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

Monday, June 30, 2014

My America Weekend Finale

Three years ago, my friend Kipper McGee, who I worked with at KTRS/St. Louis and WLS/Chicago, conceived of a new radio show that would be an antidote to the brokered programming that now dominates talk radio on the weekends – personal finance shows, fix-it shows, gardening shows, travel shows, etc.

Some of it’s good, most of it isn’t, but stations put it on because they were getting a check from those hosts, and as long as the check cleared, the shows aired, even when they didn’t get ratings. That’s the opposite of the way radio had worked when Kipper and I got into it, where the people on the air were paid by the radio station, not the other way around.

His idea was to offer stations programming that was compelling and entertaining enough to attract listeners, but still allow affiliates to bring in checks from those how-to shows.

With Kipper’s America Weekend concept, stations would run those sponsors in a two- or three-minute block each quarter-hour in between the longer segments of regular talk radio programming. And he made the show modular, so stations could take as much of the show as they wanted, or break away at any point to carry a baseball game or other sporting event.

So he called me, explained the idea, and asked me to help him figure out how to make it work and be the main host on Saturdays and Sundays. At the time, I was semi-retired, but open to doing the project on a part-time basis.

Because we wouldn’t be live in most markets, we couldn’t take phone calls from listeners, so I knew we’d have to find interesting guests, but booking 2 guests an hour for 3 hours each on Saturday and Sunday meant finding 12 guests every week with interesting things to talk about. That became my biggest challenge, but with the help of a wonderful guest booker named Ann Marie Petitto -- who has spent hours every week tracking down people I wanted to talk to, and often bailing me out when someone dropped out at the last minute – we have brought nearly 700 of them to you.

Kipper also hired two other talented hosts – Turi Ryder and Rob Carson – to fill the three hours of America Weekend that followed me every Saturday and Sunday. While we worked on the programming, Kipper set up the technical side of things, renting a control room at the Clear Channel facility in Milwaukee, where engineer Terry Kegley got us set up to handle the audio from our home studios in St. Louis, Chicago, and Washington DC, and send them to the satellite uplink facility in Denver.

Kipper also hired Samantha Walker and Shannen Oesterreich to run the equipment and push all the buttons, as well as cut up the show into segments that appear as podcasts on this website. I can’t say enough about how much Sam and Shannen have made my life easier by being so good at their jobs. I wish them well as their careers continue.

Meanwhile, our syndicator, Danno Wolkoff at Envision Networks, had people in Cleveland getting the word out to the industry, lining up affiliates, and selling commercial time, and a woman named Erica Everling at Guest Services in New York lined up some people, too.

In the end, I’ve been very proud of the shows we have done for you over the last 15 months. I have regularly discussed topics from a different viewpoint than the one that makes up most shows in the politics-obsessed world of right-wing talk radio. My America Weekend show has been out front on climate change science, marriage equality, income inequality, privacy issues, the NFL concussion crisis, corruption, corporate malfeasance, and green technology. We've had guests from the rock and roll hall of fame, TV shows, movies, books, magazines, newspapers, and websites. I have talked to reporters, inventors, authors, musicians, bloggers -- and some people who are just plain weird.

Not to mention all those Knuckleheads In The News.

But the one thing Kipper and I couldn't do was change the paradigm of weekend talk radio around the country. While we grew from our original two affiliates to about 30 from Alaska to Mississippi, we kept running into a brick wall with stations that only cared about putting on programming that gave them a check that cleared, even if it hurt their ratings. I even had a top executive from one of the major radio groups tell me that, although he loved the product we were putting on the air, he’d never be able to convince his sales managers to abandon the way they've been doing weekends for the last decade.

And so, I did my last America Weekend show yesterday. I’m returning to semi-retirement, which includes my regular Friday afternoon show at The Big 550 KTRS in St. Louis, where I also fill in for some of the other hosts when they go on vacation. I’ll continue to write and rant on this website -- where you can still find thousands of my podcasts -- and you can follow me on Twitter @PaulHarrisShow.

To close, my thanks to you for listening, to the crew that helped me put this show on the air every Saturday and Sunday, to all the guests who have joined me, and to the affiliates that were willing to try something different and carry America Weekend. Also, thanks to my wife, who works a real job Monday thru Friday but still had to deal with me getting up early on Saturdays and Sundays to do this show.

Lastly, thanks to Kipper McGee, the man behind it all, for his continuing belief in me, and for the opportunity to try something new. I hope you will continue to develop new ideas and try to make better radio -– if the industry will let you.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/29/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include an odd charge from an election loser, man vs. cop car, and a bad place for a pot snack. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Seth Harris On Broken Washington

My brother Seth returned to my show today to explain the Supreme Court's recent decision on presidential recess appointments, its effect on the National Labor Relations Board, and by extension its impact on unions and working Americans. He talked about how the entire matter is yet another example of how Washington is broken and how Congress and the White House can't get anything done. That led to a discussion of Speaker John Boehner's announcement that he's going to sue President Obama, a ridiculous charge that didn't include any specifics, but rather sounded like the cheap political stunt it is.

Seth is the former Acting Secretary of Labor, now both a distinguished scholar at Cornell University and Of Counsel to the law firm Dentons.

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

Andy Dehnart's Summer Reality Update

Andy Dehnart of RealityBlurred returned to my America Weekend show today to talk about this summer's reality TV shows. I asked him if CBS' "Big Brother" was having the same problem as last year with contestants who spew racist and homophobic nonsense, and whether network head Les Moonves was aware of them (considering the host is his wife, Julie Chen). We also discussed the latest singing competition, ABC's "Rising Star," whether that whole genre has run its course, and whether Fox's "American Idol" can pull out of its tailspin. And somehow we ended up talking about the trend of reality shows with naked contestants.

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

AJ Jacobs' Global Family Reunion

AJ Jacobs is off on another adventure, this time putting together the world's largest family reunion, and you're invited. As he explained on my America Weekend show, there are genealogy sites that link him to thousands, make that millions of people on this planet through a giant family tree -- and it keeps growing. I asked him what launched this project, who he has discovered he's related to (both good and bad), and what's he's planning for June 6, 2015 in New York.

Although I may be distantly related to AJ, one thing I did not do is hit him up for money. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Read more about AJ Jacobs' Global Family Reunion here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Rick Newman On Economy And The Gas Tax

Rick Newman of Yahoo! Finance returned to my America Weekend show today to talk about a recent report saying the US economy shrank in the first quarter of this year by a couple of percentage points, after five straight years of gains. He explained what that means for American workers and businesses, and how it impacts people at the lower end of the income scale. We also discussed why it's time to raise the gas tax to bring more money into the national highway fund and repair our crumbling infrastructure.

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

Jam It In The Overhead

If you're flying this summer, you should be aware that airlines are implementing new rules for carry-on bags, and the one you've been using may no longer be allowed in the overhead compartment. As Jennifer Doncsecz of VIP Vacations explained on my America Weekend show, American, United, and Delta remain much more interested in the size of your luggage than the weight, and a lot more people are going to find themselves forced to check their suitcases and duffles (which the airlines charge for, of course). It's yet another way airlines are making traveling by air more irritating.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/28/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a trans-continental food takeout order, rush hour anxiety, and Grenada vs. Granada. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Molly Bloom, Underground Poker Organizer

For several years, Molly Bloom ran the biggest high-stakes poker game in Hollywood, with players like Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Gold, Nelly, Guy Laliberte, Gabe Kaplan, and several rich guys whose names you might not know. She ran it in secret, not because it was illegal (it wasn't), but because if word got out about where and when it was played, it would have ended -- and so would her income stream, which was quite generous.

She joined me to talk about her experiences running that underground game in LA, and later in New York, which she details in her book, "Molly's Game." We talked about Tobey Maguire's obnoxious greed, the degenerate gamblers who played and lost millions, how she chose the players, and why she wouldn't let any poker pros in the game. She also explained how she eventually got in trouble with the law, in a case that was just resolved last month.

One side note about this interview. Molly was doing several of them back-to-back via satellite, for five to eight minutes each, and I was last on the schedule. I was able to listen in on the talk show host right before me (I don't know his name, but he's from Providence, RI), and though I couldn't hear his voice, I could tell by her answers that he knew nothing about poker or the game she ran, and wasn't treating her very nicely. It was obvious she wasn't enjoying it.

Knowing that, when she came on the line with me, before we started recording, I told her that I actually knew her story and had read the entire book the day before (and enjoyed it!), plus I would bring a very different perspective to the interview because not only do I play poker often, but have been at the tables with several of the celebrities she had in her games. Her mood changed as she laughed and agreed, and we were off and running for what became a fifteen-minute conversation.

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

Angela Giampolo, Gay Marriage Update

This week marked the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage, along with new decisions by judges in Indiana, Utah, and Louisiana, so I called upon LGBT attorney and activist Angela Giampolo to return to my America Weekend show for an update. She joined me from World Gay Pride in Toronto, as we discussed the inevitable march of marriage equality to the Supreme Court, the status of couples who married before a stay was issued in various states, and how the swift change of the last couple of years has affected Angela personally.

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

Ridley Pearson, "The Red Room"

Ridley Pearson is one of America's most prolific and best-selling crime novelists, and he's back on my America Weekend show to talk about "The Red Room," the third in his "Risk Agent" series. I asked him why he set it in Istanbul and how long he had to spend there to get details about the city right in his book (I was surprised at his answer). We also discussed Vince Vaughn's interest in turning his first "Risk Agent" book into a movie, and his thoughts on the battle between Amazon and the publishing company Hachette.

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

Here's the Huffington Post piece on Amazon vs. Hachette that Ridley refers to in our conversation.

Listen to my previous conversations with Ridley Pearson here.

Joel Makower's Green Tech Update

Joel Makower has been appearing on my radio shows for 25 years, often to talk about issues related to green techonology, green businesses, and green consumerism -- which he still writes about as executive editor of GreenBiz.com. He was back with me today on America Weekend for an update on renewable energy in the marketplace, and how far we've come in this quarter-century.

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

Harris Challenge 6/27/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Showbiz This Week," "Lewis and Clark," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Down The Revolution

Stephen Merchant on how much better off this country would be if we hadn't won the Revolutionary War, but instead remained part of the United Kingdom (ignore the fact that it's a beer commercial)...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Poker Stories: Wild Poker Night

Another in my continuing series of poker stories, this first appeared on Harris Online on March 4, 2011...

I'm at Caesar's Palace, where I'm covering the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championships and playing in some cash games on the side.

Last night, I went with Dennis Phillips to the draw party at the nightclub Pure, where the 64 players found out who their first-round opponents would be (Dennis will take on Erick Lindgren). Afterwards, several of us went next door to the poker room, where some pros and media folks were sitting down to start a no-limit hold'em game where they could play for small stakes, down a few drinks, and have some no-pressure fun.

I grabbed an empty seat, and within 2 minutes, we had a table full of people who didn't need much introduction:

  • Chris Moneymaker, 2003 World Series Of Poker Main Event champion;
  • Joe Hachem, 2005 WSOP Main Event champion;
  • Jason Mercier, a young poker pro who's been red hot the last couple of years;
  • Mori Eskandani, executive producer of "NBC Heads Up," "High Stakes Poker," and "Poker After Dark";
  • Scott Lazar, Hollywood filmmaker who made the final table of the 2005 WSOP Main Event;
  • Donnie Peters, leader of the Poker News tournament reporting team;
  • Eric Morris, publisher of Bluff magazine;
  • Garry Gates, media director for the North American Poker Tour;
  • Jason Alexander (yes, the guy from "Seinfeld").
Except for Gates and Lazar, everyone had appeared (or would soon appear) on my Final Table poker radio show. The stakes were purposely small, with blinds of $1 and $3, a $6 button straddle, and a maximum buy-in $500.  I knew that the pros, particularly Moneymaker and Mercier, wouldn't hesitate to shove their whole stack into the middle at any time.  To add to the wackiness, Chris suggested we also play the seven-deuce prop, where everyone agrees to pay $5 to any player who wins a hand while holding a 7 and 2 (the worst starting hand in hold'em).

That happened on the very first hand.

Alexander (who was very quiet and seemed uncomfortable all night in the midst of this party atmosphere) raised in mid-position to $10 and one person called. In the small blind, I looked down at 7-2 off-suit and raised it to $70 so that everyone would fold and I could collect the bounty. That's what happened until it came around to Alexander, who looked over at me, shook his head and tossed his cards into the muck, whereupon I exposed my cards and everyone threw me a $5 red chip.

We were off and running.

Moneymaker and Mercier were moving all-in about every other hand. Hachem won a few hundred by making a ridiculous over-bet. Chips and hundred dollar bills were flying back and forth. There were side bets on big pots.

At one point, with the six and five of diamonds in my hand, I raised to $25 in mid-position. Moneymaker re-raised to $75. Morris, in the big blind, went all-in. I called. Moneymaker turned to me, jokingly said, "I hate you," and folded. Morris and I agreed to run it twice (two complete boards), and I won both of them with a flush on top and a straight on the river, beating his ace-jack off-suit.

As if that wasn't enough, about an hour later I got involved in the craziest hand of the night. After a couple of players limped in, I made it $25 on the button with a pair of fours. With three callers, the flop came out 422, giving me a full house. They all checked and I checked, too, planning to trap someone overplaying a smaller hand. The turn card was another 4, giving me quads. Unfortunately, no one bet, so I checked again, hoping something would come on the river to create some action.

It did.

When the river card was a 3, Eric Morris bet $70. I raised to $240, hoping he had a hand big enough to call with. He did and moved all-in.  I instantly called. He proudly announced "I have quads" and turned over 22, thinking he'd won the hand. "So do I," I replied, as I exposed my 44 for the real winner.

The whole table exploded in laughter. Then Gates asked if the hand qualified for the Bad Beat Jackpot. The dealer said it did, meaning there was more money involved than just the $1,200 or so I'd won in the pot.

The Bad Beat Jackpot is a promotional device many poker rooms employ. In smaller-stakes games like this, they take a dollar out of every pot which goes into a special fund. In some rooms, that fund keeps growing until someone takes a bad beat -- four of a kind beaten by another four of a kind or a straight flush -- and can easily grow to well over $100,000. However, Caesar's caps their jackpot at $10,000, with 40% ($4,000) going to the player who lost the hand, 20% going to the player who won the hand ($2,000), and the other players at the table splitting the remaining 40%.

There was lots of high-fiving. Someone called the waitress over and ordered shots (I went crazy and had a Pepsi). Photos were taken. Other pros and amateurs in the room came over to see what all the excitement was about. I joked to Ali Nejad (host of "Poker After Dark" and "NBC Heads Up") that it was ironic that at a table full of poker pros, it was two media guys who would be the biggest winners of the night -- and that it happened with a bunch of players who almost never play in games small enough to qualify for the bad beat jackpot.

Everyone celebrated, except Moneymaker and Mercier, who were away from the table and, because they hadn't been dealt in, wouldn't share in the jackpot. Hachem, who knows (as we all do) how well Mercier's been running lately, couldn't help but needle him that his hot streak was finally over.

It took the floor supervisor an hour to verify the hand with surveillance, collect everyone's IDs, fill out the paperwork (including tax forms), and finally get us paid. By then, we were all tired, so the game broke up and I went to bed, a happy winner.

For more of my poker stories, click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sports Fan Attention Spans

In response to my column, Busting The World Cup Hype, Tim e-mails:

The popularity of sports in America is directly related to our attention span. That being the same length as a dragonflies.

Baseball....3 to 4 seconds needed at a time. There is strategy but for the most part, there are two people we need to watch...pitcher and batter. If the ball is hit, we only need to watch the ball. When caught, one guy to watch. Throw to the cut-off..one guy...throw to the plate, 2 guys. No biggie, we can handle that.

Football....13 to 15 seconds per play. One guy to watch. Ball is hiked, 3 steps and throw. Tackle, play over. Drink beer, chat, wait for huddle to break....hike, rinse and repeat. There is strategy but it goes out the window with every hike of the ball.

Basketball...one thing to watch, the ball.

NASCAR...only need to watch for your driver once a lap....Vroooom....wait for 30 seconds....Vrooom....wait for 30 seconds...no real attention span as there is no real strategy. Go fast, change tires, pack some fuel in, go fast. A lot of weight is put on the pole sitter but only 20% of the time does the pole sitter win.

Hockey has 12 players with 10 players moving all at the same time....most can't deal with that....too busy...and they move a LOT for a LONG time...like 2 minutes! Whistle, drop puck...move again for 2 minutes....

Soccer....22 guys, 20 guys all moving ALL the time and ALL over the place...field is too big....stoppage time isn't that difficult to figure out but we've been conditioned to respond to a buzzer or whistle.

Road racing like Formula 1, Le Mans, 24 Hours at Daytona...too many cars, too much strategy involved...too fast.

Some put it down to IQ level...I put it down to attention span.

You think about it....watch a game with this in mind....and then watch the people around you watching.
Hard to argue with that, but I'd add that the most popular sports also leave time for analysis. The 30 seconds between NFL plays gives the TV announcers time to show replays, explain what happened, and speculate on what the strategy might be for the next play -- just as viewers do. In sports that don't have that pause in the action, there's no opportunity for us to express our opinions.

Which may be the most popular American sport of all.

No Tipping

Since Bob Conway opened his new restaurant in Newport, Kentucky, in January, none of the waiters and waitresses has received a tip. That's because Bob banned them. As he explained on my show, he wanted to move away from a system where servers' income was determined by the whims of the customers. Instead, they get a good hourly wage and a piece of the action.

I asked Bob how his employees feel about his system, whether they're making more money this way, how customers react to the no-tipping policy, and whether other restaurants are following his lead.

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

Sexting Survey

More than half of the college students in a new survey said that, as teenagers, they had sexted a friend (i.e. sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, or sexual content via text message). That's much higher than I would have guessed, and raises questions about whether these teens understand the consequences, both socially and legally. I talked all of this over with Professor Dave DeMatteo, director of the JD/PhD program in law and psychology at Drexel University, who conducted the survey.

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

Do Not Resuscitate

When my family got together to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday recently, I spent a few hours alone with her going over some end-of-life paperwork. Don't get me wrong -- she's doing great, but knows the value of making sure we understand her will, her finances, and her health care directives, including what to do if she falls into a state where she's kept alive by machines and other artificial means.

It's a conversation that not enough people have with their families, and because of Mom, my wife and I have had the same discussion with our daughter. We all hope that the day we have to deal with this is still a long ways off, but the time to figure it all out is not when tragedy strikes.

The problem with some of those health care directives -- such as a Do Not Resuscitate order -- is that they only work if the medical community goes along. As Dr. Russell Saunders explained on my America Weekend show, even though 88% of doctors don't want to be kept alive in a situation where doing so only prolongs their existence, too many of them don't listen to patients who request the same. We delved into the reasons an MD would ignore the wishes of a patient and family, and how to be sure those end-of-life orders are followed.

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Busting The World Cup Hype

If you believe the media hype, the whole country is caught up in World Cup fever. Sports bars are full of soccer-loving fans, offices are full of people discussing every game, and the TV ratings are higher than anything else on the air.

I call bullshit.

Yes, the ratings are high, but as my colleague Ian Geisz points out, the Olympics get a lot of viewers, too. But since the Winter Games ended a few months ago, no one has watched skiing, skating, or curling. We watch because: a) there's nothing else on; and b) both the Olympics and the World Cup happen every four years, not every weekend.

Yes, lots of kids play soccer in the US. It may be the second-most-popular participation sport to American youth, after Little League Baseball (in fact, I see a lot more kids on soccer fields than on baseball fields). The problem is that when they grow up, and no longer play the game, they don't care to watch others play the game.

We saw a similar level of interest -- and chants of USA! USA! USA! -- fifteen years ago when Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and the rest of the US team won the Women's World Championship. That sparked interest in the sport from a lot of girls, but it did not translate into a successful professional soccer league for women. For that matter, professional men's soccer hasn't exactly taken root in most of the US, either.

Yes, soccer is the most popular sport in the rest of the world, but that's because other nations don't have the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. We like watching those sports because we understand the rules and can see plays as they develop. Even the NHL can't catch up because most people, even if they can see the puck, have no idea what the penalties are or how shootouts work. And that's exactly the problem soccer has in the US.

It's unfathomable to us that games of such importance would end in a tie. While that happens occasionally in the NFL regular season, it can't happen in the playoffs, and certainly not in the Super Bowl, World Series, or NBA Championship Series. If the World Cup is the most important soccer tournament in the world, how can there be ties?

After the US-Portugal game ended 2-2 on Sunday, I saw a TV report with the headline, "A Stunning Tie." No, a tie can not be stunning.

Then there's the whole concept of stoppage time. It's as if the rest of the world bought a stopwatch that wouldn't stop. So, when the clock starts at the beginning of each half, it keeps ticking and ticking no matter what happens -- substitutions, players hurt, penalties, even a break to give the players water so they don't die in the Amazon heat. Nothing stops the clock. Then, at the end of each half, one of the referees announces approximately how much time had accumulated during those stoppages and play continues for several more minutes.

Approximately? Why not just stop the freaking clock? How can you play a game where you have no idea when it will end? Can you imagine if the Rams kicked a field goal to pull ahead of the Seahawks with one second left in regulation, but were then told they still had another four minutes to play? We'd be talking about NFL fans rioting, not soccer hooligans.

I was discussing this with a friend who is really into soccer and seemed insulted by my explanation of why the game will never be among the most popular spectator sports in the US. When I mentioned the low-scoring nature of the game, he asked, "Would it be better if they made each goal worth more, so instead of 2-1, it was 14-7?"

I replied that a football game with only three scores was probably pretty boring and an anomaly, but he went on, "What about a pitcher's duel? Baseball fans always say that's one of the most exciting things they've seen." I explained that pitcher's duels aren't exciting, and that if every game went like that, baseball stadiums would never fill up. Americans want to see action and scoring -- balls going over the wall, touchdown celebrations, three-pointers and slam dunks.

And a sport that knows how to stop the clock and start it again.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chris Hexter, Freedom Summer Participant

Chris Hexter was one of the college students who went to Mississippi in 1964 to participate in Freedom Summer, which is the subject of a documentary by Stanley Nelson that will air tomorrow night on PBS. The biggest part of the plan was to help African-Americans register to vote -- in a state where they made up 50% of the population, fewer than 10% of them were registered, mostly because the white supremacists in power (sheriffs, mayor, registrars, etc.) wouldn't allow them to exercise that constitutional right.

Chris, now a labor lawyer in St. Louis, joined me for an extended discussion of how he became involved with Freedom Summer, whether he knew the risks of going to Mississippi, and about his role as one of the teachers in the Freedom Schools. We also talked about the murders of Cheney, Goodman, and Schwerner (dramatized in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning") that caught the attention of the nation and showed how violent the racism in that state was. Chris also discussed Fannie Lou Hamer, a black sharecropper who became of the best spokespeople for the cause -- so good that she freaked out President Lyndon Johnson.

This is a compelling first-person story, and a good introduction to what you'll see in "Freedom Summer" on PBS -- which should then be shown in every school in the nation to remind people of an important part of the history of the civil rights movement.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Paper Or Plastic?

When you go to the supermarket and the cashier asks, "Paper or plastic?," do you know which answer is best for the environment? You may be surprised at conclusion my guest Brian Seasholes came to when he researched the question for the Reason Foundation. He also explained that those re-usable mesh bags are actually the worst option, and why cities which have banned plastic bags have made a mistake.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/22/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a snow cone burglar, a boy who faked his kidnapping, and a house flooded by a naked burglar. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Remembering Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon died five years ago today. Here are two of my favorite appearances by Ed on my radio show:

John Oliver on Dr. Oz

Major kudos to John Oliver for this piece on his HBO "Last Week Tonight" show about Dr. Oz, the weight-loss scams he promotes, and the government's lack of interest in regulating the dangerous dietary supplement industry (despite a lack of evidence that most of these products work). Although I have pounded on Dr. Oz on my radio show for years, there certainly isn't another TV show that has devoted as much time to exposing him as Oliver did...

On Twitter, Oliver has started a hashtag for viewers to suggest Fake Dr. Oz Episodes, and there are some pretty good ones.

De-Registered Redskins

Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins' trademark registration, saying the team's name and logo are disparaging. I wrote a lengthy piece on this subject and, because I was on the air in DC for 13 years, have talked about the controversy several times.

But what does this ruling mean? Is it a victory for opponents who want the team to change its name? Will it increase pressure fro the NFL on owner Daniel Snyder, who claims he will never do that? Does the loss of the trademark mean that anyone can now print Redskins t-shirts and other merchandise?

I posed all of those questions to Washington Post reporter Theresa Vargas, who is covering the story, on my America Weekend show. I also revealed how the Redskins did bow to public pressure some 30 years ago when some of the lyrics to their fight song, "Hail To The Redskins" (which is played after every touchdown and field goal in their home stadium) were re-written to remove phrases that were deemed too offensive to Native Americans.

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

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Roger McGuinn On Lost Performance Royalties

Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer Roger McGuinn returned to my America Weekend show to talk about his recent appearance on Capitol Hill, where he testified on behalf of all the musicians who recorded music before 1972, but aren't paid performance royalties on those songs by SiriusXM, Pandora, and similar digital audio services.

As Roger explained, that means that other artists get paid for covering songs he wrote for The Byrds, but he doesn't get a penny for airplay of his original versions. The list of musicians excluded includes The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and others who created the classic rock that is still popular today, as well as Motown artists and early jazz and blues performers, who collectively lose about $60 million in royalties each year.

Project 72 is an effort to get Congress to change copyright law and close the loophole that allows those audio providers to make money from the work of others without paying them their share. Its list of supporters reads like a who's who of music greats.

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

Stanley Nelson, "Freedom Summer"

"Freedom Summer" is a documentary (airing Tuesday night on PBS) about efforts to get African-Americans in Mississippi registered to vote in 1964, a time when they made up half of the state's population, but fewer than 8% were permitted to exercise their constitutional right. It was an important milestone in the history of the civil rights movement, and a compelling story of the activists and the hundreds of college students -- mostly white and from the north -- they recruited to spend that summer in Mississippi and help SNCC in its efforts.

Stanley Nelson, director of "Freedom Summer," joined me on America Weekend to discuss the risks that were involved, why registering blacks to vote was so important, and how big a factor fear was for both sides. We also discussed the personalities at the heart of the story, including Fannie Lou Hamer, an unsung hero of the movement.

Part of this story was told in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning" (with Gene Hackman, Willem DaFoe, Frances McDormand, and Brad Dourif), about the disappearance of "Freedom Summer" workers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner -- but Nelson's film covers all of the events leading up to and throughout that summer. It is a compelling piece of documentary movie-making.

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

Also on Harris Online...

Christopher Meloni

Christopher Meloni spent 12 years playing Detective Elliott Stabler on "Law and Order SVU," preceded by several seasons as sociopath Chris Keller on "Oz." Now he's co-starring with Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd in the movie, "They Came Together," from the people who brought you "Wet Hot American Summer." We talked about all of those projects when he joined me on America Weekend.

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

Sheryll Cashin, "Place, Not Race"

After the most recent Supreme Court decision against affirmative action, what should colleges do when they want to recruit a more diverse group of students? Dr. Sheryll Cashin says they should consider "Place, Not Race," which is the title of her new book. Cashin, a law professor at Georgetown and former law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, joined me on America Weekend to discuss how to achieve that diversity goal in a way that passes constitutional muster.

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

Reaction to McCaskill vs. Oz

After Dr. Oz's thrashing by Sen. Claire McCaskill on Capitol Hill last week, I asked Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman -- who wrote an investigative piece for Slate last year exposing the bogus diet scams Oz promotes on his TV show -- for their reaction to the Senate hearing and to explain why Oz's promotion of those products continues to be so dangerous.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/21/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a mayor's dog poop scandal, a bad excuse for being late for work, and a guy stuck in an airplane bathroom. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Harris Challenge 6/20/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Casey's Coast To Coast," "Mark Twain Prize Winners," and "Summer Movies." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Best Thing I've Watched Today

Jerry Seinfeld is back with a new season of his web series, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," and his first guest is Sarah Jessica Parker. While we never had a station wagon like the one in this episode, at least two of my friends’ families did, so this brought back a lot of memories and some wonderful observations about what life was like for those of us who grew up on Long Island in the 1960s and 1970s, including an egg cream made with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Scientific Way To Cut A Cake

My wife discovered this video of mathematician Alex Bellos explaining how you've been cutting cakes the wrong way...

I have two problems with his method. First is the use of rubber bands to keep the leftover cake together. Having never seen or used a clean rubber band, I don't want it touching my food. Second is the assumption that only a single slice is being cut from the cake each day -- suggesting a picture of a very lonely person sitting alone with an entire cake, a scenario in which it's unlikely that person is limiting him/herself to a single slice. And then doing it again on day two and three. What a happy birthday celebration!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Claire McCaskill vs. Dr. Oz

On Sunday, I wrote, "Shame on Sen. Claire McCaskill for asking Dr. Oz to testify about health scams. He promotes them regularly!" I also linked to a piece by science blogger Orac who offered some background on Oz's claims. But I'm happy to report that when Oz appeared before McCaskill's Senate hearing yesterday, she and the other senators went after him for endorsing bogus weight loss products...

McCaskill did a good job trying to put Oz in his place, but like any great huckster, he still writhed out of it by claiming he's on his audience's side and if he finds something that might make them feel better, or lose a few pounds, he's going to recommend it.

That's not science. That's telling people what they want to hear and making them believe things that aren't true. As McCaskill says, Oz should be telling viewers, "There is no magic pill that will make you lose weight. Period."

Unfortunately, two things will now happen that will not make things better. One is that Oz will no doubt go on major media outlets and defend his bullshit with what he calls "flowery language," and the uninformed viewers (and interviewers) will swallow it, if you'll pardon the pun. The other is that while McCaskill's hearing did shine some light on the many useless products being sold under the guise of diet and health, Congress has no power over the industry. Only the FTC can regulate it and that agency has done -- and will do -- nothing about the con artists selling garbage, just as it has turned a similarly blind eye to homeopathy.

Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Poker Stories: Folding Aces Again

Another in my continuing series of poker stories...

The other day, I wrote about the time I folded a pair of aces pre-flop in a tournament. A friend reminded me it wasn't the only time I did that.

Two years ago, when the Heartland Poker Tour rolled into St. Louis, I played in a mega-satellite for the main event. A mega-satellite is a lower-priced tournament that allows you to qualify for the higher-priced tournament by outlasting 90% of the people who have entered -- everyone in the final 10% gets an entry ticket to the main event, regardless of how many chips you have at the time.

In this instance, there were 150 people in the mega, so seats in the main event would be awarded to 15 people. I had been doing well and had a decent-sized stack when we got down to two tables (20 players). At that point, everyone was trying to avoid a mistake that would eliminate them before qualifying -- especially the players with the shortest stacks. But one by one, they were eliminated, until we had 16 remaining at two tables of eight each.

There was a player at the other table whose chip stack was so small, and the blinds and antes so large, that he would be all-in within the next couple of hands unless he caught decent cards and doubled (or tripled) up. Meanwhile, everyone else was avoiding any action, because they didn't need to accrue chips -- they just had to hold on and wait.

It only took a minute or so for that short stack at the other table to move all-in and be called by the chip leader. Simultaneously, at our table, our own short stack moved all-in, and was called by our chip leader. That's when I looked down and saw two aces.

Normally, I'd be in a hurry to get my chips in the middle under those circumstances, but this was different, so I took a few seconds to think. I didn't need to win another hand to get to the qualifying finish line -- there was no bonus for having a bigger stack. It seemed unlikely that the short stacks at both tables would win their hands, and as soon as one of them lost, the tournament would be over.

Since I was the big blind, and thus the last to act, I said out loud, "Here's something you don't see very often." Then I exposed my aces face-up and added, "I fold." Everyone at the table laughed, as they understood the dynamic.

Sure enough, the shortest stack lost and busted out on the tournament bubble. Like the other 14 people who had outlasted the field, I took my entry ticket for the next day's main event and went home to get some sleep.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hillary vs. The Devil

Last week, the media latched onto part of an interview by Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air" of Hillary Clinton and focused on a seven-minute segment about gay marriage. Gross pressed Clinton on when she first supported the idea, and whether she kept quiet about it for several years as part of a political calculus, including while her husband was signing the Defense Of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell into law.

That was a valid line of questioning from Gross, whom I have often praised as one of the best interviewers I've ever heard. Good for her for not letting Clinton be evasive in her answers. Gross also asked Clinton about how, during her years as the third female US Secretary of State, she dealt with heads of governments of countries that oppress women, how she was treated, and whether she or her predecessors (Madeleine Albright and Condoleeza Rice) were able to make a dent on behalf of women's rights globally.

But there was another exchange later that didn't get any attention:

GROSS: So I have to ask you about the kerfuffle over the People magazine cover that you were on. You were standing with your hands resting on the back of a chair, apparently a patio chair. But the photo was cropped, so all we saw of the chair was the bar across the top of the chair. And your good friend, Matt Drudge, tweeted, "Is Clinton holding a walker?" Now, you know, obviously it wasn't a walker but -- and he didn't lie. He didn't say you were holding a walker. He just asked a question in the tweet. Is that a technique that you've become used to, like...

CLINTON: Yes, it is to me. (Laughing).

GROSS: Planting ideas in people's heads, not by making a statement, but just by "I'm just asking a question."

CLINTON: Right, well...

GROSS: "Is that a walker?"

CLINTON: Yeah, Karl Rove tried that with my health and got totally, you know, shot down. I am so used to these people. They're like a bunch of, you know, gamers. They are trying constantly to, you know, raise false canards, you know, plant, you know, false information, and that's what they do.

They don't want to have a real debate about what the tax policy of this country should be. They don't want to have a real debate about how we begin growing the economy again and putting more people to work. They don't want to have a real debate about climate change and clean energy. They want people to get diverted and totally off subject, and that is their modus operandi.

But I have to say, Terry, that if that's the best they have to offer, let them do it because that is not the debate that I think the American people want to have.
Clinton is correct about the right-wing not wanting to engage in public debate about those important issues (and others) and instead offering false issues and information. But she's wrong to write that strategy off as ineffective because "the people" don't want it. The American public is easily distracted by stupid stuff, and it doesn't matter whether it's true or false. Once it gets said publicly by Rove or Drudge or the like, it gets picked up by right-wing talk radio and Fox News, which can couch it in "we didn't make this up, it's a quote from a public figure."

It's like when the Bush administration leaked phony evidence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction to Judith Miller of the New York Times, and once it was printed, Dick Cheney and others went on the Sunday talk shows hiding behind, "This was in the New York Times!" without revealing the true source of the lies.

To make waves in our lazy media, these ridiculous claims don't have to be verifiable, they only have to create a talking point -- and the more they say it, and the more the rest of the political machine repeats it, the more the public believes it. So you can make all sorts of false claims (e.g. there's a scientific debate over climate change when there isn't), or lie about your opponent in campaign ads (e.g. swift-boating John Kerry), and be sure that enough of the American public will fall for it, thus allowing you to chip away, piece by piece, at the standards of decency and truth.

I'm reminded of the scene in James L. Brooks' "Broadcast News" where Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) tells Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) that good-looking but not-too-bright anchorman Tom Grunick (William Hurt), who she has the hots for, is actually the devil.
AARON: I know you care about him. I've never seen you like this about anyone, so please don't take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the devil.

JANE: This isn't friendship.

AARON: What do you think the devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great god-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing...he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance...just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women.
I am not a Hillary Clinton fan. I didn't vote for her in 2008, when the Conventional Wisdom pundits were proclaiming her Madame President before a single vote was cast, a process that's being repeated now in speculation about 2016. But she was right on the money in 1998 when she talked about a vast right-wing conspiracy. Since then, it has grown exponentially, and she is wrong to dismiss its impact -- on her and all of us -- little by little.

Casey's Countdown Comes To An End

Legendary radio personality Casey Kasem died early yesterday at 82 of complications related to Parkinson's. His last year was marked by ugly fights between his second wife, Jean, and his children from his first marriage. The tabloid details have been well documented, but shouldn't obscure Casey's place in the broadcasting pantheon. Here's what I wrote about him on May 11, 2010...

David Letterman has had many celebrities, sports stars, and politicians do Top Ten Lists on his show. The formula is always Dave setting up the premise, announcing each slot in the list, then having the celebrity fill in the entry. Only once did they work it in reverse.

In September, 1993 (shortly after Dave moved from NBC to CBS), he brought in countdown king Casey Kasem to introduce the Top Ten Favorite Numbers, with Dave plugging the numbers into the respective slots. I got a real thrill out of this list because the concept was so surreal, yet simply and perfectly executed.

I always had a warm place in my heart for Casey because he was part of my first job in commercial radio, at WRCN/Riverhead, NY. On Saturday nights, I hosted a five-hour music show from 7pm to midnight playing what was then called "album-oriented rock." Then I'd go out to a nightclub, have a few beers, try to get laid, go home (alone, more often than not), get way too little sleep, and come right back to the station on Sunday morning to run "AT40" for four hours, from 9am to 1pm (right after -- I'm not kidding -- the weekly polka show, hosted by Ed Toby, who made a mint selling and reading his own unique commercials geared to Riverhead's large Polish community).

In those days, "American Top 40" was delivered to stations on vinyl records. My responsibilities were limited to playing each segment and inserting commercials and promos during the breaks, right after the jingle singers sang "Casey's Coast To Coast!" That gave me plenty of time to marvel at how brilliant Casey's formula (developed with Don Bustany, Tom Rounds, and Ron Jacobs) was.

This was the summer of 1978, eight years after "AT40" had debuted, and they had found their groove. As myriad DJs have proven since, anyone can play and introduce the most-popular songs in numerical order (I should know, as I did one a few years later when I hosted a nightly rock show on WHCN/Hartford), but "American Top 40" wasn't really a music show -- it was a story-telling show.

In an era long before the public could find out anything about any pop star from hundreds of online sources, Casey's show was a rare place to hear fresh factoids about the artists, which he wove into his introductions and billboards with that magnificent voice. Some times his staff dug up something as mundane as the names of a singer's dogs. Other times they'd give you a quick bio on a new star or songwriter who was just emerging.

Each show always included one Long Distance Dedication, Casey's version of a song request on steroids. He'd read an excerpt of a listener's letter, usually describing some heartbreaking story about lost love, found love, a reunited family, or a soldier away from home. Then he'd play the one song that meant so much to everyone involved. There were some weeks when I could hear the tears forming in our listeners' eyes.

Once an hour, Casey would plug two or three of his hundreds of affiliates ("American Top 40 is heard in the fifty states and around the world every week on great radio stations like...."), and I still remember the thrill I felt when he said our call letters. I knew he was just working off a list and we'd come up at random in the rotation, but it was still cool to be sitting there all by myself in this radio studio next to an abandoned drive-in movie theater and hear a famous guy in Hollywood mention the tiny station I worked for.

"American Top 40" drew its playlist from the Billboard pop chart, and as the number of disco songs on the show increased, WRCN Program Director Don Brink decided they didn't really fit with the rest of the station's AOR format -- it was jarring to have Casey's show end with "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by Taste Of Honey and then have our next DJ start his show with "That Smell" by Lynyrd Skynyrd -- so the show was dropped (although the polka show outlasted my 3-year stay there). Somehow, "American Top 40" was able to survive our defection, and Casey kept counting them down, on one show or another, into the early years of the 21st century.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Shame on Sen. Claire McCaskill for asking Dr. Oz to testify about health scams. He promotes them regularly, as Orac notes on his science blog:

With all due respect, Sen. McCaskill owes me a new irony meter. She fried that sucker flat, leaving nothing but a sputtering, sizzling, bubbling blob of qoo with a few copper wires sticking out of it. Dr. Oz testifying about weight loss scams? That’s like asking Al Capone to testify about U.S. tax policy or Stanislaw Burzynski about clinical trial design and ethics. Seriously. The only thing useful that having Dr. Oz testify in front of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection would be to use him as an example of weight loss scams being promoted to millions of people every day through irresponsible television shows.

I mean, seriously. Think about it. McCaskill is touting the FTC’s crackdown on companies selling green coffee bean extract and advertising it with bogus weight loss claims while at the same time respectfully listening to the one person most responsible for fanning the flames of the “green coffee bean craze” to reach new heights of burning stupid. She’s featuring Dr. Oz as though he were an expert at anything other than selling such scams to credulous viewers while disingenuously claiming to be the aggrieved party when companies understandably start using his breathless quotes about various weight loss supplements to hawk their products and even going so far as to brag about the team of enforcers he’s assembled to go after such companies.
Read Orac's full piece here.