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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/30/14

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a guy who tried to scalp tickets for "The Interview," a father named after whiskey and a son named after bourbon, and some crack cocaine in the ICU.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Best Thing I've Read Today

No, Argentina's president did not adopt a Jewish child to stop him turning into a werewolf.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best TV Of The Year

In no particular order, these were the five best TV shows I watched this year (no vampires, no costume epics):

"Fargo." In just 10 episodes, showrunner Noah Hawley created a world in parallel -- but separate from -- that in the Coen Brothers' classic movie. With a cast including breakout star Allison Tolman, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, and Colin Hanks, "Fargo" was a worthy successor to "Breaking Bad" as the most captivating drama on television. It will return next year, but with a whole new cast and plotline.

"Last Week Tonight." When John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart during the summer of 2013, it was clear he was talented enough to have his own show. Fortunately, HBO not only recognized that, but gave him and his colleagues all the room they needed to create an entirely new topical comedy show that not only makes you laugh, but informs you about stuff you'd never thought about, from international issues (the Indian election) to domestic ones (civil forfeiture). "LWT" even managed to make the boring topic of net neutrality both interesting and funny -- and caused the FCC to be bombarded with viewer demands that it keep the internet free and fast. Oliver and his crew also get the viral video thing, as they're proving while the show is on winter hiatus by continuing to release web-only content like this:

"You're The Worst." Showrunner Stephen Falk took two characters who despise dating, romance, the conventions of everyday life, and most other humans, and had them fall in love (and lust). Brilliant, funny, and biting, with breakout performances by Chris Geere and (especially) Aya Cash. Glad to see it's been picked up for another season.

"Silicon Valley." HBO's half-hour clever satire about high-tech geniuses trying to get their startup off the ground without knowing what they're actually doing. The final episode of its first season may have been the funniest of any TV show all year.

"Louie." Okay, not the entire season (which was hit-and-miss), but one episode in particular, "So Did The Fat Lady," with a terrific performance by Sarah Baker. Remember that Louis CK not only stars in the show, but also writes, directs, and edits it, too...

If you're the kind of person who isn't comfortable with a Top 5 list and insists on being all decimal about it, you can add these, again in no particular order: "True Detective," "Key and Peele," "Masters of Sex," "Mad Men," and "The Colbert Report."

I talked all of this over with St. Louis Post-Dispatch TV critic Gail Pennington, who has her own Best-Of-2014 list. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

More About The Sony Hack

Over the weekend, I linked to a piece by online security expert Marc Rogers, in which he analyzed the claims that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack and concluded the evidence didn't warrant that conclusion. I contacted Marc and asked him to join me on KTRS to explain his reasoning further, from who the hackers might have been, to why they did it, to how the FBI could have concluded differently.

We discussed how the hack couldn't have been revenge for the Seth Rogen/James Franco movie, "The Interview," because the hackers didn't even mention it in their initial attack and extortion attempt. I also asked Marc about a hackers group called Lizard Squad, which might have provided Sony employee login information to the Guardians Of Peace, who say they were responsible for the hack.

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

What Happened to AirAsia 8501?

ABC News aviation consultant Steve Ganyard joined me on KTRS today to talk about the disappearance of AirAsia flight 8501 this weekend. Among the questions I asked him:
  • Was it significant that the pilot asked for a new flight plan moments before the plane disappeared off radar -- and why wasn't there a mayday call?
  • What does this incident have in common with the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 nine months ago?
  • What's AirAsia's safety record?
  • Is there something about Indonesian airspace that contributed to these incidents?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

What's Wrong With The Secret Service?

Carol Leonnig has been looking into the critical decisions made after 9/11 that led to a decline in the Secret Service (here's her Washington Post piece) during both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush presidencies. When she joined me on KTRS, we discussed how the agency's mandate was increased while its budget was shrunk, the impact of hundreds of agents taking early retirement, the lack of oversight by Congress, and why so many agents have complained about the way the Secret Service has been run in the last decade.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/29/14

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about stolen Christmas decorations, non-emergency emergency calls, and an amateur lock-checker.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best Of Times

Not too long ago, I overheard a guy saying something along the lines of, "This is the worst time in American history."

He didn't offer any evidence to back that up, but I knew he had absolutely no historical perspective -- or perhaps he'd never heard of The Civil War or The Great Depression. Even in my own lifetime, I remember how America was simultaneously divided by the Vietnam War and the civil rights era and the emergence of women's rights, not to mention a president forced out of office for engaging in criminal and unconstitutional acts. My guess is that the guy who made that "worst time" statement spent far too many hours each day watching cable news fear-mongering and reading divisive, agenda-driven, and/or conspiratorial websites full of information that fed his pessimism bias.

What that guy needed to read instead was this piece by Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, in which they explain that, if you simply crunch the numbers and analyze the evidence objectively, there's no need for pessimism today:

The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable -- homicide, rape, battering, child abuse -- have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states -- by far the most destructive of all conflicts -- are all but obsolete. The increase in the number and deadliness of civil wars since 2010 is circumscribed, puny in comparison with the decline that preceded it, and unlikely to escalate.

We have been told of impending doom before: a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, a line of dominoes in Southeast Asia, revanchism in a reunified Germany, a rising sun in Japan, cities overrun by teenage superpredators, a coming anarchy that would fracture the major nation-states, and weekly 9/11-scale attacks that would pose an existential threat to civilization.

Why is the world always “more dangerous than it has ever been”-- even as a greater and greater majority of humanity lives in peace and dies of old age?

Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

There is a better way to understand the world. Commentators can brush up their history -- not by rummaging through Bartlett’s for a quote from Clausewitz, but by recounting the events of the recent past that put the events of the present in an intelligible context. And they could consult the analyses of quantitative datasets on violence that are now just a few clicks away.
Read the full piece by Pinker and Mack here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Adam Savage of "Mythbusters"

Adam Savage returned to my show to talk about the "Mythbusters" marathon (every episode from all ten seasons) that's airing through January 2nd on The Science Channel. We also discussed the upcoming 11th season, which debuts January 10th on The Discovery Channel, but will not include cast members Kari Byron, Tory Bellaci, and Grant Imahara.

I asked Adam why they're no longer on the show, whether that means more work for him and Jamie Hyneman, and if their extra airtime will allow us to see more of the process behind their myth-busting. We also talked about Adam's connection to "Sesame Street," taking the "Beyond The Myths Tour" to Australia, and how his whipping skills will be showcased in an upcoming episode.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/24/14

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about painted pandas, a dog with a gun, and some Australians who hate Nickelback.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Bruce Willis and the Failing Russian Bank

When I saw a piece in Slate entitled "Russia Is Bailing Out a Bank (and Bruce Willis Is Tangentially Involved)," I knew I had to talk to its author. So Jordan Weissmann joined me on KTRS to explain the Willis connection to the economic crisis in Russia, and whether that country will follow our example of deeming financial institutions "too big to fail." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jeff Smith on The Bush Dynasty

Jeff Smith -- who I got to know at the poker table in his days as a Missouri state senator and is now an assistant professor of politics and advocacy at The New School -- has written a fascinating piece about the Bush Dynasty and its evolution. With Jeb Bush considering a possibly-maybe-perhaps run for the presidency in 2016 and his now 90-year-old father George HW Bush (our 41st president) hospitalized this week, I invited Jeff to join me on KTRS to discuss that political family and how Jeb (like his father and grandfather) may not fit in today's ultra-conservative Republican party.

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Don't Blame North Korea

Online security expert Marc Rogers makes the case that it wasn't North Korea that hacked Sony's computers -- supposedly over the Seth Rogen/James Franco movies "The Interview" -- it was a disgruntled former employee. In a piece for The Daily Beast, Rogers goes through a lot of technical computer-speak to back up his thesis, and then gets to these five points:

1. First of all, there is the fact that the attackers only brought up the anti-North Korean bias of “The Interview” after the media did—the film was never mentioned by the hackers right at the start of their campaign. In fact, it was only after a few people started speculating in the media that this and the communication from North Korea “might be linked” that suddenly it did get linked. My view is that the attackers saw this as an opportunity for “lulz”, and a way to misdirect everyone. (And wouldn’t you know it? The hackers are now saying it’s okay for Sony to release the movie, after all.) If everyone believes it’s a nation state, then the criminal investigation will likely die. It’s the perfect smokescreen.

2. The hackers dumped the data. Would a state with a keen understanding of the power of propaganda be so willing to just throw away such a trove of information? The mass dump suggests that whoever did this, their primary motivation was to embarrass Sony Pictures. They wanted to humiliate the company, pure and simple.

3. Blaming North Korea offers an easy way out for the many, many people who allowed this debacle to happen; from Sony Pictures management through to the security team that were defending Sony Picture’s network.

4. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that blaming North Korea is quite convenient for the FBI and the current U.S. administration. It’s the perfect excuse to push through whatever new, strong, cyber-laws they feel are appropriate, safe in the knowledge that an outraged public is fairly likely to support them.

5. Hard-coded paths and passwords in the malware make it clear that whoever wrote the code had extensive knowledge of Sony’s internal architecture and access to key passwords. While it’s (just) plausible that a North Korean elite cyber unit could have built up this knowledge over time and then used it to make the malware, Occam’s razor suggests the simpler explanation of a pissed-off insider. Combine that with the details of several layoffs that Sony was planning and you don’t have to stretch the imagination too far to consider that a disgruntled Sony employee might be at the heart of it all.
Read Rogers' full piece here.

Also on Harris Online...

Best Thing I've Read Today

You might want to take a break from watching the televised "A Christmas Story" marathon to read Donald Fagen’s appreciation of its creator, Jean Shepherd. Like Fagen, I listened to Shep on WOR/New York when I was much younger, entranced by his ability to communicate, drawn into the world he created every night.
Shepherd's talk usually fell into one of four categories. Fans of A Christmas Story will be familiar with the basic comic tone of his Depression-era tales, elaborations on his experience growing up in Hammond, Ind., a Chicago suburb in the shadow of the U.S. Steel Works on Lake Michigan. These stories featured his manic father ("the old man"); his mother (always standing over the sink in "a yellow rump-sprung chenille bathrobe with bits of dried egg on the lapel"); his kid brother, Randy, and assorted pals, bullies, beauties, and other neighborhood types. While the film preserves much of the flavor of Shep's humor, not much remains of the acid edge that characterized his on-air performances. In the film, the general effect is one of bittersweet nostalgia; on the radio, the true horror of helpless childhood came through.

Then there were the stories culled from his three years in the stateside Army during World War II (a juvenile ham radio and electronics freak, he was assigned to the Signal Corps). The third hunk of material was informed by his adventures in postwar radio and TV. He seems to have done every possible job, from engineer to sportscaster to hosting live cowboy music broadcasts. Finally, there was the contemporary stuff, comments on the passing scene.

In between, he'd sing along to noisy old records, play the kazoo and the nose flute, brutally sabotage the commercials, and get his listeners—the "night people," the "gang"—to help him pull goofy public pranks on the unwitting squares that populated most of Manhattan. In one famous experiment in the power of hype, Shepherd asked his listeners to go to bookstores and make requests for I, Libertine,a nonexistent novel by a nonexistent author, Frederick R. Ewing. The hoax quickly snowballed and several weeks later I, Libertine was on best-seller lists. (Shep and sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon eventually codged together an actual novel for Ballantine Books. I owned a copy.)
Unlike Fagen, I enjoyed Shep in person, twice traveling to Princeton to see him onstage. I devoured his books, too. In fact, 30 years ago, when my mother-in-law asked me to record a book for the Talking Books program she runs in Hartford, Connecticut, I agreed, on the condition that I could read Shep's "In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash)." Having listened to him nightly in high school, I tried to bring his characters to life the way he did, although my then-twenty-six-year-old voice wasn't as deep and mellifluous as his.

About a decade ago, I went to the Chicago area to play in a poker tournament the first time, and couldn't help but smile as I crossed into the Indiana suburb where the Horseshoe casino is located. Yep, it's was Shep's old hometown, Hammond.

Jean Shepherd was a unique American entertainer. I'm glad that some of his stories live on in both print and that annual holiday television tradition.

Read Donald Fagen's full piece here.

Here's a Jean Shepherd tribute page with lots more about the man (lots of links, too).

It's A Communist Life

In 1998, Professor John Noakes of Franklin and Marshall wrote a piece entitled, Bankers and Common Men in Bedford Falls: How the FBI Determined That "It’s a Wonderful Life" was a Subversive Movie. In it, he revealed that when the movie was released in 1947, the FBI considered it full of communist propaganda.

From a Franklin and Marshall press release at the time...
"The FBI tried to analyze the content of movies in order to find evidence that Hollywood communists were trying to put propaganda into movies," explained John Noakes, F and M assistant professor of sociology. "They had been keeping Hollywood under surveillance for several years, keeping track of people's affiliations, who ate lunch with whom, and who was sympathetic to communist causes. Their reasoning was that if you were either a communist or known to consort with communists, then you might put communist propaganda into your films."

In searching for subversive frames in Hollywood films, the FBI set up three categories of "common devices that were used to turn non-political pictures into carriers of political propaganda." These devices included smearing values or institutions judged to be particularly American, such as wealth, free enterprise and the profit motive; glorifying values or institutions judged to be particularly anti-American, such as failure or the triumph of the common man; and making casual references to current events that belittled American political institutions.

"According to the FBI, "It's A Wonderful Life" fit into the first two categories," said Noakes.

The casting of Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" resulted in the loathsome Mr. Potter becoming the most hated person in the film. According to the official FBI report, "this was a common trick used by the communists."

And, the triumph of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) represented the triumph of the common man, thus satisfying the second condition.

"What's interesting in the FBI critique is that the Baileys were also bankers," said Noakes. " and what is really going on is a struggle between the big-city banker (Potter) and the small banker (the Baileys). Capra was clearly on side of small capitalism and the FBI was on the the side of big capitalism. The FBI misinterpreted this classic struggle as communist propaganda. I would argue that 'It's a Wonderful Life' is a poignant movie about the transition in the U.S. between small and big capitalism, with Jimmy Stewart personifying the last hope for a small town. It's a lot like the battle between Home Depot and the mom and pop hardware store."
Perhaps director Frank Capra should have changed the final line to "Every time a bell rings, J. Edgar Hoover gets a new dress!"

You can read the original FBI memo here.

A Christmas Joke

Listener Louis Cassemajor, who is serving in the US Army in Afghanistan, sent this...

Three men die on Christmas Eve and go to heaven, where they're met by Saint Peter. "In order to get in," he tells them, "you must each produce something representative of the holidays."

The first man digs into his pockets and pulls out a match and lights it. "This represents a candle of hope." Impressed, Peter lets him in.

The second man pulls out a tangle of keys and shakes them. "These are bells." He's allowed in too.

"So," Peter says to the third man, "What do you have?"

The third man proudly shows him a pair of red panties.

"What do these have to do with Christmas?" asks Peter.

"They're Carol's."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Political Math

   Gas at $1.94/gallon (lowest in years)
+ Dow over 18,000 (for first time)
+ Economy grew 5% last quarter (best in a decade) 
= Goddamn Obama!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best and Worst Movies Of The Year

I don't see every movie that comes out, and I usually stay away from big special effects movies or anything in the fantasy-fiction realm (e.g. "The Hobbit," "Guardians Of The Galaxy"), but here the best and worst movies I saw in 2014, in no particular order:

Best Movies Of The Year
"Gone Girl." A brilliant adaptation of the book by director David Fincher, with an amazing performance by Rosamund Pike and a reminder that Ben Affleck can give a very solid performance.

"Obvious Child." Gillian Robespierre's comedy about a woman who decides to get an abortion after finding herself pregnant following a one-night stand. Jenny Slate is terrific as the lead.

"Nightcrawler." Dan Gilroy directs Jake Gyllenhaal to his best performance as a sleazy guy who discovers the business of shooting gruesome crime footage late at night and selling it to a local TV news director (played by Gilroy's wife, Rene Russo).

"Top Five." Chris Rock wrote, directed, and stars in the funniest movie of the year, with a slew of comedians in supporting roles and the perfect co-star in Rosario Dawson. I hope he's found his screen voice, rather than his previous lightweight stuff like "I Think I Love My Wife" and "Head of State."

"Whiplash." J.K. Simmons will be nominated for his performance as the toughest music teacher you've ever seen, who mentally abuses a young drummer (Miles Teller) trying to improve his skills at the country's best music school. In Simmons' character, writer/director Damien Chazelle has proven that great villains aren't just the bad guys in superhero movies.

"Birdman." Alejandro Innaritu directed the story of an actor slowly going mad as if it were all one long take, and it's startling to watch. Moreover, he has the best ensemble cast of the year in Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Amy Ryan. The first intense face-to-face scene with Keaton and Norton should be the entry for both of them for an Oscar.

"The Trip To Italy." The second-funniest movie of the year is this sequel in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel around Italy, dining in fine restaurants while talking about life and everything else that occurs to them, which usually involves impressions of Michael Caine and others. I can't wait to see their next trip.

"Citizenfour." Laura Poitras' coverage of the early days of the Edward Snowden story, as he reveals the extent of the NSA's surveillance on Americans and the rest of the world to journalist Glenn Greenwald, is the most important documentary of the year.

"Tim's Vermeer." Inventor Tim Jenison becomes obsessed with figuring out how the Dutch painter Vermeer was able to recreate reality so well in his paintings. His friend Penn Jillette realized this would make a good movie, and Penn's partner Teller directs it to perfection.

"Grand Budapest Hotel." I've never liked anything else Wes Anderson has done, but this story of a concierge (Ralph Fiennes) in a big hotel, surrounded by odd patrons and co-workers, is a feast for the eyes and mind.

Honorable Mention:
"Boyhood." Richard Linklater deserves praise for shooting his movie over a 12-year period with the same cast (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane), but in the end, the plot isn't as clever as the device.

"The Theory of Everything." Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking, from his days as a healthy and brilliant young man through his debilitating fight with ALS is nothing short of remarkable, with nice supporting work by Felicity Jones as Jane, his wife.

"Life Itself." Steve James's documentary about the late Roger Ebert reveals that he was much more than just a movie reviewer.

Worst Movies Of The Year
"3 Days To Kill"
"A Million Ways To Die In The West"
"Labor Day"
"The Monuments Men"
"Sex Tape"

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Random thoughts on Sony withdrawing "The Interview," in light of threats by cyber-hackers who have already revealed the company's embarrassing internal documents...

I didn't get to see "The Interview" because the St. Louis press screening was scheduled for Thursday night, and the studio pulled it from release that morning, but based on reviews by critics who did see it, the world is not being robbed of an opportunity to see a masterpiece -- "The Interview" seems to be a stinker. Still, Rogen and Franco have enough of a fan base that the studio probably would have made its money back.

One thing that's a shame is that the movie had a nice juicy co-starring role for Lizzy Kaplan, who plays Virginia Johnson so well on Showtime's "Masters of Sex." I like Kaplan a lot -- even when she has her clothes on -- and hope she gets better roles in better movies, the kind that are actually projected onto large screens across the country.

Speaking of movie theaters, shouldn't the outrage-osphere be more upset with them than with Sony? After all, the studio didn't cancel the release of "The Interview" until the eight largest exhibition companies announced they wouldn't show the movie. I know that the hackers threatened "9/11-style attacks" on any theater that did show it, but I'm not even sure what that means. Were the hackers going to hijack airplanes and fly them into a multiplex theaterplex? More likely, those companies (like Sony's rival studios) are worried about being targeted by the cyber-extortionists.

Similarly, when President Obama says Sony "made a mistake...they should have called me first," what was he going to tell them? It's not like he can issue a presidential directive that movie theaters must show "The Interview."

On "Meet The Press" this morning, Sony's attorney David Boies told Chuck Todd, "Sony has been fighting to get this picture distributed. It will be distributed. What Sony is trying to do is to get the picture out to the public but at the same time to be sure the rights of its employees and the rights of the movie-going public are going to be protected." What he couldn't say was the public may be best served by keeping a bad movie under wraps.

Many celebrities expressed their outrage via Twitter, including business genius Mitt Romney, who tweeted, "Sony Pictures don’t cave, fight: release The Interview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight Ebola." Wrong on two counts, Mitt. First, Sony's not in the business of producing $40 million movies to raise money for charity. Second, who would give their credit card information to a company that has proven itself vulnerable to hackers?

Speaking of money, all movies have insurance in the form of a completion bond, but I'm not sure whether Sony can collect on this one, since the movie was technically "completed," but not released. There are dozens of movies every year that are deemed too bad to waste money on promotion and exhibition, and I'm sure they can't ask the insurance company for their money back. What would the claim say -- "Extensive financial loss to due to the movie sucking"? If it were possible to get that sort of insurance-based money-back guarantee, Rob Schneider would get a lot more movies financed.

Finally, Michael Moore has posted a funny list of things he wishes the Sony hackers had demanded.

Stop Asking That

On Friday when President Obama held his end-of-the-year press conference, the topic of the Sony hack and the withdrawal of "The Interview" came up. The president said that his administration would respond to the hack, which he considered a criminal action, but was not going to say how it would carry out that response. Then he took more questions, and got this one from Roberta Rampton of Reuters:

On the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea? Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?
I was listening to that portion of the press conference in my car and started shouting at the radio, "He just said he's not going to discuss what the response would be! Were you not in the room 15 seconds ago?" Obama remained calm and repeated that he wasn't going to get into details.

It reminded me of another press conference, this one during the first Gulf War in 1991 -- the one where Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US pushed back -- which "Saturday Night Live" parodied with Kevin Nealon (as Lt. Col. William Pierson) taking questions from the media. Note: aside from the all-star cast of that era, keep an eye out for two SNL writers among the questioners, the late Tom Davis and a young redhead named Conan O'Brien...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Harris Challenge -- Year In Review Edition

Were you paying attention in 2014? Test yourself with this special Year In Review edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Creating Superathletes

"Faster, Higher, Stronger" isn't just the Olympics motto ("Citius, Altius, Fortius"). It's also the title of a fascinating new book by Mark McClusky, subtitled "How Sports Science Is Creating A New Generation Of Superathletes," When Mark joined me on KTRS, the topics we covered included:
  • Is there such a thing as a modern athlete who excels on just talent?
  • Is there a lot of snake oil being sold to athletes?
  • What's the effect of long road trips on teams on the coasts vs. middle of America?
  • Does playing "Madden NFL" and similar video games make players better?
  • Is America the best at Sports Science?
  • How does Usain Bolt, world's fastest man, compare to Jesse Owens?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/19/14

The stories in this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® include a stolen urinal, a fake heart attack, and a drunk chief of police.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, December 19, 2014

We'll Meet Again

The song that Stephen Colbert and his assembled multitude sang on the final episode of "The Colbert Report" was "We'll Meet Again," written in 1939 by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, made famous by Dame Vera Lynn in the 1943 movie of the same name. It has also been used many other times in pop culture, from "Dr. Strangelove" to The Muppets to "True Blood." Here's a list of all the celebs who turned up to wing it with Colbert.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Goodbye Colbert (and Craig)

"The Colbert Report" will air its last original episode tonight -- and the word "original" certainly applies.

Stephen Colbert's character was a brilliantly-devised vessel for satirizing television, politics, and the world at large, and his performance as that character is unique in the recent history of American entertainment. Colbert's ability to simultaneously inhabit and mock the persona of a right-wing blowhard amused me every night in the scripted portions of the show, but it was his interviews -- both at his guest desk and in features like "Better Know A District" -- that were stunning, because he was improvising in character and making it funny. That's not easy to do occasionally, but to do it regularly (200 times a year for 9 years) should have been impossible, if it were not for Colbert's prodigious talent.

Tonight's finale will be must-see TV, and I can't wait to see what Colbert does in his next incarnation nine months hence, when he returns to television hosting "The Late Show" on CBS as himself.

Meanwhile, very little is being written about the departure of another veteran late-night host, Craig Ferguson, whose "Late Late Show" brings down the curtain tomorrow night.

Early in his run, I praised Ferguson for breaking away from the late-night format stereotypes of a topical monologue and wacky bandleader/sidekick. Following Peter Lassally's advice, Ferguson used his monologue to tell stories and talk about his own life, then sat down to have real conversations with interesting guests.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, Ferguson must have grown tired of that show structure, so he began using playing around in contrived silliness with his gay robot skeleton sidekick and two guys in a horse suit. They wasn't as funny as he thought they were, but it became apparent he loved them.

Worse, the guest conversations started to have no point to them, as Ferguson made a great gesture every night to tear up a blue card that ostensibly had talking points for the guest, so instead of steering guests towards interesting topics they wanted to discuss, he just winged it in a rambling discussion about nothing in particular. Ferguson's a funny guy, but he can't improvise a complete conversation like that. It was as interesting as listening to a dinner-party conversation between two people who had never met before. They might occasionally say something interesting or intriguing, but there was a lot of boring stuff along the way.

As an interviewer myself, I can tell you that having some notes (not fully written questions, but ideas of things to talk about) are vital to making a conversation work on the air. That's where Ferguson failed while Colbert soared. The latter's improvisation was based on knowing things about his guests ahead of time -- and working off of cards -- while Ferguson's casual, whatever-happens attitude didn't serve him well.

I'll tune in to his "Late Late Show" tomorrow night to see his farewell, but I don't expect it to leave much of a mark on the late-night-TV timeline.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Last month, I linked to a powerful, thoughtful piece by David Masciotra that criticized military worship, in which he wrote that American soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't done so to protect our freedoms, that not every soldier is a hero if you include the large number who have been charged with sexual assault and rape, and that "supporting the troops" is a worn-out cliche in a country that practically forgets about our men and women in uniform once they return home -- particularly those with physical and mental impairments.

After his essay was published, right-wing media went to town on Masciotra with the highest levels of vitriol, and its viewers/listeners -- who didn't bother to read his words, but reacted to claims about it made by fear-mongering, incendiary radio/TV hosts -- went ballistic online. In a followup entitled, "My Week In The Right-Wing Lie Machine," Masciotra writes about that reaction:

Just as observing the indifference toward rape in the military exposes the depth and breadth of American sexism, any engagement with right-wing media and culture confirms all the worst suspicions anyone could have about its leaders and followers.

There is not only an acceptance of ignorance, but from Fox News, an encouragement of it. On “Fox and Friends,” “The Five” and Fox Business News’ “The Independents,” the respective hosts of the programs vilified and demonized me as someone who hates everyone in the military. “Fox and Friends” posted my photo, over the ominous tones of their hosts condemning my words – almost none of which they quoted – as if it was a mug shot, and then told readers, “Go tell him what you think of this.” The language of the command exposes the poison of their propaganda. They did not tell viewers to go online and read the article, evaluate it according to their own analysis, and decide for themselves what they believe. They ordered their viewers to believe a certain way, without acquiring any information, and target me with their hatred and hostility. Judging from my inbox, thousands of viewers marched along like wooden soldiers, eager to behave as if they just received a lobotomy from the skilled surgeons of Fox.

The pattern of ad hominem attacks, without any engagement of the evidence or acknowledgment of the argumentation of my article, demonstrated the thoughtlessness that defines political activism on much of the right wing, but also the racism, homophobia and prejudicial scorn and fear of Islam. Clearly, the worst thing much of the right can think to call someone is “gay.” Nearly every email I received contained some accusation of homosexuality. When one homophobic crackpot suggested that I’ve had sex with John Mellencamp, Jesse Jackson, Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter, because I’ve written favorably about all four men, I emailed a bisexual friend and said, “I’m not gay, but if I was, I guess I’d have some impressive and accomplished partners.” My friend wrote back, “I’d be in awe.”
Read Masciotra's full piece here.  His original piece is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Thing I've Read Today

I'm no cheerleader for the radio industry, which isn't investing enough in talent and ideas and continues to cut personnel because its bottom line is getting crushed by too much debt. But the hype this year for podcasts becoming the new way for Americans to consume audio content has been completely out of proportion.

As I wrote last month, until someone proves to me that it can be a money-making venture, I won't be doing my own online-only podcast anytime soon. Yes, I'm a podcast consumer and listener -- there is some truly original and interesting content being produced for that platform -- but as Seth Stevenson writes, any podcast or streaming audio service you can name doesn't have the reach of a great big over-the-air radio station...
Yes, I know, you and your buddies are deeply into Serial, you haven’t listened to FM in years, corporate radio sucks. But people like you do not reflect the actual state of the marketplace. And frankly, Jeff Smulyan is getting mighty sick of your podcast triumphalism.

As founder and CEO of Emmis Communications, Smulyan owns an armada of radio stations—including behemoths like Power 106 in Los Angeles and Hot 97 in New York. When I ask him whether terrestrial broadcast outlets like his can survive amid the podcast renaissance, he scoffs at the question’s premise. “Terrestrial radio’s biggest problem right now is it has no cachet,” says Smulyan. “Podcasts only eat about a less than 1 percent chunk of my business. Internet radio streaming is 7 percent of the American radio industry, if that. Things are beginning to fragment, make no mistake. But we still made more money before lunch today than Pandora has made in its entire history.”

Radio continues to be a useful, profitable technology. Consider: For $39,000 in annual electricity costs, Power 106’s broadcast tower can reach 15 million people in Southern California. There are no incremental charges involved—when an additional person tunes in, it doesn’t cost the station a dime. Not so on the Web. Each time you click a streaming radio channel, or download a podcast, it’s as though you’re making a collect call. Somebody’s paying to send all those data packets your way. The more people tune into a streaming broadcast, the more the broadcaster must spend on servers and bandwidth. According to Smulyan, if the roughly 3 million people who actually tune in to Power 106 on the radio each week (out of the 15 million the station’s broadcast tower can potentially reach) all suddenly switched to listening over cellular networks, it would cost him about $1 million annually to send out the data, and would cost them more than $1 million to receive it.
Read Stevenson's full piece here.

The Cuban Connection

As President Obama announces intentions to normalize relations with Cuba, I say it's about time. Here's what I wrote on the subject two years ago:

The ban can be traced directly to Little Havana, the Miami neighborhood that's full of Cuban ex-patriots. I think there are only about 11 original guys who floated to the US on a raft in 1962 and are still alive, but they and their offspring have grown into a powerful special interest group. They still hate Castro so much that you can't even say his name without their radar picking it up, followed by ginned-up anger and controversy.

How much power to these ex-pats have? They are singularly responsible for the US continuing to have a hands-off policy when it comes to Cuba. You see, Little Havana controls the Spanish-speaking voters of Miami, which is in the electorally-impaired state of Florida, which just happens to be one of the key swing states in presidential politics. No politician on the national stage would dare piss off the ex-pats by softening our Cuba policy for fear of losing Florida and its power-granting electorate.

I'm no fan of Castro or any other dictator, but foreign policy towards his regime (and now his brother Raul's regime) is completely inconsistent with our attitude towards every other country. Cuba is the only nation on earth that the US forbids its citizens to travel to (except under certain special conditions, or to serve at the base at Guantanamo -- in other words, there's no general tourism from America to Cuba). Meanwhile, citizens of other countries can (and do) travel to Cuba all the time to enjoy its beautiful beaches, because their governments aren't afraid of blowback from Little Havana.

The US restriction on travel to Cuba is not because it's a communist, totalitarian state. If that was all it took to create a travel ban, you couldn't go to Vietnam, a nation we fought a war with! Not only are you allowed to travel to Ho Chi Minh City, but American companies do lots of business there. The same is true for another tiny communist country you may have heard of. Its name is China, and you could fly there tomorrow if you wanted to (and had a visa). You could even go there, then come back and put on a one-man show full of lies about an iPad factory, and our government wouldn't stop you. American businesses do billions of dollars of business with China, but don't you dare try to sell Pepsi and Pizza Hut in Cuba!

Why are you allowed to go halfway around the world to Vietnam and China, but not to Cuba? Blame Little Havana.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Today marks the 111th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight. Remember how pissed Orville was about the macadamia nuts being cold?

A Week Without Social Media

My friend Nolan Dalla recently put down his smartphone for a week and fought the urge to check social media relentlessly:

Sure, social media seems like a blessing, and it surely can be — when it’s used and practiced in moderation. But when every waking hour of every day, including our weekends, become consumed with texting nonsense and checking and re-checking our Twitter and Facebook accounts for favorites and likes which is akin to puppy dogs panting for milkbones, when we can’t eat a meal or drive a car or walk in the park without the security blanket of a smart phone resting in our palms, we can’t possibly be the beneficiaries of such a constant bombardment of uninvited headaches and mostly useless (not to mention frivolous) information.

In short, we’re not using high-tech. High-tech is using us. We’re become slaves. Addicts. Junkies.

Do any of us really care to know who bubbled a $300 buy-in poker tournament in Prague? Do you really want to know what LeBron James thinks about Ferguson? Does anyone want to read yet another right-wing wacko manifesto on how President Obama is the secret lovechild of Karl Marx and Madeline Murray O’Hare? My recent discord isn’t just another “get off my lawn” tirade against social media’s weak signal to noise ratio. It’s a higher calling for a complete lifestyle adjustment and total reevaluation of one’s priorities.
Read Nolan's entire piece here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/15/14

The stories in this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® include a pilot who let hot women in the cockpit, a marriage proposal gone bad, and a jerky public safety campaign.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
You can also watch me tell the Knuckleheads In The News® stories here (as seen on the KTRS video stream):

Continuing Tom Clancy's Series

When Tom Clancy died in October, 2013, his series of Jack Ryan novels didn't die with him. Mark Greaney, who co-wrote Clancy's last three novels, picked up where they left off -- and the result is "Full Force and Effect."

I invited Mark onto my show to discuss how difficult it was to write in Clancy's voice, how he stayed up-to-date with (and even ahead of) modern surveillance and intelligence technology, and how he managed to keep all the characters and plots from the previous 18 novels straight without duplicating or negating something that had been written before.

The plot of "Full Force and Effect" involves efforts by North Korea's unstable young dictator to get his hands on the money he'd need to acquire a nuclear missile capable of hitting the mainland US. To my knowledge, Kim Jong-Un hasn't reacted publicly to the book with as much anger as he supposedly has towards the Seth Rogen/James Franco movie "The Interview."

In our conversation, I mentioned the little-known National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. In fact, the NGA, as it's called, is based right here in St. Louis, where it has outgrown its space near the Anheuser-Busch brewery and is looking to expand, possibly into the former Chrysler plant. My colleague Frank Ladd's parents worked there, and he tells me that the NGA has done imaging for projects as varied as the lunar landscape during the Apollo missions and a scale model of the Abottobad compound in Pakisan where Osama Bin Laden was killed by Seal Team Six.

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Is Cheap Gas Bad?

Prices at a few gas stations in the St. Louis area dipped below $2/gallon today as the price of crude oil has dropped 45% in the last six months to $56/barrel. I don't know why, but that's good for me and everyone else -- except, apparently for Wall Street, as the market averages dropped yet again today.

I don't understand why. I'd have thought that if we paid less for gasoline, we'd have more money to spend on everything else -- just in time for Christmas and Hanukkah. We've been told forever that if consumers have more money in their pockets, they'll put more of it into the cash registers of American businesses, which will then hire more people, who will then have more money to spend, and back around to the top of the cycle.

Moreover, with gas prices down, businesses don't have to pay as much to truck their goods around the country, which should mean lower prices for everything else on the shelves, too. And as we enter the winter vacation season, airlines should be able to take advantage of lower jet fuel prices to pass the savings along to passengers and fill more seats.

Plus, the Federal Reserve says that US manufacturing output last month was at its highest level since before the recession. Seems to me like at least some of the economic indicators look good. So why are low gas/oil prices a bad thing for Wall Street (and by extension, any of us who have retirement money invested in stocks and mutual funds)?

I can think of one negative. If gas prices stay this low, or go even lower, Americans won't have an incentive to move towards renewable energy (solar, wind) or buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. On the other hand, this may be the right time to increase the federal gas tax to save the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is on the verge of going bust next year without Congress acting (laugh among yourselves) to raise enough money to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Before the CIA torture report was released by Dianne Feinstein and the House Intelligence Committee, Republicans like Rep. Mike Rogers and Democrats like White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest warned that the report could pose a great risk, causing violence towards US facilities and individuals around the world.

It's been a week, and we haven't seen any riots or demonstrations to back up those claims. Why? Dean Obeidallah says there are two reasons (I think it's more the second than the first):

First, people across the Middle East have seen their own governments employ horrible forms of torture for years. It’s one of the oppressive techniques utilized by their respective leaders to remain in power.

We all heard about Saddam Hussein’s use of torture, which included beating people with bats and even raping women in front of their husbands. Ironically, Saddam’s torture of prisoners was one of reasons the Bush administration gave for our need to remove him from power.

In Afghanistan, Amnesty International documented the torture of political prisoners dating back to 1979. Former Egyptian leader and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, between 1993 and 2008, had his forces torture at least 460 people, which led to the death of 167 prisoners, per the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights.

And Israel has been long known for using harsh methods against Palestinian prisoners, such as beatings with weapons, as reported in detail by the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem. In fact, the Senate report noted that the CIA had cited an Israeli supreme court decision—that allowed such tactics if the prisoner was considered a “ticking bomb”—as legal justification for their actions.

The second, and what I see as the bigger reason for a collective shrug from the Muslim world, was what we didn’t see in the report. There were no allegations that the jailers engaged in desecrating Islam.

The common denominator in the most violent protests against Western actions has been when Islam had been insulted. I’m talking Quran burnings, cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, etc. Not only does such conduct truly offend many Muslims; it gives some right-wing Muslim clerics and unfriendly government leaders the ammunition to gin up anti-Western sentiment to further their own agendas.
Read Obeidallah's full piece here.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Brian Williams signs 5-year renewal for NBC Nightly News. The deal also makes daughter Alison "Official Flying Boy" of the Peacock Network.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movie Reviews: Top Five and Wild

Let's not beat around the bush: Chris Rock's "Top Five" is the funniest movie of the year.

His writing is crisp, his direction is solid, and his acting is, well, let's say there's not much air between Rock and his character, Andre Allen, a world-famous comedian whose movie success came from three "Hammy The Bear" movies, in which he's a teddy bear action star. But Allen wants to leave that character -- and comedy -- behind to do serious movies like "Uprize," the story of a Haitian slave rebellion. "Top Five" follows him as he spends one day promoting the movie all over New York while preparing to marry a reality TV star (Gabrielle Union), with a Times reporter (Rosario Dawson) following him around for a lifestyle piece.

It's a pretty good premise, but the execution is even better, thanks to Rock casting several of his fellow comics in supporting roles, including Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, JB Smoove, Jay Pharoah, Michael Che, and Brian Regan -- plus cameos by Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Ben Vereen, and one that I can't tell you without ruining the best sequence in the movie. The only caveat is that "Top Five" contains some very raunchy sexual content, but if that doesn't bother you, you'll enjoy it. I give it 8.5 out of 10.

I can't say the same about "Wild." I like Reese Witherspoon and I like Nick Hornby, who wrote the script based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir of hiking 1,100 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail. She undertook the solo voyage after her mother (Laura Dern) died, she started using heroin and sleeping around, and her marriage fell apart, all of which we see in flashback as Witherspoon moves north. It's a woman-gets-away-from-it-all-to-find-herself a la "Eat Pray Love" -- they could have called this one "Walk Camp Walk."

Witherspoon is very good as Strayed, who was not an experienced hiker when she began her adventure. One of the earliest scenes shows Witherspoon putting together her pack, which is so much bigger than she is, she struggles just to get it off the floor. It's about the only light scene in the movie, which includes several encounters with men along the route, and we are reminded repeatedly what a scary proposition that is for a woman walking alone.

The scenery as Witherspoon walks is magnificent (and beautifully shot), but in the end, we've traveled with her over a thousand miles and haven't ended up anywhere. Great performance and cinematography, but a boring story. I give it 5 out of 10.

The other movie opening this weekend, which I did not see, is "Exodus: Gods and Kings." I guess they had to give it the subtitle so it's not confused with the 1965 "Exodus." They could have gone with "Lee Daniels' Exodus." Or even better: "Exodus, based on the novel Bible, by Sapphhire."

Who You Calling Ginger?

In a restaurant the other day, I overheard a woman at the table behind me ask the waitress if they had ginger ale. The waitress replied, "No, but we can make it for you."

How do they do that? They don't. A friend who used to be a bartender told me they rarely have real ginger ale in the soda gun. So they fill a glass with Sprite and then add some Coke for color, and call it ginger ale. There's no ginger involved, thus it doesn't even taste like ginger ale, but rather a lemon-lime concoction splashed with caramel color.

This wasn't the first time I'd heard this. Once, in a poker room, one of the players asked for a ginger ale and the waitress brought him the bogus non-ginger-ale soda combination. He tasted it and immediately knew it was wrong. Worse, he then explained to the waitress that he has a heart condition and can't have any caffeine, so giving him Coca-Cola without his knowledge was dangerous!

Is there any other drink that would get this treatment? When Starbucks runs out of chai tea, do they just make a cup of coffee with a little bit of orange juice? Would a bartender ever pretend to make a bottle of red zinfandel by mixing Pinot Noir and a splash of Liebfraumilch? I'm sorry sir, we don't have Clamato, but we can mix tomato juice with jumbo shrimp, if you like.

Unfortunately, this soda logic violation must be working or they wouldn't keep doing it. People who want ginger ale are settling for Coke-splashed Sprite, rather than making another beverage choice.

I'm reminded of the time I asked a Burger King clerk if they had root beer. He answered, "No, but we do have Diet Sprite." How is that a consolation prize for someone who wants root beer? Is there anyone who goes in, asks for a root beer, gets that answer, and says, "Perfect! Give me a large one of those!"??? Conversely, would anyone who asks for a Diet Sprite be satisfied to be told, "We don't have that, but we do have Dr. Pepper"?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Media Irony Of The Day

The Associated Press uses an anonymous source for its story about the Department Of Justice not compelling NY Times reporter James Risen to reveal an anonymous source in his NSA warrantless wire-tapping story. Perfect!

By the way, if you missed my conversation with Risen last month about his book, "Pay Any Price," you can listen to it here.

Harris Challenge 12/12/14

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Astronomy Astrono-You," "Everybody Let's Rock," and "December Nineteenth Century."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 12/12/14

The stories in this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® include a canine arsonist, a beer battered drunk driver, and a snake in a donut shop.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Don't Blame The Fans

I don't go to The Dome for Rams games, preferring to watch them -- and other NFL games -- in the comfort of my home via the medium that makes for the best viewing: television. But plenty of other St. Louisans do go to the games, despite the team's lack of a winning season for over a decade. And still, billionaire owner Stan Kroenke is considering moving the team back to Los Angeles (where they got so little support, they came here 20 years ago).

I agree with Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz, who says don't blame the fans:

I laugh at the simpleton portrayal of St. Louis as a weak football market.

The Rams came into the game with their highest average home attendance (57,402) since 2008, and were filling their sterile stadium to 88 percent of capacity. I’d say that’s commendable support for a team that ranks 31st among 32 NFL franchises in winning percentage (.313) over the past 10 seasons.

This is the 48th season of NFL football for St. Louis, Cardinals (1960-1987) and Rams (1995-present) combined. And over those 48 years, St. Louis fans have been treated to 16 winning records and eight playoff seasons.

The chronic losing is compounded by a team owner who seemingly goes out of his way to alienate the customers. Plus, the stadium has been deemed inferior by the owner and an arbitration panel. And despite all that...

St. Louis fans are filing through to watch a losing team play games in an inadequate stadium, contributing their sports dollars to an absentee owner who doesn’t even attend all of the games himself … and they’re filling the place to 88 percent capacity? And this is supposedly evidence of lack of fan support?

Over the Rams’ final 13 seasons in Los Angeles, they averaged fewer than 57,000 per home game (the team’s current level in St. Louis) 10 times. And that, in the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area.

Blaming St. Louis Rams fans for the 12 percent of the tickets that have gone unsold in 2014 is a blatant case of blaming the victims.
Read Miklasz's full column here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Poker Stories: Sit-And-Go Sourpuss

Another in my occasional series of poker stories...

A couple of years ago, I spent nine days at the Rio during the World Series Of Poker, mostly playing cash games, but decided to dedicate one day to playing nothing but single table sit-and-go tournaments.

These are cash events that take 90 minutes to two hours each, with ten players around the table paying entry fees of $175 or $325 or $575 or more, depending on which level you want to play. They're set up as winner-take-all, but in most cases, the final two players split the prize and move on. That was my strategy -- get down to heads-up and chop it or, if I got knocked out, go enter another sit-and-go, which were always starting soon.

I was having a good day, having chopped two of the four I'd played, when I sat down for my fifth and final sit-and-go. The entry fee for each was $525, making the prize $5,000 in tournament buy-in chips and $160 in cash. That meant that the house rake on each player's entry fee (the amount of money the WSOP took off the top) was only $9/each, or less than 2%. I've never found a better deal anywhere in tournament poker.

The buy-in chips in the prize were in $500 denominations, so the winner of this sit-and-go would get ten of them, which could only be used to buy into any other tournament at the Rio. But they were easily converted to cash. All I had to do was stand around the line of players buying in for other tournaments and sell them the chips at face value -- and there was always someone willing to make the trade.

I was assigned seat 8 at this table and took a look around at my opponents, nodding to three of them I'd played with earlier in other sit-and-go's. I didn't recognize any of the rest, but it took me about 15 seconds to profile the guy on my left in seat 9 as the jerk at the table, the whiner who would get annoyed and noisy when things didn't go his way. That doesn't bother me, as long as he plays badly -- which he did, but he kept getting lucky and knocking out opponents, always with a rude comment about how bad they were and how great he was.

I played my usual game of sitting back at the beginning and then getting aggressive once half the table was gone. It worked and I amassed chips until there were only two of us left -- me and the obnoxious guy on my left.

At that point, I asked if he wanted to chop it up and move on. He replied that he'd take 75% and give me 25%. I told him that was ridiculous since we were almost even in chips. He said he was way ahead, but I pointed out that he had 11,000 chips and I had 9,000 chips, a virtual tie. He was such a loose player that I thought I could take him, but with the blinds already quite high and increasing every 15 minutes, all he had to do was get lucky in one hand to bust me. So I would have been happy with half of the prize money.

It's traditional in these sit-and-go's that one dealer works the entire tournament, and is rewarded by the winner(s) with a tip of about 3% of the prize money. So I suggested, "Why don't we split the 5,000, give the dealer the $160, and call it a day?" My opponent said, "No, I don't tip dealers and I don't want to chop it!"

Now there were two of us at this table rooting for me.

It took exactly three hands for me to get all of his chips and win. As he angrily pounded the table and shouted a couple of expletives. I calmly pulled out two $100 bills and handed them to the dealer in front of my ex-opponent, who then stormed away cursing to himself. The dealer shook his head and chuckled as he thanked me for the tip and said, "Well played!"

I waited for the sit-and-go supervisor to bring me my winnings, then sold off the buy-in chips, and went to dinner with a big smile on my face.

Read more of my poker stories here.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Disappointed I was ignored by the Golden Globes for my TV work. I've really mastered the skip-ahead-30-seconds button on the remote.

Deniers Are Not Skeptics

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has published an open letter -- signed by James Randi, Bill Nye, Ann Druyan, Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, Sanal Edamaruku, Eugenie Scott, and a slew of other scientists and Nobel Prize winners -- asking the media to stop using the word "skeptic" to describe climate change deniers:

As Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we are concerned that the words “skeptic” and “denier” have been conflated by the popular media. Proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. It is foundational to the scientific method. Denial, on the other hand, is the a priori rejection of ideas without objective consideration.

Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.”

As scientific skeptics, we are well aware of political efforts to undermine climate science by those who deny reality but do not engage in scientific research or consider evidence that their deeply held opinions are wrong. The most appropriate word to describe the behavior of those individuals is “denial.” Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry.

We are skeptics who have devoted much of our careers to practicing and promoting scientific skepticism. We ask that journalists use more care when reporting on those who reject climate science, and hold to the principles of truth in labeling. Please stop using the word “skeptic” to describe deniers.

Picture Of The Day

When I reviewed "Citizenfour," Laura Poitras' film about Edward Snowden and the government's assault on our privacy, I called it the most important documentary of the year. Apparently the owners of a movie theater in New York agree, because despite the MPAA giving it an R rating -- odd considering the movie contains absolutely no nudity or violence -- the theater posted this notice explaining why it will allow high school students under 17 in to see it...

[hat tip to Boing Boing]

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Bloomberg News says 50% of American parents don't want their sons playing football. It's 100% if you add "in the house."
  • I'm surprised no one has mentioned my performance on the Victoria's Secret show last night. Maybe I should have worn wings.

The Torture Report

The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture reminded me of a fascinating guest from six years ago. When I posted the audio of that conversation, I wrote:

In the debate over using torture in interrogating detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo, we've heard from a lot of armchair quarterbacks -- pundits who have never interrogated anyone, but think they know which techniques would be most effective in eliciting information from a prisoner.

None of them has had the experience of Matthew Alexander, who was the chief US interrogator in Iraq, and who led the team that eventually brought down Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq. How did Alexander and his colleagues do it? By using brains, not brutality. By building relationships, not beating people up.

I spent an hour last week speaking with Alexander about his experience, which he recounts in his book, "How To Break A Terrorist." He told me that torturing prisoners ended up costing American lives, as it served as the biggest recruiting point for Al Qaeda. We talked about his methods and results, despite resistance from the Pentagon (which fought the publication of his book), and why he so strongly disagrees with torture as an interrogation technique.

He explained how his team elicited information from adults (and children) who didn't bother to contain their hatred for America, how his translators were helpful in explaining idioms peculiar to Iraqi culture, and how he managed to gather information from even the most hardened detainees.

This is not a guy in a think tank or a TV talking head. Alexander sat a foot away from terrorists and fanatics and won the mental battle time and again. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his work, which hopefully has influenced those who succeeded him.
You can listen to that conversation here.

One of the important takeaways from the new report is how right Alexander was, and how wrong the political geniuses in Washington were. The report says that not only was torture ineffective in preventing or predicting terrorist attacks, but to the contrary, it cost lives.

The saddest part is that there will be no accountability for those who made the decision to torture -- including Cheney and Bush -- even after claiming we never would. Worse is the string of lies the CIA told not only to the public but in private to the White House. One can only conclude that the reason they kept their actions secret from even the president was because they knew they were wrong and counterproductive. The level of deceit and misinformation coming from the CIA to those who were supposed to oversee their activities sounds criminal to me, but none of the agency's directors (e.g. Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet) or underlings will be charged or held responsible.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration won't take action against any of the architects of the torture-is-good policy. Although the president told a TV outlet the techniques “constituted torture in my mind” and were a betrayal of American values, he also issued a written statement praising the CIA employees as “patriots” to whom “we owe a profound debt of gratitude” for trying to protect the country. That's just Obama playing politics, trying not to look like he's the enemy of the CIA. But there is nothing wrong with calling out and prosecuting wrongdoing within our government. And don't believe the politicians who claim that the release of this report will cost lives, because it was these very violations that endangered American lives rather than protecting them.

Here's a simple test to take: how would you react if these torture protocols were used against an American held hostage by Al Qaeda? How do you feel every time Isis posts video of another American being beheaded? If that turns your stomach, if it makes you think the enemy is inhuman, it if violates everything you believe is right, then how can you possibly condone it being done by Americans, and how can you not consider these actions to be war crimes?

Glenn Greenwald takes the media to task for once again playing along with the powerful in Washington by not covering what was being done in our name -- to the point of not even using the word "torture"...
American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.
Read more Greenwald here.