Thursday, January 31, 2013

Yarmy's Army

When I get out to Los Angeles every year or two, I always try to make time for an extended lunch or dinner with my friend Mark Evanier (read about his amazing career here), so we can catch up and trade stories about show business, politics, and everything else. There's never a lack of things to talk about, and I always learn something new.

I was out there a few weeks ago, but instead of our usual meal, Mark invited me to dine with the members of Yarmy's Army, a group of veteran comedians, writers, directors, and producers who have met regularly since 1992, when Don Adams asked them to get together for the benefit of his brother, Dick Yarmy, who was suffering from cancer. They met in the back room of a restaurant every Tuesday for quite awhile and, after Yarmy's death, continued hanging out once a month. The membership has at various times included many of the funniest oldtimers in town: Harvey Korman, Pat McCormick, Shelley Berman, Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Gary Owens, Dick Van Patten, Ronnie Schell, Howard Morris, and many others.

Through the years, too many of them have died, but the tradition continues, and since Mark is a member, he was allowed to bring me along as a guest, to meet and eat with:

  • Chuck McCann, whose local kids' TV show I watched in the 1960s in New York, still working as a voice actor for more cartoons than I can list;
  • Jack Riley, best known as Mr. Carlin on "The Bob Newhart Show";
  • Mike Preminger, comedian who appeared on virtually every daytime and late-night TV talk show, as well as warm-up guy for many sitcoms, including "Welcome Back, Kotter";
  • Budd Friedman, who started the original comedy club, the Improv, in New York before taking the concept to LA, where "An Evening At The Improv" ran for 14 years on A&E;
  • Thom Sharp, whose man-on-the-street interviews have appeared in hundreds of commercials;
  • Warren Berlinger, who guest-starred on at least a half-dozen "Love American Style" episodes and virtually every sitcom of the 1970s and 1980s;
  • Pat Harrington, best known as Schneider, the building superintendent on "One Day At A Time," and one of the original cast members on Steve Allen's "Tonight Show";
  • Howard Storm, director of dozens of sitcoms, including "Mork & Mindy," "Rhoda," and "Everybody Loves Raymond."
That's only a third of the roster of guys who sat around telling stories and jokes, toasting friends no longer around, and enjoying each other's company. There were several highlights of the evening for me.

I asked Budd Friedman to verify a story I'd heard about Lily Tomlin's very first night at the Improv, when she showed up in a limousine -- a remarkable entrance for an unknown, which she was at the time. He explained that she had gone to a Broadway theater, approached a limo driver who was just sitting there while his clients were inside the theater, and paid him five bucks to drive her two blocks to the Improv so she could seem like a big shot and impress the boss. It worked. She caught Budd's eye and he put her onstage, where she was enough of a hit that he used her regularly after that.

When Thom Sharp learned that I live in St. Louis, he told me a few stories about doing commercials for Southwest Bank and other clients here, explaining that it was much easier to shoot on our streets than in bigger cities because the people weren't jaded about appearing on camera.

Mike Preminger told me about his years doing audience warm-up for several sitcoms and variety shows, including two that Mark worked on as a writer -- "Welcome Back Kotter" (a huge success) and "Pink Lady and Jeff" (a huge bomb). The latter didn't work because Pink Lady was a singing duo of Japanese women who spoke almost no English. They would do a couple of songs and some sketches with co-star Jeff Altman and whichever guest star had been convinced to join the show that week, but because Pink Lady had trouble overcoming the language barrier (they learned their lines phonetically), each taping took much longer than other TV shows, and it was up to Mike to keep the studio audience entertained between re-takes. He told me it was the hardest he ever worked, and what happened on the stage was often painful to watch, so no one was surprised when NBC yanked it after just six episodes.

I was very happy Mark invited me to join him in the back room of that Chinese restaurant among these comedy veterans, who represented a combined thousand years of showbiz experience or more. Here's to all of them.

Picture Of The Day: What The What?

With the series finale of "30 Rock" airing tonight on NBC, here's a mashup of some of the expressions Tina Fey's character has made famous over the last seven years...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Virginia Is Only For Some Lovers

When we moved to Virginia in 1986 so I could host a morning show on WCXR/Washington, we didn't have a place to live and Martha didn't have a job yet. The station put us up in a hotel for a couple of weeks, and while I went to work, she went to find a nice apartment for us.

On the second day, she told me to meet her to look at a place in a nice complex of mid-rise apartment buildings about a ten minute drive from the studios. When I got there, she had an odd look on her face. She asked me sarcastically, "You know that the state slogan here is Virginia Is For Lovers? Apparently, it doesn't apply to us."

She'd been talking with the rental agent, who had learned that we weren't married, and refused to rent us a one-bedroom apartment. The agent said it wasn't his decision, but due to a Virginia state law which made it illegal for consenting adults of different genders to cohabitate. We had never heard of anything so ridiculous, especially since we'd been living together for 3 years and never had a problem getting a place, even as we moved to 3 different states -- Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.

As a joke, I asked with a smirk, "Can you rent us a two-bedroom apartment?" The rental agent didn't smile or pause before responding, "Sure, but it'll be $10/month more." Martha asked, "Are you kidding?" He replied, "No. And we have one vacant right now. Wanna see it?"

We did, we liked it, and we moved in a few days later. No one said a word about us having two bedrooms but only one bed. As long as the landlord could feign ignorance of our sleeping geography, we weren't breaking the law -- a law that had been passed 100 years earlier, probably by the same kind of people who scream about wanting "smaller government" while insisting on the state sticking its nose into our bedrooms today.

However, that wasn't the only obstacle we had to overcome to rent that apartment. To prove that we weren't "living in sin," the landlord required us both to have a paycheck, even though my income easily covered the expense. Martha explained that she hadn't had time to even look for a job yet, because we agreed we needed a place to live first. The agent apologized, but said that was the rule.

We really liked this apartment, so while I went back to the hotel to prepare for the next day's show, she drove to a nearby Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, which had a Help Wanted sign in the window. She went in, spoke to the manager, and was hired on the spot. Martha told him we were trying to lease an apartment, and would it be okay if the rental agent called him to verify her employment. The manager agreed, so she went back to the apartment complex office, told him she'd been hired, and sat there while he called the manager. With the confirmation, we were finally allowed to sign the lease.

That's when Martha drove back to the bagel place and quit. Without ever working there. Show me an obstacle, I'll show you a woman who can figure out a way around it.

I'm reminded of all this because today's Washington Post has a story about legislation that's been introduced by state senator Adam Ebbin (who represents Alexandria, where we used to live) that would repeal that silly 19th-century law. It seems an easy argument to make, since census data shows 140,000 Virginians are cohabitating. But I'll bet that somewhere in the Commonwealth, there's a lobbyist for the two-bedroom-apartment industry ready to rise up and oppose repeal of the statute.

Hey, ten bucks a month per lease can add up!

[thanks to Josh Gilbert for the link]

City Lights

My daughter, who was born in Virginia and grew up in Missouri, is in her first year of college in New York. She is enjoying both the university experience and the city at large -- so much so that, upon returning to her dorm this weekend to start her second semester, she composed the following, which she calls City Lights (reprinted with her permission):

Why do I love New York?
Because of its sheer life. Because of its vibrancy. Because of its determination and its eternal strong will.
Because of the Statue of Liberty and Coney Island and the Arch in the Village and the Empire State Building and Broadway.
Because of the little places the tourists don't know about.
Because of the pizza, the falafel, and the bagels. Because if you want Chinese food at 4am, there is always a place that delivers.
Because of its history of suffering and pollution but also of hope and renewal.
Because of Ellis Island and the tenement museums on the Lower East Side.
Because of the graffiti in Harlem.
Because of the poets who sit in the park or on the fire escapes dreaming of wondrous things.
Because of the strange street performers who can't be found anywhere else.
Because you don't have to impress people. Because people either love you or ignore you.
Because of The Great Gatsby and Friends and Woody Allen and George Gershwin. Because of Rhapsody in Blue.
Because everyone is creative there, in different ways.
Because everyone is lonely there. Because in our loneliness we can somehow come together there.
Because everyone there is misunderstood, or feels as if they are, and because it is okay to be misunderstood there. Because being misunderstood is art there.
Because of the synthesis of solitude and connection.
Because of the poverty and the luxury.
Because of the misery and the euphoria.
Because there are always new things to discover around every corner.
Because the city never stops or ceases to amaze. Because everything is changing, all the time, everywhere. Because it is perpetually new and exciting.
Because the city absorbs the love it receives and bounces it right back out to its people. Because it enchants the world.
Because everyone romanticizes it, and because they are right to do so.
Because it is the greatest, most terrifying, most intriguing, most beautiful city in the world.
That is why I love New York.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • If you think women shouldn't serve in combat because they can't carry men much heavier than they are, read this.
  • I have never seen a reviewer attack a movie as viciously as Richard Roeper does with "Movie 43."
  • Here's what happens when you put Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, and Christopher Walken in a room with Roger Ebert.
  • 50 years ago, the Beatles weren't headliners, they were the opening act for teen pop star Helen Shapiro. Watch.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stop The Speculation

The political punditry, which prefers speculation over reporting, is already tossing around guesses about whether Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden will be the Democratic candidate for President in 2016. This nonsense went into overdrive Sunday night when President Obama appeared with Clinton on "60 Minutes" and talked about how close they were and how well they worked together during her four years as Secretary Of State.

Here's my prediction: neither Clinton nor Biden will be the party's nominee next time around. In fact, I'll guess that neither of them will even enter the primaries. By 2016, Biden will be 72 years old and spent 45 years in public office from county councilman to Senator to Vice President. At that point, Clinton will be 69 years old and been around politics for over 40 years herself, dating back to her days as a member of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry staff during the Watergate scandal, through her husband's gubernatorial years in Arkansas, to First Lady during his Presidency, and then on her own as Senator and Secretary of State.

For chrissake, let them retire! Yes, they'll have plenty of years in which to continue making contributions to our national discussions, but I'll be they'll want to do it as private citizens, without having to barnstorm the nation begging for votes and attending one rubber chicken dinner and state fair after another.

With them out of the way, who do I think the nominee will be? The field will be wide open on both sides, and we're still two years away from anyone beginning to seriously campaign for the spot. So, until then, can't we put the punditry on the back burner -- and turn the heat off -- please?

Memo To North Korea

Dear Kim Jong-Un,

Before you go telling the world you're planning to attack the United States (your "archenemy") with nuclear missiles, how about launching something that actually leaves your own peninsula first? We won't really be worried until you can make anything fly far enough that it lands in a place whose name does not include the word Korea.

One other thing. Before trying to blow up a piece of America, you might want to check with your pals in Beijing. Because they probably own it.

Sincerely,
The Guys With The Real Rockets

Loser Etiquette

There are still people taking Mitt Romney to task for not showing up at Barack Obama's second inauguration last Monday. Several news reports say it's the first time a losing candidate has skipped the inaugural since Michael Dukakis in 1989. I'm not a Romney fan, but the criticism is misguided, because there's a reason every other loser since then attended -- they were all still part of the federal government:

  • In 1993, George HW Bush was the outgoing President of the United States.
  • In 1997, Bob Dole was the outgoing Senate Majority Leader.
  • In 2001, Al Gore was the outgoing Vice President of the United States.
  • In 2005, John Kerry was still a United States Senator.
  • In 2009, John McCain was still a United States Senator.
Neither Romney nor Dukakis ever held a federal position, nor were they in office at the time of their defeat, so it was silly to expect them to show up -- particularly after the scorched-earth bad-blood politics that make up modern presidential campaigns. All the loser is required to do, really, is have the good manners to congratulate the winner on election night, and then recede to whatever position they desire.

It's like at the end of the Super Bowl, when the losing coach congratulates the winning coach in the middle of the field, but doesn't wait around to stand on the podium as the confetti falls and the Lombardi Trophy is awarded.

Welcome To Final Descent

On a flight home this afternoon, ten minutes before we landed, the lead attendant made the usual announcement about "our final descent" that included two things that always catch my ear.

One is the verb "stow" (as in "stow your tray table in the upright and locked position"), a word I have never heard used anywhere except on an airplane (the same applies to "lavatory," which even kindergarten teachers don't say anymore).

The other thing he said was, "Welcome to St. Louis" -- even though we were still 100 miles away from Lambert Airport. You can't welcome me someplace we haven't arrived yet. When a cabbie drives me to my house from the airport, he doesn't welcome me home in the middle of I-270. And since you're going to welcome me again as soon as our wheels touch the runway, what's the rush? Are you worried I'll feel unwelcome?

The only other person I know who does this is Randy Jackson on "American Idol," who continues to tell contestants who have sung well enough to earn a gold ticket, "Welcome to Hollywood!" even though they're still in Charlotte, North Carolina.  You don't want to be like Randy Jackson, do you, dawg?

This was also my fifth consecutive flight on Southwest where none of the announcements included anything humorous or distinctive. Considering this has always been part of the Southwest brand that sets it apart from its more straight-laced competitors, I wonder if it's coincidence or if corporate has made a change for the worse.

A sample of things I've heard in Southwest onboard announcements:

  • "There's a $2,500 fine for disabling the smoke detector in the bathroom, and we know you don't have that kind of money, or you'd be flying Delta!"
  • "If the oxygen masks drop down, put one over your mouth first, then choose which child has the most potential and take care of them next."
  • "Your seat cushions can be used for flotation, and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments."
  • "To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt, and if you don't know how to operate one, you probably shouldn't be out in public unsupervised."
Next time I fly, I'm going to see if the Southwest sense of humor is officially gone, by stowing my tray table on our penultimate descent and welcoming the flight attendant to the row behind me.

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/25/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a hooker who can't read signs, a woman who doesn't like having the covers pulled away, and a family connection to a convenience store robbery. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 1/25/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Disney Names You Should Know," "The World Is Wet," and "History in the Rearview Mirror." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, January 25, 2013

KTRS Friday


It's Friday, so I'll be back in The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis studio to host the 3-6pm show this afternoon. Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Grow Your Own Nose

Here's your amazing science story of the week: scientists in London are helping a man grow a new nose.

My favorite line from one of the scientists: "We've got two noses growing, just in case someone drops one." Or if the nose goes all Pinocchio on them and gets too large, I suppose.

Naturally, there are concerns about how far science can go in this regard. For instance, will they eventually be able to work backwards (i.e. start with a nose and build a man around it)? That question has already been answered, by Woody Allen...

I'm Just Asking

When it comes to women in combat, why would we not want everyone who is physically and mentally capable of doing the job to wear our uniform and go where they're needed?

How different would that discussion be if we still had the draft?

From my daughter: Is Nicki Minaj jealous of the "American Idol" contestants who can actually sing without using AutoTune?

Did the NFL's legal team really have to crush the guy who tried to trademark "Harbowl," considering he did it a year ago?

Would someone explain to the Lingerie Football League, which didn't understand the word "lingerie," that changing its name to the Legends Football League only proves it also doesn't understand the word "legends"?

What part of an almond do you squeeze to make almond milk?

Why do so many Floridians need silicone butt injections, and why would they get them from a non-doctor in a motel room

If political campaigns were financed solely by public funds, with no contributions allowed by special interest groups, wouldn't assault weapons and large ammunition magazines already be illegal?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vote For The Worst One More Time


Nine years ago, I started talking with Dave Dellaterza about his "American Idol" satire site, Vote For The Worst. He used it to try to undermine the show's process by encouraging people to cast their votes not for the best singers on "Idol," but for the worst (e.g. Sanjaya). I had such a good time with Dave that he started appearing on my show every week to take down whatever happened on the most recent "Idol."

Once Simon Cowell left "Idol," I lost the minimal interest I had in it, so Dave and I ended our conversations. But he kept Vote For The Worst going, and now, as "Idol" rolls into its 12th season, Dave has decided he's had enough and announced that he'll shut down his site in the spring, after posting several more weeks of snarky commentary about the contestants, the judges, the producers, etc. That's why I invited him to join me today on KTRS, to talk about the show's post-Cowell slump, the overhyped war of words between new judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, and whether the show has simply run its course in a world where "The Voice" and "The X Factor" mine the same territory and fan base.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/24/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a woman arrested for a 22-year-old crime, a robber who settled for some pizza and wings, and a very freaked out naked burglar. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Priest, The Handcuffs, and 911

By popular demand, here's the discussion we had yesterday on KTRS about the bizarre story of a priest in Springfield, Illinois, who called 911 late one night to ask for help getting out of a pair of handcuffs. When the cops got there, they discovered he also had a mask on his face and a gag in his mouth, but he claimed no one else had been there that evening. There are so many odd angles to this story -- including the official statement from the Diocese to parishioners -- that it took us 15 minutes to talk it out.

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

KTRS Thursday



I'll continue to fill in today on The Big 550 KTRS from 3pm to 6pm CT. Among my guests: Dave Dellaterza, the man behind Vote For The Worst, the American Idol satire site that's going to close after this season. You can listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Paula Poundstone


I'm a longtime fan of Paula Poundstone, and since she's coming to St. Louis soon (The Sheldon Concert Hall on February 9), I invited her to join me today on KTRS.

We discussed how she got started in Boston's comedy clubs, where both the comedians and the audiences were so aggressive they made it hard to succeed with her performance style, and how she traveled the country by Greyhound bus to get her early career going (and have a place to sleep). These days, she plays theaters and travels by air, so I asked how happy she was to hear that the TSA is getting rid of its backscatter security machines that allow agents to see through passengers' clothes.

I wrote on this blog last month about a NY Times profile of Jerry Seinfeld, in which he dissected a Pop Tart bit that he's been working on for a couple of years. Since Paula is well known for her Pop Tart routine (so much so that fans bring her boxes of the breakfast treats wherever she performs), I asked whether it bothered her to know that another comedian was treading on her comedic ground. As you'll hear, she was emphatic in her response.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/23/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a coupon problem for Best Buy, a TV reporter attacked by bees, and a bonus story involving Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

KTRS Wednesday


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS today 3-6pm CT. Among my guests: comedian Paula Poundstone, who is coming to The Sheldon in St. Louis on February 9th. You can listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Alan Zweibel on Lunatics & Gilda's Club

Alan Zweibel has written a lot of funny stuff over the last four decades. His TV credits include writer for the first five seasons of "Saturday Night Live," co-creator of "It's Garry Shandling's Show," and producer for "Curb Your Enthusiasm." He also co-wrote both Martin Short's and Billy Crystal's one-man shows on Broadway and won the Thurber Prize For American Humor for his 2006 novel, "The Other Shulman" (listen to our conversation about it here).

His latest novel, co-authored with Dave Barry, is "Lunatics." I discussed it with both of them when it was published last February, and now that it's out in paperback, I invited Alan to join me solo to discuss how they've updated this edition, whether it's been sold as a movie yet, and whether he'll do more co-writing with Dave or other authors.

We also talked about Gilda Radner, who Alan worked with very closely with during their "SNL" years and her Broadway show, "Gilda Live." I brought it up because of a recent controversy regarding some of the Gilda's Club cancer centers around the country that are considering dropping her name from their title because, as one of their spokeswomen explained, "young people don't know who she is." This infuriates Alan, who has done fundraisers for many of these centers, as he explained during our conversation.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/22/13


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a hit and run by a not-fully-dressed woman and an encounter between firefighters and snowballers. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

KTRS Tuesday


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS today 3-5:30pm CT. Among my guests: Alan Zweibel, co-author (with Dave Barry) of "Lunatics," which is now in paperback. You can listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/21/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include what not to do when bailing a friend out of jail, what not to do when posting an item on eBay, and what not to do while celebrating Gun Appreciation Day. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

How To Get On The Price Is Right


Ben Robinson is such a fan of "The Price Is Right" that decided to study the show and use science and logic to figure out the best way to be chosen by the producers to "Come On Down!" to contestants row and onto the stage with Drew Carey.

Today on KTRS, I asked Ben to explain what his system was, what he learned about the quirks of the system, what tips he got from former contestants, and what happened when he and his girlfriend finally got inside the "Price Is Right" studio in Los Angeles.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Read more of Ben's "Price Is Right" adventure here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Non-Political Inaugural Tweets

From my Twitter feed...

  • After Kelly Clarkson finishes singing, stay tuned for Justin Guarini's rebuttal on Fox.
  • You'll know America is truly the capital of freedom when the poem read at the inaugural begins, "There once was a woman from Nantucket..."
  • Is Beyonce the first to attempt the Inaugural Anthem/Super Bowl Halftime performance double?
  • Barack Obama was noticeably more gray today than 4 years ago, just as John Boehner was noticeably more orange.
  • Of course inauguration attendance was down today -- it's not as historic as 2009, because we've already had a black President take the oath.

KTRS Week


While Frank and the gang are on vacation in Jamaica, I'll take over their studio at The Big 550 KTRS to host the 3-6pm CT show today through Friday. You can listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • A glitch in the system makes it look like this guy has your lost cell phone, but he doesn't.
  • Media outlets reporting that this is Blue Monday, "most depressing day of the year," are ignoring the facts, as usual.
  • Let me be the first to say: I'm already sick of the Harbaugh brothers Super Bowl hype.

Heywood Banks "How I Caught My Cold"

Some sickly clever lyrics from Heywood Banks (who else has used the word "acidophilus" in a song?). This one could go viral...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tour de Psychopath

In watching the Lance Armstrong interview with Oprah Winfrey, one portion stood out to me.

It wasn't the admission that he had taken banned substances to help him win seven Tour de France titles (the second-least-surprising confession of the week, behind Jodie Foster acknowledging that she's a lesbian).

It wasn't that he had bullied people who told the truth about him or wouldn't go along with his lies.

It wasn't that he can't remember the names of the people he sued for slander and libel because there were so many.

It wasn't that with nearly everything he said, he managed to ruin his public image further by coming off as even less likable and more scummy.

It was this exchange, which revealed him to have been a psychopath -- a person with no sense of right and wrong, no remorse for doing wrong, and no qualms about cheating, because he didn't see that as wrong:

Oprah: Was it a big deal to you? Did it feel wrong?
Lance: At the time? No.
Oprah: It did not even feel wrong?
Lance: No. Scary.
Oprah: Did you feel bad about it?
Lance: No. Even scarier.
Oprah: Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?
Lance: No. Scariest.
Oprah: You did not feel that you were cheating taking banned drugs?
Lance: At the time, no.
I don't know what brought Armstrong to the point where he felt it was time to confess his sins (although it's clear he wasn't honest about everything in his sit-down with Oprah), but what stunned me was his cool lack of remorse -- not just in the past, when he was breaking the rules, but in the present tense, too.

That's the definition of a psychopath.

Bob Reno on the Manti Te'o Story


The Manti Te'o story is so bizarre -- with new elements revealed seemingly every hour -- that I called upon Bob Reno, editor/publisher of Bad Jocks (the website where Cops meets Sportscenter), to join me on KTRS to try to sort it out. We discussed the latest developments regarding the college football star, his dead fake girlfriend, the California man suspected of being behind the hoax, and Notre Dame's role in perpetuating the story. Bob finished with a very good point about Te'o and his desire for female friendship.

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

David Von Drehle's Lincoln Book


With renewed interest in Abraham Lincoln due to Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated movie, I invited David Von Drehle to join me today on KTRS to talk about his new book, "Rise To Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year."

The year in question is 1862, a time in which the country was mired in the Civil War, and the Union's victory was seriously in doubt. I asked Von Drehle how Lincoln marshaled support for the North and mobilized its forces, while dealing with the death of his son Willie, and the effect of that tragedy on his wife Mary, who was already suffering mental health issues. We also discussed how Lincoln's inspirational speeches reached Americans in a time long before radio and television, and I asked Von Drehle about the accuracy of scenes in Spielberg's film showing Lincoln riding around Washington in a horse-and-carriage with no security, police, or military guarding the President.

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

Harris Challenge 01/18/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Songs About Imaginary Girlfriends," "Other People Who Confessed To Oprah (Besides Lance Armstrong)," and "Inauguration Day Multiple Choice" -- with a very topical piece of punishment music! Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/18/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a lawyer who billed his client for sex, a police car thief, and an unsuccessful drunken robbery attempt. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead Day

Give the marketing person at the Florence Freedom minor league baseball team a lot of credit for coming up with this promotion:

On Thursday, May 23 the Freedom will be giving away the Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead to the first 1000 fans through the gates.

"This will be the best kind of bobblehead a fan could get," Freedom General Manager Josh Anderson said. "Because now fans can make the bobblehead out to be whatever they want it to be."

Yes, Freedom fans, the boxes will be empty. But that's where fan imagination can run wild and individual unique stories about what the bobblehead should really look like can begin.

To add to the imaginary fun, section 115 will be blocked and reserved only for fans to sit with their imaginary friends, girlfriends/boyfriends or spouses. There will also be a make pretend kiss cam, air guitar contest and an imaginary food fight outside the Airheads Kids Zone.
Excellent. I hope they fill every seat in the ballpark.

Where Does Livestrong's Money Go?

If you have donated money to Lance Armstrong's charity, Livestrong, you must read Bill Gifford's in-depth piece on what happens to the funds it raised:

Most people—including nearly everybody I surveyed while reporting this story—assume that Livestrong funnels large amounts of money into cancer research. Nope. The foundation gave out a total of $20 million in research grants between 1998 and 2005, the year it began phasing out its support of hard science. A note on the foundation’s website informs visitors that, as of 2010, it no longer even accepts research proposals.

Nevertheless, the notion persists that Livestrong’s main purpose is to help pay for lab research into cancer cures. In an online “60 Minutes Overtime” interview after the May broadcast, CBS anchor Scott Pelley said Armstrong’s alleged misdeeds were mitigated because “he has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research.”

Pelley isn’t alone in getting that wrong: a search of The New York Times turns up dozens of hits for “Armstrong” and “cancer research.” An Associated Press story from August 2010 described Livestrong as “one of the top 10 groups funding cancer research in the United States.” The comments section of any article about Armstrong will inevitably include messages like this one from ESPN.com: “keep raising millions for cancer research lance, and ignore the haters.” At one point, the foundation brought in a PR consultant to try and clarify the messaging, but Armstrong himself says there’s only so much they can do. “We can’t control what everybody says they’re wearing the bracelets for,” he told me.

At the same time, though, Armstrong and his supporters help perpetuate the notion that they are, in fact, helping battle cancer in the lab. “I am here to fight this disease,” he angrily told journalist Paul Kimmage at a press conference held during his 2009 comeback. In 2010, the foundation agreed to let an Australian hospital call its new research facility the Livestrong Cancer Research Center. And when I recently visited my local RadioShack, a major Armstrong sponsor, the clerk asked, “Would you like to make a donation to the Livestrong foundation to help support cancer research?”

No wonder people get confused.

KTRS Friday


It's Friday, so I'll be back in The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis studio to host the 3-6pm show this afternoon. I'll also be there all next week. Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • In the wake of the Manti Te'o story, NRA says instead of gun control, Congress should create a national database of imaginary girlfriends.
  • Kathryn Bigelow addresses "Zero Dark Thirty" torture criticism, making some of the same points I made earlier this week.
  • Inspired by Manti Te'o, Taylor Swift is already working on her new hit song about the time she was dumped by an imaginary boyfriend.
  • Nolan Dalla (again) explains the consequences of PokerStars buying a brick-and-mortar casino in Atlantic City.

Monty Python's Smarts

There's a new book containing every script from "Monty Python's Flying Circus," along with behind-the-scenes stories and interviews. In reviewing it for The Atlantic, David Free calls the Pythons "the Beatles of comedy," and talks about how their comedy could be silly but also very smart, which was one of the things that made their material so appealing to me:

The Pythons knew their stuff; when they didn’t, they read up on it. Researching the Middle Ages for Holy Grail, they learned that taunting the enemy was a common tactic in medieval sieges. So, apparently, was catapulting dead animals. Thus the completed film features Cleese’s imperishable turn as the French taunter, whose strange shouts of abuse from the battlements (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”) are followed by the flinging of the dead cow.

During the Python era, writers like Woody Allen were doing similar comedy in America: popular, slapstick stuff that unself-consciously combed history and high culture for inspiration. What a falling-off there has been since then. Most of today’s popular comedy looks willfully malnourished by comparison. It’s poor form, these days, to know more than your audience. A modern comedian’s idea of an obscure reference is to mention Mr. Miyagi, or the cantina scene in Star Wars. These allusions must be okay, because every other comedian makes them too. Not even Tina Fey can escape the pop-culture echo chamber. Her book, Bossypants, is full of arcane but reassuringly junky cultural references—to Jon from CHiPs, to the guy from Arli$$. But when Fey risks a lone literary allusion, she feels bound to qualify it with a clanging footnote: “If you get this reference to David Foster Wallace’s 1997 collection of essays, consider yourself a member of the cultural elite. Why do you hate your country and flag so much?!”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Misguided Movie Torture Critics


"Zero Dark Thirty" is a helluva movie, and I was happy to see it do big box office this weekend. But those who expect it to be all about the raid that ended in the death of Osama Bin Laden are going to be as disappointed as those who see "Flight" expecting it to be all about Denzel Washington landing a crippled plane. Both films are much more than that.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is more of a detective story, recounting the decade-long attempt to capture or kill those responsible for the attacks on 9/11, as told through the work of a single-minded CIA analyst named Maya. It is a saga well-told, and though we know how it ends -- as we did with Paul Greengrass' "United 93" and Ben Affleck's "Argo" -- director Kathryn Bigelow still has us on the edge of our seats during the suspenseful attack at the climax.

There's been some ginned-up controversy regarding the movie over early scenes that show CIA agents torturing Al Qaeda detainees in an effort to get information about terrorist activity and OBL's whereabouts. Critics of the movie claim it endorses torture and gives the false impression that the information that led to Seal Team Six getting Bin Laden came from details revealed during those torture sessions.

They're wrong -- it shows the opposite of what they claim, which makes me wonder whether those speaking out against "Zero Dark Thirty" have even bothered to see the film. It's clear from the scenes in which Jason Clarke (as good here as he was in the short-lived Fox series "Chicago Code") waterboards a prisoner that the process does not produce positive results. It's only later, when the detainee is treated better, given food and beverage, that he opens up -- and even that information is not the key factor in getting Bin Laden. The integral data is revealed when a CIA staffer discovers a long-ignored file in a cabinet, not when a suspected terrorist suddenly blurts out "Have you looked in Abbottabad?"

In 2008, I had an extended conversation with Matthew Alexander, who was the chief US interrogator in Iraq and a vocal critic of using torture to obtain information. He explained that relationship-building was the most important part of squeezing a suspect, that useful interrogation comes from brains, not brutality. I was opposed to torture on general principle before talking with Alexander, and that view was reinforced by our discussion and by Ali Soufan, the FBI's top interrogator in the Mideast, in a 2011 interview with Lara Logan on "60 Minutes." 

The scenes in "Zero Dark Thirty" marked the first time I've seen someone waterboarded,and were enough to reinforce my belief that I'd be an easy subject of torture. Simply seeing a rag placed over the detainee's face -- before the water was even applied -- made my claustrophobia kick in. If you ever want me to reveal secrets, don't bother waterboarding me. Just have a half-dozen people stand uncomfortably close to me, put me in the middle seat of a crowded jet between two fat guys, or ask me to pretend I'm Charles Bronson in one of the tunnel cave-in scenes in "The Great Escape." I'll tell you whatever you want to know.

If you really want to make me crazy, force me to listen to the criticisms from people with an agenda who haven't seen/read/heard whatever it is they're criticizing. Some do it for political purposes, others do it for publicity, still others do it because they wake up cranky at Zero Dark Thirty and get worse as each day goes along.

Worth A Link

Honest Posters For Oscar-Nominees

The folks at The Shiznit are back with "If 2013's Oscar Nominated Movie Posters Told The Truth." Here are two examples:


Monday, January 14, 2013

Missing The Monopoly Point


In Slate, Lowen Liu laments the impending change in one of America's most popular games:
The board game Monopoly will soon lose a classic token and gain a new one, by way of a public vote on Facebook. It may sound like harmless fun, but is in fact a travesty, though not for the sake of nostalgia or preservational instinct. Notice the four tokens currently winning the vote, and thus most likely to stay "safe" from elimination. They are, as of this writing, the Scottie dog, the race car, the battleship, and the top hat. What do they have in common? Accoutrements of the 1 percent. A Scottish terrier champion-line puppy may cost $1,500. A roadster, $50,000. A battleship, $100 million in mid-century dollars. The top hat is as much a sign of the filthy rich as the monocle.

And here are the four losers: the humble thimble, the laceless workboot, the iron (no electric model, this one you had to heat in a stovepipe oven), and the current bottom-feeder, the wheelbarrow. What do they have in common? Labor. Penury. The proposed replacement tokens? An anthropomorphic robot, a diamond ring, a guitar, a cat with sizeable bling on its collar, and a bleeping helicopter. Not a one of them symbolic of the laboring class.
What Liu fails to realize is that Monopoly is not, and never has been, a blue-collar game. It's raison d'etre is the acquisition of large amounts of railroads and real estate, on which you build houses and hotels until you're such a bastard of a landlord that you force your rent-paying opponent into bankruptcy and shame. Or until you're both beyond bored with playing a game that takes hours to finish (even in its "short" version), in which case the winner is declared to be whoever has the most stuff.

If Monopoly were a game about the working class, there wouldn't be a space called Luxury Tax. Or a way to get out of jail by paying a mere fifty dollars. Or a couple of hundred bucks in free income just for making it past the filthy-rich Park Place/Boardwalk neighborhood. Or where the cheapest land you can purchase is in the Mediterranean.

So go ahead, go crazy and be the top hat or the race car and live a rich-guy fantasy. And like any privileged person, be sure to bend the rules and collect $500 whenever you land on Free Parking.

Update 2/6/13: The cat wins, the iron is out.

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/14/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a man stuck in a tree, a 13-year-old driving across Europe, and a man who thinks sign language looks like gang signs. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Picture Of The Day

Friday night on "Wheel Of Fortune," a contestant had racked up $10,000 in winnings that would be hers if she could solve the puzzle. She gave her answer confidently, but blew it because she didn't know the name of one of Johnny Cash's most popular songs (and the movie bio about him). While Cash did suffer addiction problems, having the wine was never one of them...

KTRS Monday


I'm up early today to do the 6-10am show on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis. Listen live here or via the station's smartphone app.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Watching the Golden Globes, I remember my wife I discussing how, if we'd had a son, we would have named him Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • How many celebs purposely avoided Jodie Foster and Robert Downey’s table so they wouldn’t have to be talk with or be seen with Mel Gibson?
  • And the Golden Globe for Most Annoyingly Repeated Commercial goes to that Diet Pepsi spot with Sofia Vergara. Bonus: no speech permitted.
  • About to get in my Delorean, go back 30 hours, and parlay the over in all 4 NFL playoff games this weekend. Be right back with a million bucks!
  • From Roger Ebert: tips for women on how NOT to act on a date with a guy.

How Sick Is Woody Allen?

Woody Allen explains that he's not a hypochondriac, he's an alarmist -- the fundamental difference being that his maladies are real:

What distinguishes my hysteria is that at the appearance of the mildest symptom, let’s say chapped lips, I instantly leap to the conclusion that the chapped lips indicate a brain tumor. Or maybe lung cancer. In one instance I thought it was Mad Cow.

The point is, I am always certain I’ve come down with something life threatening. It matters little that few people are ever found dead of chapped lips. Every minor ache or pain sends me to a doctor’s office in need of reassurance that my latest allergy will not require a heart transplant, or that I have misdiagnosed my hives and it’s not possible for a human being to contract elm blight.

Unfortunately, my wife bears the brunt of these pathological dramas. Like the time I awoke at 3 a.m. with a spot on my neck that to me clearly had the earmarks of a melanoma. That it turned out to be a hickey was confirmed only later at the hospital after much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sitting at an ungodly hour in the emergency room where my wife tried to talk me down, I was making my way through the five stages of grief and was up to either “denial” or “bargaining” when a young resident fixed me with a rather supercilious eye and said sarcastically, “Your hickey is benign.”

But why should I live in such constant terror? I take great care of myself. I have a personal trainer who has me up to 50 push-ups a month, and combined with my knee bends and situps, I can now press the 100-pound barbell over my head with only minimal tearing of my stomach wall. I never smoke and I watch what I eat, carefully avoiding any foods that give pleasure. (Basically, I adhere to the Mediterranean diet of olive oil, nuts, figs and goat cheese, and except for the occasional impulse to become a rug salesman, it works.) In addition to yearly physicals I get all available vaccines and inoculations, making me immune to everything from Whipple’s disease to the Andromeda strain.
Read his whole piece here.

Fracking Logic

When I watch a movie, I'm willing to go along with whatever internal logic the plot requires.

Tell me an archaeologist is an expert with a whip, that's fine. Tell me a venus fly-trap has an insatiable appetite for human blood, we're good to go. Tell me a bomb will explode if the bus goes under 50mph, I'm hooked. Tell me a Delorean can be a time machine, I'm in.

It's when a movie violates its own internal logic that it loses me.

Those faults usually fall into the category of Dead/Not Dead -- "ET," who is nearly extinguished because of some earth-borne organism, but returns to life when he turns on his "heartlight," immediately healthy enough to escape, phone home, and return to space -- but sometimes the logic is in a character acting exactly the opposite of how we're told he or she would act.

In "Promised Land," the new anti-fracking movie from Matt Damon and John Krasinski, the very first scene shows us what a hotshot natural-gas salesman Matt Damon is. In fact, he's so good, that we witness a meeting with his boss in which he's likely to get a promotion to Vice President of the company. Then we see him return to the road with Frances MacDormand as his partner in convincing Pennsylvania farmers to sell the drilling rights on their farmland to Global, the big energy conglomerate that Matt and Frances represent.  However, they meet resistance in the town, mostly in the form of Hal Holbrook, an old science teacher who is concerned with what fracking does to the environment by poisoning the underground water table.

Holbrook offers his opposition at a public forum, where Damon is supposed to bowl everyone over with his brilliant oratory. But instead, this genius of a salesman crumbles at the mildest of Holbrook's objections, unable to come up with a rebuttal nor change the subject in his favor.

This is the best guy the energy company has?  From that point on, Damon is determined to win over the town, but stumbles at nearly every opportunity, seeming less like a rising star and more like a guy barely holding onto his job. We're supposed to believe he's being changed by the town, and by his too-cute friendship with a local teacher (Rosemarie Dewitt), but it's not authentic.

Nor is it original for anyone who saw the 1983 movie, "Local Hero," starring Burt Lancaster as an oil tycoon and Peter Reigert as the up-and-comer he sends to a small Scottish town to convince them to allow him to drill there. Here's the synopsis from Netflix:
In this good-natured fish-out-of-water comedy, disenchanted Texas oil tycoon Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) sets out to buy an entire Scottish town in order to drill offshore. When one curmudgeon stands in his way -- he refuses to sell his precious beach -- Happer calls off his negotiating dogs and visits the town himself to finish the deal. Of course, it's not long before the quirky, small-town vibe works its magic on this cynical outsider.
Not only is "Local Hero" a funnier, quirkier movie, it also adhered to its own internal logic.

Dry Hands, Wet Tush

I was sitting at the gate at LAX waiting for a flight home to St. Louis when a woman in her mid-twenties sat down next to me. She was carrying an oversized handbag and immediately began scrounging through it. After a couple of minutes, she turned to me and asked, "Do you have any lotion?"

I replied, "No, I'm sorry, I don't. And I have to be honest with you. I've never had any lotion."

I'm a middle-aged bald fat guy, the kind of person whose Venn diagram circle does not overlap with the lotion-carriers of the world. She seemed surprised, as though it were unthinkable that a person could get through a day without applying some kind of lotion to their skin.

When I told my daughter this story, she replied, "But Dad, you should use some on your hands, or the skin will get all cracked." I assured her that I had somehow made it through more than five decades of life without a cracked-skin problem, but she, too, was shocked at my lotion-free existence.

When I mentioned the incident on Twitter, I got two responses: "What do you expect in LA?" and "Don't you realize she was hitting on you?" I replied that, based on evidence from my entire adulthood, including recent interactions with women half my age, there was no chance of the latter being true.

Not long after, my airport seatmate asked if I would watch her carry-on bag while she went to the bathroom. I agreed, she went, and when she returned, I asked her to return the favor since I'd be boarding my flight soon. She nodded her assent.

The watch-my-bags favor is an odd situation. In order to make sure that a complete stranger doesn't steal your stuff while you're away for a few minutes, you ask a complete stranger to watch it. I don't know why we think that this particular unknown-to-us human is anymore trustworthy than the others in the terminal, but it must have to do with simple proximity. And you have to ask someone, because we've all heard those airport announcements about unattended bags being confiscated by the authorities. The last thing we want is to see pieces of our underwear tossed into the air when our suitcase is exploded by an FBI robot at the far end of the tarmac as a security precaution.

So, while Lotion Woman was watching my stuff, I went to the men's room, where I encountered one of my pet peeves -- the toilet that flushes prematurely. I was just sitting there taking care of my pre-flight business, when I moved a centimeter-and-a-half to the left to grab the toilet paper and -- whoosh! -- the auto-flush mechanism kicked in. I've encountered and written about this before (notably at the Rio in Las Vegas during the World Series Of Poker), and it's always annoying. Not only was my mission incomplete, but now my butt was wet from the premature splashing in the bowl. I know the French love this idea (thus The Bidet, an idea even less popular in the US than escargot and the metric system combined), but for me, it's a pain in the ass. I don't want to get too gross here, but suffice it to say the situation required more paper, which caused more flushing, which...you get the idea.

One thing could have made this matter even more uncomfortable, and that's if the men's room had an attendant. Here's what I wrote in 2001 about that profession (that's the wrong word, as bathroom attendant is not a position people aspire to as a career, but rather something that barely qualifies as a job):
Talk about careers that attract no attention at a Job Fair. I can’t help feel sorry for guys who have that job, as if they've been punished for losing Hell’s Lottery.

Still, I speak for all men when I say that this whole bathroom attendant concept makes us ill at ease. We don’t want some guy hovering while we drop trou, like a plainclothes cop ready to bust George Michael.

Worse, the attendant always greets you with a "Hi!" or a "How ya doin?" This catches up by surprise because it violates the First Rule Of The Men’s Room: NO TALKING!

Guys want to get in, take care of business, and get out, without any hassles and without speaking a word. I have seen heated conversations between two men come to a complete stop at the door on the way in and then resume once they left, with nary a syllable exchanged in between.

I don’t know if there’s someone serving a similar function in the ladies' room, so, as a public service, let me clue the women into what you’re missing.

In addition to his hovering responsibilities, the attendant has a display of carefully arranged toiletries for sale, from a bottle of after-shave to a hairbrush to a bowl of mints (mmm, yummy, men’s room mints!). I’d guess there’s more material sold via the aspirin-and-condom vending machine on the wall than through his countertop display, but he’s still set up to move some merchandise.

Next to it, inevitably, is the tip jar. Normally, you wouldn't even think of giving the guy any money for patrolling the poop palace. Unfortunately, he has commandeered every paper towel in the place and is holding them hostage like an American spy plane crew that’s crash-landed in China. While you may be able to wash your hands unassisted, you can’t dry them without your pal handing over a two-ply.

Is there a more disturbing level of commerce than this?
Of course, if there had been an attendant, I would have told my airport seatmate about him, because he certainly would have had lotion.

Disclaimer: Pigs Can't Fly


GEICO is running a commercial with an animated pig sitting in an airplane seat while holding a smartphone and talking about the insurance company's new app that does, well, I don't know what it does, but at one point, when the phone is turned towards the camera, a little disclaimer shows up at the bottom of your television screen: "Screen images simulated."

Evidently, someone at the insurance company, or the ad agency, or the legal department, felt they had to advise us that what we see on the screen isn't reality. While we're watching an animated pig talk to us, for which there is no disclaimer ("porcine images simulated").

The worry was that we'd see the phony phone screen image, believe it was real, download the app, discover that it doesn't look exactly like the one in the commercial, and file a lawsuit against GEICO? But they're apparently not worried about a class action case for trying to convince us that pigs can talk and fly -- in first class!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Consumer Electronics Show


My friend Perry Simon (Editor-In-Chief of Nerdist and VP/Editor at All Access) went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this week, so I invited him to join me today on KTRS to talk about some cool stuff he found there  -- including 3-D printers, 4K televisions, cars that can park themselves, and a fork that monitors how much you eat. We also discussed new dashboard entertainment systems that are changing the way you can access radio stations (and other audio sources) in your car.

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

Not The Response You're Looking For

In September, 2011, the Obama administration created We The People, a website allowing Americans to petition the federal government over issues they're concerned about, and promised an official response for any petition that acquired at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days. Some of the matters which surpassed the threshold included reducing gun violence, fixing the post office, reforming Wall Street, and legalizing marijuana.

There have also been a large number of weird-agenda petitions, with varying levels of interest -- like trying to deport Piers Morgan over his gun control comments, making Amazon add a "made in America" label to some of its products, disclosing information about extra-terrestrials, authorizing production of a reality show starring Joe Biden, and converting the US to the metric system.

But my favorite is the White House response to a petition (signed by more than 34,000 people) to "secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016." Here's the reply that was posted by Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office Of Management And Budget:

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky -- that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts -- American, Russian, and Canadian -- living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs -- one wielding a laser -- roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo -- and soon, crew -- to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Harris Challenge 01/11/13

Play along with my Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Moist Movies," "The Natural World," and "The International Page" -- with Punishment Music provided by Lance Armstrong! Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/11/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a stereo coffin, a man under the house, and an unlikely pizza-to-go order. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on the 3-6pm show today on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis, with a report on new tech stuff that was introduced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, Elvis impersonator Steve Davis on his upcoming big-screen movie debut, plus more Knuckleheads In The News® and your chance to play The Harris Challenge. Listen live here.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Out Of Pocket

I've seen all kinds of magicians in all kinds of venues, and though I've been amazed by some big stage illusions, I've always had more respect for sleight-of-hand artists who work up close. Whether they use cards or cups and balls or other props, what makes the best stand above their peers is their knowledge of how deception works -- how to make you see only what they want you to see, while they're doing something else. Their hands aren't literally quicker than your eyes, but their skill lies in steering your eyes (and brain) so you don't see what their hands are doing.

Apollo Robbins is a magician who works up close, but in a different way. He's a pickpocket, and an expert in both deception and perception, so good that he's impressed others proficient in the craft, such as Teller. There's a profile of Robbins in The New Yorker, with the accompanying video below, in which he shows author Adam Green how he does what he does.

You don't see performers like this on television very often, or if you do, it's in very small doses. Perhaps it's because picking pockets for entertainment requires the exact same set of skills as doing it criminally on the street, which can make it seem even seedier than a guy in a tuxedo producing "your card" from inside an unpeeled lemon. There's also an element of discomfort with the necessary violation of personal space. As you watch Robbins, you'll see him constantly touching his victim to not only lift the items, but also distract and manipulate...

There have been very few movies that included criminal pickpockets as part of their plots, the most famous being the 1968 musical, "Oliver," wherein Fagin's gang of boys sing and steal from passersby in London. The only two that I know that were entirely about people who lift wallets professionally are the 1959 French film, "Pickpocket," and the superior "Harry In Your Pocket," a 1973 drama about two veteran pickpockets (Walter Pidgeon and James Coburn, at his ultra-coolest) who teach the business to a young couple (Michael Sarrazin and Trish Van Devere). It was directed by Bruce Geller, who knew how to dramatize the world of confidence games after creating the original "Mission: Impossible" TV series. I keep expecting someone in Hollywood to re-make "Harry" (George Clooney would seem the perfect choice, though the character is a little too close to his Danny Ocean -- or maybe it's time for a woman in the lead role), but four decades later, no one has gotten around to it.

Here's a montage of Coburn and cohorts at work...