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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Worth A Link

  • These job application tips are media-specific, but also reveal what prospective employers want from you when you apply for a job or internship.
  • I completely agree with Andy Dehnart about CBS' new stomach-turning reality show, which exploits poor people for your entertainment.
  • I see that NBC is getting in bed with AOL. How modern! I bet CBS and ABC are fighting over who gets MySpace.

Louie Louie Explained


Jack Ely, who sang the rock classic "Louie Louie" for the Kingsmen, died this week at 71. I never talked to him, but I did interview his bandmate, Dick Peterson, in 2006. He explained why their version was so unintelligible, why J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI went after them, and how having the song banned made it more popular than ever. Listen to that conversation here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gay Marriage at the Supreme Court


The best insight I've seen into what happened yesterday at the Supreme Court's hearing about same-sex marriage comes from Slate's terrific judicial correspondent, Dahlia Lithwick. She sums up the most important points in this video:


If you'd like to listen to the actual hearing, with the back-and-forth between the justices and the attorneys for each side, the audio is here. My friend Stuart Snyder observes:
As I listened to the arguments, I was struck by how the justices use the advocates as tools for arguing and debating with each other. Most of the lawyers were skilled, brilliant oral advocates, but they were not given much of a chance to answer one justice’s question before they were interrupted by another. If nothing else, it’s great theater.
I was annoyed by some of the justices' questions, particularly about how marriage has meant the same thing for millenia (one man and one woman) and in every culture around the world -- this from justices (Scalia and Alito) who have decried using any foreign law as precedent in their hallowed chambers. They ignore that what makes the United States unique, and why we broke away from the precedents of Great Britain, is that our nation is supposed to offer its citizens greater freedoms than any other on the planet.

The "millenia" argument also discounts the fact that for much of history, marriage globally was a legal decree that treated women as nothing more than property, a tradition that has been done away with in the civilized world as our society has changed. I always hate arguments that include "but this is the way it's always been done" as justification for never updating our laws. If the US had followed that rationale, only white property owners would be allowed to vote, women wouldn't work outside the home, blacks wouldn't be considered full and free people -- and we would all be subjects of Queen Elizabeth II.

I have written a large number of pieces on why gay marriage should be legal everywhere, complete with answers for pretty much every lame argument put forth by the opponents. Maybe I should have submitted them as amicus curiae to the Supreme Court.

Letterman Talks


David Letterman hasn't given a lot of interviews in the last decade or so. Whenever he had something he wanted to say, he already had his own network platform from which he could say it. That's why I was surprised he agreed to talk to Dave Itzkoff for this NY Times piece. In it, Letterman says he knows what he's going to do on his last show (May 20th), that he had no input into who would replace him (Stephen Colbert), and why he can't compete with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel.

Then there's this exchange:
Itzkoff: What about in 2009, when you revealed that you were the target of an extortion attempt stemming from your sexual relationships with female staffers?

Letterman: Oh, yes. My sex scandal. That’s right.

Itzkoff: Did you think that was going to be the end of your career?

Letterman: Looking at it now, yes, I think they would have had good reason to fire me. But at the time, I was largely ignorant as to what, really, I had done. It just seemed like, O.K., well, here’s somebody who had an intimate relationship with somebody he shouldn’t have had an intimate relationship with. And I always said, “Well, who hasn’t?” to myself. But then, when I was able to see from the epicenter, the ripples, I thought, yeah, they could have fired me. But they didn’t. So I owe them that.

Itzkoff: Did you think people were surprised to hear you talk about these matters so candidly?

Letterman: I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t think of a really good lie.
He's right that CBS would have had good reason to fire him. There's no HR department in the country that would have allowed an employee -- even a high-value highly-visible executive (which Letterman is at his production company, Worldwide Pants) -- to have sexual relationships with subordinates without repercussions.

Letterman weathered that storm, both at work and on the home front (he was married while carrying on with women at the office), but will he be able to handle not having a fulltime job, and if not, what will he do next? I don't see him doing a weekly primetime TV show, because what would that be, more of a clearly exasperated Letterman interviewing guests he barely cares about? He's expressed a lot of admiration for Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," and probably wishes he'd thought of it, but I doubt he'll do a similar project.

My bet, for this summer at least, is that Letterman will devote himself to his 11-year-old son, Harry, completely removed from the world of daily television (there's an argument to be made that he hasn't actually been that engaged with that world for the last several years, as all of the decisions about "The Late Show" are handled by his staff and he just has to show up and spend an hour in front of the cameras). After that, he'll have his racing team, his production company, and lots of people asking him to do this or that. I wouldn't be surprised if, like his hero Johnny Carson, Letterman never finds another television project that scratches the itch in the way what he's been doing since his NBC morning show debuted 35 years ago has (or did).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More Bets You'll Always Win

Richard Wiseman is back with the 13th in his series of tricks that will fool your friends...

Worth A Link

  • David Gorski does an epic takedown of Bill Maher and RFK Jr. for spreading anti-vaccine lies.
  • Monty Python reunited for the 40th anniversary of "Holy Grail" and did a clever Q and A.
  • Just because the slot machine says you've won $41 million doesn't mean you're going to get it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why I Won't Eat At Chipotle

I don't eat at Chipotle, but if I did, I would stop now that it has banned GMOs in its food. I simply won't support anti-science nonsense.

The company's chairman, Steve Ells, told Yahoo Health, "There is a lot of debate about genetically modified foods...it’s clear that a lot of research is still needed." That's the same garbage you hear from climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, claiming there's no settled science on the subject. Wrong! Nine out of ten scientists will tell you it is safe to eat genetically modified food. They've done the tests -- for decades! -- and found no evidence to the contrary.

As geneticist Nina Federoff wrote in Scientific American:

Humans began genetically modifying plants to provide food more than 10,000 years ago. For the past hundred years or so plant breeders have used radiation and chemicals to speed up the production of genetic changes. This was a genetic shotgun, producing lots of bad changes and a very, very occasional good one. That’s the best we could do until three laureates (and their colleagues) developed molecular techniques for plant genetic modification. We can now use these methods to make precise improvements by adding just a gene (or two or a few) that codes for proteins whose function we know with precision. Yet plants modified by these techniques, the best and safest we’ve ever invented, are the only ones we now call GM. Almost everyone believes we’ve never fiddled with plant genes before, as if beefsteak tomatoes, elephant garlic and corn were somehow products of unfettered nature.

The anti-GM storm gathered in the mid-80s and swept around the world. Most early alarms about new technologies fade away as research accumulates without turning up evidence of deleterious effects. This should be happening now because scientists have amassed more than three decades of research on GM biosafety, none of which has surfaced credible evidence that modifying plants by molecular techniques is dangerous. Instead, the anti-GM storm has intensified. Scientists have done their best to explain things, but they’re rather staid folk for the most part, constitutionally addicted to facts and figures and not terribly good at crafting emotionally gripping narratives. This puts them at a disadvantage. One scare story based on a bogus study suggesting a bad effect of eating GMOs readily trumps myriad studies that show that GM foods are just like non-GM foods.
I talked this over in more detail with Federoff when she was on my show in July, 2013 -- listen to that conversation here.

I've also spoken with Dr. Adrian Dubock, project manager for Golden Rice, the brainchild of some scientists who used genetics to try to solve a serious problem in many rice-eating cultures in Asia and Africa -- people were not getting enough Vitamin A (beta-carotene) in their diet. That was affecting their eyesight, with millions going blind. So the scientists genetically modified rice with genes from corn and a bacterium to create Golden Rice, which creates Vitamin A in humans. It saved the eyesight of huge numbers of people. Unfortunately, anti-GMO groups started spreading lies about Golden Rice, and at one point destroyed an experimental field in the Phillipines. Listen to my 2013 conversation with Dr. Dubock here.

This weekend, Mark Lynas, who used to be an anti-GMO activist, wrote an op-ed in the NY Times in which he reversed his opinion:
I decided I could no longer continue taking a pro-science position on global warming and an anti-science position on GMOs. There is an equivalent level of scientific consensus on both issues, I realized, that climate change is real and genetically modified foods are safe. I could not defend the expert consensus on one issue while opposing it on the other.

In Africa, however, countries have fallen like dominoes to anti-GM campaigns. I am writing this at a biotechnology conference in Nairobi, where the government slapped a GMO import ban in 2012 after activists brandished pictures of rats with tumors and claimed that GM foods caused cancer. The origin of the scare was a French scientific paper that was later retracted by the journal in which it was originally published because of numerous flaws in methodology. Yet Kenya’s ban remains, creating a food-trade bottleneck that will raise prices, worsening malnutrition and increasing poverty for millions.

In Uganda, the valuable banana crop is being devastated by a new disease called bacterial wilt, while the starchy cassava, a subsistence staple, has been hit by two deadly viruses. Biotech scientists have produced resistant varieties of both crops using genetic modification, but anti-GMO groups have successfully prevented the Ugandan Parliament from passing a biosafety law necessary for their release.
Therein lies the real danger. While Chipotle's ban on GMO ingredients doesn't hurt anyone directly, its indirect impact is in popularizing the false claims that GMOs are harmful to humans. And when those lies and rumors spread around the world, they do endanger people, especially in places where access to food is scarce.

I prefer to stand with the late Dr. Norman Borlaug -- whose work in creating new varieties of wheat won the Nobel Peace Prize and earned him the nickname The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives -- and those genetic and agricultural scientists who are following in his footsteps. They deserve praise and thanks, not scorn from critics, ignorance spread online, and bad laws passed by uninformed politicians which deny the world access to their life-saving efforts.

Random TV Thoughts


At the White House Correspondents Association Dinner over the weekend, Obama killed (again) with his standup routine -- particularly with the help of Keegan-Michael  Key as Luther, the president's anger translator, a reliably funny bit from "Key and Peele." What made the routine work was Obama's timing and his rising anger as he discussed climate change deniers, eventually getting too mad even for Luther. Very clever concept by his writers, perfectly executed.

Cecily Strong of "Saturday Night Live" had the unenviable closing spot after Obama. Unfortunately, she couldn't deliver with her litany of Seth Meyers-like material a la "Weekend Update." Every joke followed the same vocal pattern -- the setup in her regular voice, then the punchline in a slightly higher voice, as if to say, "this is the funny part, people!" But just like when she did "Update," the humor was seriously lacking. Proof again that being a good sketch comedian does not make you a good stand-up comic. I wish the WHCA had the balls to book Will Durst, who has long been one of the best political comedians in the USA. He would set a new standard by which all other performers at that dinner are measured.

My wife and I have watched every episode of "The Amazing Race" and are still baffled every time a couple on the show can't drive a stick shift in a foreign country. You'd think that before going on the show, teams would have watched all the previous seasons and seen that this is an obstacle the producers always put on the show -- giving everyone manual transmission vehicles to get from one destination to another. Knowing that, and having sufficient warning before the race begins, at least one person on each team should have practiced driving a stick before heading for the starting line. Even though I drove a manual in the 70s and 80s, I know I'd still need a refresher course before I went on a race for a million dollars.

The same is true of contestants on "Survivor" who don't know how to swim. For years, each season of the show has placed the tribes on beaches and included multiple water-related challenges. If you can't swim, you're automatically handicapping yourself, so why not learn before going?

Speaking of "Survivor," the biggest problem with this season is that there isn't one likable contestant. In fact, some of them are downright rude and obnoxious to each other that it seems they've forgotten the importance of the social game in an attempt to win. After all, the people you've voted off are the ones who will decide who gets the million, so berating them about having no friends or picking at their emotional scabs (as Will did last week with Shirin) or essentially challenging another player to a fight (Rodney vs. Mike) seems more than a little counter-productive. Ever since Russel Hantz, Jeff Probst and his producing colleagues have picked increasing numbers of loudmouth bullies and irritating people for the show in the belief they make for better television -- if you're a quiet thinker on "Survivor," you don't get much airtime -- but there's got to be a limit on how much psychological abuse one player can heap on another.

Domestic Violence and Sports

Floyd Mayweather has been convicted of domestic violence five times. Top NFL prospect Jameis Winston has been accused of sexual assault and shoplifting. Yet this week, both will be promoted and reported on by news and sports outlets as if they'd never done anything wrong -- because only the money matters in sports. Here's a great commentary on the subject from Keith Olbermann, who will boycott both the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and the NFL's draft day hype, and thinks you should, too...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Showbiz Show


Every Friday, I devote an extended segment of my KTRS show to talking about movies and show business with Colin Jeffrey, who steps out of his role as News Director to become his alter ego, Showbiz Boy. The response on the air has been good, so I'm posting the audio here. Please let me know if you like it and want more in coming weeks.

In this conversation, we reviewed "Ex Machina" and "The Age of Adaline," Colin talked about problems on the set of Adam Sandler's first Netflix movie and when you'll see the next chapter in the "Furious" franchise, and I recommended one streaming movie and bashed another. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jon Macks On His 22 Years With Jay Leno


Over the course of 22 years, my friend Jon Macks wrote 500,000 jokes for Jay Leno to use on "The Tonight Show." He's also written for Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Steve Martin and others who hosted the Academy Awards, as well as the Emmys, Tonys, Golden Globes, and pretty much any other awards show you can name. For several years, Jon was also a contributor to my radio show, doing a weekly segment in which he'd joke about the news, celebrities he'd run into, and more.

Now Jon has written a book about his experiences, "Monologue: What Makes America Laugh Before Bed," so he returned to my show for this extended interview. We talked about:
  • the process of writing, on average, 100 jokes a day;
  • whether jokes he wrote for Leno would have worked for Letterman, Fallon, and Kimmel;
  • what went wrong the night James Franco hosted the Oscars with Anne Hathaway;
  • what happened the night Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was running for governor of California on Leno's show;
  • what went wrong with Leno's primetime show when he was booted off "The Tonight Show";
  • Letterman's long sad goodbye and how Leno wishes he's ended his 22-year run.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 04/24/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Let's Go Blues Movies," "Where Was That?" and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/24/15


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a prom-posal gone wrong, a dog in the driver's seat, and a long-distance call to the cops. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Worth A Link

Thursday, April 23, 2015

From My Twitter Feed

Edward Snowden must be thinking, "Petraeus got probation for leaking military secrets and I'm stuck in goddamn Moscow????"

Worth A Link

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Poker Stories: The Woman Behind The Man

Another in my occasional series of poker stories...

Preston comes over to a table where I'm playing, says hello, and sits down in the empty seat. His girlfriend, Missy, also says hello as she pulls up another chair -- not to play in the game, but to sit behind Preston as he plays. Over the next two hours, they don't talk much to each other, although they occasionally order a drink. Mostly, Missy watches as Preston loses. It's not the first time I've seen them do this, but I've never understood why.

A few years ago, I was playing at Bellagio in Las Vegas. The poker room is near a nightclub called The Bank, where large numbers of under-forty-year-olds line up to get in, drink, dance, and party all night. It was late, about 3am, when a couple in their 20s walked between the tables towards a $2/5 no-limit hold'em game. He sat down, she sat behind him. They were immediately noticeable, because they were both very good-looking -- the kind of attractive that turns heads in both genders, and they'd caught the attention of our entire section of the room, particularly because the woman was wearing a dress that didn't leave much to the imagination. If was obvious from their sheen that they had gotten sweaty in the nightclub, and now he'd convinced her to let him play some cards before they went to bed.

It took about a minute for two guys at my table, adjacent to the one where the handsome couple was seated, to start questioning his decision. One of them asked, "Once you've gotten all worked up in The Bank, why would you not go directly upstairs to the room and get down to business?" A completely valid question, I thought (as I tried not to seem too obvious but continued to stare). Yet a better question would be, "Why would she agree to come in here and just sit there, doing nothing?"

I'm always amazed when I see a woman sitting quietly behind her man as he plays poker. In all the years I've frequented poker rooms, I have never seen a man sitting behind a female poker player -- nor, for that matter, a gay/lesbian partner doing the same.

I can't think of any circumstance under which my wife would take a seat behind me at any point during a poker session. She has no problem with me playing, but doesn't care about gambling at all. In our nearly 32 years together, she has gambled exactly once -- because I made her.

We were on our first trip to the Caribbean, on the island of St. Maarten. We'd spent the day on the beach, had a nice dinner, and it was still early, so we walked around the property. After a little while, we came upon the hotel's tiny little casino. It had about two dozen slot machines, two blackjack tables, and a roulette wheel. No poker, no craps.

I sat down at a blackjack seat and put $25 on the table. It only took about three hands before I got the tap on the shoulder -- not from casino security, but from my wife, asking, "Can we go?" I had won those first three hands and wanted to play for a little while. She didn't want to go back to the room by herself, so I handed her a $20 bill, pointed to the roulette table and said, "How about if you go over there, pick a number, bet a dollar on each roll, and see what happens?" She frowned, but took the cash and said, "Okay, I'm going to bet on 22 every time and lose our nest egg!"

That's one of the reasons I love her -- the woman can ad lib an Albert Brooks "Lost In America" reference.

I continued playing, knowing it would take about 20 minutes for her to run through the twenty bucks, but kept glancing over to see how she was doing. Apparently, the little ball was not dropping into the 22 slot. She kept losing, while I won a little, lost a little, nothing big either way. Then I heard her say, "Okay, this is my last chance!" as she placed her final chip on the table -- followed moments later by an ear-to-ear grin. She'd won!

The croupier pushed 36 chips to her (roulette pays 35-1 on a single number). She tried to scoop them up and cash them out, but a supervisor told her she couldn't do that. If she wanted to exchange the chips for dollars, they'd do it right there at the table. She did, and came skipping over to me, still smiling, holding those four bills (a twenty, ten, five, and one) so tightly that, the next morning, they were still stuck together on the dresser in our room.

I asked her if she'd enjoyed herself, knowing that this is how some people get hooked on gambling. If you win the first time, you think it's easy, so you keep going back. Some people who win keep playing because they figure they're "playing with the house's money." That's a horrible lapse in logic, since once they push those chips over the line, they belong to you, not the casino. Fortunately, my wife doesn't think like that.

She answered my question by explaining that, while winning on the last spin made her happy, she hadn't enjoyed the rest of it, didn't like the atmosphere, and had no interest in ever being in a casino again. And she hasn't. My wife is among the very few people in the world who have gambled exactly once, walked away with a few extra bucks, and never returned.

Which is why you'll never see her sitting behind me in a poker room.

Read more of my poker stories here.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Earlier this week, in discussing the Long Late Night Goodbye of David Letterman and Jon Stewart, I mentioned that the former seems to have been phoning it in for years. In a piece entitled "A Dethroned King Of Comedy," Jaime Weinman correctly points out:

People who grew up watching him on CBS might not understand what all the fuss is about, though. Late Show with David Letterman has been built on Letterman’s image as a cranky old host who never seems to be trying very hard. But before that Letterman, he was a different host on a different network, and that guy was the most influential person in comedy.
Read Weinman's full piece here.

The Most Corrupt City In The World

If you ever wonder how the sleazy underbelly of congressional lobbying operates, read this piece about the congressman who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is sleeping with a woman who lobbies on behalf of the airline industry. Whatever her clients want, he turns into law -- let the consumers be damned! -- and no one in the Capitol seems to think it's unethical. Where did he learn to act like that? From his father, who was thrown out of congress for taking bribes and doing legislative favors just like this.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another Movie You Might Not Know


The newest entry on my Movies You Might Not Know list is "Side Effects," a 2013 psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh.

It stars Rooney Mara as a woman whose husband, Channing Tatum, has just been released from prison after a four-year sentence for inside trading. While he was away, she battled depression, and when he returns, she's not in good shape. One day, she drives her car at full speed into the wall of a parking garage and ends up in the hospital, where psychiatrist Jude Law is assigned to find out why. It doesn't take long before he prescribes one anti-depressant, then switches her to another, and after speaking with her previous therapist, Catherine Zeta-Jones, follows her recommendation to put Mara on something called Ablixa.

It's the side effect of that drug that drives the rest of the plot, which I won't spoil for you. Let's just say that it takes a couple of turns that kept me on the edge of my seat. I've always admired Soderbergh's technique, which is on full display, and he gets good performances out of every one of his actors, too.

I don't know why "Side Effects" didn't do better at the box office -- I don't even remember it playing at any theaters in my area -- but I recommend it now that it's streaming and on DVD.

See my full Movies You Might Not Know list here.

Worth A Link

  • Shirley, you'll want to read this oral history of "Airplane!"
  • Rolling Stone's cover story on Ringo Starr, who was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this weekend.
  • Julia Belluz on new WikiLeaks documents revealing the inner workings of Dr. Oz's show.
  • Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to run for president -- that would be Victoria Woodhull, who (in 1872) couldn't even vote for herself.

Moonlight Feels Right

I hadn't happened upon this song for a very long time until I heard it in a restaurant yesterday. To my knowledge, it's the only Top 40 hit ever to include a vibraphone solo in the middle. This is a live performance from a couple of years ago by most of the members of Starbuck who played on the original one-hit wonder in 1976 and hadn't changed a note since then...

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Long Late Night Goodbye


David Letterman will host his final "Late Show" one month from tonight, and the show has already turned into a squirm-fest as a parade of celebs come on to say how much he's meant to them. The praise looks like it makes Letterman uncomfortable, but he seems resigned to the fact that this is part of the process of closing out a long run in late night. Jon Stewart has a similar look on his face as guests begin to do the same with his departure imminent, as well.

We went through this in 1992 when Johnny Carson ended his 30-year reign, but it was different because he was the undisputed king of late night, there were so few other options, and he was still at the top of his game. Letterman, on the other hand, looks like he's been phoning it in for several years. While his legend will always include dozens of memorable moments and wacky bits he created (or borrowed from Steve Allen) and his paradigm-shifting attitude towards late-night television, which spawned the current generation of competitors, the fact is that it's been a long time since Dave said or did anything original. What's the last time you heard anyone buzzing about anything on "The Late Show"?

Unfortunately, the same can be said of Stewart, whose "Daily Show" has lost its cleverness lead and turned into a nightly recitation of the comedic crutches he's leaned on for the last year or so. With Stephen Colbert out of the building, off the air, and waiting to launch whatever his Letterman replacement show will be, the only truly original content being produced in that arena belongs to John Oliver and his crew at "Last Week Tonight." Granted, they have a full week to prep a show, while Stewart, Letterman, et al have to come with stuff four days a week, but there's a joy in Oliver's eyes and delivery that has evaporated from the two soon-to-be-retirees.

One last thought on this subject. Billy Crystal, usually a money-in-the-bank guest, was among the well-wishers on Letterman's show last week, but it would have meant more if: a) he hadn't been the featured act on Jay Leno's final "Tonight Show" last year, treating him with way more deference than he deserved; and b) Billy weren't there primarily to plug his new FX show, "The Comedians" (which I've already given up on after two episodes -- who wants to see Crystal being nasty?).

DVR Alert


Neil deGrasse Tyson's popular weekly podcast, "Star Talk," will debut in TV form tonight on the National Geographic Channel at 10pm Central Time. I have some quibbles with the pacing and production of the podcast, but the content is compelling and whenever Bill Nye appears with Tyson, it's always a pleasure to listen.

The Daily Burden

In a profile of Jon Stewart by Hadley Freeman, in which he explains why he's giving up "The Daily Show" anchor chair later this year, he's asked about having to watch cable news outlets to gather material...

“Watching these channels all day is incredibly depressing,” says Stewart. “I live in a constant state of depression. I think of us as turd miners. I put on my helmet, I go and mine turds, hopefully I don’t get turd lung disease.”

Now that he is leaving The Daily Show, is there any circumstance in which he would watch Fox News again? He takes a few seconds to ponder the question. "Umm... All right, let’s say that it’s a nuclear winter, and I have been wandering, and there appears to be a flickering light through what appears to be a radioactive cloud and I think that light might be a food source that could help my family. I might glance at it for a moment until I realize, that’s Fox News, and then I shut it off. That’s the circumstance."
Read Freeman's full piece here.

Picture Of The Day

Leo The Lion has been in the opening logo for MGM movies for a long time, but he wasn't the original. Here's a look back at the lions that preceded him.

Watching this reminded me of the story of the MGM Grand Casino/Hotel in Las Vegas, which once used a giant lion's mouth as its entrance. Unfortunately, the company didn't understand that superstitious Asian gamblers -- who made up a large portion of its player base -- considered walking into the cat's mouth to be very bad luck, so they stayed away in droves. It cost MGM millions before it realized its mistake, and millions more to rebuild the doorway so that customers entered near the lion, not through its mouth.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Zero To Golfer In 10,000 Hours


Malcolm Gladwell once postulated that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at anything, whether it's cooking, playing the violin, or making furniture. Dan McLaughlin is testing that theory.

Five years ago, he decided he wanted to be a professional golfer, so he quit his job and picked up some clubs -- even though he'd only played the game once. On my show, I asked how he's doing, how he's supporting himself with no income, and how much more practice it will take before he qualifies for the PGA. I also asked him about golf hustlers, how he affords playing at country clubs, and whether he's gotten any tips from real pros.

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

You can keep up with Dan at his site, TheDanPlan.com.

Harris Challenge 4/17/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Let's Go Blues," "The Most Influential People In Showbiz," and "Multiple Choice Week." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/17/15


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about the wrong way to deal with bed bugs, an accident caused by a parrot, and a man who brings new meaning to "tree hugger." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

I Wish My Teacher Knew

A teacher in Denver asked her third-graders to complete the sentence "I Wish My Teacher Knew...." The answers will break your heart.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Netflix now has 1 subscriber for every 3 households in America. The other two are probably “borrowing” their logins.
  • After checking the MLB standings, I think that if the season ended today and playoffs started, a lot of people would be extremely confused.
  • As Gisele Bundchen quits the fashion runway business, how will she and hubby Tom Brady be able to pay their mortgage? Kickstarter campaign?

Pay-For-Plane Entertainment


Southwest Airlines, which I fly regularly, has made two announcements recently -- one that I cheer and one that I boo.

Cheer: by summer 2016, Southwest says the seats on its Boeing 737-800 will be a little bit wider. How much is a "little bit"? About seven-tenths of an inch. That's not much, but as a large human, I can tell you it's better than the hip-squishing seats on other airlines, all of which are smaller. Now if they'd give me another inch of legroom so my knees aren't wedged under the tray table in its unlocked, horizontal position, we'd be moving in the right direction.

Boo: As part of a new program it's rolling out, Southwest recently allowed an author to turn one of its flights into his own personal book club, using the public address system to describe his latest effort and reading a chapter from it. They've also allowed fashion shows to take over the aisle and had bands (e.g. Imagine Dragons) play onboard. All of these are horrible ideas, created by some marketing genius who saw the potential for revenue from companies that want to reach a captive audience. That's what we are at 35,000 feet -- we can't exactly opt out by leaving.

Since most of us like to close our eyes and get some sleep for at least a portion of the flight, who wants our solitude interrupted by anyone? Hey, even the flight attendants know not to bother someone with their eyes closed and head sagging to one side! And when I'm awake, I can entertain myself for a few hours with the audio on my phone or the video on my iPad or just enjoying the quiet hum of the plane.

I bet if you took a vote and left it up to the passengers, the majority would reject the idea of having pay-for-plane entertainment onboard. I can't even stand it when the person in the seat next to me wants to have a conversation longer than 60 seconds, let alone lecture me on some topic they spent two years researching and writing about. And I've sat next to plenty of people who should not, under any circumstances, have access to the PA microphone.

If Southwest wants to conduct book clubs in the air, fine. Promote certain flights with certain authors and let the seats fill up exclusively with people who want to read their book and hear from them. But don't spring it on us as a surprise -- we already put up with enough nonsense when we fly.

A Night To Let Freedom Laugh

Tonight, AXS-TV will air "Lewis Black and Friends: A Night To Let Freedom Laugh." It was produced by my friend Chris Bliss as a benefit for his Bill Of Rights Monument Project at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, which is a great room for comedy -- as Chris learned when he performed at one of my Comedy Concerts For Children's Hospital in 1998. The 2-hour "Let Freedom Laugh" show, which debuts tonight, has a stellar lineup of comedians (in addition to Black) including Tom Smothers, Ahmed Ahmed, Dick Gregory, Cristela Alonzo, and John Fugelsang, who does this bit on his Catholic upbringing...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Picture Of The Day

When Billy Crystal made his final appearance with David Letterman last night, he did this musical tribute, co-written by Marc Shaiman, who has a lot of experience with this sort of thing -- he did Bette Midler's classic farewell song for Johnny Carson, too...

Get Vaccinated Or Get Out Of School

There's a bill in the California legislature, proposed by Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician, which would remove the "personal belief" exemption for vaccination requirements for kids in public schools. I hope it passes there, and similar legislation becomes law in every state. Russell Saunders sums it up perfectly:

It would leave in place exemptions for legitimate medical reasons not to vaccinate (typically related to problems with the immune system), but would remove those premised on nothing more than a parent’s benighted beliefs. This is wholly appropriate, and will serve to ensure that public schools are not breeding grounds for future outbreaks.

Of course, the anti-vaccination crowd is not taking this lightly. There are reports of threats against Sen. Pan, who now must travel with additional security. Somewhat hilariously, other opponents to the bill are saying they will pull their children from schools if it passes and teach them at home instead. While some are characterizing these statements as “threats,” I prefer to think of them as “promises.” And I certainly hope they are kept.

If you refuse to vaccinate your children because of long-debunked fears about their safety, please do find an alternative to public schools to educate them. Please do homeschool them, and keep them from undermining the public health of everyone else. Please do bear the burden for your own selfish choices, and allow parents of children with leukemia or other illnesses that prevent them from being vaccinated themselves to send them to school without fear.
Read Saunders' full piece here.

The Periscope Problem

Two weeks ago, I talked with Kim Komando about two live streaming apps that are gaining popularity, Meerkat and Periscope. They're not the first to allow you to share what you're seeing with an online audience, but they're easier to use and adding users every day. But from the moment I heard about them, I wondered about how much easier they'll make it to pirate copyrighted content.

For instance, what's to stop people from sitting in a movie theater holding up their phones and live-streaming the film to people sitting at home. Who is going to stop a bunch of fans at a concert from holding up their phones and sharing the experience with people who hadn't paid for the privilege? Or a sporting event? HBO is already asking Periscope to take action against users who illegally streamed "Game Of Thrones" on Sunday night -- and I predict we're going to hear from more content providers concerned about this technology that threatens the very concept of rights fees.

The ability for anyone to live stream from their phone could be very useful when there's a major news event and someone is there to document it for the world before any media outlet is on the scene. Take last year's clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson, when having a raw, uninterrupted stream of live action was valuable, even if it only afforded one small perspective. These apps allow citizen journalists to show us more of the world.

I was going to add "without a gatekeeper" to that last sentence, implying a network or editor or correspondent, but realized that the person streaming the video would still be a gatekeeper, determining what we see and what aspects of an event to focus on.

Besides copyright violations, there are also privacy concerns. What's to stop paparazzi from stalking some celebrity with a live feed of everywhere they go and everything they do? What's to stop your creepy neighbor from doing the same with you? As always, technology is way ahead of the law and most legislators don't even know about these apps, let alone know what limits should be set on their use.

New York Road Trip, Part Three


I have always lived in the suburbs, where I drive my car everywhere I need to go -- the supermarket, the gym, the radio station -- but in a big city like New York, there's no need for a car, because everything's either within walking distance or a short subway ride away. Besides, there's no place to keep a car there because on-street parking is an enormous hassle, and the cost of a garage space is more than the mortgage on my house.

So, while in Manhattan on vacation, I walked a lot and noticed something I hadn't seen before -- people on the sidewalks weren't fat. It's probably because they walk so much. Maybe the fat people were inside the busses or omnipresent yellow cabs, but even when I rode the subway, I didn't encounter a lot of overweight people.

Walking in a big city is slightly hazardous for me due because of my phobia about grates. I don't know when it was, but at some point in my youth, I must have read a story about a kid who was walking along on a city sidewalk when a grate gave way and he plunged into the darkness, never to be seen again. Ever since then, when I'm in a city, I treat grates and manhole covers (and anything other than pavement) the way Jack Nicholson treated a tiled floor in "As Good As It Gets." They are to be avoided at all costs, for fear I'll fall in.

My wife and daughter know about my phobia and play along because they know my heart will start racing if I see them walk on a grate, too. This makes it a challenge when we're all on the sidewalk, trying to stay together while simultaneously maneuvering around every portal to a never-ending dark hole.

It's amazing we ever get anywhere downtown.

Read part one here and part two here.

CEO Of The Year

It’s going to be hard to beat this guy for CEO Of The Year after he raised the minimum wage at his firm to $70,000.

Worth A Link -- Showbiz Edition

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Diagnosis: Schadenfreude

An anti-vaccination mom changed her tune when all 7 of her kids came down with whooping cough.

Tarnished Gold


I just finished watching last week's season premiere of "Louie," which featured an appearance by Judy Gold as Marina, a woman who, ah, it's not worth explaining the character in order to tell you this story.

About 20 years ago, I was doing mornings in Washington, DC, and had a deal with the big local comedy club to have their weekend headliners -- who typically did one show Thursday night, two shows Friday night, and three shows Saturday night -- come over to the studio on Friday mornings to have some fun and sell some tickets. I'd been doing this for years and had great experiences with comedy pros like Brian Regan, Jake Johannsen, Kathleen Madigan, and many others. They understood how to give great radio, even though getting up at those hours was completely against their nocturnal biorhythms.

Sometimes, I had people on I'd never heard of who turned out to be great guests, nonetheless (e.g. Jack Gallagher, Rob Becker). On occasion, the comedian would turn out to be a dud, so instead of having them hang around for an hour or more, I'd cut it short after 10-15 minutes and wish them well.

Then there was Judy Gold.

When she arrived at the station, my producer went to greet her and offer a cup of coffee or water or whatever, then had her sit in my office for a few minutes until I was ready to have her on the air. When the time came, I walked down the hall during a commercial break to say hello and escort her to the studio. It was immediately apparent that Gold was in a sour mood. She was complaining about how early it was and how she hated doing morning radio and how she didn't want to be there.

Before we got to the threshold of the studio door, I put my arm out and stopped her, saying, "Look, it's obvious you're not into this, so let's just forget about it. You can go." She looked at me in shock, as if she'd never been spoken to that way before, then uttered a string of curse words before turning and heading for the front door, where the club's driver was probably very surprised to see her so soon.

I went back in the studio and, when the commercials were over, proceeded to explain to my audience why the comedian whose appearance I'd been promoting was not going to join me on the air. I acknowledged that it was difficult for some performers who worked Thursday night to turn around and be ready to entertain Friday morning at 8am, but that unlike many of her predecessors on my show -- who understood that talking to an audience of 30,000 people would help fill some of the seats in a 250-capacity comedy club -- Gold wasn't willing to make the effort, so I'd sent her away.

When I got to the next commercial break, my producer told me that the booker from the comedy club, who always listened to these segments and with whom I'd had a good relationship, was on the phone and wanted to talk to me off the air. When I picked up the line and said hello, she said four simple words: "I don't blame you." Apparently, Gold was a real piece of work in the club, too, which may explain why she was never invited back.

And probably why you've never heard of her.

Previously on Harris Online...

Elections Where Nobody Votes


Last Tuesday was Election Day in St. Louis, and -- with the exception of Ferguson, where two African-Americans were elected to the city council, giving it a racial balance of three blacks and three whites -- no one really cared.

I count myself among them. Frankly, I didn't even know it was Election Day because there weren't any major offices or issues on the ballot and, like most Americans, I only think about voting every other November. Why hold an election in April when no one will come? The turn out would have to increase a lot just to qualify as dismal, particularly in small municipalities.

For example, here are the results of the mayoral race in the town of Kinloch: Betty McCray 63, Darren Small 18, Theda Wilson 2. Yes, one of the candidates only got two votes! I'm assuming the other vote was from her husband. Meanwhile, in Foley (with 100% of the precincts counted), the final vote for mayor was Keith Vertrees 28, Kathleen Schimpf 5, Matt Dodson 3. At least Dodson got one more vote than Wilson. What do you tell yourself the morning after the election when your tally is so small? "Well, I only lost by 25 votes." Yes, out of 36!

Those weren't the only low turnout stories. In Van Buren, there was a sales tax issue on the ballot. The results: ten votes for, ten votes against. So it's still not decided!

In other small Missouri cities like St. Mary (with a whopping population of 360 residents on 390 acres), there was an ordinance on the ballot to allow the city to save money in the future by not holding elections when they’re uncontested. The tally: Yes 24, No 6. There were similar forgo-the-election ordinances on the ballot in Sycamore Hills (28-25), Wilbur Park (32-19), Kimmswick (25-9), Cedar Hill Lakes (37-9), and Bunker (21-4).

Why bother even printing ballots and setting up the voting machines for such small elections? Just invite everyone to the bar at Applebee's, let them order some appetizers, raise their hand once or twice, and be done with it.

And do it in November, for crying out loud.

Worth A Link

  • This school nurse, who refused to treat a child who wouldn't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, should be forced to write a 3-page essay on the Supreme Court ruling that says every student has that right.
  • Frank Rich explains why it doesn't matter if Brian Williams returns to the NBC anchor chair.
  • In Australia, if you don't vaccinate your kids, you can't get checks from the government.
  • A profile of Laura Poitras and how she made the Oscar-winning documentary "Citizenfour" about Edward Snowden.
  • There are just 2 Howard Johnson's restaurants left -- remember those 28 flavors of ice cream?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Best Legal Business In The World?


If I had it to do all over again, I would have bought up a bunch of downtown parking lots.

I'm not talking about the garages, but the open-air lots -- like the ones near the baseball stadium that are charging sixty dollars a spot for the home opener today. That's almost pure profit, considering that (aside from the mortgage) the only expenses are painting the lines once a year and hiring a couple of people to wave an orange flag to attract cars, collect cash, and make sure nobody is keying the customers' vehicles.

Even if your employees steal 10% of that cash, and you're only charging $5/day when there's no game in town, you've gotta come out way ahead over the course of the year. Not only that, but the value of the land is only going to increase over time.

How is this not the best (legal) business in the world?

Picture Of The Day

Missi Pyle as a Hillary spokeswoman answering questions from the press corps. Wait for it...

Debunking Conservative Lies About Jobs

Four years ago, I wrote a piece called The Job Creation Myth, in which I explained that jobs are not created by reducing taxes on the wealthy, that "trickle-down economics" has been repeatedly debunked, and that increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the one-percenters would not cause more people to be laid off.

Let's do some math. If a "job creator" makes a million dollars a year, and their tax rate goes up 3%, that's $30,000. Remember, we're talking income tax here, not wealth, and not counting capital gains and other non-payroll income -- just the stuff on their W-2s. If they don't give that $30,000 to the government, they can afford to hire one new employee, and pay them the stunning salary of $15/hour.

That's one person hired for each rich person who paid less taxes. At that rate, it would take 40,000,000 fat cats to employ everyone who's out of work now (not to mention the millions more who are underemployed). And that's assuming that they're going to use those 3% savings to hire someone, rather than spending it on some luxury item or a vacation with the trophy wife.

So, if all of these "job creators" have been saving that 3% since the rates went down nearly a decade ago, where are all those jobs that should have been created? Because the only positions I see being filled are as lobbyists for the rich, and they make a lot more than $15/hour.
Remember, I wrote that in 2011, before the economy had really started rolling again and before the unemployment rate had dropped several percentage points, as it has by 2015. As for raising the minimum wage, new research from Seattle shows how that city's increase hasn't hurt the restaurant economy at all -- contrary to every prediction by pro-business conservatives, who spew the same garbage every time, regardless of the actual evidence.

Now, there's this piece in Salon by Andrew Sayer:
In the economy as a whole, the number of jobs depends primarily on the level of total or ‘aggregate’ demand. As Hanauer argues, ordinary people create jobs simply by spending their money. Job numbers are most likely to rise when people and businesses are spending more. Aggregate demand is not within the control of individual businesses: it’s their environment. Businesses can’t grow unless demand increases. The current crisis of capitalist economies owes much to the fact that aggregate demand in many rich countries has been stagnant for decades, and only buoyed up by massive expansion of consumer credit. It has therefore become harder to make profits out of producing goods and services. As both cause and consequence of this, there has been a major relative shift in investment, or rather ‘investment,’ in the last 30–40 years from so-called non-financial companies (that produce goods and services) to financial companies that make money directly from money.

But you might ask why a shift in the proportion of national income going to the rich should make a difference to aggregate demand. Isn’t it just a change in who has the spending power rather than a change in the total spending power? The answer is that the rich use a smaller proportion of their money for buying goods and services than do other people. Those on low incomes cannot afford to save because they need to spend all they have just to get by, and if they get an increase it’s likely to be spent on basic things or paying off debts. Those in the middle may be able to save a little, and if they get more, then both their spending and saving can be increased. Hanauer puts it more simply: someone who earns a hundred or thousand times more than the average person is not likely to spend it on a hundred or thousand cars and houses. Yes, they may spend eye-wateringly large sums on themselves, but it’s likely to be a considerably lower proportion of their overall income than for most people. In Keynes’ terms, the rich have a lower ‘marginal propensity to consume’ than the rest of us. So, other things equal, redistributing income to the rich lowers aggregate demand, and redistributing downwards increases it.

This means that ‘trickle down’ arguments are wrong. Yes, the rich employ a few servants and provide demand for accountants, tax advisers and luxury services, but far fewer jobs result from this than would be case if their income were redistributed back to ordinary people with a much higher propensity to consume. The best way to get money to cascade down from the rich to the rest is to tax them – or stop them extracting it in the first place! As Ann Pettifor argues, any trickle-down effect is dwarfed by the reverse ‘hoovering up’ effect of rent and interest in directing money to the wealthy.
Read Sayer's full piece, "The One-Percenters Are Parasites."

It's All Good, Man


I enjoyed the ten episodes of "Better Call Saul," the "Breaking Bad" prequel that wrapped up its first season last week. The writing and direction are just as solid as the parent show, and Bob Odenkirk has shown he can handle a lead role very well -- particularly with those fast-talking verbal riffs that role off the tongue of his character, Jimmy McGill. I also liked seeing Jonathan Banks return as menacing ex-cop-turned-fixer Mike Ermentraut, who had some impressive monologues of his own.

One thing I'm curious about, though.

When you're making a prequel with characters whose fate isn't revealed until the end of the show they're spun-off from, what happens if one of the main actors dies? What do the showrunners do if something happens to Banks before then? It's not like on other shows, where the actor's death becomes the character's death (e.g. Howard's mother on "Big Bang Theory"). Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould can't kill off Mike on "Better Call Saul" because we know he'll be around several years later on "Breaking Bad," until he's ultimately killed by Walter White.

I'm not wishing ill upon Banks. He's great as Mike (who was originally envisioned as a small role but expanded by the writers once they saw how good Banks is) and I'm looking forward to seeing how his relationship with Jimmy/Saul grows next season.

By the way, if you didn't watch "Saul" when it aired on AMC, download that network's app for your iPad or other tablet and binge-watch it that way -- much better than using AMC's website.

Going Clearer

In an op-ed in the LA Times, Alex Gibney, who made the devastating documentary about Scientology, "Going Clear," details how the church has fought back through intimidation and lawsuits, and says it should lose its tax-exempt status:

In the past, critics of the church have called for its tax exemption to be revoked because it is not a "real religion." I agree that tax-exemption isn't merited, but not for that reason. The Church of Scientology has a distinct belief system which, despite its somewhat strange cosmology — mocked by the TV show "South Park" and many others — is not essentially more strange than, say, the idea of a virgin birth. Scientologists are entitled to believe what they want to believe. And the IRS website makes it clear that anyone is entitled to start a religion at any time without seeking IRS permission. To maintain the right to be tax-exempt, however, religions must fulfill certain requirements for charitable organizations. For example, they may not "serve the private interests of any individual" and/or "the organization's purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy." On these points alone, it is hard to see why Americans should subsidize Scientology through its tax-exemption.
Read Gibney's full op-ed here.

Someone Call Liam Neeson

Remember that couple in Maryland who got in trouble for letting their children walk home from the park without parental supervision, and had to endure threats from police and Child Protective Services? Yesterday, those authorities stepped way over the line when they found the two kids (10 and 6) at a park and, without notifying mom or dad, took them away for several hours. You can imagine the panic the parents felt when they couldn't find their kids.

If the cops and CPS wanted the Meitiv children to learn that strangers could come and take them away at any time against their will, mission accomplished. Seems to me that they -- and the Gladys Kravitz in the neighborhood who called police because she saw two unaccompanied children playing outside -- are the real Stranger Danger.

Garry Trudeau on Free Speech

Garry Trudeau, the man behind Doonesbury, has been satirizing current events for more than four decades. On Friday, he received the George Polk Career Award, and offered some perspective on responsibility incumbent upon those who use their freedom of speech to make fun of others:

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.
Read Trudeau's full remarks here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

New York Road Trip, Part Two


During my week in Manhattan, I went to see Monday Night Magic, which was founded by Michael Chaut and my friend Jamy Ian Swiss 18 years ago. With different performers each week, it is the longest-running magic show in New York. The night I was there, emcee Harrison Greenbaum kept things moving with some nice tricks and some really funny, quick-witted, ad-libbed interplay with audience members. David Corsaro opened the show with a tight ten minutes, and Michael Chaut closed it with a 45-minute display of mentalism that was truly stunning. He had great rapport with the audience, too, and used more than a dozen of them to assist with his tricks.

The middle performer was The Great Throwdini, a master of the "Impalement Arts," who owns 40 world records for knife-throwing (not to mention axes and hatchets). He put on quite a display of his skills with the help of assistant/target Lana, who stood against a wooden backdrop while he threw various implements very close to her body. It's not a job for anyone with a twitch. Technically, his act doesn't qualify as "magic," but it's still a lot of fun to watch.

At one point, TGT had Lana bring up a man from the audience and stand him against the board while holding up his arms as if to show off his muscles. Then Lana placed a balloon in the crook of each arm and one more between his legs. As she did this, TGT put a black sack over his head and grabbed some knives before saying, "Nah, better you than me," and putting the sack over the head of the "volunteer" instead.

The guy was visibly trembling as TGT said "here we go," but what he didn't know was that the knives were being tossed harmlessly into the wood about a foot away from his body -- while Lana popped each balloon manually with a small knife. For the last one, the balloon between the legs, TGT instructed Lana to move it up all the way into the victim's crotch, eliciting a loud, "WHAT???" from the still-blindfolded guy. Then, with one last "pop," TGT pulled off the black sack and the guy virtually ran off the stage, happy to be out of danger -- and hopefully laughing it off when his friends told him what had really happened -- as the crowd erupted in applause.

I've been to Monday Night Magic twice and enjoyed it both times. If you're in New York, with or without children, get some tickets in advance, and try to get close to the sleight-of-hand magicians who perform during intermission. MNM is at The Players Theatre, right next to the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village.

Read part one here and part three here.

Andrew Sullivan and Jeff Greenfield

Andrew Sullivan is about as close as we get to a public intellectual in the United States. Although I don't agree with him on all issues, I still absorbed as much of his writing as I could while he published The Dish. He gave up that online publication a few months ago because the workload -- blogging his reactions in real time to news items from dawn until well after dusk -- was killing him.

In this thoughtful, honest conversation with Jeff Greenfield, Sullivan discusses major issues like gay marriage, President Obama's legacy, his Catholic faith, Israel and Palestine, torture, and health care. He also explains why he quit the business, and why he can't bring himself to blog about next year's presidential election -- especially with a Clinton and a Bush involved.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New York Road Trip, Part One


I spent the last week visiting my daughter and mother in New York City, eating real pizza and real bagels, trying a couple of vegan restaurants at my daughter's behest, taking in a couple of college classes with her, and going to see two big Broadway shows, "Beautiful" and "It's Only A Play."

The former is the musical that traces the career of Carole King. I've seen quite a few jukebox musicals ("Smokey Joe's Cafe," "Million Dollar Quartet," "Jersey Boys") and "Beautiful" is as strong as any of them, with Chilina Kennedy perfect as King (what a voice!), a very solid supporting cast, and a song list that includes "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "It's Too Late," "I Feel The Earth Move," and "A Natural Woman." The show also tells part of the story of songwriters Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann, who competed with King (and husband Gerry Goffin) while coming up with such classics as "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place."

The other show, "It's Only A Play" is a Tom Stoppard piece with a stellar cast -- including Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, and F. Murray Abraham -- in a farce about a party after the opening night of a Broadway show where everyone celebrates while anxiously awaiting the critics' reviews. Stoppard's script pokes fun at lots of the traditions and real people that populate Broadway, with plenty of name-dropping and broad comedy. Some of it was a little over-the-top (only Broderick played it low-key while everyone else chewed up the scenery), but anytime I have a chance to see Nathan Lane on stage, I'm happy to do so.

As I walked across Manhattan to meet everyone at the theater, I passed through Times Square, which has undergone a family-friendly revitalization in the last decade. Personally, I preferred it as a grubby place with a patina of danger, rather than the over-commercialized tourist trap it has become. The worst aspect of that is the "characters" who now work the area -- people in costumes as Mickey Mouse, Woody from "Toy Story," and many others. They stand around all day waiting for a child to venture within grasp, and then play around with the kid until Mom or Dad agrees to cough up several bucks to have a picture taken and their child released. There are signs posted that say you're under no obligation to "tip any of the street performers," but the pressure is certainly applied.

As I was walking along, I spotted one little girl of about five or six go wide-eyed when she spotted Elmo and squealed his name. The guy (I assume it was a man) in the Elmo suit immediately turned and ran towards the delighted kid, hugging her close, patting her head, and dancing around. I guess the mother didn't notice what I could clearly see -- that Elmo's fur was disgustingly filthy. I would no sooner let my daughter touch it than allow her to lick the floor of a subway car. I guess the mother also didn't know that, one block ahead, she'd encounter another "performer" in an Elmo outfit, the difference being that the second Elmo earned enough money to dry-clean the costume. Regardless, as soon as Dirty Elmo got his hands on the girl in an attempt to extract cash from her mother, other "characters" started closing in so, in less than a minute, Minnie Mouse was trying to squeeze into the photo, while a guy in an Iron Man suit muscled for position against another guy in an Iron Man suit.

Even with the big chain stores and restaurants and its image gentrified by corporate America, one thing hasn't changed: Times Square is still a place of desperation.

Read part two here.

Harris Challenge 4/10/15

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


Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 4/10/15


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a revoked license plate, a not-so-presidential photo, and a man with 17 girlfriends. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Worth A Link


  • Common sense legislation: when you outlaw squirt guns at school, only squirts will have guns.

Friday, April 10, 2015

John Oliver and Edward Snowden Play Passwerd

Here's a segment of the conversation between John Oliver and Edward Snowden that didn't air on HBO Sunday night, about how to make your passwords harder to guess:

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Sunday on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver went to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden. It was both funny and interesting, yet another example of how Oliver has created something new, a show that can touch on serious topics, but go further than Jon Stewart ever could on "The Daily Show."

As part of the piece, Oliver's staff interviewed several people in Times Square, most of whom did not know who Edward Snowden is, or were unclear on why he was famous. Oliver then showed that video to Snowden, who was understandably surprised. But, as Glenn Greenwald points out, he shouldn't be. Their inability to identify him is less a commentary on his notoriety than on the political indifference of the American public:

The data on American political apathy is rather consistent, and stunning. Begin with the fact that even in presidential election years, 40 to 50 percent of the voting-age public simply chooses not participate in the voting process at all, while two-thirds chooses not to vote in midterm elections.

Even more striking is what they do and do not know. An Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from last September found that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House. The Center’s 2011 poll “found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.”

A 2010 Findlaw.com poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — were incapable of naming even a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2010 Pew poll discovered that 41 percent of Americans are unable to name the current vice president of the U.S; in other words, Oliver could just as easily (if not more easily) compile a video of Times Square visitors looking stumped when asked if they knew who Joe Biden, or Antonin Scalia, is.
Read Greenwald's full piece here.  Watch Oliver and Snowden here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Bracket Busting Finale

I win my March Madness office pool if American Samoa Polytechnic pulls off the upset tonight. Go Bulldogs!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Middle-Aged Priorities

Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, and James Caan had tunnels to the Playboy mansion. I want a tunnel for take out from a good Chinese restaurant.

Mad Men Recap

"Man Men" returns tomorrow night for its final season, but I could not remember what happened last year -- until I saw this four-minute recap from Slate. Maybe you need it, too..