Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bob Hoskins At Work

Bob Hoskins, who died this week, had several classic performances, but none more physically demanding than in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" For quite a bit of the movie, he acted alone in front of a blue screen opposite animated characters that weren't there...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • I have officially withdrawn from the bidding for the LA Clippers, after they rejected my offer for only having one comma in the amount.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the Donald Sterling matter:

What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?

He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?

Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.

Make no mistake: Donald Sterling is the villain of this story. But he’s just a handmaiden to the bigger evil. In our quest for social justice, we shouldn’t lose sight that racism is the true enemy. He’s just another jerk with more money than brains.

So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.
Read Kareem's full piece here.

Should You Root For Aereo?

Last week, the Supreme Court heard the case of Aereo, an online venture that streams the signals of local TV stations to your computer (either live or recorded) for a monthly fee. Because it doesn't pay retransmission fees to those stations or their networks (as cable and satellite providers must), the broadcast companies have sued to stop the service.

On my America Weekend show, Yahoo! Tech columnist Rob Walker explained why the court -- and you -- should side with Aereo. He explained how the technology works, its limitations (only a few channels in each market), and how it fits in with the cord-cutting trend.

Personally, I'd never use the service because we watch so little programming from NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX -- which are all included in the cable bundles we pay for -- because so many of the best shows we enjoy are on channels Aereo can't provide, from "Mad Men" on AMC to Monday Night Football on ESPN to Bill Maher and John Oliver on HBO to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central.

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

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot


Lots of people collect odd things. Ryan Beitz is one of them. He's out to get his hands on every VHS copy of the 1994 movie "Speed." That's the one that made Sandra Bullock a star in a cast that included Keanu Reeves, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels, and a pretty good villain played by Dennis Hopper.

On my America Weekend show, I started the conversation with Ryan with the obvious question -- "why?" -- and things got goofy from there. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/27/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include problems with a tattoo in court, a stickup note in a bank, and rap music in prison. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Last Week Tonight Last Night

I try not to judge a new TV show after just one episode, because its writers and producers have had months to prepare and put their best stuff out front first. It's when they have to do it week in and week out that we really get to judge a show. Even the best shows have adjusted their tone and approach over time, keeping what works and ejecting what doesn't, so that a show that's been on the air a year often doesn't resemble what it was when it began.

That said, I liked last night's debut of John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" on HBO. It's clearly a clone of the show he left ("The Daily Show"), but that's fine. We need more clever critics of the world around us. Oliver is clearly a pro who is comfortable in front of a camera, quick-witted enough to handle news that broke earlier that day, and just snarky enough to make interviews more interesting.

Let's see if he can do it again next week, and the week after that, and so on.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed @PaulHarrisShow...

  • LA Clippers may have lost several corporate sponsors, but they're making up for it by selling season tickets to Cliven Bundy and Paula Deen.
  • Overheard on the night Paul Simon and Edie Brickell were cited for a domestic dispute: "Stop calling me Al, goddammit!!!"

Unsubscribe

By clicking "unsubscribe" on an e-mail yesterday, I asked to be removed from the mailing list of a service that I used to use but am no longer interested in. That click took me to a web page where I had to confirm my un-subscription, which I did, which then led to another page telling me "Your request will be processed within 10 business days. You will receive a confirmation via e-mail."

Why, in our instant-communication modern age, should any online request take 10 days to be fulfilled? I'm sure the mass e-mails I used to receive were sent via a computerized list, so why isn't the removal aspect handled similarly? When I order an item on Amazon, I don't have to wait a week to find out if it went through! I understand that these systems are set up for "go" more than "stop," but even when I'm trying to become an ex-customer, that's bad service.

Finally, once I've told you I don't want any more e-mails from you, why would you send me an unsubscribe confirmation by e-mail? Cut out the redundancy and leave me alone!

Worth A Link

  • Last week, when Seth Meyers was named this year's Emmy Awards host, I was going to write about what an uninspired choice he was. But while I was procrastinating, Elisabeth Donnelly said everything I was going to say. Her piece should be titled, "Really, Lorne? Really?"
  • David Cay Johnston explains how rich sports team owners get corporate welfare from cities to build new arenas and stadiums, but never want those tax breaks to expire.
  • Tootie was fired for talking dirty on the job, but when her boss didn't want to pay her unemployment insurance because of her inappropriate language for the workplace, she showed a judge how the owner had the store's shelves stocked with dirty jokes.
  • Minneapolis has become the first city to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day.
  • Your Tax Dollars In Action: Jacob Siegel reveals the single federal contractor that got most of the money we spent to rebuild Afghanistan -- despite a long history of corruption, ineptness, and charges of supplying child prostitutes to officials.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How They Know So Much About You


How did Target know a 15-year-old girl was pregnant before her parents did? What's the correlation between curly fries and intelligence? Can your online likes and dislikes be used to decide whether you get hired for a job?

Those were some of the question I posted on my America Weekend show to Jennifer Golbeck of the University of Maryland and author of "Analyzing The Social Web." She explained that every time you click "like" on Facebook, or express your personal preferences via other social media, or buy something in a retail outlet, you're revealing something about realizing it. When culled and collated, all that data gives the world an astounding picture of who you are. It allows computer scientists to predict more about you, and you have very little control over how your data is used.

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

I first saw Golbeck discussing this topic in an intriguing TED Talk.

How Big Pharma Holds Back On Cancer Cures

"They can do that, but we still don't have a cure for cancer."

After all these years and billions of dollars, why don't we have a cancer cure yet? My America Weekend guest Jake Bernstein, business reporter for Pro Publica, says it's because Big Pharma is betting on new blockbuster cancer drugs that cost billions to develop and can be sold for thousands of dollars a dose. That leaves behind low-cost alternatives that don't have enough profit potential to make it worth the investment.

I asked Jake about the role of taxpayer dollars in the search for a cancer cure via the National Institute Of Health, what happens to those "financial orphans," how much it costs for patients who need cancer treatments, and how the health insurance system can support them. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Read Jake Bernstein's in-depth Pro Publica investigation into the lack of low-cost cancer treatments here.

College Players Union


On Friday, the players on the Northwestern University football team voted on whether or not to unionize. We don't know the results of that election yet, and won't for several months (possibly a couple of years) because the university has appealed their right to even have the vote. That decision -- which will impact how college athletes are treated in the future, either way -- will eventually be made by the National Labor Relations Board.

On my America Weekend show, I discussed the ramifications of the players' choice with Patrick Hruby of the website Sports On Earth. I asked him about the attempts by head coach Pat Fitzgerald to convince his players to vote no, whether the goals are obtainable without unionization, how it would affect players at other schools, and more.

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

Seats On A Plane

Airlines are looking for way to get even more passengers on their planes -- not by offering lower prices or better service, but by cramming in more seats. As LA Times business writer Hugo Martin explained on my America Weekend show, they're considering everything from thinner seat cushions and lighter materials to having some passengers face backwards. Whichever ideas make it into the cabin, you can be assured it won't make flying any more comfortable.

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

The Minimalists


Josh Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus had pretty good lives. They were in their 20s and already earning six figures, with big homes, fast cars, and lots of stuff. But they weren't happy. So they cleaned out their houses, changed their lifestyle, and became The Minimalists.

On Friday, they stopped by my studio to spend some time explaining why and what they've done, and to promote their second book, "Everything That Remains." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/26/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a gut full of gold, a man pinned in his car seat, and a duck on the attack. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 4/25/14

Today's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Models Who Became Actresses," "Time's Most Influential People," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Heard Today

On the Clive And Bundy morning show on KKK-AM: That's "Grazing In The Grass" by Friends Of Distinction. Now here's Rancher Jimmy with the noose.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed @PaulHarrisShow...

  • Time magazine is out with its new list of the most influential people in the world. Once again, I didn't make the top 6 billion.
  • I'm not worried about my old AOL e-mail address being hacked, because I still have my CompuServe e-mail account as a backup (not Prodigy).

Worth A Link

  • Based on their commercials, Mark Evanier concludes that viewers of channels like MeTV are mostly ill and unemployed. 
  • This David Pogue Yahoo Tech review of three new iPhone cases is a classic example of why I enjoy his work so much.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Worth A Link

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sun Power


Solar energy may be poised to take off, now that prices have dropped considerably, making the technology more competitive with non-renewable sources like oil and gas. So says my America Weekend guest Neville Williams, author of "Sun Power."

In our conversation, he explained how utility companies and fossil fuel billionaires (like the Koch Brothers) are trying to crush the solar competition, and how some state legislatures are doing their bidding by imposing taxes on people who install solar panels on their homes. Still solar energy is gaining market share in the US, although we're still way behind the rest of the world -- including China.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/20/14



Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a stomach full of trouble, a paycheck that shouldn't have been cashed, and a boy in a claw crane arcade machine (above). Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, April 21, 2014

String Season

You've never seen Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" performed like this version by the German chamber music quartet Salut Salon...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pollen Vortex

If you're a hay fever sufferer like me, you may have noticed that while the weather has turned nice this weekend, the pollen counts are way up, so being outside can make you miserable. I subscribe to a daily allergy alert e-mail from Pollen.com, which for some reason rates the pollen count on a 1-12 scale -- it says today will be at 10.8! I'm planning to mostly exhale.

On my America Weekend show, I asked meteorologist John Wetherbee why it's suddenly so hard to breathe. He explained:

The polar vortex was what brought us the harsh cold of the winter. Now the effects of the cold have delayed the introduction of pollens for this season until they've all come out together. In other words, they've delayed the tree pollens, which normally come out first, then wheat pollens, then grass pollens. This year, all the pollens are coming out at the same time and creating some astronomical pollen counts. Places like Wichita, Rochester (MN), Des Moines, and Lincoln, are having some of the worst pollen counts ever recorded. While where it's raining, farther to the south, that's where they have the lowest pollen counts, because the rain helps wash the pollen out of the atmosphere. It'll be like this, according to the National Pollen Service, for another couple of weeks.
If you need me, I'll be in the medicine cabinet.

Remembering Columbine


Today is the 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre that left 13 victims dead and 27 others wounded. At the time, it was the worst school shooting in US history, although it was would have been much worse if the bombs planted by the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had gone off.

Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on the scene, and spent the next decade digging into the story to uncover what really happened and why the two teenage boys did it. When his book, simply entitled "Columbine," was published in 2009, I had an extended conversation with him, in which he revealed a lot of new information, and debunked a lot of what the media (and the sheriff's department got wrong).

That interview is one of the most-downloaded podcasts on this site. You can listen to it here.

Electoral College End Run


In 2000, Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush, but lost the election because of Florida, the Supreme Court, and the Electoral College. That's because when you go to the polls, you're not voting directly for your presidential candidate, but for a roster of electors who are apportioned based on the popular vote in your state, as outlined in the constitution.

There's a group that's trying to change that (without amending the constitution) called the National Popular Vote Compact, which has been getting some bipartisan support. Ben Jacobs has been writing about this for The Daily Beast, so I invited him to join me on America Weekend to explain how it would work, how much progress has been made, and why the current crop of swing states are so opposed to it (hint: it's about power). I also asked him whether the idea might increase voting, its impact on political ad spending, and what the chances are of passing the new law in time for the 2016 election.

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

When Hollywood Turned Left


There's a common perception that most of the people who work in movies and television are liberal. The list wouldn't include Bruce Willis, Gary Sinise, Patricia Heaton, and the empty-chair-lecturing Clint Eastwood, who are among the minority of conservatives in Hollywood, but pretty much everyone else you can name probably fits into the progressive camp.

My America Weekend guest, Greg Mitchell, says it wasn't always that way. In his new e-book, he points to a specific moment in US history, "When Hollywood Turned Left -- The Election Campaign That Changed Politics In Films Forever."

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/19/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include tire-slashing dog, a badly misspelled proclamation, an another episode of Samurai Deli. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed @PaulHarrisShow...

  • If the crew searching for South Korean ferry survivors finds MH370 debris down there, CNN will explode with a 24-hour fireworks show.
  • This piece by Nicholas Kristof about Ukrainians who want freedom, not Putin, reminds me of my visit to the USSR in 1989.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Drop In The Bucket


The teenager who was accused of peeing in a drinking water reservoir in Portland did an interview yesterday with a local TV reporter. I can't embed it, but it's worth watching here. Two things that amused me about this:
  • the kid's attitude and his claim that he never peed in the water, despite the dare from his friends;
  • the promise by the reporter to not show The Urinater's face on camera -- she shot him from the waist down -- but when the story aired, the control room added a photo of him, probably from Facebook.
There was no valid reason for Portland drain that reservoir because of the incident. Even if the teenager did pee in the water, his output was nothing compared to the 38,000,000 gallons of treated water in the reservoir. As Laura Helmuth wrote in Slate:
Several smart people on Twitter quickly did the math and figured that a typical urination of about 1/8 gallon in a reservoir of 38 million gallons amounts to a concentration of 3 parts per billion. That’s billion with a b. For comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for arsenic in drinking water—arsenic!—is 10 ppb.

The EPA doesn’t appear to have a limit for urine in drinking water, but it does limit nitrates in drinking water to 10,000 ppb, and urine does contain a lot of nitrogen, so let’s use that as a proxy.

How many times would that teenager have to pee in a Portland reservoir to produce a urine concentration approaching the EPA’s limit for nitrates in drinking water? About 3,333 times.
Believing his urine fouled the water is the same bad belief system that sells homeopathic products. Like them, this was a small quantity diluted in a huge quantity to the point where it had no effect -- other than the psychological effect of hearing that someone had peed in the water. But when it's an open, outdoor reservoir, there are certainly other disgusting things already in the water, such as bird droppings.

They don't drain the reservoir for that -- even if the birds do it on a dare. Like a certain 19-year-old in Portland.

Harris Challenge 4/18/14

Today's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Global News Of The Week," "Lessons of Law," and "One Book You'll Need Is An Atlas." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Overcoming Fear In Space

Astronaut Chris Hadfield proved his public relations value when the video of him playing guitar and singing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" onboard the International Space Station went viral and racked up something like 22 million views on YouTube. Since then, he's had a best-selling book and speaking engagements all over the world, becoming arguably the most inspirational astronaut of his generation. Here's the presentation he did last month at the TED conference in Vancouver about overcoming your fears...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Worth A Link

  • Fans of Tom Lehrer will both love and hate this profile of the man who created so many brilliant song parodies and then simply stopped, with no interest in his career after that.
  • A good piece on the different career-launching platforms of "The Daily Show" vs. "Saturday Night Live".
  • Fascinating insider piece by a longtime boxing manager on how he fixed fights and how the business really works.

Carl Sagan's Life Lessons

Sasha Sagan, daughter of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, writes of the lessons of immortality she learned from her parents at an early age:

One day when I was still very young, I asked my father about his parents. I knew my maternal grandparents intimately, but I wanted to know why I had never met his parents.

“Because they died,” he said wistfully.

“Will you ever see them again?” I asked.

He considered his answer carefully. Finally, he said that there was nothing he would like more in the world than to see his mother and father again, but that he had no reason — and no evidence — to support the idea of an afterlife, so he couldn’t give in to the temptation.

“Why?”

Then he told me, very tenderly, that it can be dangerous to believe things just because you want them to be true. You can get tricked if you don’t question yourself and others, especially people in a position of authority. He told me that anything that’s truly real can stand up to scrutiny.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time I began to understand the permanence of death. As I veered into a kind of mini existential crisis, my parents comforted me without deviating from their scientific worldview.

“You are alive right this second. That is an amazing thing,” they told me. When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, they said, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars. We are star stuff, my dad famously said, and he made me feel that way.
I like to think that because of the inspiration of Carl Sagan and many others, my wife and I have raised our daughter with the same mix of wonder and skepticism, asking questions of those who make extraordinary claims and demanding extraordinary evidence.

The President Who Knocked


I've spent the last couple of days on Long Island, helping my mother prepare to move out of her house and into an apartment. We're awash in paperwork, furniture, and closets full of stuff she has accumulated over the last 4+ decades.

We took some time away from it Tuesday night to go into Manhattan to see Bryan Cranston in his Broadway debut in "All The Way." When I first heard about the show, I thought it was a one-man performance piece, but there's a cast of 20, and they're all terrific.

Cranston plays Lyndon Johnson from shortly after he became president in November, 1963, until he was elected to his own full term in November, 1964. The centerpiece of that year was the Civil Rights Act, which Johnson cajoled through Congress. The political resistance came from within his own party, as the racist South (the so-called Dixiecrats like Dick Russell, Strom Thurmond, and Robert Byrd) lined up against him on one side while civil rights leaders (like Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Stokely Carmichael) tugged from the other.

The actors portraying those men, as well as the women who play LadyBird Johnson and others, plus Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover, all gave solid performances, but it is Cranston's energy that drives the show. He's on stage for virtually the entire three hours, and his LBJ is in constant motion, even when sitting down. It's a powerful, densely verbose performance that must leave him drained nightly.

There were a couple of times where I thought I heard echoes of Walter White, another Cranston character who didn't suffer fools gladly and used his wits to stay one step ahead of his opponents. Many in the audience were no doubt drawn to "All The Way" because they knew Cranston's talents from his years on "Breaking Bad" -- and wanted to see him play LBJ as The President Who Knocks. Whether it's his celebrity or the 50th anniversary of the civil rights act that's putting them in the seats, they end up with a helluva history lesson.

When we got to the theater, I noticed several men standing around dressed in suits, wearing wired earpieces and eyeing the crowd as if they were Secret Service agents. A nice touch by the producers, I thought, considering the play is about a man who became president after the assassination of another. A few minutes later, I realized they weren't pretending to be Secret Service guys -- they were the real thing -- when I spotted Attorney General Eric Holder, who used to head the civil rights division at the Justice Department, taking his seat several rows in front of us. I knew about the retinue of agents who traveled with my brother during his stint as Interim Secretary Of Labor, and these guys looked cut from the same cloth.

I learned later (through McKean's Twitter feed) that we had two other famous audience members in our midst -- NYPD top cop Ray Kelly and impressionist Rich Little. Although the latter no doubt imitated LBJ back in the day, he could not have done so nearly as forcefully as Cranston.

James Randi, "An Honest Liar"

Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom have been working for three years on "An Honest Liar," a documentary about the life of one of my heroes, James Randi. The film will debut tomorrow at the Tribeca Film Festival and hopefully roll out across the country later this year. Meanwhile, here's the newly-released trailer...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Now With Even More Blog!

With hay fever season underway, I'm already suffering from a head full of yuck, so last night I went to get some Nyquil out of the medicine cabinet.

The first thing I grabbed was a mostly-empty bottle, and noticed something on the label I hadn't seen before. It said "Great Taste! Vanilla-Cherry Swirl." Nice try, but wrong. There's no human alive who would take a gulp of Nyquil and pronounce, "It's delicious!" Call it whatever you want, but it still tastes like medicine. In fact, I want it to taste like medicine, so my brain thinks, "Help is coming!"

With so little liquid in that bottle, I pulled out another 12-ounce bottle, which didn't say anything about taste on the label -- but it did say, in big bold letters, "Now with 50% more!" Then, underneath, in smaller letters, "Than our 8-ounce size."

Yes, Dr. Obvious, that's how math works. Twelve is fifty percent more than eight. I can figure that out even with clogged sinuses.

But why stop there? Go ahead and make it "Now with 100% more -- than our 6-ounce size!"

Or double the hyperbole: "Now with 200% more -- than our 4-ounce size!"

Or go for the gold: "Now with 12 ounces more -- than an empty bottle!"

Nyquil, you're not supposed to make my head hurt.

Worth A Link

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Phil Ivey, Card Cheat?


Phil Ivey is considered one of the best poker players in the world. He has won nine World Series Of Poker bracelets and millions of dollars in cash games. He also has a reputation as a big-time gambler, a "whale" who puts huge sums at risk at the craps tables, which has made him welcome in casinos all over the world. Now he's involved in lawsuits with two of them who accuse him of cheating -- but not at poker or craps.

The most recent suit was filed by the Borgata in Atlantic City, where Ivey won $9.6 million playing baccarat. According to the Associated Press:
The lawsuit alleges Ivey and an associate exploited a defect in cards made by a Kansas City manufacturer that enabled them to sort and arrange good cards in baccarat. The technique gave him an unfair advantage on four occasions between April and October 2012, the casino asserted in its lawsuit. The casino claims the technique, called edge sorting, violates New Jersey casino gambling regulations.

The lawsuit claims the cards, manufactured by Gemaco Inc., were defective in that the pattern on the back of them was not uniform. The cards have rows of small white circles designed to look like the tops of cut diamonds, but the Borgata claims some of them were only a half diamond or a quarter of one.

The lawsuit claims that Ivey and his companion instructed a dealer to flip cards in particular ways, depending on whether it was a desirable card in baccarat. The numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9 are considered good cards. Bad cards would be flipped in different directions, so that after several hands of cards, the good ones were arranged in a certain manner — with the irregular side of the card facing in a specific direction — that Ivey could spot when they came out of the dealer chute.

The lawsuit claims Ivey wanted the cards shuffled by an automatic shuffling machine, which would not alter the way each card was aligned.
The other suit was filed by Ivey against Crockford's a London casino that wouldn't pay him the $12 million he won playing punto banco because he was using "edge-sorting" to know which cards were coming out of the shoe next. According to the Daily Mail:
It was well known in the industry around this time, according to Mr Ivey’s claim, that players might be able to use imperfectly cut cards to their advantage. Because of this, the claim adds, the casino should have thoroughly checked them before use.

On his visit to Crockfords, Mr Ivey was accompanied by a Chinese associate known as Kelly, who was adept at "identifying the design flaws." Mr Ivey’s claim says: "During the second session on August 20 [Mr Ivey] made various requests for decks of cards to be changed at the end of hands with which [Crockfords] chose to comply. This continued until Kelly identified a deck or decks of cards where the pattern on the reverse side of the cards was asymmetrical (in that one “long’’ side was different from the opposite side)."

Outlining how the pair managed to "edge sort" the deck, the claim says: "Kelly would ask the dealer to reveal each card in turn by lifting the edge furthest from the dealer so that Kelly could identify whether the card was a seven, eight, or nine – the key cards in punto banco. The first time that Kelly identified a key card, she told the dealer that it was a "good" card which she wanted the dealer to rotate in the opposite direction to all the other cards and the dealer complied with the request.

"In this way, the long edges of the key card became distinguishable from those of the other cards." Over the course of time, "the cards in the deck were increasingly orientated so that “good” and “bad” cards faced in the opposite direction." This meant that Mr Ivey was later able to recognise the key cards and bet accordingly.
The Borgata lawsuit isn't the first time Gemaco's been involved in controversy. The Golden Nugget, another Atlantic City casino, claims the card company screwed up and caused it to lose $1.5 million to players.

Here's a video with a good explanation of how to edge-sort. How is it possible that a large casino doesn't know about edge-sorting and doesn't set up procedures to prevent players from using it? Here's another story with more details on what went down at the table.

Then there are the moral questions: Is it cheating if the casino uses defective equipment and a player is savvy enough to spot it and exploit it? What about if the casino wants a player to stay at the table as long as possible, and thus allows a player to arrange the cards in a way that's beneficial to him? Did the Borgata know about the Crockford's lawsuit? If so, why did they let Ivey play at their tables, and to dictate the position of the cards? 

The best answer I've seen to those questions is a post from someone with the username "1938ford" on the Two Plus Two poker forum thread on this topic:
Okay, I'll take a stab at explaining. First, the cards were not "marked" in any way that made them distinguishable from one another during normal play and use. Only when Ivey and his cohort had them "placed in a condition" other than the normal random position they should be in could the differences in the cards be discerned. In order to keep the cards in this position Ivey insisted on using an automatic shuffler, because hand shuffling the cards usually involves a "scramble" and or turns of the deck during the shuffle, which would put the cards back into random order, which is the entire purpose for shuffling the cards. Also, Ivey insisted on a very specific deck of cards, make and color, because he he knew the differences in the cards could be exploited by his scheme. Ivey insisted the same 8 decks of cards be used over and over and not be replaced during his session.

Ivey asked for all of these things explaining that they were merely "superstitions". However, Ivey and his partner knew that was a lie, which makes it a fraudulent representation. They knew this "scheme" would "tend to alter the normal random selection of characteristics or the normal chance of the game which could determine or alter the result of the game."

In furtherance of this scheme Ivey bet the minimum during the "staging process" of his scheme, which was rotating all of the cards into a position where he could exploit the "un-random" position of the cards, whereupon he proceeded to bet the maximum on every hand thereafter. He did this because he was able to determine the relative value of the first card off the deck for each hand. This knowledge, obtained only by his lies to the casino about his "superstitions", his knowledge of a "defect" in a certain brand and color of playing cards and the use of an automatic shuffler shifted the odds of the game into his favor, which is illegal under the controlling law.

I continue to struggle with the rational that this conduct is "okay". Would it be okay if it was the casino exploited some inside knowledge, of any kind, they might have in order to manipulate any game to change the games normal odds to odds that made them even bigger favorites?
There are undoubtedly poker players who have lost to Ivey -- either in tournaments or high-stakes cash games -- who, upon hearing these stories, will convince themselves that he must have cheated them by seeing something in the patterns of the cards during hands they played. That seems unlikely, because of the way cards are mucked at the end of a hand, the top card is always "burned" before the next card in a round is dealt, and the way players often cover them with their hands during play.

Final note: if you click the link for the AP story, you'll see a ridiculous photo accompanying it, showing a player holding four aces in his hand. I don't know what card game that is, but it's certainly not baccarat or punto banco, the games the story is about!

Amazon Fire vs. Roku vs. Apple TV


Last week, Amazon Fire became the newest entry in the set-top streaming wars. Along with Apple TV and Netflix's Roku, you now have several devices to choose from to get movies and television shows to your television on demand. But which one is better, and what's the difference?

On my America Weekend show, I asked Yahoo Tech's Dan Tynan for a complete comparison. We also talked about Google Chromecast -- and why you might not need any of this hardware in the first place. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Here's the bizarre Gary Busey commercial for Amazon Fire that Dan and I mentioned...

James Gandolfini's Life


Today on America Weekend, I talked with Dan Bischoff about his book, "James Gandolfini: The Real Life Of The Man Who Made Tony Soprano." Bischoff's connection starts with his work for the Newark Star-Ledger, the real-life newspaper that the fictional mob boss picked up in his driveway each week for eight years on HBO. He has spent the 10 months since Gandolfini's death talking with the actor's colleagues, family, and friends.

In our conversation, Bischoff revealed Gandolfini's lack of confidence in his acting skills, to the point where he tried to quit every role he landed, thinking another actor could do it better. We also discussed why Gandolfini referred to the "Sopranos" writers as "vampires," how he wanted to do more light comedy (like his much nominated work in last year's "Enough Said"), and why he considered himself a 270-pound Woody Allen.

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

Unsealing Settlements

The government has arranged financial settlements with big banks and other corporations who had a role in causing our ongoing fiscal crisis, but hasn't gone after anyone criminally. Why, and what's in those sealed settlements? Those are among the questions Professor Brandon Garrett and his students at the University of Virginia School of Law asked, and when they didn't get answers, they filed lawsuits demanding to unseal those settlements.

On my America Weekend show, Garrett explained what they're looking for, why the government should be willing to reveal the information, and what his students have learned about the law in the process. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/13/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include an expensive break-up text, a sex toy in the sewer, and an unhappy weed customer. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Boston Marathon Bombing


Tuesday will mark the one year anniversary of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, when an entire city was shutdown, its residents told to "shelter in place," and the nation watched as authorities tried to figure out who had caused the carnage near the finish line. The story is the subject of a new book, "Long Mile Home," by Boston Globe reporters Jenna Russell and Scott Helman. The latter joined me on America Weekend to talk about:
  • the debate inside law enforcement about releasing video footage to the public to get help in identifying the suspects;
  • why Watertown homeowner David Henneberry went out a second time to check the boat in his backyard with Dzhokar Tsarnaev inside;
  • how friends and relatives of the victims have dealt with the loss of life and limbs;
  • whether the buildings that were blasted along Boylston Street have been repaired;
  • whether this year's marathon (on April 21st) will finish in the same spot as last year's.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Trials Of Muhammad Ali


After beating Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the heavyweight boxing champion, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and went on to become the best-known human being on Earth. But many people -- including his opponents -- refused to call him by his new name, which infuriated him so much that when he beat them in the ring, he taunted them by shouting "What's my name?" as he landed blow after blow.

That's one of the revelations in the documentary, "The Trials Of Muhammad Ali," directed and produced by Bill Siegel, which will air Monday on the PBS Independent Lens series. On my America Weekend show, I discussed some of the non-boxing aspects of Ali's life, including his refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War, a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. We also talked about a part of Ali's history that I (like many others) didn't know about -- the white businessmen in Louisville who were Ali's earliest supporters and why they parted ways with him when Ali embraced the Nation Of Islam.

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

Good Teachers, Bad Tests

Over the last couple of weeks on my America Weekend show, I have talked to educators who are fed up with the over-emphasis on testing in schools. From a kindergarten teacher in Massachusetts to a gifted students teacher in Florida to a school superintendent in Texas, there's a sense that programs like No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top have added too much pressure to the delicate classroom chemistry, and it's affecting both students and teachers.

The latest to shine a spotlight on the problem with testing is Liz Phillips, veteran principal of a public school in Brooklyn, New York. She and her colleagues say the statewide English Language Assessment is more than a waste of time, it is simply not a good test of students' abilities. Moreover, the state board of education and the private company that writes and administers the tests, won't share the results with teachers and parents.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/12/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a stolen laptop, a man with a god complex, and the perfect reason to cancel a movie screening. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 4/11/14

Today's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Mad Things Besides Mad Men," "Kevin Costner Sports Movies," and "That's Bert, As In Colbert." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Cutting Down Barbara Walters

Now that Barbara Walters has announced her TV retirement date, Alex Pareene cuts her down to size in Salon. After relating stories about George Steinbrenner in Cuba that "journalist" Walters covered up, and listing some of the rich and powerful she befriended and even dated, Pareene adds:

Let’s not forget one of her most recent Big Scoops, an exclusive interview with murderous Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. How did she score that one? It probably helps that she was friends with Assad. Walters vacationed to Syria in 2008, and thought Assad and his wife, Asma, were “very charming and intelligent.” After the 2011 interview — while Assad’s military was killing demonstrators across the country — Walters wrote letters recommending the Assad aide who set up the interview for plum American media internships. (With Walters’ help, the aide was accepted to Columbia.)

There’s nothing wrong with weepy celebrity interviews. They can be fun! But for some reason Walters long ago was slotted into the “serious journalist” category despite her total lack of journalistic ethics and her tendency to interview her close, personal friends. Her legacy as a breaker of barriers is sound. Her habit of using her position to protect and cover for some of the worst abusers of power in the world should also be remembered as we are forced to spend the next year celebrating her achievements. It’s actually remarkable how, in a city and an industry full of very powerful people, not all of whom are corrupt monsters, Walters has consistently grown close to the worst that the elite has to offer, from Steinbrenner to Trump. And that attraction to the blackest, most soulless exemplars of American power is probably why she’s been so phenomenally successful.
Read Pareene's full piece here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Proof That People Still Believe Bullshit

This weekend, in a conversation with Dr. Andrew Rosenberg on the Union of Concerned Scientists about the diminished role of independent scientists as witnesses in Congressional committee hearings, I bemoaned the increased use of false equivalences. As an example, I cited a panel on climate change that includes three distinguished climate scientists testifying on the impact humans have had on Earth's climate, but also includes three climate change deniers who have been funded by Big Oil or other industries to quash accurate information by claiming the opposite.

I said that the ratio is not three versus three, but 97% vs. 3% (probably higher). Then I added that you could probably find a couple of people who claim the Earth is flat, but you wouldn't included them on any panel with real scientists.

I was kidding of course, but this morning, I'm reading about a documentary that claims something equally as ridiculous -- that the Earth is the center of our solar system and the Sun revolves around our planet. Talk about a minority view! It has only been five centuries since Copernicus discovered the truth about our planet (and the others) orbiting our sun, a fact that's been verified over and over again. You'd think this one fit right into the settled-science category with gravity, but there are always fringes that choose their own facts.

This geocentric bible-based bullshit is being promoted by a guy who also denies the holocaust, so it should be ignored -- I won't even tell you his name or the title of the documentary, which is narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red on the Netflix series "Orange Is The New Black."

There are two possibilities here. The more likely is that Mulgrew knew nothing about the producer or the intent of the movie and was just a voice for hire. The other is that she did know and is on the same page as the nonsense-spewer.


Because she once played a starship captain on one of the "Star Trek" spinoffs, sci-fi fans in the Twitterverse are apoplectic, asking how an actress with a credit like that could participate in a movie like this. Those fans are confusing Hollywood with reality, a common mistake amongst the instant-anger set. They've forgotten that while Mulgrew played a space traveler on television, she is not a scientist (not that you have to be a scientist to know how our solar system works).

Her TV role doesn't exclude her from having all sorts of bizarre beliefs, and starring in a space soap doesn't require any actual knowledge of how the universe works. As long as you hit your marks, say your lines, and don't throw the production into overtime, you can buy into any garbage beliefs you like, especially in a country where Tom Cruise and John Travolta are still big stars despite their devotion to Xenu.

On the other hand, I'd better not see the nitwit who produced this trash documentary show up in a congressional hearing opposite Lawrence Krauss or Neil deGrasse Tyson. I can't even calculate the ratio on that false equivalence.

Updated at 4:14pm...Mulgrew has disassociated herself from the movie, explaining she was, as I suspected, merely a hired voice.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars


You've heard of cars powered by gasoline, diesel, and electricity. You've heard of hybrids and plug-in hybrids. What about hydrogen fuel cell cars?

Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are working on bringing them to market as soon as this fall, but they'll have a steep learning curve with Americans who know nothing about them. So I invited Jack Brouwer, associate director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, to explain the technology on my America Weekend show.

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

Jacob Sullum on Obama and The NSA

President Obama announced last week that he wants to eliminate the NSA database that collects everyone's telephone records. Instead, the burden will be on phone companies to retain that data, and the government will need a court order for specific information about a call or phone number it believes is associated with terrorism.

Why did the President, who had supported the NSA's metadata gathering, change his mind? What impact will it have? Has the government ever claimed that the database was used to thwart a terrorist plot? Shouldn't Obama be thanking Edward Snowden for revealing the NSA's mass spying apparatus to the public? Do phone companies keep track of every call if you have an unlimited calling plan?

Those are the questions I put to Jacob Sullum, senior editor at Reason magazine, on my America Weekend show. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/6/14


Today's Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a chainsaw in the neck, a crappy archaeology find, and a guy who really didn't want to go to work. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Remembering John Pinette

I was saddened to hear about the death of John Pinette, a very funny man whose life ended in a Pittsburgh hotel room this weekend at age 50.

I first met John in 1998 when his career was taking off. I saw him perform on a Thursday night at the DC Improv and tear the place apart. A very large man, he did the funniest fat-guy material this side of Louie Anderson, but added voices and singing and other material in a fabulous set. The next morning, he visited my radio show to promote the rest of his weekend shows, and we had a great time on and off the air for an hour.

Before he left, I invited him to perform later that year at my annual benefit event, The Comedy Concert For Children's Hospital. He accepted immediately, joining a roster that included Bobby Collins, Chris Bliss, Bob Somerby, Rene Hicks, and DaVinci's Notebook. They were all terrific, and John did an amazing half-hour. The following year, he was named Stand-Up Comedian Of The Year at the American Comedy Awards.

The next time I saw John was several years later in St. Louis, when he joined me in the studio and I was shocked to see he'd lost a lot of weight. He told me he'd battled obesity for years and finally decided to have lap-band surgery, which helped him drop over a hundred pounds, and he was determined to get down to a healthier size. That night at the Funny Bone, he was as hysterical as ever.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to keep the weight off. At one point, he ballooned back up to nearly 400 pounds, then worked even harder to take it off. I understand he'd gotten down to around 200 pounds recently, but was left with serious problems with his heart and liver.

Here's John on stage in Montreal in 2006 when he returned to standup after 2 years in "Hairspray" for a special called "I'm Starving"...


Previously on Harris Online...

More Thoughts On Letterman


After discussing David Letterman's retirement in separate conversations with TV critics James Poniewozik and Aaron Barnhart this weekend, I'm left with a few more thoughts on the subject...

I stopped recording Dave several years ago when it became apparent he was no longer trying to do anything new or interesting. I'd check in on him from time to time, or look at a clip online the next day, but after being a fan of his from his earliest Carson appearances through his NBC daytime show through "Late Night" and "Late Show," it seemed like Dave just didn't care anymore.

Neither did I, and I wasn't alone. Most people would be hard-pressed to name a single thing they remember from the last 5-6 years of his show. If there’s an opposite of viral, that’s what he’d become.

When I think of Dave's best bits, they're mostly from his NBC show. Has there ever been a better example of found humor than his visit to a store called Just Bulbs, which sold nothing but light bulbs? The climax of that segment was when he asked the owner what to do if he wanted to buy a lamp shade, and the guy suggested he find a place called Just Shades -- followed by a smash cut to Dave standing in front of a store with exactly that name. It was a brilliantly produced bit from the era when Merrill Markoe's voice helped shape the Letterman legacy and form a new mold for the format. While Dave's had great moments on CBS, it was during the NBC years that he changed late night television, setting the gold standard with a playbook that Fallon and Kimmel now execute nightly.

In the speculation of who will succeed Dave, you can cross off Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Chelsea Handler. You can also forget Ellen DeGeneres, who has a gig she can continue doing as long as she wants, with a comfortable niche, a huge paycheck, and a bigger audience than any of the late night shows. I've also heard Neil Patrick Harris' name thrown around, but it seems unlikely he'd give up the rest of his acting career -- it's impossible to do Broadway musicals while hosting a nightly TV show.

Jon Stewart isn't right for the job, either, because we need him right where he is, doing what he does best. Leaving that format -- and a remarkable staff of writers and editors -- to sit down and interview Chris Evans about the new Captain America movie seems like a shocking waste of time and talent. On the other hand, trying to convert "The Daily Show" to an hour-long "Late Show" wouldn't work, either. Stewart is already an integral part of the late-night landscape. Moving to CBS wouldn't be a promotion.

Stephen Colbert's name has risen to the top of the pack, partly because he works for CBS' corporate cousin, Comedy Central, and his contract expires at the end of this year, so the timing would be right. Colbert is enormously talented, completely comfortable in front of the camera, and a very good interviewer -- even more impressive is how he improvises his way through conversations with his guest while in character. Would he give up his own lucrative show to take over "The Late Show?" If he thinks he's done all he can do with the character and wants to prove himself on a bigger stage, he will, and he'd be good at it. Colbert also understands how to use (and exploit) social media, an area that both Leno and Letterman never cared about, and it showed, while the younger competition flourished in various online platforms.

There have been lots of comments made about breaking the late night glass ceiling to give a woman a shot. While it's a good idea to find someone other than a white guy for the job, this isn't a position for a newcomer. Yes, O'Brien and Fallon got shows without hosting experience, but they were on an hour later in the slot that's become the training ground for the more-widely-viewed shows. I have a feeling Craig Ferguson won't continue on "The Late Late Show" much longer, and when he goes, that's where the door opens for a non-male-caucasian to take a shot.

There's one debate that's not worth having, and that's whether Letterman or Carson was the best-ever. The fact is they were each perfect for their time in TV history. Staying fresh, relevant, and invested in any job for three decades is quite a task, but even more so when you're charged with entertaining America every night. The truth is that Dave and Johnny's peak periods ended several years before they called it quits, but that doesn't diminish their place in the television firmament as legends of late night.

It's enough to leave it at that.

Also on Harris Online...