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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Flight Attendant Death Threats

Earlier this week, I talked with Mandy Smith, the former Virgin Airlines flight attendant, about her career and her book "Cabin Fever," in which she tells some "sizzling" stories. It didn't cause a stir in the UK when it was released last fall, but now that it's out in the US, the internet trolls are attacking her en masse, including death threats. Details here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics

"Freakonomics" co-author Stephen Dubner returned to my show today to talk about the new book he's written with Steven Levitt, "When To Rob A Bank."

We started by discussing how bad people are at risk assessment, too often making bad decisions because we're afraid, and how politicians exploit that fear to manipulate us. Then we moved on to why we should stop believing that "winners never quit and quitters never win." And finally, I asked him if there's any evidence to support the notion of home field advantage.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Guardian Of The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most popular destinations for people who want to commit suicide. When Kevin Briggs was on duty with the California Highway Patrol, he was the guy called in to talk people into not jumping to their death, and earned the nickname Guardian Of The Golden Gate. He's written about his experiences in a new book, and talked about them with me today.

I asked him how he convinced hundreds of people not to take the leap and, in the instances where he failed, whether he watched them all the way down to the water. We also talked about what the jumpers have in common, whether he's heard from any of the survivors afterwards, and how much he revealed about himself in those conversations -- some of which went on for hours.

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

Kevin Briggs will do a book signing at Barnes and Noble at St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights this Sunday (8/2) from Noon to 1:30pm.

Janis Ian's Creepy Cosby Story

Janis Ian may be best known for her 1975 smash "At Seventeen," but 8 years earlier, she was on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" performing her smaller hit, "Society's Child." And that's when she had this creepy encounter with Bill Cosby:
We taped the show. I had a ball. (That’s me, looking scared, in the green dress. My friend Buffy from East Orange, where I’d started high school, made it for me. I treasured it.) Then we went back to New York, and I went back to school.

A while later, my manager called me into her office. “What happened at the Smothers Brothers show?!” I had no idea what she was talking about, and said so. “Well, no one else on TV is willing to have you on. Not out there, anyway.” Why? I wondered. And was told that Cosby, seeing me asleep in the chaperone’s lap, had made it his business to “warn” other shows that I wasn’t “suitable family entertainment”, was probably a lesbian, and shouldn’t be on television.

Again, a reminder. I was 16. I’d never slept with a man, I’d never slept with a woman. Hell, I barely been kissed, and that in the middle of the summer camp sports area, next to the ping pong table. Banned from TV. Unbelievable. Bless Johnny Carson and his producer Freddy de Cordova, one of the nicest men I’ve ever worked with, because they didn’t listen. Or maybe they didn’t give a damn. I don’t know. I do know that they broke the barrier Cosby tried to create.
In the end, it turned out that Ian is a lesbian, but that shouldn't have mattered. And remember that this was taking place at about the time that Cosby -- already famous thanks to his standup appearances and drama series "I Spy" -- was already drugging and raping women, according to the earliest claims of some of his victims. But in his mind, as America's morality guide, Janis Ian wasn't suitable for families to watch on TV.

Read Janis Ian's full creepy Cosby story here.

Killer Dentist

What kind of man is Dr. Walter Palmer, who killed Cecil The Lion? Think of him as a sadistic dentist like this...

While we're on the subject, here are a few stories you might want to read:

Surgeon General vs. Anti-Vaxxers

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy responds to anti-vaxxers who signed a petition to the White House demanding the right to not have their kids vaccinated. If you're a regular reader of this site, you'll recognize the points he makes -- the same science-based arguments I've cited for years and years...

Best Thing I've Read Today

From Elaine Chaney's piece, "7 Unexpected Moments That Remind You You're Getting Older"...

Imagine getting hammered, going home and just falling asleep on the floor, the recliner, the bathroom floor, a throw pillow or in an impossible position, and actually sleeping? I did this more times in college than I can count, and I remember waking up the next day feeling just fine. Now, sleeping on a futon is like a nightmare. What sadistic weirdo thought sleeping on something that's barely thicker than a sweatshirt was a good idea? The last time I thought I could pull off sleeping on a futon, I woke up the next day and felt like I had gotten zero sleep. There was also a wonderful pinching/numbing sensation in the middle of my back. What the hell happened?

Being almost 40 happened. An age when sometimes even your bed isn't comfortable enough, and you get a serious crick in your neck if someone steals your firm pillow (looking at you, husband dear). And as for feeling refreshed after a couple hours of sleep, that has become such a distant memory that I'm not even sure it was a real thing to begin with.
Read Chaney's full piece here.

[thanks to Frank Ladd for the link]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Natalia Reagan on Cecil The Lion

Two weeks ago, I met anthropologist Natalia Reagan at The Amazing Meeting, where she kicked things off in grand style with a talk about people who hunt Bigfoot without understanding the origins of the hoax -- or knowing anything about apes and primates. She was so good onstage that I approached her afterwards and invited her to come on my radio show soon.

When the Cecil The Lion story broke yesterday, the time was right, so here's our conversation about dentist Walter Palmer's bow-hunting trophy kill of Cecil. I asked Natalia why the story had gotten so much attention, what the punishment could be for Palmer and his Zimbawean poacher/guides, and what will happen to Cecil's pride now that he's not around to protect them. She also brought up the story of Gedau, a rescued orangutan, who succumbed to injuries from a vicious attack on a Borneo planataion.

You can watch our conversation-by-Skype above, or listen to the audio-only version. Then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Transgender Bathroom Question

There have been quite a few stories this year about which bathroom transgender kids in school should use. One of them is about Gavin Grimm, who identifies as male (even on his driver's license), but is not permitted by the school district in Virginia to use the boys' room. He took them to federal court, and on Monday, Judge Robert Doumar ruled that Gavin can argue it's a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution, but not that it violates Title IX -- and he said he'd already decided the matter before the courtroom proceedings began.

To help understand this, I again called upon Angela Giampolo, attorney and LGBT activist, to explain the judge's ruling and the more basic question: how can school administrators know the gender of a student in the first place, and is it any of their business?

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

Previously on Harris Online...

How To Record The Cops

With the approaching one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson (August 9th), the ACLU of Missouri has released its Mobile Justice app, which helps people use their smartphones to record interactions with the police. Here's my conversation with Sarah Rossi, ACLU-MO Director of Policy and Advocacy, about what they're trying to accomplish, whether it's legal to record cops, and how the app automatically uploads the video to the ACLU for review.

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

Inside Baseball's Endless Season

Here's my conversation with Barry Svrluga, national baseball writer for the Washington Post, about his book, "The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season." I asked him how players stay focused and in shape over the course of 162 games (not to mention spring training and post-season), including those -- like the Phillies -- who have no chance of making the playoffs. We also talked about how relief pitchers deal with not knowing whether they'll get into a game on certain days, the impact of the schedule on players' wives and kids, and how everything would fall apart if it weren't for each team's equipment guy.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mandy Smith, Virgin Flight Attendant

Mandy Smith spent more than a decade as a flight attendant for Virgin Airlines, and has written about her adventures in a book called "Cabin Fever." On my radio show, we discussed:
  • How is it different being a flight attendant for Virgin compared to other airlines?
  • Have passengers ever tried to join the Mile High Club on any of your flights?
  • Who's more demanding: coach, business class, or first class passengers?
  • Are there too many carry-on bags now that airlines charge for checked luggage?
  • Did male passengers hit on you a lot?
  • Would your job have been much easier if alcohol wasn't served on board?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Back To The Moon

Here's my conversation with Charles Miller of NexGen Space, which just released a study showing NASA could land humans on the moon in the next 5-7 years, then build a permanent lunar base a decade after that -- and it wouldn't cost any more money than is already in the budget. I asked him how that's possible, whether humans need to go back to the moon when we can send robotic missions, and who will own the materials we mine from under the lunar surface.

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

Why Not A Three Day Week?

Here's my conversation with Maria Konnikova about her New Yorker essay, "Why Not A Three Day Work Week?" It's an idea that came from Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim, but could it work in America?

Considering how many of us feel like we're already on the job 24/7 because our smartphones keep us in touch with work and colleagues and clients day and night, it seems impossible to cut back. But Konnikova argues that most people who have five-day-a-week jobs aren't actually working during all those hours they put in at the office, so perhaps we need to convert to a system of only working as long as it takes to get the job done. Of course, there are many occupations that could not apply to -- emergency room nurse, Chipotle clerk, teacher, radio host -- but there are plenty of others that could.

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

Bridging The Pay Gap

Rick Newman, columnist for Yahoo! Finance returned to my show today to talk about how the tide may be turning against rich CEOs. For example, there's been a lot of backlash against comments by Dunkin' Donuts CEO Nigel Travis, who says increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour is "outrageous," but he doesn't seem to have a problem doubling his own compensation to $10.2 million/year.

With higher minimum wage laws passed in New York, California, Seattle, Chicago, and elsewhere, and lots of talk about income equality, there seems to be some momentum to bridge the pay gap between the people at the top and those at the bottom. But do shareholders want it? Will voters support politicians who want to change that equation?

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/28/15

On a special Tuesday edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a couple that had to be rescued on their first date, a crappy golf course, and the wrong use of an air sickness bag. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Random Thoughts

Three quick thoughts:

  1. How much more bad news can the St. Louis Post-Dispatch take? Last week, star columnist Bill McLellan accepted a buyout. This morning, star sports columnist Bernie Miklasz announced he was giving two weeks notice (ostensibly to concentrate on his morning radio show, but I'm guessing it was contract time and the newspaper wouldn't cough up a big enough offer to keep him). Then came the news that movie critic Joe Williams died in a one-car crash last night. And the worst news? Consumers found out about all three of those items online, for free.
  2. If you put an armed guard in the lobby of every movie theater, how is that going to stop the nut with a gun inside the theater when he decides to start shooting? While we're at it, why isn't the database that prevents mentally ill people from buying a gun in one state shared with every other state?
  3. You may have seen this recent headline: "Google self-driving car involved in first injury accident." What that headline didn't say was that the Google automation inside the vehicle was not at fault -- it was rear-ended by a human driver in another car. In fact, in the 14 accidents involving Google self-driving cars over the last six years, it was never the car's fault (11 times it was rear-ended, and the other 3 times it was being controlled by a human). I'm guessing that, in the most recent accident, the human driver who rear-ended the Google car was too busy checking text messages on an Android phone.

Michael Mann on Climate Change

Last week, James Hansen, NASA's former lead climate scientist, released a new study saying that sea levels will rise faster and sooner than previously believed -- possibly 10 feet in the next 50 years. That seemed like a major news story to me, but I didn't see much coverage of it, so I invited another climate expert, Michael Mann, to return to my show today to discuss Hansen's report and its impact.

We talked about how glaciers are melting at a higher rate than previously predicted, and what that will mean for coastal cities both in the US and around the world. Mann also explained what the more severe climate change is already doing to our weather in the midwest, and how's it's related to the drought in the southwest. We discussed what this will mean for populations in places like Miami and New York, which will have to migrate inland, and how that will affect the rest of us.

I asked Mann if we're past the tipping point where nothing can be done to save us from a cataclysmic future for our children and grandchildren, and on that point, he seemed more optimistic than I expected. Even with a Congress full of deniers like James Inhofe (who doesn't understand how climate change and snowballs can co-exist), Mann praises moves done by President Obama by executive order that are at least taking us in the right direction, if not far enough.

One of Mann's most important points is that, congressional deniers aside, the Pentagon is seriously worried about climate change because of the consequences on populations around the world, and the risk that more wars will break out when the supply of fresh water shrinks as sea levels rise. And on that global front, we talked about the upcoming global climate summit in Paris in December, where world leaders are scheduled to negotiate a plan to cut back on carbon emissions. Maybe.

I always enjoy talking with Mann because he's so good at putting this difficult area of science into language that the rest of us can understand. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

The Trump Effect

Here's my conversation with ABC political analyst Steve Roberts about Donald Trump's effect on the GOP presidential field, why he's still leading in some polls, and how other candidates are trying to outdo him to get more attention. I also asked Steve about the impact Bernie Sanders is having on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Carrot Top's Surprising Show

While in Vegas a week ago, I had a free evening with nothing to do, so I decided on a whim to go see Carrot Top's show at The Luxor. I'm not a huge fan of his, but I've liked some of his TV appearances, and think some of his prop comedy is kinda clever. I went online, found a discount ticket ($40 instead of $65), and chose a seat in the 8th row. Based on my ease in getting that seat just a few hours before showtime on a Monday in the middle of summer, I figured the place would be mostly empty -- but to my surprise, the theater (which probably seats 500) was packed!

I wasn't sure what to expect, but got a sense of what was to come from the videos being projected before the show. They were like a greatest-hits reel from "America's Funniest Home Videos" that had been winnowed down to nothing but shots of guys being hit in the nuts, one after another, mixed with clips of animals humping. Okay, so it was going to be an intellectual show.

After an opening act whose name I've already forgotten, Carrot Top hit the stage and began one of the most joke-intensive performances I've seen since Rodney Dangerfield. He moved from trunk to trunk, pulling out a prop he'd built, making a joke about it, and then tossing it off stage while moving on to the next.

The not-so-family-friendly onslaught of jokes had something to offend everyone. This was not the ready-for-television Carrot Top. He did a lot of self-deprecating humor and makes fun of the Luxor, but also went after other Las Vegas celebrities from Mariah Carey to Celine Dion to Elton John to Criss Angel (who has a show in the same building). He made fun of country acts and rock singers, did some topical political stuff (of course there was a Donald Trump joke!), and engaged his audience quite a bit.

But it wasn't all prop comedy -- and this is where the show shocked me. Amid all the jokes and props, Carrot Top's show was a precision-timed act with musical stingers, sound effects, lighting effects, and video clips intertwined with stage banter as perfectly as anything I've ever seen. After a decade at The Luxor, he and his crew have their timing down. It's impressive. So is the physical energy required to keep that up for 70 minutes, non-stop.

I know I walked out of there exhausted. And pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Random Thoughts

A couple of days ago, I saw a movie that was so bad it will show up right behind "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" on my Worst Of 2015 list. I can't tell you what it is yet because of an embargo, but when it opens, I'll post a full review here.

I've been invited to a screening of "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" tomorrow night, but after seeing Alex Gibney's Scientology documentary "Going Clear" on HBO earlier this year, I just can't look at Tom Cruise on screen the same way. Sure, I've known for a long time he's a Scientologist, but the documentary showed an evil side of Cruise that I can't get out of my mind. I wonder if enough other people share my view of him to impact the movie's box office reception.

I've given up on Jim Gaffigan's sitcom after two episodes. I like Gaffigan, and have seen him perform several times, but his TV Land show makes one fatal error. The premise starts with Gaffigan following the lead of Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK in playing a version of himself as a standup comedian. Like real-life Gaffigan, the TV version has a wife named Jeannie and five small children, all living in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. The problem is that the plots pit Jim against Jeannie. She wants him to do something, he doesn't want to do it, he tries to figure a way to weasel out of it, he ends up lying to her, she catches him, he looks silly, etc. etc. etc.

We've seen umpteen versions of this marriage dynamic on sitcoms, from "I Love Lucy" to "Everybody Loves Raymond" to "King Of Queens." But instead of making the husband the protagonist and the wife the antagonist, it would have been so much better if Jim and Jeannie were always on the same side, fighting against the absurdities of the rest of the world. Don't make the supporting characters pick sides, let them be the other side and allow Jim and Jeannie to make fun of (and plot against) them. That would have been different. But the version they have on the air now offers nothing new.

I just finished reading Judd Apatow's book, "Sick In The Head," a compilation of interviews he's done with comedians dating back to 1983, when he was a teenager carrying around a bulky cassette recorder and convincing Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and others that he was doing a show for his high school radio station (WKWZ/Syosset, which still exists). He asked them a lot of good questions about how they got started, how they wrote jokes, and how they made a living. This was at a time when comedians weren't often offered the opportunity to talk about their craft, so even when a 15-year-old kid showed up at their door, they were willing to sit down and open up.

Also included are more recent conversations Apatow has had with Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Roseanne, Harold Ramis, Louis CK, Chris Rock, Jeff Garlin, and Garry Shandling. Many of them veer from talk of comedy to very personal subjects, but it's the professional insights that I found most fascinating. My only complaint is that Apatow left in his repeated explanations of how the project began -- imagine reading the previous paragraph over and over. It's the sort of thing that a good editor should have taken out, but we know from the length of Apatow's movies (which regularly run past the two hour mark) that cutting is not his strength. Still, I enjoyed his book.

Sorry to see "Key and Peele" coming to an end. The episodes that are airing this summer on Comedy Central were actually finished last fall, but there was no announcement that this would be their last season until this week. Not only has the show been funny and tackled issues that no other sketch comedy series has, it also had the best hair and makeup effects I've ever seen on a comedy show. Those guys must spend half their day with someone working on their heads. The final episode will air in September. Can't wait to see what they do next.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Jef Rauner is as sick as I am of people who refute facts with their evidence-free beliefs, then defend their right to do so by saying, "Well, that's my opinion." As Rauner writes in the Houston Press, "No, It's Not Your Opinion. You're Just Wrong"...

You can form an opinion in a bubble, and for the first couple of decades of our lives we all do. However, eventually you are going to venture out into the world and find that what you thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and your feelings. Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours.

You can be wrong or ignorant. It will happen. Reality does not care about your feelings. Education does not exist to persecute you. The misinformed are not an ethnic minority being oppressed. What’s that? Planned Parenthood is chopping up dead babies and selling them for phat cash? No, that’s not what actually happened. No, it’s not your opinion. You’re just wrong.
Read Rauner's full piece here..

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

Last weekend at The Amazing Meeting, one of the speakers was Tim Caulfield, author of "Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?" I enjoyed his presentation so much that afterwards, I invited him to guest on my show. Here's that conversation.

Caulfield, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Alberta, talked about some of the silly pseudoscience put forth by Paltrow, Katy Perry, Simon Cowell, and others -- from vagina steaming to supplements to detox cleanses. We also discussed the impact of Angelina Jolie going public about her preventative mastectomy, the conclusions he came to after reading People magazine every week for a year, and how Big Beauty sells you skin products you do not need.

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

Showbiz Show 7/24/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey reviewed the Adam Sandler movie "Pixels" and I reviewed "Paper Towns" and "Trainwreck." We also recommended an indie directed by the man behind "Jurassic World" (which is now the third-biggest movie of all time), and Colin revealed how Pixar made a change in "Inside Out" for its Japanese audience. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 7/24/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "The New Hall of Famers," "Animal Movies Not Named Sharknado," and "They Died This 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® 7/24/15

On an All-Florida edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about a neighbor's loud music, a man who head-butted a bus, and an exercise session gone wrong. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Picture Of The Day

This sign at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas during The Amazing Meeting is all about inclusion but, as Eugenie Scott points out, it should be any gender. Hard to find people who are all genders.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Scariest News Story Of The Year

Climate expert James Hansen and a panel of other top scientists in the field say the glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are melting much faster than earlier studies found -- by a factor of ten. At that rate, sea levels could rise ten feet in the next fifty years, endangering every coastal city in the world. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to having oceanfront property. In Missouri.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

James Randi and The Amazing Meeting

I have just finished a weekend at the James Randi Educational Foundation's 13th annual event, The Amazing Meeting. I haven't attended all of them (I've missed three), but I'm glad I went this year because it's likely to be Randi's last TAM. He's 86, is battling medical issues, and wants to spend more time at home in Florida working on an autobiography, "A Magician In The Laboratory." But the man still has remarkable stamina. He was up early every day and kept busy until late at night.

Saturday night, there was a cocktail reception/stage show in which several of Randi's friends and colleagues got up to tell stories about him. Jamy Ian Swiss (one of the most important voices in the skeptical movement, who must have been onstage at TAM in one role or another more than a half-dozen times this weekend) was the emcee. The speakers included:

  • Jim Gardner, son of the late Martin Gardner, who was a very close friend and colleague of Randi's;
  • Massimo Polidoro, who came from Italy to intern with Randi at age 12 and has grown to be the author of over 40 books;
  • Sharon Hill, who handles web stuff for the JREF, and whose own Doubtful News site is a must-read;
  • Jim Alcock, longtime editor of The Skeptical Inquirer and CSICOP board member;
  • Todd Robbins, a unique stage entertainer who has eaten more light bulbs than anyone else.
There were also video tributes from Adam Savage, Bill Nye, Banachek, and Penn and Teller (who couldn't be there because they're in the midst of a run on Broadway).

Jamy also asked me to say a few things about Randi because he's appeared on my show so often. I told two stories about Randi, and here's one of them, about the first time we met:

In 1988, I was doing a morning radio show in Washington when Penn Jillette came to the studio to promote his appearance (with Teller, of course) at the National Theater that night. At one point, Randi's name came up and I said I'd admired him for years (ever since seeing him on Sonny Fox's "Wonderama" TV show as a kid and then later on Johnny Carson's show, where his Peter Popoff exposè and psychic surgery demonstration were instant classics). Penn told me it just so happened that, later that day, he was going to introduce Randi at an event hosted by the National Capital Area Skeptics, and invited me to come along. I did.

At the venue, Penn did a few juggling tricks and then introduced Randi to the overflow audience, which gave him its rapt attention as he talked for about an hour. I remember one of the topics was how to cheat at randomizing, involving an index card box and a die. When Randi finished, he spoke to several attendees while Penn motioned for me to come backstage. That's where I met Jamy Ian Swiss and Chip and Grace Denman, who to this day are driving forces behind JREF and TAM.

Eventually, Randi came back and Penn introduced me by saying, "Randi, this is Paul Harris, one of the smartest radio guys I know." Randi immediately replied, "Well, that's not saying much!!" We all laughed, then sat around and talked for a half-hour or so. I invited him to do my radio show the next morning, and he did, telling stories about his adventures, his relationship with Carson, and his battles against charlatans who claim paranormal abilities.

I was thrilled to spend that hour of radio with one of my heroes, and I've been happy to welcome him back to my show many, many times since then. He's a great guest, because he's such a brilliant mind and good talker, and because he knows how to do radio, having hosted a late-night show of his own on WOR/New York some five decades ago. That means we have two things in common -- we're both broadcasters and neither one of us can remember when we had hair on the tops of our heads.

Dinner With Dalla

One of the highlights of many of my Vegas visits is having dinner with writer and raconteur Nolan Dalla. While he's Media Director for the World Series Of Poker and one of the producers of the Poker Night In America TV series, our conversations are often about everything else but poker. I always enjoy them, and apparently Nolan does, too, because he's included me on his list of Best Dinners Of 2015. I'm honored to be mentioned.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Movie Review: Trainwreck

In May, I wrote a piece praising Amy Schumer for her Comedy Central show, which has been especially innovative and funny this season. That's why I was so looking forward to her move to the big screen with her first movie, "Trainwreck," which opens today.

I'll cut to the chase: "Trainwreck" is the funniest movie I've seen since Chris Rock's "Top Five" last year. I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Schumer plays Amy Townsend, who learned as a girl from her father (Colin Quinn) that monogamy is no good, and now that she's an adult, she puts that advice into practice on a regular basis. She gets drunk, she smokes weed, and she sleeps with any guy she wants, as long as there's no commitment (the thought of even spending the entire night is abhorrent to her). During the day, she's a writer for a horrible magazine called "S'Nuff," who is assigned to write a piece about Aaron Conner (Bill Hader), a sports medicine physician and surgeon. They fall for each other and start a relationship that involves more than sex -- new territory for Amy.

Along the way, we meet the stellar supporting cast, including Tilda Swinton as Amy's beastly boss, Vanessa Bayer as her co-worker, Dave Attell as a homeless guy who begs in front of Amy's apartment every day, and 100-year-old Norman Lloyd as a mouthy resident and friend of Quinn's character in an assisted-living facility. There are also a slew of other celebrities you'll recognize, and I'm not going to spoil those surprises, yet one deserves special props. That's Lebron James in a standout performance as Aaron's patient, friend, and confidant. He's funny, endearing, and incredibly likable. It's the best movie work by an NBA star since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in "Airplane."

But the movie belongs to Schumer, who carries every scene winningly. It's her star vehicle, and she hits it out of the park. Which brings me to a complaint about the marketing. Take a look at this poster for the movie:

It promotes Schumer's movie as "From the guy who brought you 'Bridesmaids.'" That would be Judd Apatow, who directed "Trainwreck" (and did a fine job) and helped convinced Schumer to turn her ideas into the finished product -- but she is the one who wrote it. And stars in it. For months, Schumer's been the one making headlines every time she gives a speech or shows up at an awards ceremony. I know Apatow is a Hollywood comedy brand unto himself, but to not focus all the marketing on her is ridiculous.

One caveat: like "Top Five," this is a very raunchy movie that deserves its R rating. Schumer's script is full of sexual material (though the only nudity is men's butts) and language. None of it bothered me.

In fact, like Rock's film, "Trainwreck" made me laugh out loud repeatedly. It's going to launch Schumer to a new level of stardom, so that next time, the pronouns in the movie posters will all be female.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bringing Talk Back To Late Night

As I thought would be the case after David Letterman's long goodbye, I've abandoned the habit of recording any of the late night shows (except for Jon Stewart, who begins his final three-week run next Monday). The reason is simple -- they're no longer about conversations. They're about stunts, games, and desperate attempts to create tomorrow's viral video.

For example, last night, Jimmy Fallon had Lebron James as his first guest. It didn't take long for them to quit talking and start dunking nerf balls into the baskets attached to their heads. In the next segment, Fallon brought out Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to play another game called "True Confessions." Then he showed a trailer for their movie, "Sisters" -- which won't premiere until the end of this year -- without asking a single question about its origin, their on-screen chemistry, or anything more than its release date

What a missed opportunity to have Fey and Poehler (two of the cleverest and most entertaining people in showbiz) plus James (who co-stars in Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck") and instead of being prepared with questions that will elicit interesting anecdotes, Fallon resorted to playing games with them. I like Fallon, but his approach isn't that different from that of an entertainment director on a cruise ship.

On the same night, James Corden had Rod Stewart as his guest and they ended up doing a mildly entertaining bit involving some kind of car pool karaoke. Again, a missed opportunity to talk to a Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer whose career experience would certainly be fodder for a good story or two.

I have a feeling I'll change my mind about regularly setting the DVR for late night when Stephen Colbert debuts his "Late Show" on September 8th. I've been watching the topical videos he has released regularly for the last few weeks, including bits about the Supreme Court marriage decision, Donald Trump's campaign kickoff, and the New York Stock Exchange computer meltdown. They're all funny, and in his own voice -- as opposed to his former alter ego on "The Colbert Report" (in fact, I'm pretty sure I heard him refer to himself a couple of times as COAL-burt with a hard T at the end, rather than coal-BEAR).

What's always made Colbert special is his feisty combination of intelligence and quick wit. I'd bet that his "Late Show" will consist of actual conversations with guests. Perhaps not a full-fledged return to a Dick Cavett-like talk show -- there will probably be comedy bits and wacky remotes in each hour -- but I hope that he'll take time to invite other smart people and engage them in real repartee. He proved he could do it while improvising in character on Comedy Central; now I look forward to seeing him do it as himself on CBS.

The video Colbert released today is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. In it, he starts discussing the approach of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto, where it allowed us to see the dwarf planet in high-resolution for the first time. But then, he introduced Neil deGrasse Tyson (America's Go-To Scientist) and the two of them spent more than a dozen minutes discussing the mission to Pluto. Both men are brilliant, but also cognizant of how to entertain and inform simultaneously.

Neither Fallon nor Corden (nor Kimmel nor Myers) could, or would, do this. I hope this is a mere sample of what we can expect when Colbert's show debuts in a couple of months...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Political Observation Of The Day

News reports of Trump's lead in some polls reminds me of how well Presidents Bachmann, Buchanan, and Cain did early in the process.

Poker Story Of The Day

This is easily the best story of a player in the World Series Of Poker Main Event -- and he’s in the final 27 today. [Update at 6:45pm -- he was eliminated in 19th place but earned almost a quarter-million dollars]

Monday, July 13, 2015

Letterman Emerges

Several friends who were huge David Letterman fans sent me links to video of him showing up onstage at a Steve Martin/Martin Short stage show in San Antonio, Texas, this weekend. But when I watched it, I was nothing but disappointed as Dave did a Top Ten List about Donald Trump. As with most of his televised prepared material of the last decade, the list was tame and lame, relying four times on bad jokes about Trump's hair. I've seen more biting satire in a Buzzfeed listicle.

While I'm sure the cameo was thrilling for the people in the crowd, it doesn't offer hope that Letterman will return any time in the near future with something new and clever. Even Martin and Short look like they're asking, "How much longer will this take?"

More Amazing Bets You Will Win

Professor Richard Wiseman is back with the 14th in his series...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Six months ago, I wrote a short piece praising Jimmy Carter as our Best Ex-President Ever. Now here's NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on Jimmy Carter's legacy...
It’s true that Carter sometimes floundered as president. He also had great difficulty, as an outsider, managing Washington, and suffered from a measure of anti-Southern prejudice. When the Reagans took over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, their interior decorator reportedly couldn’t wait to “get the smell of catfish out of the White House.”

But Carter was also a pioneer. He was the first to elevate human rights in foreign policy. He appointed large numbers of women, Latinos and blacks. He installed solar panels on the White House (President Reagan removed them). He established diplomatic relations with China.

Carter also had a deep sense of honesty — sometimes too deep. Other politicians have affairs and deny them. Carter didn’t have affairs but nonetheless disclosed that “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” File that under “too much information.”

After leaving the presidency, Carter could have spent his time on the golf course. Instead, he roamed the globe advocating for human rights and battling diseases from malaria to blinding trachoma.

Because of Carter’s work, the world is very close to eradicating Guinea worm disease, an excruciating ailment, and has made enormous headway against elephantiasis and river blindness as well. Only five cases of Guinea worm disease have been reported worldwide in 2015: It’s a race, Carter acknowledges, between him and the Guinea worm to see which outlasts the other.

I’m betting on Carter.
Read Kristof's full piece here.

This week happens to mark six years since Carter severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades over its leaders ordaining that women must be subservient to men and may not serve as chaplains in the military. His explanation:
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population.
Read Carter's full piece here.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chris Impey, "Beyond: Our Future In Space"

Here's my conversation with Professor Chris Impey, head of the University of Arizona astronomy department, and author of "Beyond: Our Future In Space." Among the many topics we covered:
  • How soon humans might live in space, such as on Mars or the moon;
  • What a space elevator is and how it could help us launch rockets further into space;
  • Whether humans could hibernate for long periods to make distant space travel possible;
  • Why humans have to go in space when we can send robots and control them like a video game;
  • What we should do about deflecting asteroids that might eventually be on a collision course with Earth.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 7/10/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey reviewed the "Despicable Me" spinoff "Minions" and I reviewed the Ben Kingsley/Ryan Reynolds thriller "Self/Less." We also talked about an unlikely movie-to-Broadway musical and the company that makes Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" possible. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 12/10/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Those Are Some Big Cities," "The Name Is Chico," 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® 7/10/15

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News® I have stories about cell phones at the theater, fireworks problems in the NFL, and a parking citation grammar problem. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Inside Out Upside Down

A pretty clever parody of "Inside Out" from Francesca Ramsey...

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Unpaid Interns

The concept of "college intern" has always bothered me. At its most basic level, it's supposed to give a student an opportunity to get a foot inside a company to learn what it's like to work there. The problem is that most interns are not paid, which means they're not employees, they're volunteers. On top of that, the students (or their parents) have to pay for the privilege of working for free if they're going to get college credit. So the university is getting money without providing a service, and the company is getting free labor.

This sticks in my craw because I have a daughter in college, and she has done internships for several non-profits. She didn't receive credit for them, however, so I've explained that she wasn't really an intern, she was a volunteer. That's not the same as having a job. I don't have a problem with volunteerism in the non-profit sector. For four decades, my mother-in-law has run a wonderful service that records books for the blind, and everyone on her staff is a volunteer. But they are all adults, and they don't consider it an internship.

However, in the for-profit world, to quote Kevin O'Leary from "Shark Tank," it's all about the money. You wouldn't keep going to your job if you weren't getting a paycheck each week. That's how it works -- put in the hours doing what you're told, and you get paid. I've heard the argument that the interns are receiving valuable experience, and that's their reward. Sure. Try paying your rent with experience and see what the landlord says.

These employers use interns instead of paid employees because they can get away with it, and they're almost all in the white-collar world. I've never heard of a gas station that had interns hanging around learning how to do an oil lube or change a tire in exchange for college credit and "experience." There are no college interns working on a road crew filling potholes. In the construction trade, they have apprenticeships, but those are entry-level jobs where you're paid to learn. There are no volunteer carpenters and plumbers.

Most of the radio stations I've worked for have used college interns -- and "used" is the correct verb, because their "work" consisted mostly of making copies, running errands, giving out t-shirts and cheap prizes at promotional events, answering phones, etc. None of these were real career opportunities, yet these students devoted several hours multiple times a week to "learn" radio from the inside. Sure, they were exposed to the hosts and other personnel, and may have gleaned some insight simply by osmosis, but the benefits were outweighed by the grunt work they were forced to do.

Two years ago, a couple of college interns who worked on the production of the movie "Black Swan" sued Fox Searchlight, saying they weren't getting any academic benefit. Instead, they were tasked with the sort of unimportant work usually assigned to someone's assistant (including buying a non-allergenic pillow for director Darren Aronofsky). In a decision that sent shivers through every company that uses interns, a federal trial judge agreed that those interns were essentially the same as regular employees, and thus should have been paid for their time and work.

Fox Searchlight appealed, and last week, a federal appeals court reversed the decision. So I invited Slate's senior business correspondent Jordan Weissmann back to my show to explain why the judges ruled that way, the impact the decision will have on other interns, and how the court's rules for interns differ from those of the US Department of Labor.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Dan Ariely: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

I saw Dan Ariely speak at The Amazing Meeting two years ago about dishonesty, a subject he has researched as a behavioral psychologist at Duke University. It was so fascinating that I went out and got his book, "The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty" and devoured it. That book became the basis of a documentary, which aired last month in abridged form on CNBC, but isn't streaming or on DVD yet.

After watching the televised version, I tracked down the video of Ariely's TAM speech for you to watch here. My favorite story is the one about whether golfers would ever move a ball that's landed in the rough to a better spot...

Note: I've recently traded e-mails with Ariely to try to get him on my radio show to discuss his new book, "Irrationally Yours." Unfortunately, he's unavailable because he's traveling all summer, but I hope to talk to him in September. When we settle on a date, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Cosby Confession (continued)

I received a lot of positive feedback about my epic takedown today of Whoopi Goldberg's denials about Bill Cosby, as well as the reaction of his victims, and an explanation of how the AP's Maryclaire Dale got the judge to release the transcript of his 2005 admission that he gave women drugs so he could have sex with rape them (plus the judge's reasons for unsealing those documents). If you missed it, listen here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

The Cosby Confession

Last fall, when several women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them, I invited Mark Ebner onto my radio show, because -- back in 2007 -- he had written about Cosby's history in this area on his website, Hollywood Interrupted. So, when the Associated Press got the judge in the civil lawsuit filed by a Temple University student against Cosby in 2005 to release the transcript of his deposition -- in which Cosby admitted having given women quaaludes in order to have sex with them -- I called upon Ebner again.

We hashed out all the gory details, and Ebner made the connection between Cosby and his old Playboy pal Hugh Hefner, who has also been accused of giving quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with. We also talked about whether Cosby's real-life wife Camille and his TV wife Phylicia Rashad would now reverse their earlier support for him (as close friend and Grammy-winning vocalist Jill Scott has). And I asked Mark if, even though the statute of limitations as expired on any possible criminal conviction of Cosby, his victims can now sue him for defamation and more because Cosby and his lawyer had vilified them publicly.

By the way, I used the word "raping" in this context because that's what Cosby has admitted doing -- having sex with unconscious women who did not give their consent. If this was a story about a non-celebrity admitting what he's admitted, there wouldn't be anyone (I'm talking about you, Whoopi Goldberg) saying, "Well, we need to know more before we come to a conclusion."

This is strange for me because I've been a Cosby fan almost my whole life. I loved his records and standup routines in the 1960s, watched his CBS show in the 70s (in which he played gym teacher Chet Kincaid), love his NBC sitcom in the 80s, and have paid to see him in performance several times. I admire him as one of the all-time great comedians, but my revulsion at what he's done to dozens of women makes it impossible for me to enjoy his comedy any longer. I'm glad that the last TV outlet to air his sitcom (something called Bounce TV, which I didn't even know existed) has pulled it from its lineup in the wake of Cosby's confession, and it's unlikely to be picked up by another outlet any time soon.

My wife would add that she thinks Michael Jackson should be treated the same way, and is shocked every time she hears one of his songs on the radio. In both cases, they were famous men who abused their positions to get their rocks off, and then paid their way out of the repercussions. But if Cosby's acts are disgusting enough to turn off America, weren't Jackson's, as well? I guess the difference is that we don't have a deposition transcript of Jackson admitting his crime.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Travis Maurer, Marijuana Activist

Six years ago, Travis Maurer was arrested for growing marijuana in his home in Columbia, Missouri. After his conviction, he moved to Oregon, where he found a much more pot-friendly environment. So friendly, in fact, that Travis decided to lead a push to legalize marijuana in that state. On election day 2014, the voters of Oregon passed the law by a 12-point margin, and it went into effect on July 1, 2015.

Today on my show, I talked with Travis about his journey from convicted pot felon to successful marijuana activist, and how soon he thinks Missouri might follow the lead of Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Alaska in legalizing recreational and/or medical marijuana. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Louise Harrison, "My Kid Brother's Band"

Louise Harrison returned to my show today to talk about her book, "My Kid Brother's Band a.k.a. The Beatles." We talked about:
  • How she was living in Benton, Illinois, in 1963 when she invited George to come visit (five months before he, Paul, John, and Ringo made their famous debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show").
  • How locals reacted when George got up to play a few songs with a band at the VFW hall.
  • What life was like as kids in Liverpool and their parents' influence on them.
  • How she made Brian Epstein furious during The Beatles' first trip to New York.
  • How she got The Beatles their first exposure on American radio stations.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...