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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taking On A Climate Change Denier

Yesterday, the US Senate took up a resolution by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar that would have simply said that climate change is real and that humans are responsible. Resolutions like that (a "sense of the Senate," which carries no force of law) require unanimous consent, but this one didn't get it because of one guy, which is all it takes.

That would be Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the most notorious climate change denier in Congress. In objecting, Inhofe not only repeated long-debunked claims about our planet not really warming, but also said the Obama administration has federal agencies "colluding" to promote a "global warming agenda."

After Inhofe sat down, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island stood to contradict and correct the lies just told, which he described as from "an alternate reality." Then he rebutted every one of Inhofe's claims, particularly about the collusion:

Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called colluding together. How about NASA? We trust them to send our astronauts into space. We trust them to deliver a rover the size of an SUV to the surface of Mars safely and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from Mars to us. You think these people know what they’re talking about?

We trust NOAA with our weather predicting, and that's what they tell us. Nobody's saying they're incompetent at weather predicting, don't listen when people are warning you about storms. Suddenly when they talk about climate change, that's colluding?

How about the United States Navy? The commander in chief of our Pacific Command, Admiral Locklear, has said that the number one threat that we face in the Pacific theater comes from climate change. Is he colluding when he says that? This is a career Navy man, who the people of America have trusted with the security of our Pacific theater. And it's exactly consistent with what the Department of Defense quadrennial defense review says.

If you want to ignore the federal government, if you live in a world in which you think the federal government colludes with itself to make up things that aren’t true, okay. But look at the property casualty insurance and reinsurance industry. They’re the people with the biggest bet on this. They have billions of dollars riding on getting it right, and they say climate change is real, carbon pollution is causing it, we’ve got to do something about it.

So does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because they care about the poor and the effect this will have on the people who have the least. So does every major U.S. scientific society. Every single one.
Here's Whitehouse in action...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shut Up And Jam, Ted

Ted Nugent has been in the news again, with an Idaho tribe uninviting him to perform at their casino because of his "history of racist and hate-filled remarks." It's the same reason I stopped having him as a guest on my radio shows a decade ago -- his vitriol became too over-the-top.

Nugent was never known for nuance and subtlety, but there was a time when he was just an entertainer, swinging on ropes in his loin cloth while wailing away on his guitar and singing about "Cat Scratch Fever." He wasn't political, and his only weapon was rock and roll. That's the Nugent I loved having on the air. While he was the Motor City Madman on stage, he was very civil as we'd spend 20 minutes discussing music, touring, etc. -- but after he went on an anti-gay diatribe on my show circa 2004, I vowed never to have him on again.

It was too bad, because in addition to being a good guest in the 80s and 90s, I also got to do a couple of fun promotions with him. In one, Nugent let me give one of my listeners the flaming arrow he'd shot across the stage using his guitar as a bow. For the other, we have to go back to 1980, when I was music director at WRCN/Long Island.

Nugent had released an album called "Scream Dream" and we were playing it lot, particularly "Wango Tango." When I heard he was going to perform at the Nassau Coliseum, I called my contact at Epic Records and proposed something more than the usual concert ticket giveaway. Those were the days when record companies were much more willing to do promotions with radio stations, and my idea was approved fairly quickly.

It started out as your basic concert giveaway on the air, with twenty winners each getting a pair of tickets, but we added free transportation to and from the Coliseum on the WRCN Concert Bus. On the night of the show, we gathered all of our winners and a couple of station staffers on the bus and headed for the venue.

As we got close, I got up from my seat in the front of the bus and apologized, saying that I had to make a quick stop at a nearby hotel before we went to the show, but it would only take a few minutes. The driver pulled up in front, and I jumped out and went inside. When I emerged two minutes later, I had Ted Nugent beside me. I could hear voices on the bus saying, "Hey, Nugent is coming this way!"

Ted got on the bus and the crowd went crazy. As he walked down the aisle, he shook everyone's hand, signed some autographs, and answered a few questions. My favorite was when one of our listeners asked, "Are you gonna rock us tonight, Ted?" -- to which Nugent replied, "I'm gonna rock your dick off, man!" The crowd laughed and cheered and high-fived as he got off the bus. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.

I thanked the Epic rep for setting it up and Nugent for agreeing to it, and he said, "Anytime, Paul. Thanks for playing my records." Then he went inside to get ready for the concert, and I returned to a bus full of listeners buzzing about what just happened. I remember thinking that to them, WRCN was now the greatest radio station that ever existed. Long before the internet, this moment would go viral by word of mouth, and we'd own them (and all their friends) forever.

That radio station probably doesn't play much Nugent any more, and I wonder if the listeners who were on that Concert Bus even care about him these days. From footage I've seen, his concerts now seem more like extremist right-wing pro-NRA rallies than the good-time-rock-and-roll shows he put on in his heyday. Even if they still like his music, I'd bet that many of them have been as turned off by Nugent's hateful rhetoric in the last decade as I have.

Ironically, Nugent's new album and tour are entitled, "Shut Up and Jam!" It'll be interesting to see if other venues stop booking him because of the vile bile he spews. After all, no one wants to have the Motor City Madman talk their dick off.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Movie Review: "Lucy"

"Lucy" may have won the box office this weekend, bringing in an estimated $44 million, but as with so much summer fare, that doesn't mean it's a good movie.

The initial idea is a good one. Scarlett Johannson gets dragged into a scheme to smuggle a new drug from Taiwan to Europe. It's a blue crystal (though not as pretty as the stuff that came out of Walter White's lab), and a bag full of it is sewn into the bellies of ScarJo and three others who have been recruited against their will by some mob boss and his group of generic tough guys. When she gets roughed up by one of the thugs, the bag ruptures and its contents spill into her blood stream.

Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is giving a university lecture about how we only use 10% of our brains, and posits what would would happen if we could utilize more of our gray matter. It's another example of Freeman in the role of Guy Who Explains Everything To The Audience, because without his exposition, we would never understand what's going on.

This is the section of the film that should be labelled bullshit, because that whole 10% claim isn't true. In reality, we all use our entire brain, but that 10% line is the sort of thing spouted by psychics and other con artists who want you to believe that they've tapped into more brain power than you're able to, thus imbuing them with special powers. It's nonsense, pure and simple.

In "Lucy," the blue crystals in her system make ScarJo much smarter and give her special powers. She can move people and objects, project herself through TVs and telephones, speed through traffic even though she's never driven a car before, etc. Those special effects and stunts are the only reason for the last half of the movie, which itself is a mere 85 minutes long because after the original idea and a few chase scenes, there's nowhere else to go. As my radio colleague Colin Jeffery pointed out, director Luc Besson is kind enough to help you know how much more of this trash you have to sit through by putting a graphic on the screen showing Lucy's brain power increases -- now she's at 40%, now she's at 50%, now she's at 80%, so this will all be over soon.

Besson was already responsible for one of my worst-of-the-year nominees, having written the Kevin Costner movie "Three Days To Kill." Now, he's a double nominee for "Lucy." Not only is the plot poorly constucted, but Besson makes other directorial choices, like an ending montage of Lucy traveling back through time in a sequence that recalls the finale of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (and is just as confusing). He also has ScarJo talk more like a synthesized computer voice as her brain power increases.

Too bad he didn't bill "Lucy" as a prequel to the much superior "Her," in which ScarJo was the voice of Samantha, the computer operating system, which would have been the logical next step for her highly developed artificial intelligence.

If you want to see much better movies around similar themes, I'd suggest "Charly" (1968) starring Cliff Robertson as a mentally handicapped man who undergoes an experiment that makes him a genius (based on the book "Flowers For Algernon"), or try "Phenomenon" (1996) with John Travolta as a regular guy who, after seeing a bright flash in the sky, suddenly gains knowledge and abilities he'd never had. The cast of "Phenomenon" includes Forest Whitaker, Kyra Sedgwick, and Robert Duvall in a wonderfully compassionate role as the town doctor who is stumped by what caused Travolta's new talents.

You'll have a much better time with those suggestions than with "Lucy," which 90% of your brain will reject as stupid and a waste of time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

More On Talk Radio's Troubles

Another excellent column on how talk radio got into the trouble it's in, by Perry Simon:

See, at some point in the consolidation process -- early, I'd say -- the goal ceased to be winning. Back in the days when you had an AM and an FM, you went to war with the competition. You counter-programmed, you marketed, you pranked the competition's jocks, you showed up at their events, you battled for every dollar. And then you ended up with, say, 5 FMs and 3 AMs, and suddenly the goal wasn't to beat an individual station but to try to maximize value for shareholders and grow enough revenue to pay off the debt service (and maybe make up for another market where they weren't pulling their weight). And that led in turn to the idea of either building a "wall" of demographics -- like five flavors of Top 40 and AC covering women from birth to 65 -- or using full-market FMs not to win but to slice off a chunk of a competing market leader's ratings and revenue, a "flanker." This, with so many signals, might be a sound strategy; maybe L.A. doesn't NEED identical Top 40s or Alternative stations, but you can see why they did that. The problem is that by doing so, it eliminated the ability to use those signals to rescue News-Talk stations from shriveling on the rapidly aging and shrinking AM band. The thought was, there'll always be time for that. Now, 25 years later, those flankers are entrenched and there's no room for the Talk stations. By preserving the separate revenue streams, they managed to end up endangering one of them anyway.

The Internet, you say? Sure, that isn't a bad idea on the surface; it surely eliminates signal limitations and the buzz of electrical interference, and the kids, they love the streaming, right? But why would they listen to what standard talk radio has to offer? I've written about the stodgy, old-fart nature of "regular" talk radio, but what the delay in acting has additionally done is to destroy the brands. Ask yourself what a person under 40 thinks of when they hear the call letters of the heritage talk stations across the country. I'll give you a hint: If they have any image of it at all, it's that it's Dad's Station. It's not for them. And they've been given no reason to change their minds. THEIR talk radio involves streaming and podcasting that's made for the medium and made for their interests, whether it's Marc Maron or "This Week in Tech" or "Welcome to Night Vale," which is, in fact, a serial, a radio drama (okay, it's comedy), a form that their elders think died in the late 1940s. It's not the format and it's not the form, it turns out. It's the content, and the delivery vehicle doesn't matter, as long as it's not technically deficient, like AM (and PLEASE don't go with the "back when they made GOOD receivers" argument, because they DON'T make good receivers now and there's WAY more electrical interference and YOU KNOW THAT).
Read Perry's full piece here.


Nina Millin has done a series of videos in which she reads the lyrics to Beyonce songs, without music, in a very dramatic style. Here's one pretty funny example...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ozark Music Festival

Forty years ago this month, the town of Sedalia, Missouri, was home to one of the largest music festivals in American history -- the Ozark Music Festival, on the grounds of the Missouri State Fair. The lineup included some of the biggest rock acts of 1974 (as seen on the poster above), but so many people showed up (estimates run as high as 350,000) that it became a sea of people, sex, drugs, and rock and roll (imagine Woodstock without the mud).

Jeff Lujin has been working on a documentary about the festival, speaking with some of the organizers, attendees, and performers. Today, he joined me on KTRS, as did my friend Mark Muller, who was actually there. They each told stories about the bands, the conditions, the way the town reacted, the state's response afterwards, and the sights and sounds of the historic event that caused rock acts to be banned from the Missouri State Fair for the next 20 years.

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

Harris Challenge 7/25/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "This Week In The Law," "Going To Cooperstown," and "People Born The Same Day As Me." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/25/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a guy run over by his own car, criminals who should stay off Facebook, and a guy who chose the wrong escape route.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Ray Rice's Insufficient Punishment

I haven't watched Keith Olbermann's ESPN show in many months, but his commentary last night on the insufficient punishment the NFL handed down to wife-beater Ray Rice reminded me how good Olbermann can be when he's truly steamed...

KTRS Today

I'll be on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today 3-6pm CT, and in my first hour I'll talk with Jeff Lujin, director of a new documentary about the 1974 Ozark Music Festival, which had an incredible lineup of acts, a crowd of more than 250,000, and enough problems to ensure that the festival never happened again.

Also this afternoon: Colin Jeffrey and I will review "Hercules" and "Lucy," and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, plus your chance to play my Harris Challenge trivia game. You can listen live over the air, via the free KTRS smartphone app, or stream it here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Talk Radio Is In Trouble

You're not aware of it, but there's quite a lot of hand-wringing inside the talk radio industry these days. The audience is aging without attracting younger listeners, many major national advertisers have avoided the format completely since the Sandra Fluke controversy, and there are fewer and fewer places to listen without being bashed in the head by right-wing ideologues.

Former WLW/Cincinnati programmer Darryl Parks writes:

Day in and day out I read excuses and quotes in industry trades with fingers of blame being pointed because no one in the radio industry wants to take any responsibility for culturally disconnected talk programs. Or worse, there are the people who have consigned themselves into thinking low ratings are OK because they’re here for the higher cause of guiding the country and saving it from the Kenyan national we have as President or those who have just given up hoping not to be the next victim as corporate radio, struggling to make its next loan interest payment, executes its latest round of air personalities. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

The June PPM ratings are rolling in and outside of a few stations, the ratings are a disaster. The monthly ratings for many talk stations are in a free fall, displaying a product detached from all but an old, small, shrinking and worthless audience.
I talked with a top executive at one of the big radio groups recently who was bemoaning these problems, and I asked, "What happened to the 25-34 year olds who listened to my morning shows in DC in the 80s and 90s? Have they been driven away because of all of the political fear-mongering that fills most hours of contemporary talk radio?" His answer: "They've either stopped using radio except as a news and traffic source in the car, or they're listening to NPR. If you look at the ratings in Washington and many other major cities now, the NPR station does better than the leading commercial talk stations."

There's certainly a slew of great radio coming out of NPR, from Morning Edition to All Things Considered to Fresh Air, but I find it strange that the industry hasn't taken more notice of this trend and tried to win some of those listeners back by offering content that speaks to that audience more directly.

This isn't a conservative vs. liberal thing. It's a lament for the loss of General Interest talk radio, a format that once boasted quick-witted and intelligent hosts interviewing compelling guests and bringing up topics that engaged callers and non-callers alike. The sort of show that makes you sit in your car for a few extra minutes in the parking lot before you turned it off because you were so caught up in what you were hearing. Radio that was about entertainment and engagement.

There are exceptions across the country, and -- not to sound like a suck-up -- KTRS continues to be one of them. I only work part-time there these days, but even when I was on five days a week, there hasn't been any pressure to promote any particular agenda at any time. In fact, political discussions are frowned upon, because that's not what that station's audience wants. The content is purposely kept light, entertaining, and engaging -- with an emphasis on being local. 

And it makes money.

Look at the list of the most-downloaded podcasts on iTunes -- that's what they're providing. Most of the hosts aren't professional broadcasters, but they know how to create compelling audio without forcing a political viewpoint down your throat. Why doesn't talk radio hire them and give them a bigger platform from which to entertain? 

If the format doesn't turn itself around soon, it's going to grow old and extinct, just like its current target demographic.

You can read Darryl Parks' entire piece here. And read his follow-up, too.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • It's wonderful celebrating the 45th anniversary of landing on the moon, but sad that no human has left Earth's orbit for 42 years.
  • Good read: the surprisingly savvy Weird Al internet machine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Still Making Sense

While watching the Talking Heads' 1984 concert documentary "Stop Making Sense" (directed by Jonathan Demme), I was mesmerized by the performance of David Byrne and it occurred to me that performers like him have no chance in the star-making machinery of TV shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol." Despite his undeniable abilities as a songwriter and front man, the judges would no doubt consider him an out-of-the-mainstream weirdo with no chance of success. They'd be wrong, of course, as this performance of "Life During Wartime" proves...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Evil Technology

The Guardian has unearthed some secret documents in which the FBI warns that driverless cars could be turned into lethal weapons by evildoers. As opposed to guns, which could never be used for evil purposes and must always be protected.

There's Always A New Chapter

A friend asked a couple of days ago, "What is going on Israel and the Palestinians? I haven't watched the news all week." I answered, "Have you seen any news from that part of the world in the last 5,000 years?" He said, "Of course," to which I replied, "It's the same story, new chapter."

TMI Airlines

In discussing the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 on Thursday, I wondered whether the perpetrators were targeting that specific plane or simply shooting at whatever they thought they could hit. If it were the former, how would they know when a specific plane was in a specific location?

Turns out it's not that difficult to find out. There have long been flight tracking websites that tell you where a plane is, how fast it's going, how high it's flying, etc. But I didn't know until this week that Apple has built that information into Siri.

I just asked Siri, "What flights are overhead right now?" This is the information I got in response:

Pretty cool, but who needs that information? Most of us aren't even aware there are planes flying over us all day long, but on the occasions when I have looked up at one, I've never been curious about the flight. There are also sites that allow you to listen to live air traffic communications between pilots and control towers at pretty much any airport in the world. 

With all the paranoia we've lived through since 9/11/01 about terrorism and airplanes, why is all that data so publicly available while I still have to take off my shoes and keep my shampoo bottles under three ounces just to get through a TSA checkpoint?

Harris Challenge 7/18/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Most Valuable Sports Franchises," "The Moon Plus 45," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/18/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a confused TSA agent, man vs. spider vs. fire, and 3,000 ping pong balls.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

Good piece by Vulture's Kyle Buchanan about odd age gaps between movie characters, from Susan Sarandon playing Melissa McCarthy's grandmother in "Tammy" even though she's only 24 years older to Angelina Jolie playing Colin Farrell's mother in "Alexander" when she was only one year older.

Not mentioned: Anne Bancroft was only 6 years older than Dustin Hoffman when she seduced him in "The Graduate."

Eat Your Lottery Tickets

Several times in the last week, I've been nauseated by a radio commercial for the Missouri Lottery promoting its Big Mo Combo.

In it, a guy pulls up to a drive-through window of a fast food restaurant and the voice on the other side asks if he wants a combo. He asks what's in the combo and is told that it includes two of this scratch-off lottery ticket, three of that scratch-off ticket, and several others -- in fact, he'll get $12 worth of tickets for $10. Eventually, the guy in the car says, "Well, I was going to get some food, but give me those lottery tickets!!"

That's simultaneously the most honest thing I've ever heard in the promotion of a lottery and the most desperate. In order to make people buy lottery tickets, of course, you must promote the dream of becoming a multi-millionaire without revealing that the odds of winning are ridiculously small. You also have to get people into the lottery ticket-buying habit. You're not going to keep the lottery going with occasional players -- the ones who only get in line when the Powerball jackpot is over $200 million. You have to get people to play regularly, and you have to make people give up their food money to buy tickets, because the chance at a fortune you'll never win is more important than not starving.

Lottery officials love the slogan, "You can't win if you don't play."

It's a lot sexier than "You can't eat if you don't buy food!"

Previously on Harris Online...

Tim Minchin's Live Storm

I was introduced to -- and became an instant fan of -- the work of Tim Minchin three years ago when I saw an animated version of "Storm," his brilliant song (he described it as a jazz-backed beat poem) about an encounter with a woman who believes all sorts of nonsense and his efforts to rebut her anti-science garbage with rational thinking. This fall, Minchin is going to publish it as an illustrated book (preview here). But long before those versions, he was performing it as part of his stage act, like this night at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in 2009...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

There have been a lot of articles written recently to mark the 25th anniversary of the debut of "Seinfeld" (technically, it was called "The Seinfeld Chronicles" that first summer), but here's the story of an episode you've never seen -- because no one has -- as told by Larry Charles, who wrote it, and Tom Chernones, who would have directed it if it had been shot. [thanks to Frank Ladd for the link]

Picture Of The Day

David Kwong gives a TED Talk that combines magic and crossword puzzles, building to a clever finish...

[thanks to Stuart Snyder for the link]

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Harris Challenge 7/11/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "It's Seven Eleven," "Seinfeld's World," and "You Named Your Child What??" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/11/14

My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a former lover's revenge, too many tattoos, and a horse thief. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, July 11, 2014

War Words

This morning, I heard a reporter say, over video of Israel launching missiles, "Israel is on the brink of war." Correction: anytime a nation launches missiles at another, it is already at war.

Tim Elfrink on A-Rod & Steroids

In January, 2013, Miami New Times reporter Tim Elfrink broke the story of Alex Rodriguez and Biogenesis, the company that was supplying him with performance-enhancing drugs. That story led to a Major League Baseball investigation, and the eventual suspension of A-Rod and 14 other players. Now, Elfrink has continued his reporting in "Blood Sport," and joined me on KTRS to talk about it.

We talked about how the secret unraveled because of a single debt Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch didn't pay, whether A-Rod will be back in Yankees pinstripes next season, and whether steroids are still a problem for baseball. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Gary Johnson, Marijuana Merchant

Gary Johnson, former New Mexico Governor and Libertarian Party presidential candidate, has gotten into the marijuana business. He has been an advocate of legalizing pot for several years, and now has a company called Cannabis Sativa. When we talked today on KTRS, he predicted that the vast majority of US states will follow Colorado and Washington down the path of legalizing recreational weed, and more will allow medical marijuana, too. We discussed at length how the business side is changing, and how legislatures and the federal government will have to bend to public demand (not to mention millions in tax revenue).

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

VA Whistleblower

This morning on KTRS, I went on an extended rant about whistleblower Jose* Matthews, former head of psychiatry at the St. Louis VA Health Care Center, who testified before Congress last night about the backlash he's gotten since uncovering how the staff hasn't put in the hours necessary to care for patients but filled out false paperwork to cover their tracks. Matthews explained how both his employees and his superiors at the VA hospital retaliated against him, and how, when he went to the top of the ladder to acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, he was criticized for not following the chain of command.

The psychiatry department of VA hospitals is crucial because of the vast number of soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health issues, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder, not to mention the difficulties of trying to re-join normal life at home after multiple tours at war. But as Matthews has revealed, too many of these veterans have been forced to wait and wait and wait for a system that either isn't capable of caring for them or personnel who aren't doing their jobs.

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

Here are Matthews and three other VA whistleblowers testifying before the House Veterans Affairs Committee last night...

*Yes, Dr. Matthews' first name is pronounced "joes," not "jo-zay."

Liberty's Torch

Elizabeth Mitchell joined me today on KTRS to talk about her new book, "Liberty's Torch: The Great Adventure To Build The Statue Of Liberty." In it, she debunks the widely-held belief that the statue was a gift to the US from the government of France. In fact, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi had to run the equivalent of a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to build and transport Lady Liberty -- not to mention buying the island she stands on. Mitchell also revealed who the model for the statue was, how long it took to build, and why the Emma Lazarus poem ("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free") wasn't part of Bartholdi's original design.

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

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Suing Major League Baseball Over The Minors

Garrett Broshuis played minor league baseball for several years right out of college, but never made it to the majors. When he gave it up, he went to law school and now practices at a firm in St. Louis that has filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball on behalf of 32 minor leaguers over the incredibly low wages they're paid.

Today on KTRS, I talked to Garrett about his playing days, the conditions under which major league hopefuls play in the minors, and the details of the class action lawsuit. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Consequences For Stupidity

Great piece by Time's James Poniewozik on why celebrities -- like a SiriusXM loudmouth who's gotten in trouble before for trying to be outrageous -- don't get to yell "censorship" when they're fired for saying or doing stupid things in public. As he points out, your First Amendment rights aren't violated if the government had nothing to do with it.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Richard Dreyfuss' son Ben and daughter Emily have posted at Mother Jones a funny discussion about one of their father's most famous movies, "Jaws," which was released 39 years ago this weekend.

After watching it recently with their mother, they realized they had mis-remembered some important parts of the plot. For instance, Mom thought Dreyfuss killed the shark*, when it was actually Roy Scheider. They made the same mistake about one of the movie's most famous lines, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," which also should be attributed to Scheider.

When Emily and Ben started analyzing the movie, they realized that major parts of the plot do not hold up to scrutiny:
ED: I also forgot that [the Dreyfus] character was the rich kid!

BD: Oh yeah, with his tony, rich boat that they should have taken to avoid the whole death/sinking thing?

ED: I mean, they don't even address that, which is ridiculous. Like, his boat had all the things they needed! Like sonar.

BD: Right? And Quint demands that they take his rickety piece of shit which is just an insane thing to do. The only reasonable thing to say to Quint when he makes that demand is, "Sir, you are insane. We are not putting our lives in the hands of an insane person. You're fired. Good day."

ED: "Also, we should add, you can't catch a shark this big with a fishing pole. It had to be said."


ED: Like, his big plan is that he is going to REEL it in with his human man arms.

BD: I was under the impression that he was using some sort of contraption to leverage the weight of the boat or something? But that might not be how science works.

ED: I don't think so. I think he was using the power of a metal cup to help hold the fishing rod and that is that and then it shows him reeling in and letting out and then being like, "This shark is so smart! I can't pull him in!"

BD: "He's either very very smart or very very dumb."

ED: LOL, yes. That's the line. Then he hands the rod—with the shark on the line!—to Scheider who knows nothing about fishing and isn't even strapped in!

BD: Then at the end he tries to tow him back to shore.

ED: Yeah and that works out well.

BD: Also, the entire notion of the shark following them out to sea seems suspect. Why would Jaws follow their dumb boat? It's just one boat.

ED: Because of the dead fish and blood trail.

BD: That little bit of dead fish that Scheider throws in there though, it's not much! Like it's just a bit of blood. Jaws can eat that much fish whenever he wants.
In the end, they surmise that the movie doesn't make sense, but it's still a classic. Read the whole thing here.

Previously on Harris Online...
*Don't write and tell me that I ruined the end of the movie. You don't have to say "spoiler" alert on anything more than a few years old, let alone a few decades! Besides, knowing how "Jaws" ends will not spoil the movie for you, anymore than knowing that Bruce Willis survives every "Die Hard."


I'm up early today (and the rest of the week) to fill in for McGraw Milhaven on The Big 550 KTRS morning show (6-10am CT). You can listen live via ktrs.com or the station's free smartphone app.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Radio-Free Independence

I won't be at The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today, because I'm home with my family celebrating the holiday with our annual viewing of "1776" (which I wrote about here and here).

But next week, I'll be in there Monday-Thursday to fill in for McGraw on his morning show, and then back to my regular Friday afternoon show. Get some sleep this weekend so you can get up early for me next week!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Next He'll Do 15¢ Dimes

I won't be on the air tomorrow because of the holiday (although I'll be on the KTRS morning show all next week), but if I were, this is certainly one of the stories I'd include in Knuckleheads In The News®, although I'm not 100% convinced this isn't a hoax.

A company called Washboard, which sold US quarters at a premium (37.5¢ each) -- for people who needed the coins to do laundry -- has gone out of business after just two weeks. Founder Caleb Brown says,

Nearly 100% of the internet thought Washboard was an absolutely absurd concept. I had a very difficult time convincing people the service was even real but we did have customers that were excited for it. I apologize to those folks but we have decided to shut down Washboard. While I am sad to see it go so quickly, I'm excited to be focusing my energy on something ultimately more worthwhile.
It's hard to believe he wasn't able to make a million dollar idea like that work -- in exchange for $1.5 million, of course.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Sweet Baby James Still Has It

I don't have many regrets in my life, but I wish I had never given up playing the guitar. I took lessons for five years, but abandoned it when I was 13. I can still pick one up and play a C chord, or a G or maybe an E-minor, but not much more, and certainly not James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" album. There was a time, when I was 12 years old, that I could play every song on that album. My guitar teacher had recommended it, so I bought it and practically wore out the grooves on the vinyl, listening to it over and over and learning the guitar parts by heart.

All of that came flooding back last week when my wife and I went to see James Taylor in concert, and he did several songs from that classic album. At 66, his voice is still strong, his banter with the audience between songs was playful, and his band was terrific. Two of them are pictured above -- It included saxophonist Lou Marini, an original member of the "SNL" and Blues Brothers bands, and drummer Steve Gadd, who has played on dozens of classic albums including Steely Dan's "Aja" and appeared in Paul Simon's movie "One Trick Pony."

As for the crowd, I don't want to say Taylor's demographics are a little older, but when we baby boomers gave him a standing ovation, there was a collective groan and bone-creak. Fortunately, that means almost everyone remained seated. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the photo people, who insisted on using their smartphones to document the event.

I wrote about this phenomenon in March, after attending the Experience Hendrix concert:
The other annoying thing was the huge number of people using their smartphones to take video of the concert. To me, the idea of paying to go to a live venue is to see the performances as they happen on the stage, not to watch them on a four-inch-wide screen. But the guy in front of me had a different philosophy, as he regularly whipped out his iPhone to shoot a minute or two of the show -- he alternated between lifting the phone and downing a Bud -- which meant I, too, was forced to watch the show on his phone display.

It's been years since I went to a concert, but I remember most of them being preceded by an announcement that audio and video recording is prohibited. I suppose that's impossible to police in the smartphone age, but if this amateur videographer actually watched the footage he shot from 30 rows away and saw how small everyone and everything looked, maybe he'd knock it off.
What made the woman at the James Taylor concert worse was that she had to take a picture of every song, as if she'd be able to distinguish between them later, as if a still of "Fire and Rain" looks different than a still of "Your Smiling Face." On occasion, instead of getting the detail-less view from row MM, she'd take a shot of the big video screen, forcing me (and everyone else around us) to watch TV through her smartphone, instead of the live performer we'd paid to enjoy.

There's a remarkable arrogance to that, not caring that you're distracting everyone around you, just like when you’re the only person in your section standing and dancing to a song while we’re all seated. To paraphrase Danny Glover in "Lethal Weapon," we're getting too old for that.

Still, she was not enough of an annoyance to ruin the concert for us, because the weather for the outdoor show was perfect, Taylor sounded so good, and his mix of new and classic material made for a very enjoyable night.

Now if I could only remember how to play "Sweet Baby James."

RIP Paul Mazursky

Last December, on the occasion of Paul Mazursky getting a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, I posted a wonderful conversation I had with him in 1999. Yesterday, I learned he has died at age 84 after an extended illness, so I'll urge you go back back and listen to that interview with the director of such movie classics as "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," "An Unmarried Woman," "Moon Over Parador," "Next Stop Greenwich Village," and "Moscow On The Hudson."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Obvious Child's Extraordinary Choice

It's ironic that the Supreme Court's terrible decision in the Hobby Lobby case came down at the same time a movie called "Obvious Child" is in theaters. The ruling will keep lots of American women from having easy access to contraception, while the movie is about a woman who gets pregnant during a drunken one-night stand because she and the guy didn't use a condom.

"Obvious Child" is different from other contemporary movies is that Donna, played by Jenny Slate, is not ready to have a child and knows it. In fact, at 27 years old, she's not even ready to fully be an adult. So she makes the right decision to have an abortion.

While more than 30% of American women have or will have an abortion in their lifetimes, the subject is seldom discussed in popular culture. Katherine Heigl's character didn't even consider it in "Knocked Up." Angie Harmon's character on "Rizzoli and Isles" is now pregnant, but there can't be any discussion of abortion on a TNT drama. At least in "Juno," Ellen Page's character researched the option and even went to an abortion clinic, but in the end she, too, decided to carry the child to term.

In a new CBS drama called "Extant," Halle Berry plays an astronaut who spends over a year in space alone, yet somehow comes back to Earth pregnant. Granted, it's not much of a series if she aborts the thing immediately after she discovers she's carrying it, but why the hell wouldn't she get rid of what is obviously some extraterrestrial life form inside of her? Does she not know what happened to John Hurt in "Alien"?

As for Donna's choice in "Obvious Child," Scott Lemieux writes for TheWeek.com:
Her decision is presented in a smart and refreshingly nonjudgmental manner. [Director Gillian] Robespierre, who is also the primary screenwriter of her directorial debut, makes the wise choice of not turning Donna’s pregnancy into some kind of special case that might justify abortion to people who are wishy-washy on the issue. Donna is not sexually assaulted. She doesn’t have a fetus with a defect. There was no broken condom.

Instead, the pregnancy results from a casual encounter — indeed, what appears at the time to be a one-night stand. Donna meets Max (Jake Lacy) after a show, and the couple fails to use contraception —- a nondecision explained in a funny, nearly surreal flashback sequence —- during a drunken hookup. The message is clear: Women should be able to experiment sexually without having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
"Obvious Child" is not going to be a blockbuster, but it has received a lot of critical acclaim and will help advance the careers of both Slate and Robespierre, who prove they can make a movie that's very raunchy, very clever, and even very touching. But I hope it doesn't stand alone as a single example of what women on screen can choose to do with their bodies. Maybe it will take more women writing and directing romantic comedies and dramas to realize that.

Just as it will take more women serving on the Supreme Court to recognize that using contraception is not a matter for your employer or the government to decide.

Chanting and Believing Do Not Equal Winning

Once again today, Americans will pretend that they love soccer because the US is playing Belgium in the World Cup. As I wrote last week, this is only a temporary infatuation, but that doesn't excuse some of the nonsense.

Here's an example: Thursday morning, before the US played Germany, Jurgen Klinsmann, head coach of the US Men's National Team, posted a note on social media that you could give your boss...
“Please excuse ___  from work on Thursday, June 26th. I understand that this absence may reduce the productivity of your workplace, but I can assure you that it is for an important cause. The USMNT has a critical World Cup game vs. Germany and we will need the full support of the nation if we are going to advance to the next round. By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well. Go USA!”
It was a cute piece of promotion but, of course, the "full support of the nation" had no influence on the outcome of the game -- which, by the way, the US lost but still advanced to the next round. If you're in the stadium cheering on your team, that enthusiasm can pump up the players. But giving your full support from your office cubicle or any other venue has no relation to what happens on the field.

Similarly there was no impact on the score by all those people watching in bars and chanting, “I believe that we will win!!” They should have been chanting, "I believe that we might not win but it's okay as long as Portugal doesn't out-score Ghana by five goals, allowing us to move on in the tournament that I don't understand but everyone else is saying something in unison so I'm joining in!!"

Belief has nothing to do with results. If it did, all those people who buy Powerball tickets every week believing they're going to win would be multi-billionaires by now.