Susan Bennett, the original voice of Siri, explains the different aspects of being a voice actor...
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Monday, June 29, 2015
From the El Combover Gigante edition of my Twitter feed...
- I can't believe no one at NBC was ready with the name of a new Mexican host for "The Apprentice" before it fired Trump.
- Journalism assignment: research how often Trump has threatened to sue someone vs. how often he did sue vs. how often he won. Then report.
- The escaped New York prisoners wanted to go to Mexico, thus proving Trump got the direction of criminal border-crossing 180 degrees wrong.
I missed the documentary "I'll Be Me" when it hit theaters last fall, but saw it on CNN last night and can't get it out of my mind. It's the story of music legend Glen Campbell, who was told in 2011 that he had Alzheimer's, and follows him over the next year as he goes on his final tour across America.
We see his inability to remember the simplest things, but when he got on stage, the musical part of Campbell's brain took over and he had no trouble playing scorching guitar solos and -- with the help of a teleprompter -- singing his greatest hits with a band that included three of his children. The film also shows Campbell's struggles offstage, and the effect they had on his wife Kim, the musicians, and the support team that made his concerts flow as smoothly as possible. It also doesn't shy away from showing the times he got confused onstage, but still had the support of a loving audience that knew they were seeing him for the last time.
Campbell may be best remembered for "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Southern Nights," "Wichita Lineman," and "Gentle On My Mind," but his musical history goes back to his days as a member of The Wrecking Crew, that remarkable group of studio musicians who played on thousands of hit songs for crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as well as rockers like The Byrds and The Beach Boys.
Campbell was also a TV star, given a shot at stardom when Tommy Smothers hired him to do a summer replacement show for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" on CBS in 1969. "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," with a writing staff that included Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, led to Campbell being cast opposite John Wayne in the original "True Grit." Though he never had major TV or movie success after that, he continued touring and recording for the next four decades.
After the documentary was finished, Campbell's condition worsened, and he was moved into an Alzheimer's treatment facility, where reports say he's now lost the power of speech. So this film contains the last footage we'll ever have of Glen Campbell performing.
I have added "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me" to my Movies You Might Not Know list. If you missed it on CNN last night, you can catch it on sister network HLN this Friday night (7/3), or on DVD when it's released on September 1st.
I was saddened by the news that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is laying off nine more employees -- eight in the newsroom and one of the maintenance staff. I don't know any of these people, but I recognize that we need those reporters and editors on the job, for without them, the news won't be gathered as well as it should be.
This is something we've been taking for granted for over a decade now -- the concept that we have free access to the world's news at a moment's notice -- without regard for the people who have to put in the work to bring it to us. Every time you click on a link to a news story on Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog, you probably don't think about the effort that went into uncovering the details behind that story. It may not be an in-depth investigative piece, it could be something as seemingly simple as a summary of last night's ball game. It took a human being to produce that journalism, and that human being should be paid for providing it.
I admit that I'm one of those responsible for the slow death of print news, as I haven't subscribed to the print edition of the P-D for years. When I do see it, it is sadly slim. Like many, I use the paper's website, STLtoday.com, as an occasional resource, particularly on days when I have to do a radio show -- it helps me understand what's happening in this metro area. I'm no longer on the air every day, so I don't check it every day, but the P-D (or the daily newspaper in any American city) is still a key show-prep device for lots of radio personalities, not to mention the TV newscasts who so often rip stories out of the paper and use them on the air without even a consideration or a credit to where it originated.
The historical fault for all of this goes back a couple of decades, when news outlets viewed the internet as a way to increase their reach, with the hope that would mean more revenue from advertisers who wanted to attract business from that larger audience. So they gave it away online for free, thinking that the cost of doing so would be a loss-leader that would create a new revenue stream. Unfortunately, newspapers have discovered that online dollars are no match for print dollars, and the millions of clicks each month bring in nothing compared to the paid subscriptions that used to land the paper in the driveway of almost every home in the region.
Newspapers and magazines are struggling to monetize their online versions, and in the vast majority of cases, those efforts are failing. When that happens, with the bottom line under attack, they have no choice but to reduce their largest expense -- people.
The problem is, once the people are gone, so is the news.
posted at 12:05 AM
Sunday, June 28, 2015
My daughter was born in 1994 and never knew a time when interracial marriage was illegal in parts of this country. The generation being born now will never know a time when there was any limitation on consenting adults marrying each other, regardless of their gender. All the predictions of the doomsday right haven't come true in the states where gays and lesbians have been allowed to marry thus far, and they won't in the future, either.
No matter what right-wing politicians promise to pander to their extremist base, this law will never be overturned and no constitutional amendment prohibiting it will be passed. However, that won't stop them from trying to throw roadblocks in its way. Look at how successful they've been in chipping away at women's reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade -- hindering access to abortion providers, limiting when the procedure may be done, insisting on waiting periods, and forcing doctors to inform women of the consequences of their choice (as if they didn't know, and often based on bad science).
They're already doing the same with marriage, using religion as cover for their homophobic bigotry, passing laws at the state level that permit businesses and employees to refuse to serve gays and lesbians simply by claiming their morality is offended. We can only hope that in the decades to come, popular support for the right to marry will continue to increase, the bigot population will decrease, and those roadblocks will fall away.
In the meantime, think of the lesson being taught by this ruling to young Americans struggling with their sexuality. As little as 20 years ago in some parts of this country (e.g. the Bible Belt), to come out publicly as gay was to invite the scorn of your family, community, friends, and employer. That hatred, bred by religious prejudice, drove lots of young homosexual men and women to pretend to be something they weren't -- or even, in too many cases, suicide.
While that veil of of anti-LGBT bigotry hasn't been lifted completely -- any more than racism ended when we elected an African-American president -- it brings hope to a large population. It also validates the relationships of gay and lesbian couples who were already living their lives together, by giving them the same state-sanctioned approval and benefits that we heterosexuals have enjoyed forever. Seeing rainbow flags being raised in the same week the Confederate flags were being lowered was a wonderful civil rights bonus.
I wrote a column about same-sex marriage in March, 2004, at a time when then-president George W. Bush was pressing for a federal marriage amendment. I wrote about how many major corporations were offering same-sex partner benefits to their employees, and addressed the talking points that opponents of marriage equality were using (and are still invoking 11 years later):
Some of it is as simple as, "you just don't understand that what's wrong is wrong." My reply is that we have different definitions of what's wrong. Others are opposed on religious grounds, which is fine, but in this country, we don't play majority rule with religion.In that column, I predicted that right-wing attempts to keep LGBT Americans from marrying probably wouldn't last much more than a decade. Okay, I was off by fifteen months.
Another e-mailer wrote, "I don't want my children growing up and thinking there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, which is chosen and not cast upon by birth! This is what's wrong with the world today! No one has any morals anymore. Seems like every other TV show today has a gay on it. These people can go back to the closet as far as I'm concerned!"
Frankly, you can't have a rational conversation with anyone who refers to any group as "these people." That phrase harkens back to so many previous battles over prejudice, including not so long ago when interracial marriage was a touchy subject. However, I did ask this guy one question -- if being gay is a choice, then not being gay is the other choice, so at what point in your life did you make that specific decision? Was there a day, maybe in your teens, when you could have gone either way, being attracted to either someone of your sex or the opposite sex, and consciously chose to be heterosexual?
He didn't answer.
One of my other questions, to which no opponent of gay marriage has come up with a logical, reasoned answer, is: when you say "allowing gays to marry will destroy the institution of marriage," what does that mean? It's a cute catch phrase, guaranteed to rally the already-converted, I'm sure, but what exactly will the implications be? Would straight couples stop getting married? Will more currently-married couples begin getting divorced? Will it lead to a national outbreak of adultery?
Then there's this one, from another e-mailer: "Human reproduction would stop if we were all gay." Of course, no one is suggesting that we should all be gay, but this is part of the "marriage is about procreation" argument. That's another fallacy.
Marriage -- in legal terms -- is not about procreation. No law requires that a married couple produce offspring, nor is their union voided if they don't, nor do you have to be married to have a child. If you're only going to allow people who will procreate to marry, you must force couples to take a fertility test along with their blood test, and make them sign a document swearing that they will have at least one child.
While you're at it, you also have to stop licensing the marriage of every post-menopausal woman! Not very likely, is it?
Gay marriage will be a hot-button political issue for pundits and politicians to scream about in this election year, but the real bottom line is that most Americans don't care. Sure, they'll express an opinion (evenly divided nationally) when asked directly by a pollster, but they're much too busy with what's going on in their own private lives to worry about what other people are doing with theirs -- and wish politicans would address more important issues.
Let's be honest. If anyone is responsible for "weakening the institution of marriage," it is us, the heterosexuals. We're the ones who make hit shows out of "The Bachelorette," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé," and who can forget Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger on "Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?"
We're also the ones who allow teenagers to marry. There are many places in the US where you can legally marry at age 16. Sixteen! We're all still idiots at that age, not yet familiar with the harsh realities of the adult world. At 16, you can't enter into most other legally binding agreements, yet you can get a marriage license (in Alabama, until 2003, the minimum age for marriage was fourteen -- you were so young you had to have someone else drive you to the ceremony!).
How can we tell high school kids they can enter this "institution," but a lesbian couple in their forties that's been together for years and years that they can't?
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy used this phrase: "equal dignity in the eyes of the law." Not only should be the standard in all judicial decisions, it should have been applied to this matter a long time ago.
One more thing. In his dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage.” Wrong! The "people" do not have a constitutional right to decide which civil rights are lawful and which are not. We don't decide freedom of speech by majority rule. You can't vote to segregate blacks from whites. You can't vote to deny women the right to work. These are core human rights, and so is the right to marry anyone you love.
posted at 12:10 AM
The right wing has proven itself again and again to live in an evidence-free world. To them, facts are irrelevant, even biased, if they don't follow the extremist conservative agenda.
That's why so many of them still believe that Obamacare has been a debacle. But as economist Paul Krugman points out in the NY Times, the Affordable Care Act is doing better then even many of its supporters realize:
- More than 15 million Americans have gained insurance -- many of those who have not live in states run by GOP governors and legislatures that refuse to expand Medicaid.
- The newly insured are saving the rest of us money for the hidden costs of covering the emergency room visits they previously used as a health safety net -- a bill that was passed on to taxpayers.
- The cost of insurance is lower than predicted, and the annual increases are less than they were before the ACA went into effect.
- Overall health spending is growing at a much slower rate.
- Obamacare has not been the job-killer Republicans were sure it would be -- employment has shown its biggest monthly gains since the 1990s.
- Obamacare has not caused the deficit to increase, despite GOP doomsday predictions -- in fact, repealing it would reverse the decline.
Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.Read Krugman's full piece here.
That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey reviewed "Ted 2," which will compete with "Inside Out" and "Jurassic World" for first place at the box office this weekend. Also, I reviewed four DVD/streaming movies I tried to watch this week but couldn't get through, and shared a million-dollar idea for movie theaters to increase popcorn revenue. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Now These Movie Couples Can Marry," "Supermax Prisoners Not Named Dzokhar Tsarnaev," and "They Died This Week." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about handicapped parking revenge, a trashy golfer, and gold-plated genitals. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.
Friday, June 26, 2015
Andrew Sullivan stopped blogging a few months ago and shut down his site, The Dish, but he returned online with an essay reacting to today's historic decision by the Supreme Court making same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States Of America. The entire piece is worth your time, but especially this paragraph:
I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day., who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.
posted at 6:00 PM
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
A month ago, Annegret Raunigk, a 65-year-old woman in Germany, had a baby. No, actually, she had four babies -- quadruplets -- a girl and three boys. She decided to become pregnant again because her 9-year-old daughter wanted a younger sibling. You know how boring it can get when you're an only child. Besides, it's important to give 9-year-olds everything they want, the consequences be damned.
Oh, wait, the 9-year-old wasn't an only child. Raunigk had already given birth to a dozen other kids over the last forty-four years. She also has 7 grandchildren. Apparently, "Raunigk" is German for "Duggar."
How did Raunigk get pregnant at her post-menopausal age? She had donated, fertilized eggs implanted in her womb. That's illegal in Germany, but she found a doctor in Ukraine who did the IVF procedure. How ethical!
I mention this story because I've read quite a bit of criticism of Raunigk, most of which centers on the fact that it's not fair to the kids to give birth at that age. After all, she'll be in her seventies when they start going to kindergarten and in her eighties when the quads graduate high school.
All of that criticism is 100% correct.
But I haven't seen a single negative word said about Billy Joel's girlfriend, Alexis Roderick, being pregnant. True, Roderick is only 33, which is a perfectly fine age to have your first child. But Joel is 65! Despite already being married three times, and having a daughter who is 29, he's about to become a father again at retirement age.
Similarly, no noise was made about George Lucas becoming a father last year at 69, nor Robert DeNiro at 68, nor Steve Martin at 67, nor Larry King at 67, nor Nick Nolte at 66, nor Rod Stewart at 66 (six months after his granddaughter was born!).
Tony Randall was 77 when his first child was born, and he only lived until 84, so that kid lost his father at age seven! How is that a good thing?
In each of those cases, we have an old rich white guy getting a woman half his age to fall for her. In almost every case, the woman's biological clock was ticking and the man's erectile dysfunction medication was working, so why not skip the birth control and have a kid? After all, parenthood isn't too much of a commitment, is it? If you have the money, what does it matter that you won't be around to see your child become an adult, as long as mommy's still here?
According to The Guardian, medical experts have called Raunigk's decision to have more kids at 65 "irresponsible and inadvisable, and warned other women against following her example." I'd say the same thing about the celebrity dads. By the way, Raunigk is a celebrity, too. A German TV channel and a tabloid newspaper both bought the exclusive rights to her pregnancy and the birth of the quads.
Let's hope the show's not a hit, or the foursome might get another sister or brother next year for the sequel.
posted at 12:18 PM
Sloane Crosley explains why women say "sorry" too much and need to stop:
I think it’s because we haven’t addressed the deeper meaning of these “sorrys.” To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing.Read Crosley's full piece here.
It’s a Trojan horse for genuine annoyance, a tactic left over from centuries of having to couch basic demands in palatable packages in order to get what we want. All that exhausting maneuvering is the etiquette equivalent of a vestigial tail.
When a woman opens her window at 3 a.m. on a weeknight and shouts to her neighbor, “I’m sorry, but can you turn the music down?” the “sorry” is not an attempt at unobtrusiveness. It’s not even good manners. It’s a poor translation for a string of expletives.
These sorrys are actually assertive. Unfortunately, for both addresser and addressee alike, the “assertive apology” is too indirect, obscuring the point. It comes off as passive-aggressive — the easiest of the aggressions to dismiss.
So we should stop. It’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem, it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want.
posted at 11:35 AM
My wife was flicking around the TV channels the other day when she came upon a 1992 rerun of "Mad About You." In it, Paul and Jamie Buchmann (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) are married and living together, but he still has the apartment he'd lived in as a bachelor, which he's been subletting. She convinces him that it's finally time to give it up, so he goes back to talk to the tenant, who happens to be a character on the show that preceded "Mad About You" on NBC's Thursday primetime schedule...
That wasn't the only crossover between "Mad About You" and another NBC hit. Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe Buffay on "Friends," also played her twin sister Ursula on "Mad About You," and those two worlds collided in a crossover, too...
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Yesterday, I posted this photo and predicted most people under 50 would have no idea what it is. Based on your responses, I was correct -- because anyone under that age was never in a manually-operated elevator. In the era before you could just push a button and get to a floor, there was a person (usually a man) whose job it was to make the elevator go up and down using the switch in the photo. The skill was in stopping the elevator car correctly at each floor, so passengers didn't have to jump down or climb up to exit. Today, with virtually every elevator in the world working at the whim of button-pushing passengers, elevator operators have about the same job security as confederate flag seamstresses.
Monday, June 22, 2015
I'm glad that the Treasury Department is moving towards putting someone other than a white man on our paper currency. It's a shame they're changing the $10 bill with Alexander Hamilton's face on it rather than the $20 bill with the portrait of the immensely disliked Andrew Jackson, but I can't complain about the addition of Harriet Tubman. Not only was she a woman and a person of color, but more importantly, she was not a politician.
I'm sick of things being named after politicians across our country. Schools, airports, bridges, courthouses, parks -- the list goes on and on. Where are the buildings and highways named after our great teachers, thinkers, and scientists? Why aren't they represented on our currency?
We're way behind the best of the world on this. Look at who's on the currency of other nations:
- The UK has Charles Darwin on its £10 note -- how's that for confirmation of evolution?
- Denmark has Neils Bohr, the Nobel-winning physicist, and Carl Neilsen, a composer/conductor.
- India has Mahatma Ghandi on all denominations of its money. You could argue that he was political, but he was also one of the greatest human rights leaders in history, a category we have yet to honor.
- Israel has two men and two women who were poets.
- New Zealand has explorer Edmund Hillary, who went up Everest and down to the South Pole.
- Norway has Edvard Munch, who painted the iconic "Scream," as well as a scientist, an opera singer, and a Nobel-winner for literature.
- Serbia has Nikola Tesla, the inventor and physicist, plus an astronomer, a composer, and a linguist.
- Turkey has honored a novelist, a mathematician, an architect, and a philosopher.
- Sweden has filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, actress Greta Garbo, and Astrid Lindgren -- the woman who wrote "Pippi Longstocking."
posted at 2:35 PM
I read this on my show Friday afternoon and have received so many requests for it, I'm reprinting it here -- but first, I must say that this is probably more than 15 years old. I have no idea where it came from, or whether it actually happened in a courtroom, but it doesn't really matter.
Attorney: "Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?"
Attorney: "Did you check for blood pressure?"
Attorney: "Did you check for breathing?"
Attorney: "So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?"
Attorney: "How can you be so sure, doctor?"
Witness: "Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar."
Attorney: "But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?"
Witness: "Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law."
posted at 12:02 AM
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Here's my conversation with Peter Mehlman, who was a writer and producer for "Seinfeld" and author of "It Won't Always Be This Great." We started talking about some of the viral phrases he created in his "Seinfeld" scripts -- including "yada yada," "double-dip," and "shrinkage." We also discussed the process of developing stories for the show, and how he and other writers got things approved by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, as well as how it changed when David left the show.
Then we were on to the book, a novel about a podiatrist whose impromptu act of vandalism changes his life, and the difference between writing for the screen vs. writing for print. And we got into some other projects Mehlman worked on, including Joe Buck's short-lived HBO show, Howard Cosell's "Sports Beat," and a 1990s ABC sitcom I liked entitled "It's Like, You Know."
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed Pixar's "Inside Out," with voice work by Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, and many more. We also discussed where how this movie compares to Pixar's previous fourteen, and how the key to their success is more about story-telling than animation. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "A Musical Father's Day," "Anchor People Not Named Brian Williams," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a ketchup-scanning problem, a cereal-eating driver, and a relentlessly gay neighbor. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.
Forty years ago today, Universal Pictures released Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," the movie that both started the summer blockbuster tradition and kept people out of the water at beaches around the world for months. For its anniversary, you might want to listen to my 2001 interview with Carl Gottlieb, who wrote the screenplay, or my conversation with Jamie Benning, who made the filmumentary "Inside Jaws."
Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids was asked recently why she publicizes the cases of police and CPS overreaching when parents give their children the freedom to go to the park alone, or sit in the car and play a video game while mom's in a store, etc. She replied:
My goal isn’t to scare — I actually wish I could avoid it. My goal is to shock. I’m trying to shock our country into realizing that at least some of those in authority now believe that any child not within an arm’s reach of his parents is in danger. That belief can turn any parents who take their eyes off their kids into criminals.Skenazy goes on to report some good fallout from the case of the Meitivs, the Maryland couple who were scrutinized by CPS for allowing their kids (10 and 6) to walk home from a park without their parents. Since Skenazy shined her spotlight on the case, and the ensuing publicity...
The underlying premise here is wrong. Our kids are NOT in constant danger. Pointing that out is, in fact, the mission of this blog and movement! As the Washington Post has pointed out: There’s Never Been a Safer Time to be a Kid in America. But until the authorities stop panicking, all parents who let their kids walk, play, or even wait a little while indoors or out, live under the threat of government intervention.
...Maryland’s Child Protective Services department clarified its marching orders, stating, “Children playing outside or walking unsupervised does not meet the criteria for a CPS response, absent specific information supporting the conclusion that the child has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm if they continue to be unsupervised.”There clearly was no "significant risk" in the case of the Meitiv children, or for the thousands of other kids who are allowed to actually go outside and play -- or walk around the mall, or ride public transportation, or do any of the things they should be doing in the actual, non-threatening world we really live in -- without helicopter parents worrying every second that they'll be abducted, killed, or sold into slavery.
Donna St. George, the Washington Post reporter broke the story of these changes, interviewed a Maryland CPS spokeswoman who told her, ” We are not getting in the business of opining on parenting practices or child-rearing philosophies….We see our role as responding when a child is harmed or at a significant risk of harm.”
Kudos to Skenazy for her continuing work.
Previously on Harris Online...
- My conversation with Lenore Skenazy about the Meitivs vs. CPS in Maryland [1/17/15].
- My conversation with Lenore Skenazy about why there's nothing to fear on Halloween [10/30/13].
- Lenore Skenazy explains the Free Range Kids concept and how she got famous [1/3/12].
- My conversation with Lenore Skenazy about a father who got in trouble for letting his six-year-old walk to the store alone [4/8/13].
posted at 12:00 AM
Friday, June 19, 2015
From my Twitter feed...
- I think this new kid that MSNBC is giving a chance to might make something of himself someday, because cable is where the truth goes to die.
- In my fantasy universe, Malala Yousafzai is famous, revered, and rich -- while Kim Kardashian struggles to get a paying job.
- TV I’d Watch: Dan Rather, who was relieved of the anchor chair against his will, interviewing Brian Williams and comparing notes.
posted at 6:02 PM
You know those silly commercials offering you a chance to name a star after yourself or a loved one and have it included in a "star registry"? Now there's a woman in Spain who wants to sell you a piece of the sun. She says that while there is an international agreement that no country can own a planet (or the moon), there's nothing barring a private citizen from making such a claim. She started selling her solar real estate on eBay a few years ago -- and had 600 buyers, who I assume were planning on visiting their plots at night -- but her page was closed because "the item on sale could not be touched or transported." That didn't stop eBay from taking its commission, so she took the company to court and recently won the right to sue it.
The story reminded me of a band called Black Oak Arkansas (you may know their hit "Jim Dandy To The Rescue"), which in 1973 put out a live album which contained a deed to one square-inch of their land. I found some details on the blog of Racan Souiedan, in a piece he wrote a couple of years ago:
In an act that can only be described as baffling with the benefit of hindsight, listeners of the group’s 1973 album Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live were treated to their very own square inch of Heaven. Included in each copy of the record was a title deed granting the holder to “honorary ownership to one square inch of Heaven on Earth, with the compliments of the legal owners, Black Oak Arkansas.” The band had effectively subdivided their single acre of Heaven, Arkansas into over six million square inch title deeds. Regarding the group’s precise aim in sharing the land, as noted in the description featured on the title deed, Black Oak Arkansas claimed that Heaven, Arkansas was for “the expressed and specific purpose of sharing with everyone who believes in the universality of man.” In another slight to gender-neutral language, the “spiritual deed” acknowledged “that no man owns the land, but merely occupies space on it, and that it is the duty of all mankind, now and tomorrow, to feel a responsibility for those with whom he shares possession.” Closing with further hippy-dippy sentiments, Black Oak Arkansas promised listeners “if good is within the individual, it is within us all, and Heaven is not so much man’s destination as a reminder of his destiny.” Totally heavy stuff. Problem solved, see you there.Souiedan goes on to explain that no fans ever gathered together enough of those deeds to take over Heaven, Arkansas, and if they did, they would have had a hard time even finding it, since it's not on any map. Which makes those certificates about as valuable as the sun and the stars.
So forty years later, what ever became of Heaven, Arkansas? Obviously the subdivision of Heaven hardly represented the most practical way for fans of Black Oak Arkansas to own a plot of land, but the group’s efforts nevertheless marked an interesting, if only symbolic, experiment in utopia-building. Did anyone ever come to collect? That seems a bit hazy. The legality of the title deeds themselves is pretty questionable. The important distinction between “honorary” and “legal” ownership of Heaven, Arkansas, as expressed by the band in the title deed, offers a clear indication that Black Oak Arkansas truly had no intention of sharing the land with their fans. Why give away a shrewd real estate investment like that? The gesture was probably just a sign of the times.
By the way, Black Oak Arkansas is still around, with Jim Dandy singing lead. I have no idea how many other original members remain in the band, but I'll bet none of them dress like they did four decades ago:
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Last night at the poker table, one of the players who saw my link to the story of the guy who entered the wrong World Series Of Poker tournament (in a version of the game he's never played, but managed to win it nonetheless) told me he'd recently heard of a guy who signed up for a small $125 buy-in event at Aria, but was mistakenly seated in the $25,000 buy-in event. He didn't say anything about getting such a huge entry discount, probably because he was doing well, even knocking out some big name pros along the way. After seven (!) hours, tournament staff realized the error and removed him and his chips from the tournament. As for the professionals he'd eliminated, according to Card Player, Aria didn't return their full buy-in, but did compensate them with a few thousand dollars.
That reminded another player of a guy who returned from a break at the World Series Of Poker Main Event a few years ago, sat down at the wrong table, and began using the chips at that seat as if they were his. When someone asked last night why no one else at that table had said anything, the answer was apparent -- they didn't notice it was a different guy. In a big tournament (the Main Event has thousands of entrants), players are constantly being moved to other tables to fill seats previously held by players who were eliminated. Often, these moves are conducted just before a break, so when you return from the bathroom, there's someone new sitting next to you.
I've even seen it happen in a cash game. More than a decade ago, I was playing in a $20/40 limit hold'em game at Ameristar in St. Charles when the player in the six seat returned from dinner and sat down in the five seat. That seat's occupant had gotten up to go to the bathroom, and no one noticed when Mr. Six sat down in Mr. Five's chair -- and played several hands using Mr. Five's chips!
Mr. Six was a notoriously loose, not-that-good player, and lost several hundred dollars before Mr. Five returned from the bathroom and asked what was going on. Mr. Six apologized and moved into his correct seat, but what about the chips he'd donked off? Fortunately, because it was a structured game, where you can only bet in increments of $20 or $40, the floor supervisor, players, and dealer (who also hadn't realized the error) were able to reconstruct the hands in question to everyone's satisfaction to figure out how much he'd lost, and that amount was moved from Mr. Six's stack to Mr. Five's before play resumed.
Again, the question was raised, how could no one notice? The truth is that while the majority of poker players pay close attention at the table, it's mostly to the hands in progress, not the things on the periphery. I can vouch that there have been many times when -- even with guys I play with all the time, for lengthy sessions -- I can't remember exactly who was sitting where and where they went when they left the table.
There were many days when I was a morning drive radio host -- which involved giving the weather forecast four, five, six times an hour -- when if you'd stopped me in the hallway a minute after the show ended and asked me what the weather was going to be that day, I wouldn't have any idea. I often couldn't remember anything we'd talked about in the previous four hours.
Memories can be tricky like that. There's been lots of evidence about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony in court, including some essential work by Elizabeth Loftus, who did a presentation at The Amazing Meeting in 2014. Not long after seeing Loftus speak, I tried explaining this lack of short-term recall to my wife after she had asked me to run an errand on the way home and it slipped my mind completely. She didn't buy my explanation.
Even when I gave her the complete five-day forecast.
Marc Maron created a new career for himself with his "WTF" podcast, in which he does in-depth and very personal interviews with comedians, musicians, and others. The conversations are part therapy, part comedy, but include very little plug-your-latest-project, and because they have no time limitations, they often delve deep into the guest's career and personal history.
The success of "WTF" has led to Maron's IFC television show, an upcoming standup special for Epix, and a pilot for a new series for Vice. It also enabled him to get better-known celebs to drive to his house in the outskirts of Los Angeles to sit down in his garage/recording studio and talk for an hour or more. Every once in awhile, he books a "wow" guest (like the late Robin Williams, or Mick Jagger), but the one he has coming in tomorrow has to be the biggest "wow" of all time -- President Barack Obama.
Since Maron was once an Air America host, it's unlikely to be a confrontational interview full of gotcha questions, but I bet there won't be a lot of softballs, either. I'm interested to hear if Maron can peel back a little bit of the professional politician and get Obama to really open up. That episode will be recorded tomorrow (6/19) and probably be available on Maron's site Monday (6/22) or for download via your favorite podcast app.
posted at 12:02 AM
I'm happy to hear that Dave Grohl will -- when he recovers from breaking his leg during a Foo Fighters concert last week -- do another season of his HBO documentary series, "Sonic Highways." I enjoyed last year's trips through the musical histories of major American cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, Austin, and New York. Grohl did a good job finding local performers and studio owners who'd lived through and contributed to each town's rock and roll lore, and it was fascinating to see him (and the band) develop a new song for each venue, which were then compiled into the "Sonic Highways" album.
If you missed the first season of the TV series, but have HBO Go, you can watch it on demand. No date has been announced for the next one.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Last Thursday on "The Daily Show," Mark Ruffalo introduced a montage of clips showing the many times Jon Stewart has admitted that he hasn't seen a guest's movie. I suppose this was meant to jokingly embarrass Stewart, as if he's never prepared for interview.
To the contrary, in his 16 years on the show, Stewart has proven that he's always ready to take on any guest, ask intelligent questions, challenge obvious obfuscators, or play along with a semi-known celebrity who showed up to pitch a movie or TV show. He's particularly good with writers, and publishers push his guest bookers to put their authors in the chair opposite Stewart, because appearing with him gives them a tremendous boost -- probably the best in television since Oprah went off the air.
But back to that montage.
As an interviewer myself, while I do make the effort to attend a screening of a guest's movie ahead of time, it's not possible for me to see all of them. I find it arrogant of every guest to expect me to have devoted a couple of hours to seeing their movie -- or a day or two reading their book -- when all I'm going to get in return is 9 minutes of airtime.
In the case of an author, I can skim through the book in 15 minutes and come up with enough questions to fill any interview. The burden is then on the guest to be compelling and not respond to my queries with short, monosyllabic, boring answers. If I'm talking more than you are, you're not doing your job as a guest. After all, you're here to promote your project, not as a favor to me.
The absolute worst thing an author can say in response to one of my questions is, "Well, it's obvious you haven't read the book, or you'd know the answer to that." The fact is, you're right, I didn't read your entire book, but I looked through it and found this interesting anecdote or essay that I'd like you to share with my audience because they didn't even know your book existed until now. So just take my cue and run with it. Want to learn how to do that? Listen to any of my interviews with Dave Barry or Bruce Schneier or Carl Reiner or Gerald Posner.
Remember, you're not the only thing on my mind during the show, particularly during morning drive, when I may have more than a half dozen guests to talk to over four hours, not to mention all the other topics and little information segments I have to be prepared for. I'm changing gears about every ten minutes. When I was doing that on a daily business, my head was filled with so much detail that it was almost overwhelming, and in the internet age, when there's so much more news to follow, it's even more difficult. So forgive me (or Jon Stewart or anyone else whose show you're appearing on) if you're not uppermost in my thoughts that day. Because when I get through with you, I have to move on to my next interview, or the one after that.
That being said, there have been lots of occasions where, after my conversation with a guest, I did find some time to read their book, watch their TV show, listen to their album, or see their movie. I have often enjoyed them, especially if they were a good guest, and I have heard from tons of listeners over the years who thanked me for introducing them to something or someone they weren't familiar with before.
Which, when you think about it, is the bottom line. It's not about whether I experienced the end result of your creativity, but did we make others want to experience it. If so, I've done my job as a host, and you've done your job as a guest.
Monday, June 15, 2015
At the World Series Of Poker, Christian Pham thought he was signing up for a $1,500 no-limit hold'em event. However, because he told the cashier the wrong number for the tournament, he was registered for the $1,500 event in deuce-to-seven single-draw -- a game he'd never played before, so he had no idea what proper strategy was. I'll let my friend Nolan Dalla's official report take it from there:
Unaware of the error, Pham took his seat at the beginning of the tournament and then watched in horror as cards were dealt out in a different way than he was expecting. Pham had no idea what was going on, or what to do.
“They had started dealing already, so I couldn’t do anything,” Pham explained later. “If they had not started dealing, I would have told the floorman and asked to be unregistered.”
Faced with no other alternative, Pham sat and watched. He folded most of his hands early on as he picked up more information about good starting hands and how to play. Pham proved to be a prodigal student. He paid attention to the finer details and nearly 12 hours after sitting down at a table and playing a poker game he’d never seen before, Pham ended the first day as chip leader.Read Nolan's full report at WSOP.com [hat tip to Dennis Hartin].
“I’d played lots of poker before, but not this game,” Pham said. “I guess I learned fast.” Indeed, he did.
After Day Two, Pham was still the chip leader.
After Day Three, he was a gold bracelet winner.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Those presentations aside, one of the problems was the way director Louis J. Horvitz cut the show. The editing reminded me of the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, where shots of the performer were interrupted by cutaways of people in the audience laughing -- too often, it was obvious they weren't necessarily laughing at the joke or segment we'd just seen. While I know it's hard to reduce an evening that probably lasted three hours to a 90-minute television show (more like 65 minutes after all the commercials were inserted), the cuts were too abrupt. Come to think of it, why did the broadcast have to be limited to an hour and a half? I'd bet there was enough Grade A material to easily make it a smoother two hours, and it's not like TBS doesn't have the extra time available -- just air one less rerun of "The Big Bang Theory."
The other problem was how many of the clips and presenter comments focused on Martin's prodigious output of inventive comedy between 1975 and 1999. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of great recent stuff to show because it's been so long since Martin did anything worthy of admiration. In the 21st century, he's done a dozen movies, and the only one worth your time was "Shopgirl," released a decade ago. To his detriment, the list also includes the bad remake of "Cheaper By The Dozen" and its sequel (!) and two "Pink Panther" movies that should never have been attempted.
Compare that to the six in a row he did in his first five years in movies: "The Jerk," "Pennies From Heaven," "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," "The Man With Two Brains," "The Lonely Guy," and "All Of Me." Wow! The tribute show also included several TV clips, most notably from Martin's career-making appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," but not one memorable moment from anything more recent.
In other words, if this Steve Martin AFI tribute had been done ten years ago, you could still show it today without anyone saying, "Too bad they did it so early, because he gave us so much good stuff after that." To which Martin would probably respond, "Well, excuuuuuuse me!"
I was going to write something about the non-controversy regarding Jerry Seinfeld's recent explanation about why he won't play college campuses, complaining that the audiences are "too PC." Then I read my friend Mark Evanier's thoughts on the subject, which pretty much covered what I was going to say. Read that, then watch Seinfeld dip into the subject with Steve Harvey on the latest edition of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee and, if you're like me, you'll be pretty much done with the topic.
Incidentally, I've yet to see Steve Harvey do anything I haven't enjoyed. He was great as the leadoff man for "The Original Kings Of Comedy." I've never seen his daily TV talk show or heard his syndicated radio show, but I bet I'd like them (or at least his easygoing, quick-witted, very likable personality).
Anytime I see a YouTube clip of Harvey hosting "Family Feud" (which he does much better than previous hosts Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, and John O'Hurley), I smile at his slow, comedic takes to dumb answers like the ones in this compilation (which still elicit claps and shouts of "Good answer!" from teammates, even when they obviously aren't). Of those, the best is undoubtedly the time a male contestant came up with the least likely response to the question, "Name something that follows the word pork..."
Saturday, June 13, 2015
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "Jurassic World" and how it compares to the original "Jurassic Park" from 22 years ago. We also discussed the quality of computer-generated images that are now being relied on too much in big summer tentpole action movies and why Disney is taking a hundred-million dollar loss on "Tomorrowland." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Kansas City vs. St. Louis," "Flag Day," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" (plus punishment music by veteran actor Christopher Lee, who died this week at 93). Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Note: in the category Kansas City vs. St. Louis, I asked which city's football teams have appeared in the most Super Bowls. The answer I gave, St. Louis, is incorrect. The St. Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs have each appeared in two Super Bowls, and each has a record of 1-1.
On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about an egg-hoarding factory thief, a plagiarizing principal, and a bad jailhouse request. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
It's been awhile since James Randi was on my radio show, so I was happy to have him back today to discuss the documentary about his life, "An Honest Liar," and the upcoming Amazing Meeting (July 16-19 in Las Vegas).
I started by asking Randi about the first time he saw a magician onstage, and how that started him on a path to performing. Then we discussed how, while doing a mentalism routine, he encountered people who refused to believe it was a trick -- they were sure he had paranormal powers -- including a United States Senator. That led to my asking Randi whether, after his decades of effort in promoting critical thinking, he grew frustrated as the country has seemed less interested in evidence-based information (with homeopathic products still on the shelves of Walgreens and CVS, faith healers still conning people, anti-vaxxers, etc.).
We also discussed whether the belief in nonsense is as much a problem around the world as it is in America, and how to get more women involved in the skeptical movement. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
- My conversation with James Randi about Sylvia Browne's connection to the Cleveland kidnapping [5/11/13].
- My conversation with James Randi about bogus bomb detectors in Iraq [1/25/10].
- My conversation with James Randi about NBC's "Phenomenon" and Uri Geller [10/25/07].
- My conversation with James Randi about Uri Geller, Criss Angel, and The Alpha Boys [6/30/07].
- My conversation with James Randi about the Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge [1/23/07].
- My conversation with James Randi about facilitated communication and David Blaine [5/24/06].
- My conversation with James Randi about ABC's "John Of God" special [2/11/05].
- My conversation with James Randi about Sylvia Browne, in which he calls her a liar [3/2/04].
Seven weeks ago, I spoke with my friend Jon Macks about "Monologue," his book about his years as a writer on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Now, another Leno staffer, segment producer and talent booker Dave Berg, has a book about his experience on that show, "Behind The Curtain."
When he joined me on the air, Berg revealed how intense the booking wars were between the Leno and Letterman shows to get the best guests, and how the "Tonight Show" team paid lots of attention to the ratings in determining who was invited back. We also discussed how Barack Obama became the first sitting president to appear on a late night show, who Berg considered money-in-the-bank guests (they might surprise you), and why Leno did not appear as Letterman's guest towards the end of the "The Late Show."
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
The pitch is simple: Laurence Kotlikoff's book ("Get What's Yours: The Secrets To Maxing Out Your Social Security") will help you get tens of thousands of dollars in social security benefits you didn't know were yours. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme, it's a primer on what you need to know about when to claim the money the government is holding for you. I've read the book and was happy to invite Kotlikoff onto my show to reveal some of what's inside, including why you shouldn't start taking benefits when you're 62 and how you can claim extra benefits as a spouse, widow, or child.
This is info that no one has told you about -- including the Social Security office, where most employees don't even know the details of the program. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's my conversation with Mark Edlitz, author of "How To Be A Superhero," in which he interviews 35 actors and actresses who have played comic book superheroes on TV or in movies. I asked him whether any of them started to believe they had super powers, how much more fun it was to play a super-villain, and how women like Yvonne Craig (Batgirl) and Helen Slater (Supergirl) felt about the way female superheroes are portrayed on screen and in print. We also talked about how some of these actors -- e.g. Adam West (Batman), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) -- milked everything they could out of the characters they played. Of course, we invoked the name of legendary comic book creator Stan Lee, too.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a man arrested for dancing, a name change conundrum, and a boy in a grocery bag. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.
Sunday, June 07, 2015
Ronnie Gilbert died yesterday at age 88, of natural causes. When I was young, her voice was a regular presence in my home because my parents were such fans of The Weavers, the folk quartet made up of Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Zimmerman, and Pete Seeger, who gained fame in the 1940s, were blacklisted during the red scare of the 1950s, yet continued to sing and perform -- together and separately -- into the 1960s. In 2006, The Weavers received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. Sadly, with Gilbert's death, Fred Hellerman remains the only living original member of the group.
In 1980, the Weavers triumphantly reunited for a one-off concert at Carnegie Hall, their last performance together. The movie "Wasn't That A Time" (which is unfortunately no longer available) documented that event, as well as the preparations for it, and included this wonderful scene of singer/songwriter Holly Near explaining how Gilbert inspired her to throw her head back and perform with gusto...
Saturday, June 06, 2015
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed the movie version of "Entourage" (with the entire cast of the TV show and a slew of celebrity cameos) and the Brian Wilson biopic "Love and Mercy" (with Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti). Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Triples Without Crowns," "Guys Named Tony Awards," and "Places That Start With D Day." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a man who drove his pickup through his house, a mailman with a problem, and a woman jailed for having sex. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.
Thursday, June 04, 2015
Last week, my wife and I were wondering whatever happened to Elayne Boosler. She was one of our favorite comedians of the eighties and nineties, who stood apart from female comics of the previous generation (Joan Rivers, Totie Fields) in that she didn't do self-deprecating humor. She was topical and modern, a clever writer with a sharp wit and great stage presence.
In 1986, Boosler became the first woman to get her own hour-long standup special on cable, although she had to self-finance it because some idiot executive said no one wanted to see a woman being funny on TV. The special did well enough for Showtime that she did several more, winning a slew of Cable Ace Awards, and was a constant presence on late-night TV and touring all over the country.
She kept touring and became very involved in animal rights, but Letterman and other TV shows stopped booking her, so we hadn't seen her perform for over a decade -- until she popped up on Jimmy Fallon's show last night. It's clear that Fallon understood her place in the comedy pantheon and even if she did get stuck in the final slot, Boosler delivered, proving that, at age 62, her voice, timing, and writing are still sharp...
Here is a classic Boosler appearance on one of HBO's "Comic Relief" shows a quarter-century ago...
Monday, June 01, 2015
There are more people walking through the hallways of the World Series Of Poker wearing backpacks than in ten US middle schools combined. I'm surprised Jansport isn't a WSOP sponsor.
No media outlet that has already written off Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign as being "too far outside the mainstream" should be allowed to report, with a serious face, on 80% of contenders emerging from the GOP clown car, without explaining how high they measure on the Removed From Reality chart. That includes the quadrennial bullshit about Donald Trump considering running. He never has, never will, and has less chance of being the GOP presidential nominee than Caitlyn Jenner. The only thing Trump has in common with the rest of the Republican field is a future on the payroll of Fox News Channel.
I've written often about the security theater that is the TSA at our airports, and while it presents a facade of safety, it is ineffective in accomplishing that goal. For more proof, there's a new internal report which says that, in internal tests, TSA agents failed to identify 95% of undercover security threats -- including one guy who literally had explosives on his back. Think about that the next time they make you throw away the bottle of Mighty Mango Naked Juice you absent-mindedly put in your carry-on bag before heading to the screening checkpoint.
In 2002, the documentary "Spellbound" focused on kids competing in the National Spelling Bee. It was nominated for an Oscar and made millions, a rarity for docs. It revealed the intensity of the competition and the hours (years!) of study those teens put in, and also exposed the gap between kids from upper-class homes (with parents who have the resources and time to help their children excel) and those from lower-class homes (with parents who may not have had much education themselves and don't have much time to help with studying because they're working longer hours and more than one job to get by). Now, Smithsonian magazine has tracked down the "Spellbound" spellers and offers an update on what's happened to them since the competition and the film.
There have been few TV journalists as classy and downright good at their jobs as Bob Schieffer was. His parting words yesterday, after 46 years on CBS, marked the end of an era -- not just for "Face The Nation," but for the kind of TV news person who barely exists anymore. Schieffer was all substance and no gloss. He wasn't a showman -- the phrase "news personality" never applied -- but rather a reporter whose love for his job was reflected in the high quality of his work. I can't think of another person currently in the TV news business who can match the storytelling, inquisitiveness, and ease of communication that made Bob Schieffer one of the best ever.
posted at 10:16 PM