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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homeopathic Exploitation

After reading Susan Perry's MinnPost column about how homeopaths are exploiting the world's most vulnerable people, I invited her onto my America Weekend show to explain why spreading such pseudo-science and non-medicine to the developing world is harmful.

She talked about groups like Homeopaths Without Borders, who have taught earthquake victims in Haiti to use their ineffective products to "cure" diseases like malaria, typhoid, and urinary infections. She also explained why homeopathic "remedies" don't work -- despite the tens of millions of dollars spent on them -- and the danger they present not just in the United States, but worldwide.

One of my favorite stories about homeopathic products is from one of James Randi's speeches on the subject. He began by consuming a large number of homeopathic sleeping pills. If they had been real medicine, the combined over-dosage would have made him extremely sick, if not dead. But since they're nothing more than sugar pills, he didn't even get drowsy.

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

Sexual Assault In The Military

Earlier this year, the Pentagon released a report on sexual harassment and assault in the military which revealed more than 26,000 incidents. Very few of them have been prosecuted, and when they are, they're not handled in courts, but through military Article 32 hearings in which the victims seem to the ones on trial. On my America Weekend show, I talked this over with Miranda Petersen of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, who explained how the system doesn't work, how Congress should change it, and how both genders are affected by this ongoing problem.

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

Same Sex, Different Laws

There have been several legal stories regarding gay marriage recently, so I called upon attorney Angela Giampolo to offer some analysis on my America Weekend show. We touched on:

  • a New Jersey judge ruling that the Supreme Court's DOMA decision and the state's own constitution don't prohibit same-sex marriage, even though Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed a bill passed by the state legislature;
  • the continuing fight in Pennsylvania after a local official began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and a state court ruled them invalid;
  • similar efforts in New Mexico by local officials in more than 30 counties;
  • Exxon Mobil offering benefits to same-sex couples who have legally married.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/29/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a woman who ran too far, burglars in the wrong store, and animals scared of human clothing. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Who Needs A Conductor?

The team from Improv Everywhere put a Carnegie Hall orchestra on the street in New York with an empty podium, and let random people get up to wield the baton. The results...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Andrew Bacevich, "Breach Of Trust"

Andrew Bacevich knows about war, having fought in Vietnam and serving as an officer for 23 years before retiring as a Colonel. He was on my America Weekend show today to talk about his new book, "Breach Of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country." He explained why it's not enough to say "support the troops" or "thanks for your service" and the difference between our current professional military and the draftees he went to war with. I also asked him how much of the hawkish push towards armed conflict comes from those with ties to military-industrial profiteers.

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

Saving Children, Every Year

Melinda Gates says it's the best statistic he sees every year -- the number of children dying keeps dropping, thanks to the work of UNICEF and other organizations. How do they do it, what are the obstacles to saving kids in developing countries, and how can the numbers go even lower? On my America Weekend show, I asked Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the US Fund for UNICEF, and author of "I Believe In Zero: Learning From The World's Children."

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

Note: on the air I credited the remark about the best statistic to Bill Gates, but it was his wife Melinda who wrote the blog entry I referred to.

Teaching Football and Character

In a small Utah town, where high school football rules, head coach Matt Labrum didn't like what he was hearing about some of his players. They weren't getting good enough grades, they were bullying other students, and disrespecting their teachers. So, he told all 41 players to turn in their jerseys because the entire team was suspended, and they couldn't play again until they changed their ways and earned their way back.

After hearing a small part of the coach's character lesson, I asked Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson, who has been covering the story to come on my America Weekend show to flesh it out, right through last night's game, where most (but not all) of the players returned to the field -- and even some of the kids who were bullied praised what the coach had done.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Making Online Revenge Illegal

A man meets a woman, they get intimate, and she allows him to take a nude picture of herself. Or maybe she sexts him a naked selfie. Then, the couple breaks up, and he's not happy, so he posts that photo on a revenge website. Can she go to the cops?

As of this week, the answer is yes in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown just signed legislation making it a criminal offense. So, on my America Weekend show, I called upon UCLA law professor and First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh to explain whether the law is constitutional, whether other states or the federal government are considering similar laws, and why it's different when your clothes are off.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/28/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include fighting TV weathermen, a nose on a forehead, and the wrong house demolished. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Heisenberg's Favorite Podcast

Before you watch the "Breaking Bad" series finale tomorrow night, check out my interview with the show's science adviser, Donna Nelson (as heard last month on my America Weekend show).

While we're on the subject, here's the animated version of Badger's Star Trek script by Matt Czap...

Harris Challenge 9/27/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "TV Anti-Heroes Before Walter White," "This Week Around The Globe," and "The Unique States." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • What's the difference between Ted Cruz's stunt and a marathon roller coaster ride? One makes you want to vomit -- the other is a roller coaster ride.
  • The reality show "Hoarders" has been cancelled. All of its equipment will be piled up and kept in a small crowded room smelling of cat urine.
  • Congrats to Irv Gordon on hitting 3,000,000 miles on his '66 Volvo. Here's my interview with him as he approached the milestone.

Tim Minchin's Advice

Tim Minchin, the clever comedian/composer/musician, gave the commencement speech at his alma mater, the University of Western Australia, and offered nine important points for graduates to remember...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rubber Band Man

Who knew that a brilliant physicist like Richard Feynman could get so excited about something as trivial as rubber bands? Here he is thirty years ago in a clip from the BBC series "Fun To Imagine"...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Where's The Safe Sex?

Last night, I watched three new fall TV shows: "Blacklist," "Hostages," and "Mom." The latter two each included teenage daughters in the bathroom taking a pregnancy test, which came out positive.

Why is Hollywood so enamored of this tired plot device? I'm certain that TV writers know about contraception, but time and again, they introduce unwanted pregnancies into shows that don't need them. This, despite current teen pregnancy rates being at a 25-year low. Worse, they often have the young girl carry the child to term and then raise it, in what is usually a dysfunctional family.

Ever since Ellen Page made pregnancy cute in "Juno" and Katherine Heigl gave birth to Seth Rogen's offspring in "Knocked-Up," Hollywood has acted as if it never heard the word "abortion," let alone "condom." I'm not suggesting that TV teens adhere to an abstinence-only script, but that, in the 21st century, these girls should be on the pill (which has been available for a mere fifty years!) and the show-runners should get away from this cheap, hack plot point.

As for the three shows, the only one I'll give another shot is "Blacklist," because of James Spader's compelling performance, right out of the Anthony Hopkins/Hannibal Lecter playbook.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kathleen Madigan Again

I have been a fan of comedian Kathleen Madigan for a long time as she climbed the career ladder from comedy clubs to medium-sized venues to the 3,000-seat theaters she now fills regularly. She recently released her third stand-up special, "Madigan Again" (now streaming via Netflix), so I invited her to join me on KTRS/St. Louis to discuss why she chose Netflix over HBO and Showtime. During our extended conversation, we touched on lots of other topics, including her recent break-up with a cable company, why she won't be doing "Dancing With The Stars" or other reality TV shows, and why she hasn't become a regular on "The View."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

The Pavlov Poke

You sit down to your computer to get some work done, but before you know it, you've opened your browser and wasted an hour checking out Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Robert Morris and Dan McDuff, doctoral students at MIT, were frustrated by the constant distractions of those sites, so they built a system to keep them away.

Their invention, the Pavlov Poke, literally shocks users when they wander away from what they should be doing. On my America Weekend show, Robert explained how it worked, how effective he and Dan found it, and whether they're really putting their invention on the market. He also revealed another system they developed that involves strangers calling you to remind you to get back to work.

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

Here's the Pavlov Poke in action...

Christine Brennan Won't Say "Redskins"

Christine Brennan has been one of America's great sportswriters since her days covering the Redskins for the Washington Post in the mid-eighties. That's when I got to know her, and she's been on my radio show many times over the years. That's why my eyebrows were raised recently when she used her USA Today column to explain why she will no longer say the name of Washington's NFL team.

I invited her onto my America Weekend show to discuss her decision after all these years of using the word (thousands of times), whether she's pushing other sportswriters to follow her lead, and what she'd do about the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

What To Watch This Fall

The Emmys are over and the fall TV season is underway, with 22 new series vying for your attention, along with dozens of returning shows. Which are worth your attention? On my America Weekend show, I asked Lynette Rice, west coast TV editor for Entertainment Weekly. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/22/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a stolen tractor warranty, a very odd defense strategy, and a barn owl that missed its wedding cue. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

How Gas Prices Are Manipulated

When you see the price of gas jump up 20¢ one day, do you wonder what caused it? Was there suddenly a shortage somewhere, did a refinery blow up, was there another accident with a deep water well? Raymond Learsy says it's none of those things. Instead, the commodities expert explained on my America Weekend show that it's the speculators and the oil companies that are manipulating prices -- and the supply -- of oil, gasoline, and natural gas. Worse, the only way to change things is new legislation, and that won't happen when so much of Congress is bought and paid for by special interests like the oil industry.

Learsy has more on the subject in his book, "Ruminations on the Distortion of Oil Prices and Crony Capitalism."

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

Aaron Alexis' Mental Health Issues

Since Aaron Alexis killed a dozen people and wounded many others last Monday at the Washington Navy Yard, there have been a lot of questions, particularly about his mental health. I posed some of those questions to Rhonda C. Martin, a clinical counselor and trauma therapist, including how difficult it is for mental health professionals to know when a patient is a danger to himself and others, how many others are walking around hearing voices that tell them to do bad things, whether patients ever hear voices telling them to do good things, and why it's important to understand Alexis' history in order to treat others suffering similar symptoms -- particularly veterans.

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

Huguette Clark's Empty Mansions

Huguette Clark was so wealthy she owned several mansions and Fifth Avenue apartments -- but didn't live in any of them for decades. Bill Dedman tells the remarkable story of the copper heiress in his book, "Empty Mansions," which I discussed with him on my America Weekend show. He explained why she spent 20 years living in a hospital despite not being sick, how she was treated, and how her family had no idea where she was. We also discussed the settlement that was reached Friday after a lengthy battle over her estate, worth over $300 million.

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

Gay Athletes and the Russian Olympics

Athletes from around the world are looking forward to competing in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics early next year. But some of them must be worried, too, because Russia has passed some strong laws banning homosexuality, or any promotion thereof. How much of a distraction will that be for gay athletes?

On my America Weekend show, I asked Joe Putignano for some perspective, since he competed in state, regional, and national gymnastics championships and was on the Olympics track until he was sidelined by addiction. We discussed how gay athletes have always had to overcome prejudice, whether the US should boycott the games over Russia's stance, and what affect that country's homophobia will have on competitors.

Joe writes about his addiction, and how he overcame it to become a Cirque du Soleil performing artist and contortionist in his book, "AcrobAddict."

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/21/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a guy who hates the Olympics, a baseball player's in-game snack, and a woman who hates The Eagles. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Voices Inside My Phone

My wife and I are sticking with the iPhone 4S rather than buying the new ones (not to mention all the accessories we'd have to replace, from cords to bedside clock/chargers). However, we did download the new iOS7 operating system, which will take some time to get used to, but seems to be worth it. 

One of the options is the ability to give Siri a male or female voice. I stuck with the female voice, but my wife switched to the male voice, who quickly became her best friend. Now the four of us are planning to go on a double date -- if we can figure out the "merge your calendars" app.

Harris Challenge 9/20/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Emmy Nominees," "Really Rich Celebrity Couples," and "Questions That Don't Go Together." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Poker Stories: The Slow Roller

Another in a continuing, occasional series of poker stories I've witnessed or heard through the years. The names have been changed, but the details remain intact. You'll find more here.

In a poker game, you usually don't want to show your cards because it gives other players information about what you had and how you played. Of course, you have to show the best hand to win the pot, but if you're not sure you have the winner, you don't want to turn them over prematurely. So, there's an etiquette about when you're supposed to expose your hole cards at the end of a hand. In some casinos, the last person to bet or raise (as opposed to calling) has to show their hand first. In others, you go in order, clockwise from the dealer button.

Regardless of the rules, slow-rolling is always considered bad etiquette. Slow-rolling is the practice of having the best hand, but waiting until the losing player(s) have turned over their cards -- and then waiting, as if to add dramatic tension -- before turning over yours. Sometimes, it's done by accident, when one player isn't 100% sure they have the best hand until they peruse the other player's holdings, but some players do it on purpose, which usually draws disdain from others at the table. There are also those who make it a habit to slow-roll and thus earn a negative reputation within the poker community.

Roger is a well-known slow-roller. He's done it so often that some of his opponents -- and I admit, I'm among them -- have purposely slow-rolled him to try to teach him a lesson. But he either won't learn the lesson or doesn't care.

That's why I like this story so much.

A couple of years ago, I was playing in a main event tournament on the World Series Of Poker Circuit. On day one, I had amassed a healthy stack of chips, as had the guy on my left, an out-of-towner named Mike. He was a good player and a nice guy, so we carried on a conversation as the hours passed, but stayed out of each other's way in the game. The tournament had started at noon with several hundred entrants, and as the day progressed, some of them busted out and the tables were consolidated to fill the now-empty seats.

At about 9pm, Roger was moved to my table, but didn't get involved in a lot of hands for awhile. Then, after a half-hour, Mike raised in middle position. Another player called and Roger, who sat three seats to his left, called on the button, too. With three-way action, the flop was queen-nine-eight, with two clubs. Mike bet about two-thirds of the pot. The second player folded. Roger stared at Mike for a few seconds, then checked his cards, then looked at the board, then looked back at his cards again. I'd seen Roger do this many times, and it always meant he had a big hand. I figured he'd flopped a set of nines or eights.

I wasn't surprised when Roger put in a raise, about three times what Mike had bet. Mike, who had never played with Roger, must have thought he was making a move with a club flush draw and, to increase the pressure, Mike announced he was all-in. Roger again stared at him, looked at the board, and checked his cards once more before calling. At that point, I changed my mind about what Roger had. I was now sure he'd flopped a straight with jack-ten and was "Hollywooding" (a term meaning he was hamming it up, big-time, acting like he was trying to get as much camera time as possible -- if only the tournament were being televised).

According to WSOP rules, when one player moves all-in and another calls, they must both expose their cards before the rest of the hand is dealt. Mike turned over the ace and queen of hearts, for top pair with top kicker. Roger, who has never cared about etiquette, actually looked at his hole cards (again!) for a couple of seconds, before confirming my suspicion by turning over a jack and a ten.

Mike had more chips than Roger, so he couldn't be eliminated, but this hand was going to cripple his stack. I could see that Mike was upset -- not only about his now very small odds of winning this hand and thus going much further in the tournament, but about the way Roger had slow-rolled him.

Mike didn't say anything, but another player said to Roger, "What the hell? That's one of the worst slow-rolls I've ever seen!" The words bounced off Roger without sinking in. It wasn't the first time he'd heard them.

The dealer exposed the turn card -- an eight. Mike now had two pair, but with one card to go, he would need either another eight or queen on the river to win, giving him about an 8% chance. BOOM! Mike's face lit up with excitement when a queen fell on the river to give him a full house, beating Roger's straight. Roger stood up in shock and slunk away from the table, eliminated from the tournament.

I don't believe in nonsense like karma, but I was glad to see him go. And to know that he wasn't going to slow-roll anyone else that day.

Later that night, our table broke, and Mike and I ended up in different parts of the room. We both made it to Day 2, and though neither of us made it to the final table, we both went deep enough to cash. When I ran into him during a break on the second day, he said he'd told the story about that hand to someone at his new table, and that person had asked, "Was the guy's name Roger?"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Powerball Innumeracy

Lots of people are buying Powerball tickets today because the jackpot is once again over $400 million. One of those purchasers is a friend of mine who only jumps on the bandwagon when the numbers get huge. Yesterday, he called to warn me, "Don't bother buying a ticket, because I already have the winner!"

I wanted to tell him that everyone who buys a lottery ticket always thinks that, but instead I asked, "If in fact there was some way of knowing that you do have the winning combination of numbers, why wouldn't you want me -- and everyone else -- to buy tickets with all of the losing combinations, so that there's more money in the jackpot?" To which he replied, "Because you might pick the same numbers I did, and then we'd end up splitting it."

He's clearly a guy who doesn't understand probability (along with the overwhelming majority of people who buy lottery tickets). The odds of my picking the same numbers he picked are more than 175 million to one -- the same as him randomly picking the winners in the first place. He's also being awfully greedy. Even if he splits the prize with 7 other people, they'd each still win $50 million. Yes, it would be reduced further when he took the lump sum payout and paid all the taxes, but it would still be more than enough to make him rich for the rest of his life -- unless he ends up like so many big-money lottery winners, who don't know how to handle the financial windfall. There's a terrific documentary about some of those winners-turned-losers called "Lucky," which is on my Movies You Might Not Know list.

I actually don't object to my friend buying a lottery ticket, despite his innumeracy (a great word coined in 1988 by mathematician John Allen Paulos). He can afford the ten bucks he spends for five shots at the prize and he doesn't do it regularly. It reminds me of a story I've told before from the days when my father was a high school teacher.

He never gambled on anything in his life. One day he went into the faculty cafeteria to have lunch with a friend who was a math teacher. Let's call him Jim. They talked about all sorts of things until Jim paused for a moment and said, "I have to remember to buy a lottery ticket on the way home."

My father was stunned, and said to Jim, "I can't believe this. You're a math teacher. You have advanced degrees in mathematics, you teach a class in statistics, you know the enormous odds against you winning. With your professional background, how can you justify buying a lottery ticket?"

Jim looked my father in the eye and answered, "It's a dollar."

Previously on Harris Online...

Why Health Care Costs So Much

In less than 8 minutes, John Green of the vlogbrothers explains why health care costs in the US are so high -- an immensely complex subject that doesn't have easy answers, despite what you've heard from agenda-driven loudmouths on cable news channels and talk radio...

Hearing Voices

Why is it that when people "hear voices," those voices never tell them to do something positive? It's always "kill people," "kidnap children," or "barbecue kittens." Just once, I'd like to hear someone say the voice told them to become a doctor who performs live-saving surgeries, or volunteer at the homeless shelter, or motivate underachieving kids and get them to stay in school.

Even if it's not something quite so proactive, I'd be thrilled to hear that the voice urged something other than violence -- perhaps a successful chef saying, "I could never get the taste of this dish right, but then I heard a voice telling me to add some cinnamon."

This message brought to you by the National Association Of People Who Hear Messages From The American Cinnamon Council.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/15/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a man re-defining auto-erotic, another baggy-pants thief, and a drunk on a horse. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

All New Bets To Win

Richard Wiseman is back with more bets you can make with your friends -- and win. I'm amused by the fact that Richard is now including disclaimers about the dangers of matches and asthma. That says something about the popularity of his videos (which get millions of hits) or the demands of his attorneys. Or both...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Everything Causes Cancer

It seems like every week, there's a report about something else we eat that causes cancer. But Dr. Steven Novella of Science Based Medicine, explained on my America Weekend show that while it seems like everything causes cancer, it turns out that very little of it does, and that eating a balanced diet will give you both the good and bad ingredients, which will average out to no effect. And while we were talking about things with no effect, I also asked him about homeopathic remedies, and why stores like Walgreen's and CVS Pharmacy still put them on the shelves next to actual medicine.

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

The Smartest Kids In The World

How does the education in an American school compare to those in other countries where students achieve more? Amanda Ripley set out to find out by following three American teens who went overseas to attend school in Finland, Poland, and South Korea. She writes about them in her book, "The Smartest Kids In The World and How They Got That Way," which she discussed with me on America Weekend.

I asked her how the educational system in those nations differs from ours, what motivated these kids, what challenges they faced, how their standards for teachers vary from ours, and whether US educators are looking at those models to try to improve our schools. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Hosting Olympics Isn't Worth It

There was a lot of celebrating in Tokyo recently when it was named the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics. But that joy should have been tempered by the fact that hosting the Olympics is always a money-loser for the host city. How bad is it, why do cities still vie for the "honor," and is there anyone who profits? On my America Weekend show, I asked Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist, who has crunched the numbers and can't come up with any gold-medal reasons to want the games so much.

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

JREF In The Classroom

The James Randi Educational Foundation is expanding its efforts to teach critical thinking by offering schools -- for free -- lesson plans in skepticism. JREF president DJ Grothe joined me on America Weekend to explain the subjects covered in the new series, how difficult it is to convince schools to teach these topics, and the reaction from both teachers and students. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

How Do You Destroy Chemical Weapons?

Now that the US and Russia have agreed on a plan to gather up Syria's chemical weapons, what will they do with them? As Peter Weber of TheWeek.com explained on my America Weekend show, destroying them is a lot harder than it sounds. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Regulating Marijuana

Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana, but haven't set up the rules for who can sell it, whether it can be marketed, where you can buy it, and how to resolve the conflict between the states' laws and the federal governments restrictions on pot. I talked all this over with Mark Kleiman, who is advising Washington on these matters to come up with a smarter approach and answers to these questions.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/14/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include a flying frog, an invisible tower, and a bottle of snake wine. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Harris Challenge 9/13/13

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Big Screen Legal Eagles," "The 13th Category," and "Hey France!" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cold Water, Hot Plate

When restaurant servers re-fill the water glass, why do they always pour the water over the side of the pitcher, instead of through the spout? While I appreciate that the water I'm getting is nice and cold (which means we're not in Europe), every time they do it, I end up with more ice in my glass, even when the spout has an ice catcher. By the third re-fill, the frozen-water to liquid-water ratio has tipped so far that it's impossible for me to take a sip without having ice cubes slam into my nose.

And stop putting lemons in the water. All I want is a sip of that nice clear liquid, and now I have to make a mental note to avoid a seed that came loose and is floating around in there. If you want lemons -- or limes, or cherries, or cantaloupe -- in your water, ask for it. The default should be nothing but hydrogen and oxygen in the glass.

At the other end of the restaurant temperature spectrum, it's not necessary to tell me that the plate you're bringing me -- full of food straight from the kitchen -- is hot. Unless you're serving me on paper plates, I expect the laws of thermal conduction to apply. Besides, no matter how often you say that, we always have to touch the plate anyway. I may need to adjust its placement an inch or two one way or the other, or I may just be a guy, and that's what guys do -- test claims.

I'm sure some lawyer started this, advising a restaurateur that if his staff didn't warn customers about their plates being hot, some moron would grab onto the dinnerware until his skin blistered, and then there would be a lawsuit. If you're that worried about the litigiousness of your clientele, perhaps you'd better remind every couple that orders a bottle of wine that it contains alcohol, or warn the possibly-allergic that the pecan-pie-a-la-mode contains nuts, or that if you sit at this table, the air conditioner is going to keep blowing down your neck throughout the entire meal.

Here's how I always know the plate is hot: it wasn't poured out of a pitcher with a few dozen ice cubes.

NASA's Flying Frog

If you look carefully at this official NASA photo, you'll see the LADEE spacecraft launching on its way to the moon last Friday -- plus a frog that's a lot further off the Earth than it ever expected to be.

For a larger image, and an explanation of how it happened, click this link.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Voyager 1 just became the first artificial object to leave the solar system. Or as Apple Maps said, "approaching destination in Chicago."
  • Twitter sent out a tweet about its "confidential" filing for an IPO, proving that it knows as much about confidentiality as the NSA.
  • ABC's George Stephanopolous is promoting his "exclusive" with President Obama. That's if you don't count the other 6 TV anchors who interviewed him Monday.

Jimmy Fallon, Joking Bad

In writing yesterday about what's wrong with Arsenio Hall's new show, I mentioned that he has a long way to go to catch up to Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon in creating viral video. They are regularly producing material that Leno, Letterman, Ferguson, and Hall can't (and won't) do. The closest anyone comes to this kind of creativity in late night are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Here's proof of how high the bar has been set. Following Kimmel's fiery twerk fail ruse Monday night, Fallon fired right back last night with this extended "Breaking Bad" parody. In addition to the mandatory cameos, it's the attention to detail that makes the bit work so well...

Speaking of "Breaking Bad," AMC announced yesterday that it's going to do a spin-off series, about Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer played to perfection by Bob Odenkirk, but as a prequel (before he met Walter White and Jesse Pinkman). My advice: for that show to succeed, "Better Call Saul" must be as different from "Breaking Bad" as "Lou Grant" was from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

I'm Paying You To Prepare My Meal

I'm not enamored of restaurants that want me to prepare -- or finish preparing -- the meal. I don't mind putting my fajitas together from the various parts brought to me on a sizzling skillet and a side plate. But I won't go back to a fondue place where I'm brought a burner, a pot of water, and various cubed meats on skewers, which I then have to cook until it's done properly. If I'm doing that (and keeping track of which skewer is mine while having a conversation with my table-mates), what am I paying for?

By the way, fondue is not cooking -- it's boiling, which is a horrible way to prepare meat.

The same goes for Mongolian grills, where I'm forced to choose the ingredients for my meal from a meat-vegetable-sauce smorgasbord. Truth be told, I have no idea what spices and sauces are used to prepare my favorite Chinese dishes or what makes them so delicious, which is why I go to places where there's a chef who was trained in exactly those skills. The one time my wife and I and another couple attempted to prepare a Chinese meal in our home on New Year's Eve -- from wonton soup to two or three entrees -- it took over four hours and we didn't eat until 1am.

This rant isn't just about cooked food.

For the last several years, there's been a trend against tossing salad ingredients in a bowl. Instead of a correctly-prepared salad, I am presented with a gated community -- a lawn of lettuce topped with segregated communities of tomatoes here, cucumbers there, turkey on one side, ham on the other, bacon next door, cheese around the corner, croutons on the patio, etc. When I ask the server to ask the chef to toss the whole thing so it's well-integrated, they always look at me like the next thing I'll do is upset the whole social structure by letting Miss Jane Pittman glance at the dessert menu.

When I order a Pepsi, you don't bring me a cup of syrup and a cup of carbonated water and tell me to mix them to my liking. When I order a meal, I expect more than just a group of ingredients. If it's a hot meal, I want you to cook it. If it's a salad or sandwich, I want you to put it together. That's why we have restaurants -- because we're too lazy or inept to do it ourselves.

Maybe my response should be that when they bring me the check, I'll give them random digits of my credit card number, and make them figure out the correct order so they can get paid.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Here's What's Wrong With Arsenio

I want to like Arsenio Hall. He can be personable and funny, but his return to late night television is already disappointing. I try not to judge anyone on the basis of their debut, so I've waited until seeing two of Arsenio's new shows to arrive at the conclusion that it's not working.

Actually, it would probably have been fair to judge him after Monday night alone, considering this wasn't his first late night dance -- the guy did the job for five years (1989-94) and hasn't changed the formula one bit. That's the problem. Moreover, the writing has been incredibly lame, which is bad news for a staff that had weeks to work up some special material for Arsenio's re-premiere.

The late night landscape is different than what it was when he went off the air 19 years ago. There are now so many shows on so many networks that Arsenio has to be truly great to get people to tune away from the others. I find myself deciding which shows to watch -- scratch the word "watch" and replace it with "record" -- based not on who the hosts are, but who the guests are, and Arsenio's staff will have to book some very interesting people to sit in his cushy chairs to get me to set the DVR for his hour. It's not enough to be yet another host with yet another couch and yet another house band.

He'll also have to make the show less black. I don't mean that I won't watch a black host and/or black guests. But Arsenio seems to be going out of his way to make his new show race-oriented, and not in a good way. Monday night in his monologue, he joked that only a black man would not show up for work for 19 years and still expect his job to be waiting for him when he comes back. Not only is that not funny, but why would he want to perpetuate that stereotype? On his second night, he ran a recorded piece where he went around the office checking to see if every staff member had enough "soul," and if they came off as too white, they were "fired." Also not funny.

For Arsenio to succeed in syndication, he'll need a broad audience of both black and white viewers. If he alienates the latter, he'll have no chance. Ellen DeGeneres did not get to be as popular as she is by making her lesbianism the ongoing theme of her talk show. George Lopez didn't do Latino stereotype jokes every night (actually, he did, which is one of the reasons his show is no longer on the air).

Arsenio also has to recognize that:
  • no one cares that he's friends with Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson;
  • what he did on TV 19 years ago is irrelevant today;
  • a "surprise" appearance by Paula Abdul does not qualify as a "big get";
  • Chris Tucker doesn't get booked on other shows not because he's black, but because he's a terrible guest;
  • bad prop comedy (like his opening night bit about items from his 1994 time capsule) is better left in the hands of Carrot Top;
  • sitting with Snoop Dog/Lion/Giraffe and making pot jokes has not only gotten old, but has been done to death when Snoop appeared with Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon -- multiple times.
Those two names bring up another point. Both Jimmys (Jimmies?) understand the value of social media and incorporate it into their shows almost every night. Witness Monday's reveal of Kimmel's fiery twerk fail viral video that pranked the entire internet, or Fallon's musical-parody segments that get tons of exposure on YouTube. Arsenio seems to be making no effort in that regard -- a critical error for a modern TV talk show.

One last point, and it's about Arsenio's competition. While it's standard procedure for talk shows to feature celebs promoting shows on other networks, it seemed odd to me that David Letterman had Arsenio as his prime guest last Friday and that Jay Leno appeared in the opening sketch on Arsenio's first show! This is their direct competition -- why would they help him draw viewers away from their own shows?

This is so alien to me because it would never occur in my medium, radio. In all the years on the air, I've never considered interviewing the new morning guy on Z107 or the new afternoon team on Buzz Radio. Hell, I can't even get promotion from the radio stations my own show is on!

The only time I've done anything close to that was in the late eighties, when I was the morning man on WCXR, the classic rock station in Washington, DC. The Hard Rock Cafe was about to open a franchise downtown, and they invited me and my team to do our show from that venue. Someone with a sense of humor also invited Dennis Owens, the legendary morning guy at WGMS, the classical music station, to do his show from there on the same day.

He agreed, then called me with a suggestion: I should wear a tuxedo, and he would wear a leather biker's jacket and jeans. Though I'd never spoken to Dennis before, I thought it was a terrific idea, and we both had a great time that morning on our respective shows, and in a couple of crossover segments where we appeared on each other's show for a few minutes. Dennis made me introduce a concerto by some hard-to-pronounce Russian composer (nailed it!) and I had him talk about the lasting appeal of Led Zeppelin. We capped the thing off at 10am by going outside and christening the Hard Rock's new venue by smashing acoustic guitars into the front wall, Pete Townshend-style.

It worked because of the juxtaposition of formats -- Dennis and I didn't play any of the same music, discuss any of the same topics, or share any of the same audience, so it wasn't like I had done a cross-promotion with a direct competitor whose audience might start listening to him instead of me.

But Arsenio, Dave, and Jay do compete directly. Maybe they agreed to it because Jay's losing "The Tonight Show" again in five months and feels no loyalty to NBC, and Dave's been around and had the clutch in for so long that he just doesn't care about much anymore.

Or maybe they're both savvy enough to recognize that Arsenio's time came and went two decades ago, and this attempt at grabbing the brass ring a second time -- in a much more crowded marketplace -- isn't much of a threat after all.

Addendum: Arsenio got a huge curiosity tune-in rating Monday night, but the numbers dropped 30% Tuesday night.

An Observation

Democratic voters rejected Anthony Weiner and Elliot Spitzer, denying them a chance to return to office after getting caught in sex scandals. Meanwhile, Republican voters have put Mark Sandord and David Vitter back on Capitol Hill. Because they're the party of morality.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I'd consider buying the iPhone 5S except I can't afford the upgrade to a new fingerprint.
  • Watching contestants in the "Million Dollar Quiz" chair, I kept expecting them to say "I'm okay to go" a la Jodie Foster in "Contact."
  • TV anchors interviewing Obama [Monday got] 7 minutes each. Or as Bill Clinton called it, "1 short question plus my lengthy wonky answer."
  • Best op-ed column of the day: Paul Krugman on "The Wonk Gap" in the GOP.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Jimmy's Fiery Twerking Ruse

It turns out that the fiery twerk fail video I described in yesterday's Knuckleheads In The News® segment was actually conceived and executed by Jimmy Kimmel and the staff of his ABC show. The woman shown twerking upside down, falling onto a glass table full of candles, and catching her leg on fire was actually stunt woman Daphne Avalon.

Kimmel revealed her -- and the ruse -- on his show tonight, explaining that the video was recorded several weeks ago, and everyone was sworn to secrecy. Since its release on YouTube a few days ago, it has received more than 9,000,000 hits -- not to mention all the replays on TV newscasts and my mention here. As Kimmel explained, it's a classic example of "don't believe everything you see and hear."

Nicely done, Jimmy! Also, nice timing in stealing some of the social media thunder on the night of Arsenio's return to late night TV.

Dan Gillmor on Liberty

Last week, I posted a piece about liberty by Dan Gillmor that I thought was the best speech on the subject I'd seen in years. Afterwards, Dan and I traded e-mails and I invited him to expand on the piece on my America Weekend show, which he did yesterday.

We discussed the balance between security and liberty, how the US has punished itself for a dozen years in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, and whether our leaders -- and we as a society -- have gone too far in restricting our liberties. I also asked him how he answers people who say, "you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide." And we talked about the media's role in exacerbating a culture of fear, especially in local TV news.

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

Dan Gillmor is director of the Knight Centre for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School Of Journalism.

She Posts Nothing About Her Daughter

Look at any parents' Facebook page or Instagram account and you'll see lots of photos of their children. Amy Webb thinks that's a bad idea.

As she explained on my America Weekend show, not only are you sharing too much about your kids, but you're exposing them to security risks and a future where their digital identity has already been determined (and can't be erased). When Webb and her husband had a child, they went to far as to make sure that the name they chose wouldn't be the same as some embarrassing domain name -- and while they're set up accounts for their daughter with most of the major online services, they have yet to post a single thing about her.

Is that too much, or is it necessary in our share-too-much world? Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Bruce Schneier On Protecting Yourself From the NSA

With more revelations about the NSA's abilities to spy on us coming out every week, I invited security expert Bruce Schneier to talk about them on my America Weekend show. We discussed:

  • the NSA's decrypting capabilities and its impact on the internet and financial institutions;
  • whether there's any way to keep our home computers and online activities from being monitored;
  • how companies are forced to give the NSA back-doors into seemingly-secure software;
  • how today's NSA is a throwback to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI of the 1950s.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Why Dictators Do What Dictators Do

Why would President Bashar Al-Assad use chemical weapons against Syrians? That's the question I posed to Alistair Smith, co-author of "The Dictator's Handbook," on my America Weekend show. We discussed what Assad's motivation was, whether it was worth risking the wrath of the US (if not the world), whether dictators can maintain power without outside help (in this case, Iran and Russia), and whether an American missile attack would change the dynamics of the civil war in Syria.

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

Sunday, September 08, 2013

In Case You Missed It -- NFL Edition

From my Twitter feed...

  • I have come to the sad conclusion that no matter how hard I work at it, I'll never be in good enough shape to be mistaken for an NFL referee.
  • Good: NFL has new rules to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits. Bad: Rams DE Quinn gets a sack, head-butts a teammate in celebration.
  • My bad day -- first the IOC reinstates wrestling as an Olympic sport instead of poker, then I wasn't chosen for the Super Bowl halftime show.
  • Just watched Steven Jackson run 50 yards for the Atlanta Falcons. I wish the Rams had a running back like that.
  • Kudos to Pam Oliver for "60 Minutes Sports" story on Mike Carey, Ed Hochuli, & other NFL refs. Nice irony in her concussion discussion, too.
  • Putin's so excited about the NFL season starting that he's showing everyone at the G-20 summit the Super Bowl ring Bob Kraft "gave" him.

Knuckleheads In The News® 9/8/13

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include drunk moose, a stork suspected of spying, and a fiery twerk fail. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Updated 9/9/13 11:39pm...It turns out that the fiery twerk fail video I described in this Knuckleheads In The News® segment was actually conceived and executed by Jimmy Kimmel and the staff of his ABC show. Click here for more details.

Live Long And Rip Off The Composer

"Star Trek" debuted on NBC 47 years ago today, and it's remarkable that the brand is still successful after all this time, considering the original show only lasted 3 years. But here's something you might not know: the theme song had lyrics! No, you've never heard them, because -- in a sleazy move -- Gene Roddenberry only wrote them to get some of the royalties.

Start School Later

A couple of weeks ago, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tweeted "let teens sleep more, start school later." Parents and teenagers all across America can relate, because we all know how bad that time of the day is for concentrating and learning, particularly when you haven't had enough rest.

On my America Weekend show, I spoke with Merry Eisner-Heidorn, legislative director for the Start School Later advocacy group. We talked about the science behind why the change would help, the results in school districts that have moved back the start of their day, and the effect on after-school sports and part-time jobs.

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