks back on Fox's "The Wilton North Report" a quarter-century later and explains why neither of its two hosts was named Wilton or North.

Death For Free Speech Is A Deal Breaker

Jon Stewart was interviewed by Stephen Colbert Friday night at a benefit for a film festival in Montclair, New Jersey. I haven't seen any video of the event, but there's a summary online at Third Beat Magazine, which reports some of the topics the Comedy Central duo discussed -- the problems Stewart had in taking over "The Daily Show" from Craig Ferguson and clashing with the staff right away, why Stewart considers Hugh Grant his worst guest ever, and how Colbert nearly choked his wife to death while sleep-walking early in his marriage.

Stewart also revealed some fallout from their 2010 Rally To Restore Sanity. It revolved around Yusuf Islam who, while still known as Cat Stevens, publicly supported an Islamic fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for writing "The Satanic Verses." I remember that 1989 incident clearly, because at the time, I immediately banned all Cat Stevens songs from the morning radio show I was doing on WCXR/Washington (a story that got picked up and covered by "Entertainment Tonight").

Stewart told the Montclair audience that after they had Yusuf perform at the Rally (singing his "Peace Train" vs. Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and the O'Jays "Love Train"), Rushdie called Stewart to complain.  According to Third Beat:
Stewart said that he didn't know about Yusuf's comments at the time. "So I’m like, I'm sure he doesn't believe that people should be put to death for apostasy,” Stewart recalled. "I said, 'look, I'm sorry you’re upset, but I'm sure the guy isn't really like that. Let me talk to him.” 
Stewart called Yusuf, who characterized backing the fatwa as a "misunderstanding," but immediately tempered that with "although why do you have to insult the Prophet?"
"We get into a whole conversation, and it becomes very clear to me that he is straddling two worlds in a very difficult way. And that he actually still – and it broke my heart a little bit. I wish I had known that. I wouldn't have done [the bit], I don’t think. If I had known that, I wouldn't have done it. Because that to me is a deal breaker. Death for free speech is a deal breaker," Stewart said. 
Colbert added that at the time, Yusuf was scheduled to be a guest on upcoming episodes of both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Those appearances didn't happen.
I wonder if anyone on Craig Kilborn's "Daily Show" staff knew about Yusuf's 1989 comments.

That Ain't Rock And Roll

The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame announced its 2013 inductees today -- Rush, Heart, Randy Newman, Albert King, Lou Adler, Quincy Jones, Public Enemy, and Donna Summer.

Rush and Heart are easy choices, and Adler and Jones have the bona fides as executives and producers.  Newman seems a marginal choice, a performer much more famous for his Pixar soundtracks than his rock records. King is one of those blues artists whose career crossed over, thanks to rock guitar gods who embraced him, like Hendrix and Clapton.

That leaves Public Enemy and Donna Summer, who do not fit the definition of rock and roll. I don't know any rock station that has ever played a Public Enemy song. Donna Summer was once the Queen Of Disco, with several songs being played to death on Top 40 radio, but none of the Album-Oriented Rock stations I worked for at the beginning of my career even considered her for their playlists, and no current rock station (think KSHE) has any of her hits in their library. If there were still record stores around, you wouldn't find either of these acts filed in the Rock And Roll section, either.

I'm as baffled by these inductions as I was about Bob Marley, whose music was always described as reggae, not rock.  The same goes for previous inductees like jazz legend Miles Davis, or country legend Johnny Cash, or rap pioneers like Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash and the Beastie Boys. You won't find Led Zeppelin in the Country Music Hall of Fame, or Loretta Lynn in the Motown Hall Of Fame. There's no denying that all of them, like Summer and Public Enemy, have been both successful and  influential, but this isn't a generic music hall of fame -- it's supposed to be about rock and roll.

What's That Now?

There's a funny piece in Consumer Reports about warning labels that get lost in translation and end up making no sense once they're imported here from factories in China and elsewhere. My favorites: directions on a flashlight to "place the hand ring with finger and add speed uninterruptedly so as to reach the use effect" and the jelly jar that says "people under 3 years old and more than 60 years old are forbidden to eat alone."

Nichols & May Reunited

I don't usually read Vanity Fair, but I picked up the new one because it's their Comedy Issue, guest-edited by Judd Apatow. In includes a lengthy conversation with Albert Brooks (who appears in Apatow's new movie, "This Is 40"), a profile of Martin Short, an oral history of "Freaks and Geeks," and a revealing behind-the-scenes story about how John Belushi's cocaine habit nearly killed the "Blues Brothers" movie. The capper is an interview with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the first time they've sat down to answer questions together since they stopped doing their act in 1961.

Nichols and May got their start with the Compass Players, the Chicago improv troupe that preceded Second City, and soon took their witty sketches and chemistry out on their own, to Broadway and a hit record and multiple television appearances, and then, almost as quickly as they'd burst onto the scene, called it quits at the height of their fame.

They went their separate ways. May wrote movies ("A New Leaf," "Heaven Can Wait," "Reds," "Tootsie") while Nichols became one of the most successful directors of stage ("The Odd Couple," "Barefoot In The Park," "Waiting For Godot," the latest incarnation of "Death Of A Salesman") and screen ("The Graduate," "Silkwood," "Working Girl," "Carnal Knowledge," "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?"). They never revived their act, but they did work together on occasion (May adapted "La Cage Aux Folles" into "The Birdcage" with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, and Nichols directed it).

With careers like that, it's hard to believe they still live with regret about breaking up their act five decades ago, but they admit to it in the Vanity Fair interview. It probably doesn't help that the internet makes it possible to see what they did so brilliantly, as in the sketch below, which they performed on the TV show "Omnibus" in 1958. It's a little dated, in that it revolves around a call to an information operator from a payphone, but the timing and performances still work...

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Dark Knight Rises Honest Trailer

When I walked out of "The Dark Knight Rises" earlier this year, I felt that the holes in both the plot and movie's interior logic -- not to mention its ponderous length (164 minutes) -- had left it well below what we'd been promised by the hype. Since then, I've heard from others who felt the same way and raised some of the same questions, all of which (and more) are addressed in this Honest Trailer for the movie, produced by the Screen Junkies...

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Reduced Christmas

I've been a fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company since I first saw them at the Kennedy Center nearly two decades ago. Since then, I have seen almost all of their productions -- in which they have reduced Shakespeare, the Bible, the History of America, All The Great Books, and Hollywood. Tonight, I'll see their latest, "The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)," at the Edison Theater at Washington University (there are a few seats left, which you can buy here).

Since they're in town, I invited the cast -- Matt Rippy, Austin Tichenor, and Reed Martin -- to join me on KTRS yesterday. Austin and Reed have written 7 of the RSC's shows, and Matt has had roles in most of them, so they have great chemistry and know how to be good radio guests, too (i.e. they came to the studio prepared!). What followed was 20 minutes of inspired non-denominational holiday silliness.

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

Friday, December 07, 2012

Harris Challenge

Play along with this week's Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Things That Come In Eights" and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a snake on a plane, a bad fake name, and a burglar who called 911. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • On Pearl Harbor Day, my story of visiting the Arizona Memorial and encountering a sailor who'd been in the attack.
  • Chris Rock says comedians aren't as funny now as when Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin were around.
  • Meet the woman whose job is to make the elevator get to you quicker and more efficiently.
  • Behind the scenes on the set of "Homeland."

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Dozen Questions For Woody Allen

Here's Woody Allen answering 12 rapid-fire questions from Robert Weide, who did the documentary on the filmmaker that aired earlier this year on PBS and is now on DVD (this sequence did not appear in the TV version)...

Monday, December 03, 2012

Letterman Zeppelin

David Letterman and the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin were among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors Sunday night. That show was recorded to air 3 weeks from now on CBS, but tonight, Letterman hosted the Led Zep guys -- Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones -- on his "Late Show."

And it was terrible.

I'm a longtime Letterman fan, but I've gotten on his case a couple of times this year, most notably for giving Theresa Caputo, the phony psychic, a platform to spew her nonsense. Tonight, he was either lazy or uninterested in the three rock legends, so his questions for them were positively lame, along the lines of "How would I describe your music?" It was clear that Letterman was unfamiliar with Led Zeppelin, one of the most famous bands in rock and roll history. But with a staff as large as his, someone should have taken some time to put together some bullet points he could discuss with them. At the very least, he could have asked Paul Shaffer for some ideas.

I've never interviewed any of the three, but let's see what I can come up with right now, off the top of my head. Think of it as the Top Ten Questions David Letterman Could Have Asked Led Zeppelin:

  • Which one of you recruited the others to form the band in the first place?
  • Was coming to America and being successful here important to you?
  • Tell me about the first time you played a concert in the US.
  • How important was FM radio to your success, since you never had a Top 40 single?
  • After John Bonham's death in 1980, the band broke up and you went on to other projects, but did you miss playing together? 
  • Did you keep in touch and discuss working together again?
  • You reunited in 2007 for a tribute concert to Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head of your record label, Atlantic. How important was he to your success?
  • What was the genesis of your most famous song, "Stairway to Heaven"?
  • Led Zeppelin had a rowdy reputation on tour. Were you ever banned from hotels, and if so, why?
  • How cool was it to have a jet with your name on the side to take you to your concerts?
That took me maybe three minutes, just spitballing ideas onto my keyboard. Those questions would form the basis of a pretty good interview with Plant/Page/Jones, if I do say so myself, but Letterman didn't ask anything remotely as interesting. Instead, he stumbled through the segment, as if just having these guys in his guest chairs was enough.

It wasn't. You be the judge...


If only Letterman's staff had helped prepare him as well as President Obama's writers did when he said a few words about Led Zeppelin at a White House ceremony before the Kennedy Center Honors. I have no idea if Obama actually knows the first thing about the band, but with a little behind-the-scenes prep work, he sure looks like it (although he doesn't warble any of their tunes as he did Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" earlier this year) ...

Road Trip Day 13 & 14: Hammond & Home

This summer, I kept a diary of my trip across the US with my daughter to start her freshman year at college in New York -- and my return trip, too. This is my final entry, but you can read them all here.

After a good night's sleep, I check out of the Cleveland Marriott and work my way onto I-80 westbound, the only road I'll need on my five-hour drive to Hammond, Indiana (a suburb of Chicago). Halfway there, I stop for lunch and use the Priceline app on my iPhone to book a room at the Courtyard By Marriott, happy to see the price has come down another 10 bucks since I checked it online this morning.

I get to the hotel by mid-afternoon, and since I'm only planning on being here one night, I don't bother to unpack yet again. Instead, I lay down and close my eyes for a couple of hours, then get up, take a shower, and make the 20-minute drive to the Horseshoe Hammond.

Last year, I wrote a primer on this casino which I won't repeat here. Since it's Saturday, the poker room is quite busy. From past experience, I know not to expect a big PLO game (it goes on Wednesdays and Fridays), but there are four $5-10 no-limit hold'em games open, so I get a seat within a half-hour. I recognize some of the other players, including one or two who have been to St. Louis, but there are plenty of unfamiliar faces, too, so I order some soup and a sandwich (which I'll eat at the table) while I sit back and do more studying than playing for awhile. There are several "weekend warriors" here, guys who come out to drink and play and have a good time with whatever recreational dollars they can afford to lose. They're the ones I try to get into hands with, and over the course of the next 4-5 hours, they're the ones who most often are coughing up lots of chips.

Since I'm going to make another five-hour drive tomorrow to finally get back home, I cash out around midnight, happy to log another winning session after the Cleveland debacle. Back at the hotel, I don't even open my laptop, but instead collapse on the bed, feeling good.

In the morning, anxious to start the last leg of this adventure, I skip breakfast altogether and hit the road early. It's the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, so there's very little traffic. I head west on I-80 again until I hit I-55, and then go south until I reach St. Louis. Along the way, I have a lengthy cellphone conversation with my daughter, who has just finished her week of freshman orientation. We share stories about our separate adventures of the last few days, and she sounds like she has a huge smile on her face.  I do, too, and am so glad to have made the trip with her. I can't wait to hear what's in store for her over the next few months as her college life begins. 

A few hours later, I turn off the highway and into our driveway. My wife greets me with a big hug as I walk through the door, talking about how empty the house felt for the last two weeks. I tell her that, while I had a good time, I'm happy to be back, and make her promise that we'll only eat at home for a few days. 

She jokes that she was just about to whip up a batch of lobby waffles.

Total Mileage over 14 days: 2,539.

Very Satisfactory Excellent Service

"I hope your meal was very satisfying."

Those words came out of the mouth of a Denny's restaurant manager who was checking up on customers and got to me just as I finished a short stack of pancakes and a glass of orange juice. That phrase "very satisfying" stuck in my head the rest of the day. I'd always thought of "satisfying" as a binary toggle switch -- either I was satisfied, or I wasn't.

But a spectrum of satisfaction does exist in a world where companies pretend to be concerned with how customers feel about their experience. And when there's a follow-up call or an online survey, they want you to give them high scores, so they prime the pump with verbal cues like "very satisfying."

In the same week, I was reminded by cashiers at three different businesses to check the bottom of the receipts for information on how to fill out an online survey about the company, which would enter me into a monthly drawing for a cash prize. The dealership that I bought a new car from several months ago still hounds me to fill out a "satisfaction survey."

This survey-mania has less to do with providing feedback or giving away cash prizes, and more to do with adding as many Americans as possible to the giant database of knowledge that every corporation uses to market and target themselves to you, just as they do every time you use your loyalty card at checkout, or their website puts cookies on your computer to track where you browse to next, or you give the guy at Radio Shack your home phone number just because you bought a pack of batteries.

It must be working -- getting people to give away their opinions and information for virtually nothing -- or we wouldn't see so many companies doing it. But the truth is that most people only contact a company when they are dissatisfied. You don't call the St. Louis Bread Company to report how much you enjoyed your broccoli cheese soup and tuna sandwich. You call them when you bite into the bread and find a toe.

Not long ago, I had a problem with an internet provider and had to call its support line for assistance. When the support tech answered, she said her name was Linda (despite a heavy accent that hinted she was at a call center in Bangalore, India) and the first thing she asked me was, "How can I provide excellent service for you today?" Twenty minutes later, it was apparent that, while she could read instructions to me out of the support manual in front of her, she had no real solution to my specific problem, nor could she lessen my frustration. Nonetheless, she apologized -- and then invited me to call again when I needed excellent service in the future.

In the future? I still need excellent service in the present. Mark me down as "very unsatisfied."

Hacking The Homeland Heart

The Twitterverse has been aflame with "Homeland" fans upset about some of the plots points in Sunday's show -- Spoiler Alert! -- particularly the one about terrorist Abu Nazir hacking into Vice President Walden's pacemaker to kill him, with the help of Congressman Brody. Critics are claiming that's impossible, but they should have read this 2008 New York Times story, which is obviously where the "Homeland" writers got the idea.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

DaVinci Machines

Two weeks ago, I took my family to the DaVinci Machines Exhibition, which has just opened in St. Louis. I was so impressed that I asked one of the curators, John Rodgers, to join me on KTRS to talk about it.

We discussed many of the remarkable ideas Leonardo DaVinci conceived, from the parachute to the airplane to the helicopter (400 years before the Wright Brothers) to armored vehicles and other military machines to the first autopsies, in which he sketched the earliest maps of the interior of the human body. I also asked John about the Mona Lisa and some of the nonsense in Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code."

The exhibition is worth a visit, and you'll enjoy the conversation, too. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!