If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poker Stories: The Borrower

Over the years, I have compiled a slew of stories from poker games I've played in, and several friends have suggested that I write them down and share them on this site. I promise that all of them are real, although I have changed the names of the participants because I'm not out to embarrass anyone.

I also promise that I won't post any bad beat stories, which I refuse to tell because they all sound the same after awhile ("...and he hits a two-outer on the river for all my chips!"). If you want those, go spend five minutes near the door of any poker tournament and listen to players who have just busted. At the end of those five minutes, you'll understand why bad beat stories are the bane of the poker world.

There won't be any pattern or any moral to these tales, but one or two of them may show up in a movie soon. A couple of years ago, a pair of writers/directors came through St. Louis and asked me to show them around a local poker room and share some stories they could incorporate into a script they were writing. To my knowledge, they're still in pre-production, and I don't know if they'll use anything I told them. But meanwhile...

Let's start with The Borrower.

Every poker room has a guy like Kenny. He loves to play poker, and could be good at it, but he takes too many risks, so even when he does build up a stack of chips, he usually loses them on bad plays or long shots. Worse, he's often not playing with his own bankroll. Kenny had borrowed so much money from so many people that he was singularly responsible for many of the other players in the town no longer lending money to other players.

On the day in question, Kenny came into the poker room with a grand total of $60. He sat down in a $3-6 limit hold'em game, the lowest stakes game in the room. It didn't take long for him to win $40 and change tables, moving to a $1-2 no-limit hold'em game, where the minimum buy-in was $100. Very quickly, he became involved in a hand where he had all of his chips in the pot -- and won, doubling his stack to $200. That was enough for him to move to a $2-5 no-limit hold'em game where my friend Dave and I happened to be playing.

Dave and I had both loaned Kenny money on multiple occasions, so having him at the table was a double-edged sword. There was a better-than-average chance that he'd end up losing that $200, hopefully to us, but we were secretly hoping he'd win several hands from other players so we could get back some of what we'd stupidly lent him.

Sure enough, Kenny was on a roll. He moved all-in a few times and won them all. In less than an hour, he had a thousand dollars in front of him. Naturally, for Kenny, that meant leaving the table and moving to the far corner where the biggest game in the room was played. It was a $5-10 pot-limit Omaha game with a minimum buy-in of, yes, $1,000, but no maximum -- and a group of very good players with very deep stacks. They all perked up and smiled as Kenny approached.

Dave and I looked at each other and shook our heads, expecting to see those sharks chew Kenny up and spit him out so fast he wouldn't know what hit him. To our surprise, he stayed in that seat and his chip stack continued to grow. After another hour, Dave got up and walked over to say hello to the other players and see how Kenny was doing. When he saw that Kenny had at least $3,000 in front of him, Dave leaned down and said quietly so the rest of the table couldn't hear, "Kenny, you're having a good day, but you owe money to a lot of us, so why don't you cash out, pay us back, and keep the rest for next time?"

Kenny looked up at Dave and said, "You're right. Tell you what, I'll just play a couple more hands until the big blind gets to me, and then I'll get up." Dave nodded, then wound his way back to our table to report to me what was going on.

But before he got back to his seat, he heard Kenny say behind him, "I'm all in!"

Dave's jaw dropped in disbelief. He didn't have to turn around to know what happened next. Kenny lost the hand and all of those chips that had been piled up in front of him moments before. Broke again, Kenny shrugged, got up, and walked out of the poker room.

When Dave told me what had transpired, I told him that, in Kenny's mind, going home empty-handed didn't mean he'd lost $3,000. He would consider his losses to be a mere $60, since that's what he started the day with.

And we both knew he'd be back soon.

Brain Deception

The History Channel -- which spent years showing nothing but documentaries about World War II -- ran a show this weekend called "Your Bleeped Up Brain," about how easily we're deceived by what we see. Naturally, they included some Hitler footage, but also included experts at deception like Professor Richard Wiseman, Ben Radford, and others. There's streaming video here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Michael Mann vs. Climate Change Deniers

Michael Mann is one of the world's leading climate researchers, as well as (as he describes himself) "the central object of attack in what some have characterized as the best-funded, most carefully-orchestrated assault on science the world has known." Those attacks come from front groups for the fossil fuel industry, right-wing politicians, and climate change deniers -- and they have been vicious. He details the attacks he's had to endure, while explaining the science behind the rise in Earth's temperature and the human causes behind it, in "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars."

He joined me on my America Weekend show to discuss what it's been like to be on the front lines of this battle. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

The Truth About GMOs

A front-page story in today's NY Times reports on efforts in Florida to save the orange industry from a disease that has been turning millions of oranges half-green. The answer seems to be to modify the DNA of the oranges to fight off the bacteria causing the disease. But as soon as you start talking about modifying the genes of an agricultural crop, the protesters come out of the woodwork, armed not with science, but with fear.

The blogosphere is already full of complaints about genetically modified organisms and Monsanto, the leading ag-biotech company in that field. But as geneticist Nina Federoff explained on my America Weekend show, there's no evidence of humans being harmed by GMOs in our food. Moreover, the practice of changing a plant's DNA has been going on for a very long time, so we have a pretty good data set that proves that GMOs have been good for the world's food supply.

Once again, it comes down to a simple question -- why do people believe everything they read online, but not the scientists who are actually making the world a better place? Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Idol Racism?

Last week, ten former "American Idol" contestants filed a lawsuit against the show's producers and sponsors, alleging the show is racist. All 10 of them made it to the Hollywood round, but were then kicked off when producers discovered that they had arrest records -- and all ten of them are black. Considering that an African-American woman named Candice Glover won the most recent season, and other black singers (e.g. Fantasia and Ruben Studdard) have also won, what's going on here?

Today on my America Weekend show, I put that question to Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood Reporter, who has written about the suit. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News 7/28/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a horse at McDonald's, a naked woman in a stair railing, and a surprise for a man in a tube. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Is Sex Addiction Real Or An Excuse?

The Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger story made headlines all week, culminating with one of his online sexting targets, Sydney Leathers, telling Jim Moret of "Inside Edition" about their relationship. Meanwhile, San Diego mayor Bob Filner, who has been accused of sexual harassment by seven women, announced that he's going into therapy for two weeks (as if that will change a man who hasn't learned how to treat women with respect after 70 years on the planet) amid calls for him to resign, even by high-ranking officials of his own party.

All of this made for a perfect prelude to my America Weekend conversation with Dr. Timothy Fong of UCLA's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic and the UCLA Addiction Medicine Clinic. Fong and his colleagues conducted a study to determine whether sex addiction is real or just an excuse men use when they're caught fooling around. You may be surprised at the findings. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Vacation Plus Thirty

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of "National Lampoon's Vacation," so I invited Beverly D'Angelo (Ellen Griswold) to join me on America Weekend to reminisce about making the movie. She revealed that the ending we saw was not the original ending they shot, how much improvisation Harold Ramis allowed the cast (which also included Chevy Chase, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Christie Brinkley, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Eddie Bracken) to do on the set, and how "Vacation" launched the screenwriting career of John Hughes.

We did not delve into the lesser-quality "Vacation" sequels, but since D'Angelo also played Babs Miller on "Entourage," I asked her about rumors that there will be a big-screen movie from the show, and talked about another of her upcoming projects, "Bounty Killer." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harriet Hall, The SkepDoc

Harriet Hall is a former Air Force flight surgeon and retired family physician who is known as The SkepDoc. She and her colleagues at Science-Based Medicine have been debunking medical nonsense (e.g. homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc.) for years and have compiled some of their best columns into a series of e-books that sell for about five bucks apiece.

I ran into Harriet at James Randi's Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and invited her to join me on America Weekend, which she did this morning. The first thing I asked her about was a recent report from the CDC that the use of the anti-HPV vaccine has stalled, and only half of the women and girls who should be vaccinated have been. She countered some of the objections to the vaccine and explained why it's important that we get those numbers up to protect more people (boys should be vaccinated, too). We also discussed a recent book by a home-birth proponent that is nothing more than old-fashioned doctor-bashing, and an odd story Harriet found about acupuncture and turtles (!).

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

The Truth About Flying

Being able to get from one city to another by flying through the air is a wonderful thing -- but it's far from comfortable. And with airlines tacking on more fees all the time, it's getting more expensive, too. On my America Weekend, I discussed the trials and tribulations of airline passengers with with Mark Gerchick, former chief counsel to the FAA and senior aviation official at the Department of Transportation, whose new book is "Full, Upright, and Locked Position: Not-So-Comfortable Truths About Air Travel Today."

We talked about those unregulated fees as a profit center for the airlines, why flying is still so safe, whether the air onboard is okay to breathe, whether being a pilot or flight attendant is still a good job, and whether the FAA will soon change its mind about having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

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

Is Chromecast Worth It?

Every tech company wants to find a way to get internet content onto your TV. There are internet-ready sets that can stream movies from Netflix and Amazon or video from YouTube -- but you have to have an internet connection or a wi-fi device hooked up to them. Netflix and Apple have their own set-top boxes (Roku and Apple TV, respectively), which cost over $100/each and have sold millions. Now Google is entering the fray with Chromecast, a device that's much smaller (about the size of a thumb drive) and with a lower price point of $35. Since its introduction on Wednesday, the initial supply of Chromecast has already sold out, but is it worth it, and will it allow you to stream all of the content on your phone/tablet/laptop to that big screen in your living room?

That's what I asked Tony Bradley, a tech analyst, consultant, and contributor to Forbes, on my America Weekend show today. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/27/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a guy fighting with his ex-fiance's Marine lover, the wrong guy being choked, and another 911 butt-dialer. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 7/26/13

Since my birthday happened to fall on a Friday this year, this week's Harris Challenge has a definite birthday theme, with categories like "It Happened the Year I Was Born," "Mick Jagger Is 70," and "It's Also Their Birthday." You can play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • My radio shows are on the weekend, and the Carlos Danger story has to break on a Tuesday? Now I need Ryan Braun to sext the royal baby.
  • Damn, I didn't win the royal baby name office pool. Then again, what was I thinking choosing "Skippy" and "Hercules"?
  • I was going to pick "Zod" in the royal baby name pool, but someone else had "Neil," and I knew the odds were it would be Neil before Zod.
  • Prince Harry threw a fit today when the Queen told him that, in the royal lineage, he's right behind George's placenta. And 2 corgis.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Any second now, Donald Trump will announce that he's hired private investigators to prove that the royal baby was not born in America.
  • Today's baby announcement in London means there are now four living generations of English royalty I could not care less about.
  • Bob Greene asks if JK Rowling's mystery would've been published if it had really been written by a Robert Galbraith.
  • Just watched Dawn Porter's stunning documentary about public defenders, "Gideon's Army." Great storytelling about tough cases.
  • If you're a "How I Met Your Mother" fan (like my daughter) you have to see this video they showed at Comic-Con.
  • How the insurance industry can be a liberal's best friend.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Helen Thomas' Legacy

Helen Thomas, the White House correspondent who covered ten presidents, died this weekend. She leaves behind a legacy of asking tough questions and not just being a stenographer for whatever message the press secretary wanted the media to repeat.

In 2006, she wrote a column for The Nation about how the reporters on the White House beat (and those who cover the rest of our government) had become lap dogs, particularly in the run-up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Washington Post and New York Times aided the Bush administration in making the case for war based on phony evidence, Thomas continued to pound spokesman Scott McLellan with questions he didn't want to answer. The difference by then, she said, was that her colleagues in both print and broadcast didn't back her up by following up with similarly pointed queries:

Those were the days when I longed for ABC-TV's great Sam Donaldson to back up my questions as he always did, and I did the same for him and other daring reporters. Then I realized that the old pros, reporters whom I had known in the past, many of them around during World War II and later the Vietnam War, reporters who had some historical perspective on government deception and folly, were not around anymore.

I honestly believe that if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush Administration's war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.

It is past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may.
Read the entire "Lap Dogs Of The Press" piece by Helen Thomas here.

Picture Of The Day

The Hollywood Reporter has done a series of round table discussions recently, including this one with six TV comedy actors: Matthew Perry, Jim Parsons, Eric Stonestreet, Fred Armisen, Jake Johnson, and Adam Scott...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Aisha Tyler

Aisha Tyler is a busy woman. The actress/comedian is part of the panel on "The Talk" on CBS-TV, the new host of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" revival on The CW, and author of "Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation." You may also remember her as the only African-American with a recurring role on "Friends" -- she played Ross' girlfriend Charlie in the show's final two seasons.

Today on my America Weekend show, we talked about "Whose Line" and her own improv history, her career in stand-up, and the awkwardness of being very tall from an early age. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

History of the National Lampoon

When I was in high school, the only two pieces of mail I looked forward to receiving were birthday cards from relatives with a $5 check inside and the new issue of National Lampoon. The magazine was born just as I entered its target demographic -- teenage boys who were outgrowing Mad magazine. I devoured every issue and knew the names of its best writers: Chris Miller, Doug Kenney, Tony Hendra, and Henry Beard. I memorized the bits Christopher Guest did on the Lampoon's "Radio Dinner" record, and wished I'd been old enough to see its off-Broadway show, "Lemmings." After several years, either my taste in comedy had changed or the magazine got tired, but then its creative team made a move into movies with a little production called "National Lampoon's Animal House," and they had me again.

These days, the only time you see the National Lampoon brand name is on lame movies that show late at night on cable, with names like "National Lampoon's Dorm Daze" or "Surf Party," so a whole generation of American kids has no idea what the Lampoon could and did do.

That's why I invited Ellin Stein to join me on America Weekend today. She has written a history of the Lampoon, "That's Not Funny, That's Sick." We talked about how the magazine started, the impact it had on our culture, why the original movie concept was rejected by everyone, and how other famous names -- like John Hughes and Jeff Greenfield -- became part of Lampoon lore.

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

Why We're Losing The War On Cancer

Until I talked to Clifton Leaf, I thought scientists were making great strides in finding a cure for cancer. But Leaf, a journalist and cancer survivor, says that's not the case in his book, The Truth In Small Doses: Why We're Losing The War On Cancer and How To Win It. On my America Weekend show, I asked him where the problem lies, what should be done about it, whether groups like Race For The Cure and Livestrong are good or bad for the effort, and whether part of the problem is that we're getting better at diagnosing cancer.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/21/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a skinny dip scam, a party with a crime scene, and the wrong woman in the passenger seat. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Monster On The Cover

We have a group of people in this country I call the Professionally Angry. They wake up every day ready to be pissed off about something, anything. They infest the internet, the cable news networks, talk radio, op-ed columns -- anywhere they can spout their negative opinion.

Naturally, this week's cover of Rolling Stone, with a photo of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, set them off. Forget the fact that most of them have never read an issue of Rolling Stone, or that the same photo ran on the front page of the New York Times and other newspapers, or that there's a very well-researched piece by Janet Reitman inside the magazine. The photo alone was all that was necessary to launch the Outrage Of The Day punditry.

Since there's virtually nothing that offends me, and since I read the story and thought it offered a revealing look at Tsarnaev as the nice-guy-outside-monster-inside, I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of someone who not only lives in Boston, but works for a print publication. So, today on America Weekend, I talked with Eric Randall of Boston magazine. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jamelle Bouie on Obama and Trayvon

After President Obama's impromptu 17-minute speech about Trayvon Martin in the White House press room yesterday, I invited Jammelle Bouie (writer for The Daily Beast and The American Prospect) to join me on America Weekend to discuss it. He explained what it meant to him as an African-American man, why Obama has rarely identified with his blackness as president, and the impact his remarks will have on the topic of race in America. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Mark Leibovich, "This Town"

Mark Leibovich is making waves with his inside-Washington book, "This Town," so I invited him to talk about it on America Weekend today. He explained how DC isn't about Democrats and Republicans, it's about millionaires, and how money is at the root of everything. We talked about "outsiders" who have always promised to change Washington but never have, why the White House Correspondents Dinner represents everything that's wrong with DC, and how punditry has replaced reporting in recent years.

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

Free College Now, Pay Later

Most students who graduate college have tens of thousands of dollars in debt hanging over their heads, but the state of Oregon is developing a new system of paying for college -- attend now for free, then give the state a percentage of your income after graduation. Today on my America Weekend show, Portland State University professor Barbara Dudley, who helped develop the idea, explained how it works, how long the payments go on, and why it was easy to convince the legislature to try it. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Detroit Bankrupt City

Detroit is bankrupt, and having been there for a week about 15 years ago, I have to say it couldn't happen to a worse city. As Lydia DePillis explained on my America Weekend show, this isn't a consequence of the recession, it's a problem that's been building for decades. She explained why the rebirth of the auto industry didn't help the city, who the bankruptcy will hurt, what it means for the state of Michigan, and whether other American cities are on the verge of similar disaster. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/20/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a scratching noise inside a woman's head, a thief's saggy baggies, and a naked guy on the roof. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 7/19/13

This week, my Harris Challenge includes categories like "Not Nominated For An Emmy," "It's Your Choice Not Mine," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" You can play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • AP headline tonight: Trayvon Martin's parents shocked by verdict. In other AP news: circles are round, water is wet, wood comes from trees.
  • So proud to see that I've been nominated for an Emmy for Best Use Of A DVR To Delete Shows I Recorded But Will Never Watch.

Bill Nye Makes Climate Change Simple

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Brother Labors On

The deal in the Senate yesterday between Republicans who want to keep the filibuster rules intact and Democrats who want to confirm some of Obama's nominees will have a direct impact on my brother, Seth.

As I've mentioned on this site and on the air, Seth was the deputy to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during Obama's first term. Shortly after the president was re-inaugurated in January, Solis resigned, and Seth was named Acting Secretary. That not only meant moving into the big office, but also that he got a security detail because he was officially in the presidential line of succession. There are ten others ahead of him, so the chances of Seth becoming Commander In Chief are very thin -- but, as he has said, if you ever see him on TV telling the country that everything is okay, well, everything is not okay.

Several months ago, Obama nominated Justice Department lawyer Tom Perez as his new Labor Secretary, but Republicans blocked the nomination by refusing to vote on it and threatening a filibuster. That's been a common tactic of the GOP throughout this administration -- getting in the way instead of leading. So, while Perez has been on the sidelines, Seth has continued in the job. He has been very busy and done a masterful job traveling the country to meet workers and employers, hosting forums on raising the minimum wage, pushing for immigration reform, and doing hundreds of radio interviews every time new jobs numbers are reported.

With the new filibuster deal, that will all end soon, possibly by the end of the week, as Perez is one of the nominees the Republicans have agreed to confirm. Meanwhile, Seth is in Russia at a G-20 economic conference. I e-mailed him this morning that I hope the Perez confirmation doesn't go through so quickly that he's abandoned in the Moscow airport with Edward Snowden.

Friends have asked why Obama didn't give the Labor Secretary job to Seth in the first place. I joked that his not being a Latino worked against him, although there are other reasons much more complex. However, I'm sure that the fact that he has me for a brother hasn't helped. Once the FBI started vetting him, they came across my broadcasting career, and before long, I was my brother's glass ceiling.

When Perez does take over officially, Seth will move back into the second-largest office at the Labor Department headquarters in DC and resume his job as Deputy Secretary, where he is effectively the Chief Operating Officer of an organization with 17,000 employees.

And I'll still be proud of him.

Update 7/18/13 2:44pm...The Senate voted 54-46 to confirm Tom Perez as Labor Secretary today. And Seth is still in Moscow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Jenny McCarthy's Dangerous View

Barbara Walters would never hire a co-host for "The View" who advocated that:

  • American women should be forced to wear burqas in public;
  • The government round up all redheads and put them in concentration camps;
  • Garage door openers cause cancer.
It would be irresponsible to give a national television platform to someone that ignorant, intolerant, and idiotic. And yet, Walters has just hired anti-vaccination activist Jenny McCarthy for her show.

That's dangerous, for reasons I have discussed many times on this blog. This is not a matter of a difference of opinion. McCarthy is absolutely wrong, basing her claims on fraudulent research results that have long been debunked. The truth is that there is zero evidence that vaccines cause danger, but plenty of evidence that telling people not to vaccinate their kids can cost lives.

Time's television critic, James Poniewozik, has written on this subject, so I invited him to join me to discuss Walters and McCarthy on KTRS/St. Louis this morning. As he pointed out, even if she never talks about vaccines on "The View," this hiring will be legitimize McCarthy in the eyes of the audience. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sexiness In The Cyber Age

On KTRS/St. Louis today, I talked with Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, director of "Sexy Baby," an intriguing documentary about coming of age in the digital era, sexting, the prevalence of pornography, and the impact on girls and women -- in particular 12-year-old Winnifred, 22-year-old Laura, and 32-year old Nichole.

Winnifred is the most fascinating of the three. As she becomes a teenager, she's fully aware of the sexual content available online but insists she never looks at it. At the same time, we see her and a friend singing pop and rap songs with raunchy lyrics and videos without giving them a second thought, and dressing up in barely-appropriate clothing to attend a Lady Gaga concert. She considers her generation "the pioneers" in dealing with the proliferation of porn.

Laura is an assistant teacher who wants to look like a porn star, because her last boyfriend watched lots of porn and that's what she thinks guys want. "Sexy Baby" shows her going to a plastic surgeon for a labiaplasty in which her genitals will be surgically altered to make them "more appealing."

Nichole and her husband are former porn stars (she was known as Nakita Cash) who have been deeply involved in that life for years and remain connected to it by booking adult movie stars to perform in strip clubs -- she even performed a pole dance routine on "America's Got Talent." She is open about her exhibitionism, why porn sex is not love-making, and why she's done what she's done.

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

Or you can watch the interview here, including some scenes from the movie...

Brett Martin on TV's Difficult Men

Tony Soprano. Walter White. Don Draper. All anti-heroes. All the central character in shows that have changed television over the last decade-and-a-half.

Brett Martin writes about these characters and the men who created them in "Difficult Men: Behind The Scenes Of A Creative Revolution." He joined me today on KTRS/St. Louis to discuss the showrunners whose singular visions have filled our screens, from antecedents like Steven Bochco and David Simon to the current generation of David Chase, Matthew Weiner, and Vince Gilligan. We also talked about why so few women fill those jobs (both in front of and behind the camera), the economics of shows on cable with smaller audiences, and the new role of Netflix and other content providers.

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Amazing Meeting's Real Hero

I spent the weekend in Las Vegas with my daughter at The Amazing Meeting, an annual conference of skeptics, scientists, magicians, and other rational thinkers, presented by the James Randi Educational Foundation. This was my eighth TAM, and one of the best, thanks to a lineup of speakers that included Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer, climate scientist Michael Mann, Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics society (who forced the Power Balance scammers out of that continent), Daniel Ariely on cheating and lying, and a keynote address by Randi himself.

Among that stellar group, the most impressive was Sanal Edamaruku. I was honored to spend a few minutes talking with him Thursday evening at the TAM reception because I had spoken about him in a speech I gave at SkeptiCamp St. Louis last year:

Once in awhile, we get a victory story, like the one about Sanal Edamaruku, who heard an announcement by an Indian guru named Pandit Surender Sharma, who claimed he could kill another man with only his mind. Edamaruku stepped forward and said, “Really? Then kill me." Edamaruku is not a suicidal nutjob, he’s a skeptic, the president of the Indian Rationalist Association. Remarkably, the guru accepted the challenge. A TV channel carried the whole thing live, even preempting other programming as the showdown went on, hour after hour.

According to the Sunday Times:

"When the guru’s initial efforts failed, he accused Mr. Edamaruku of praying to gods to protect him. "No, I’m an atheist," came the response. The holy man then said he needed to conduct a ritual that could only be done at night, outdoors, and after he had slept with a woman, drunk alcohol and rubbed himself in ash. Not wanting Sharma to have any excuses for his failure, Edamaruku accompanied him to an outdoor studio, where the farce continued until midnight, when the TV station's host declared it over. In the end, of course, Edamaruku is still alive.
We don't get many opportunities to show these mystics to be the fakes they really are, so Edamaruku really hit a home run for reason with this demonstration. It's particularly important in a nation like India, where huge numbers of the poor and uneducated (and plenty of rich, smart people) fall for this sort of nonsense every day. Considering how gullible Americans are in this realm, it's even worse in a nation with nearly four times the population.
That incident four years ago was the most-watched TV show in the history of Indian television. Unfortunately, what has happened to Sanal since then isn't as amusing.

In March, 2012, there was a report of a "miraculous" dripping crucifix in Mumbai, with water dripping from the feet of a statue of Jesus. Thousands of Christians flocked to the site to collect the "holy water." Some of them drank it. Sanal went to investigate. In an interview with Slate last July, he explained what he found:
I had a close look at a nearby washroom and the connected drainage system that passed underneath the concrete base of the cross. I removed some stones from the drain and found it was blocked. I touched the walls, the base, and the cross and took some photographs for documentation. It was very simple: Water from the washroom, which had been blocked in the clogged drainage system, had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls and the base of the cross as well as into the wooden cross itself. The water came out through a nail hole and ran down over the statue's feet.
When Sanal tested it, he discovered that the "holy water" was sewage that contained a million times more E. Coli bacteria than the human body can tolerate. He did a live television broadcast to explain the real source of the "miracle" and the accompanying danger.

Did the Catholic Church thank him, inform its parishioners, and fix the plumbing? No. Instead, it attacked Sanal, accusing him of insulting religion, which is against the law in India. The bishop issued a statement saying that Sanal should be arrested and, if another prisoner killed him in jail, the Church would give one million rupees to that prisoner's family.

With a death threat like that hanging over his head, Sanal was forced into hiding for six weeks. As pressure continued to mount, he had to leave India and now lives in Finland, where he continues to run the Indian Rationalist Society from afar and make appearances via Skype for Indian media outlets, which he tells me are mostly on his side.

He has refused to apologize or bow down to the Church's demands, but he can't go home. Fortunately, he came to Vegas to share his story and received two standing ovations from the TAM crowd of over 1,100 people who recognized that Sanal has put his life on the line for the very concepts that The Amazing Meeting is about.

I consider James Randi one of my heroes. On Saturday at TAM, he said that Sanal was one of his. That's the highest praise I can think of for a skeptical activist, and wish that more people knew about the continuing work of both these men -- and many others like them.

Blaming The Messenger

Asiana airlines is suing the San Francisco TV station that mistakenly reported the names of the pilots of flight 214 as "Sum Ting Wong," "Wi Tu Lo," "Bang Ding Ow," and "Ho Lee Fuk" (video here).

It was a stupid mistake, a prank pulled off by a summer intern at the NTSB who gave the station the information, and was aired without anyone double-checking who the source was or, apparently, reading the names out loud. The station has apologized at least twice (video here), and the NTSB has done the same, but the airline is suing, claiming that the report damaged Asiana's reputation.

Um, no. What hurt the airline's reputation was their Boeing 777 crash-landing at SFO after hitting the seawall with the tail of the plane. That -- plus 24 straight hours of non-stop coverage of the carnage -- might have caused some potential passengers to re-think their choice of air carrier. But the only reputation that was damaged by the TV station's report was to its news department.

Update 7/17/13 10:33am...Asiana has decided not to pursue the lawsuit against KTVU or the NTSB. No word on whether the airline will sue the seawall at the end of the SFO runway, however.

Strange Justice

I don't have much to say about the George Zimmerman trial or its outcome, because I refuse to get sucked into cases like this (or Jodi Arias) that have nothing to do with the lives of the rest of us but somehow become fodder for over-wrought cable news coverage.

I paid no attention to the testimony, the analysis, or anything else. But I can't help but wonder what's wrong with the people who are in no way related to Zimmerman yet celebrated his acquittal. Even if you think the state of Florida didn't prove its case against him (or charged him incorrectly), there's still a dead teenager to think about.

I also wonder how Zimmerman's "stand your ground" defense held up, but didn't work for Marissa Alexander, who faces 20 years in prison for firing warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband. None of those shots hit anyone. No one died, yet she'll do two decades in the slammer thanks to the strange (that's putting it mildly) Florida justice system.

Malala At The UN

Here's a story that didn't get enough attention this weekend.

On Friday, Malala Yousafzi addressed the United Nations. She's the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head last October by the Taliban because she advocates for education, especially for girls. Fortunately, she was saved by some brilliant doctors and nurses, and on her 16th birthday, she took to the podium at the General Assembly and gave an inspirational speech about the importance of education and the rights of women and girls.

It's a helluva lot better than anything I did in the Model UN when I was in high school (we represented Guinea-Bissau, but the only thing I remember about that weekend at a hotel in DC was making out with Angie, a girl from Baltimore who happened to sit next to me because we were seated alphabetically by nation and her school represented Guyana). As for Malala, Davis Guggenheim, director of "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Waiting for Superman," has announced plans to make a documentary about her.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Carson's Pace and Chevy Chase

TCM is re-running classic movie-star-interview segments from "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" on Monday nights this month. Last night's guest list included Charlton Heston, Tony Curtis, Doris Day, Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase. Several things struck me as I watched them.

Unlike today's late night hosts, Carson wasn't in a hurry to get his guests to tell some story they'd prepared in a pre-interview with one of his producers. While he was happy to help them plug their book or movie, he made it a conversation rather than a promotional setup. Carson talked to Doris Day about porn and her virginal image, to Charlton Heston about working with Cecil B. DeMille on "The Ten Commandments," to Tony Curtis about fathering six kids with three wives, and to Steve Martin about each of them starting out as a magician. In each instance, Carson took his time, giving the show a pace remarkably different than anything on TV today, where nothing unplanned ever occurs.

Carson and Chase had an interesting history. During their conversation that night in 1986, Carson mentioned that Chase had recently filled in for him as a guest host and asked how it went. Chase said it was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, and laughed in remembering that there was time when lots of people had predicted he'd take over "The Tonight Show" from Carson.

That was in 1976, when Chase had exploded in TV popularity on the first season of "Saturday Night Live," then left the show to pursue a movie career. At the time, amid all the speculation, an interviewer asked Chase if he wanted Carson's job, and Chase reportedly answered something to the effect that he'd be bored sitting there every night telling jokes and interviewing dumb starlets, implying that the job was below his talent level. The reply from Carson (who was not a big fan of "SNL") was "Chevy Chase couldn't ad lib a fart at a baked bean dinner."

It took several years and an apology from Chase before Carson allowed him onto "The Tonight Show" to promote his movies. By the time he showed up to promote "The Three Amigos," Chevy and Johnny had become friends, and it led to an extraordinary "Tonight Show" segment.

By "extraordinary," I don't mean it was great, though it was. I mean it was out of the ordinary, in that the guests who followed Chase were movie reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Carson began their segment by asking them what they thought of Chase's movies  -- while Chase was sitting next to them on the couch. As Conan O'Brien (who introduces each Carson segment on TCM) pointed out last night:

Something like this would never happen on television today. No publicist would allow a major movie star to share the couch with two notoriously tough movie critics. This segment traces its direct lineage to early Christians being fed to the lions. 
I remember watching that night in 1986. It was both hilarious and uncomfortable to see Siskel and Ebert first praise Chase for "Fletch" and "Vacation" and then lambaste him for "Three Amigos" -- Chevy sat there and took it while Gene and Roger didn't hold back in their contempt for the movie. After several minutes Carson, while obviously enjoying the moment, realized how awkward it was and lightened the mood with a simple suggestion...

Extraordinary indeed, considering the back story, and when you consider how right Siskel and Ebert were about "The Three Amigos" -- and how Chase's movie career suffered from that point on, with nothing but lame sequels and bad ideas for the next 20+ years.

Heads-up: next Monday (7/15), TCM will air Carson interviews with Robin Williams in 1981 and Robin's hero Jonathan Winters in 1988.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Paul Offit vs. Alternative Medicine

In my continuing efforts to expose anti-scientific nonsense, I was happy to welcome Dr. Paul Offit to my America Weekend show. Dr. Offit is head of the department of infection diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and an outspoken critic of alternative homeopathy, megavitamins, dietary supplements, chiropractors, acupuncture. He has written an important book that pokes holes in the nonscientific claims of alternative medicine, "Do You Believe In Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine."

Among the topics we discussed:
  • Why Deepak Chopra and Suzanne Somers are given more credence by the public than actual medical doctors;
  • How Congress has allowed Big Pharma to sell products that promise relief they can not deliver;
  • Why labeling an item "natural" doesn't mean it's safer or works better than synthesized drugs;
  • Why anecdotal evidence about one or two people can't outweigh data involving thousands.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Also on Harris Online...

Eye In The Sky

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson has petitioned the FAA for permission to use drones to conduct surveillance. Privacy advocates see the request as a significant expansion of government keeping an eye on citizens. On my America Weekend show, I asked the Chief how he reconciles the needs of law enforcement with privacy concerns of the public, how technology has gotten ahead of the law, how drones will affect his department's "do not pursue" policy, what other cities are doing with drones, and whether he'd want them carrying weapons a la the Predator drones used by the military (which the Customs and Border Protection folks would also like to use).

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

Does Pepsi Cause Cancer?

Is that soda you're drinking giving you cancer? Charles Margulis says that it it's Pepsi, it might be. He's the communications director for the Center for Environmental Health, which says that Pepsi has not followed Coke's example in removing a cancer-causing chemical from the caramel coloring in its products nationwide. On my America Weekend show, I asked Margulis to explain what the danger is, why Pepsi hasn't followed its rival's lead, and why the FDA allows the company's soft drinks to continue to be sold. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Peter Lance, "Deal With The Devil"

Investigate reporter Peter Lance has just published his new book, "Deal With The Devil," which reveals the secret relationship between the FBI and a mafia Capo that allowed him to continue his brutal career of crime without fear of retribution, because he was providing information to the government. As Lance explained on my America Weekend show, the mafia boss, Gregory Scarpa Sr., was also using information he got from the FBI to further his criminal empire. Not only that, Lance claims that Scarpa walked away from more than four dozen murders he committed or ordered during his 30-year association with the bureau.

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

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Will Durst, BoomeRaging

Will Durst, one of America's top touring comedians, has appeared on my radio shows many times over the years, so I was happy to welcome him to America Weekend today to discuss his new one-man show, "BoomeRaging: From LSD to OMG." The conversation ranged from July 4th fireworks to gay marriage to Congress and much more. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Mob Museum

Last November, I wrote about visiting The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, a building full of terrific exhibits about the men who built the town, the impact of organized crime there and elsewhere in America, and the law enforcement agents who tried to capture or kill them fought it. On my America Weekend show, I talked with Jonathan Ullman, executive director of The Mob Museum, about the mob's Vegas history, whether vestiges of those days still exist, and the story of one amazing undercover cop who I'd never heard of until visiting the museum (Jack Falcone, who should be as famous as Donnie Brasco).

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/7/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a hog-tied burglar, lizard in a sack, and a woman in a collection bin. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Faces Never Forgotten

In 1979, Jan Scruggs conceived of a memorial in Washington, DC, to honor the 58,000 American soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. That memorial was dedicated in 1982 and has been visited by millions of people each year since. Anyone who has been to The Wall knows the emotion that overwhelms its visitors. Three decades later, Scruggs continues to add to the memorial area, including a new education center near The Wall, as well as a database of photos of those war dead called Faces Never Forgotten.

I talked it over with him on my America Weekend show. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Carnival's New CEO

A couple of weeks ago, not long after his NBA team, the Miami Heat, won its second consecutive championship, Micky Arison stepped down as CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, the company started by his father Ted in 1972. The new CEO is Arnold Donald, who has been on the board of Carnival for 12 years and managed several other companies, including Equal, the artificial sweetener. He takes over a company that’s had some image problems this year because of incidents like the Carnival Triumph being stranded at sea for four days earlier this year. Today on America Weekend, I asked Donald how he's going to right the company's ship.

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