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Friday, November 27, 2015

Inside The NFL

I have been a fan of NFL Films for decades. The company, founded by the late Ed and Steve Sabol, was the first to have an all-access pass not only to the field, but also to the locker rooms, and the sidelines. It set the standard for sports highlights packages with its cinematography, music, and editing, which are all nothing short of brilliant, as is evident every week on Showtime's "Inside The NFL."

Greg Gumbel may no longer be the host, replaced by CBS SportsRadio personality Adam Schein, but Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason -- both talented broadcasters as well as veteran quarterbacks -- are still there to offer cogent analysis, and I'm glad they're spending so much time this season on concussion protocol and controversial calls by the officials.

But it is the addition to the "Inside The NFL" on-air crew of NY Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall that has made the difference this season. I can't remember seeing a televised sports show that included a current player among the regulars, and his presence adds an interesting perspective (and not just around game footage of the Jets).

For the last couple of weeks, Marshall has engaged with reporters from various news outlets in the studio in an effort to broker some peace between players and the press. He's also made some quite candid remarks about Johnny Manziel's addiction and discipline problems, as well as Greg Hardy's antics and role on the Cowboys' roster. Considering Marshall's own troubled past, his take on these issues has been very interesting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Movie Review: The Good Dinosaur

Since "Toy Story" debuted 20 years ago this month, Pixar has produced a remarkable string of quality movies that translated into box office gold. "The Good Dinosaur" will no doubt continue that money-making tradition, but the differences from its predecessors are glaring.

First and foremost is the story, which has always been at the heart of Pixar's best projects. This one seems like a re-tread. The basic plot is about Arlo, the smallest member of a dinosaur family, who has to prove himself worthy of leaving his mark on the world, literally.

I had a problem with "The Good Dinosaur" from its first scene, which imagines that the asteroid that crashed into Earth 65 million years ago and led to the extinction of life (including dinosaurs) actually missed our planet. Thus the dinosaurs lived, and as they evolved over several million more years, they learned to speak, use tools, and farm their own crops.

Okay, this isn't the first time Pixar has anthropomorphized its animal characters -- from "A Bug's Life" to "Ratatouille," we've seen it before -- but what bothers me is that, later in the story, a human character is introduced, first as the antagonist to Arlo and then as his best friend. I worry that kids who see "The Good Dinosaur" will walk out not understanding the alternate-reality of the movie's initial premise, but instead believing that dinosaurs and humans were, in fact, once on Earth at the same time. Call this The Flintstones Fallacy.

Come to think of it, why limit this concern to kids? I'll bet that, in a country where Donald Trump's brazen lies and internet rumors are accepted as fact by too many Americans, a large number of adults who see this movie will later cite it as proof that the two species roamed our land masses simultaneously. And that's not good.

At the screening I attended, a lot of people brought their young children, for whom this movie is the target demo. In its past successes, Pixar has always been able to balance the kid-appeal with the adult-appeal, so that both can enjoy the movies on their own levels. "The Good Dinosaur" doesn't have that magic -- and more than any of its animated ancestors, it's likely to inspire some nightmares for young viewers.

A big part of that comes from a classic animated movie device. As in "Bambi," "The Lion King," "Finding Nemo" and others, the plot is kicked into high gear by the turbulent death of a parent. Scary scenes aren't enough of a reason to condemn a movie -- hell, I hid under the bed when the flying monkeys appeared in "The Wizard Of Oz" until I was about 15 -- but if you don't know they're coming in this one, you're going to have to do a lot of cuddling to get your kid over some of the scenes in "The Good Dinosaur."

Also setting it apart from Pixar precedents was that when "The Good Dinosaur" ended and the credits rolled, there was not much applause from the kids (or adults) in attendance, and no one seemed especially thrilled on the way out. That could mean some mediocre word-of-mouth, which would affect not only the box office (as it did with "Monsters University"), but the later sales of DVDs and downloads, which are usually driven by children who want to see a movie again and again.

I give "The Good Dinosaur" a 10 for technical mastery, but only a 3 for story, so let's call it a 6.5 overall.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Another Movie You Might Not Know

The new title on my Movies You Might Not Know list is "Call Me Lucky," a documentary about Barry Crimmins, one of the seminal figures in the standup comedy world, and a fascinating guy beyond that.

Crimmins founded two of Boston's most influential clubs, the Ding Ho and Stitches, where he performed and featured up-and-coming comedians like Paula Poundstone, Lenny Clarke, Steven Wright, and Jimmy Tingle. Bobcat Goldthwait got his start there, too, which makes him the perfect guy to assemble this movie, which shows why Crimmins was one of the top political satirists of the 1980s and 1990s -- but reveals another side of him as well.

When Crimmins was a small child, he was repeatedly raped by a man in the basement of his home. The psychological damage caused by those horrific incidents never went away, but he kept them to himself for a long time, until the early days of the internet gave child pornographers a place to gather. Crimmins began collecting evidence about the sickos who were using internet forums -- especially on America Online, then the preeminent way for most people to get online -- to distribute and exchange sexually graphic photos of kids, thus enabling their abusers. Crimmins shared that information with police and prosecutors (most of whom didn't own computers or know anything about the internet), which eventually led to charges being filed against many of the culprits. He even testified at a congressional hearing, exposing AOL as a safe harbor for these crimes.

Through archival footage and interviews with his comedy contemporaries, his family, and Crimmins himself, Goldthwait does a very good job of showing the many sides of a man who may never have become a break-out national comedy star, but had a major impact nonetheless.

Best Thing I've Read Today

Sophia McClennen says Stephen Colbert gets lower ratings among Republicans because they just don't get his humor:

It is the socially conservative, less educated, Tea Party version of the GOP that is least likely to want to watch smart comedy like Colbert’s. This is the portion of the population that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, Obama is not a citizen, and the separation of church and state is a myth. As Chris Mooney explains, “liberals tend to be more open, flexible, curious and nuanced—and conservatives tend to be more closed, fixed and certain in their views.” It’s not surprising that those differences would also yield different tastes in comedy.

This means that it is not just a question of who Colbert targets in his joke; it is also a question of how he makes the joke itself. Nuance, irony, and layered thinking may be more of the problem than Trump jokes. He has virtually abandoned jokes about Fox News but clearly that isn’t enough to attract GOP viewers.
Read McClennen's full piece here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Showbiz Show 11/20/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, I talked about one of the best movies of the year, "Spotlight," with Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Bryan d'Arcy James as the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the pedophile priests scandal in that town in 2001. I asked Lynn Venhaus (movie reviewer for the Belleville News Democrat) to join me because she wrote stories about the molesters in the Belleville archdiocese when she worked for the Centralia Sentinel in 1993. She offered a unique perspective on how well the movie shows investigative reporters doing their job under tremendous pressure.

Then, Colin Jeffrey joined me to review the movie that will crush the box office this weekend, Jennifer Lawrence in "Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2." Finally, I talked about "Trumbo," with Bryan Cranston as a Hollywood screenwriting legend who was blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.

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

Harris Challenge 11/20/15

This week on my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "Sports and Showbiz Week," "Motown Music," and "Which One Was That?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/20/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a man sleeping in court, a psychology test during birth, and a cop who ticketed himself. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jason Gay, "Little Victories"

Jason Gay, sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal, returned to my show to talk about his book, "Little Victories." We discussed how Robin Williams turned him into a bicyclist, a remarkable trip he took to Africa with a guy named Marty, and his Zen approach to baseball. We also talked about the Rams' possible move to Los Angeles, the Greg Hardy/Dallas Cowboys story, and whether daily fantasy sports can survive a legal onslaught from the states.

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Nicholas Kristof offers some historical perspective on keeping refugees from coming to America:

In January 1939, Americans polled said by a two-to-one majority that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.

That is a stain on our conscience that risks being repeated. Some 26 Republican governors are trying to block entry of Syrian refugees. All the Republican presidential candidates say that we should bar Syrian refugees or apply a religious test and accept only Christians.
He goes on to be thankful that when his father immigrated here from Eastern Europe in 1952, "politicians weren't fearmongering."
When Indiana today shuns desperate refugees, it is shunning people like my family. Yes, security is critical, but I’ve known people who have gone through the refugee vetting process, and it’s a painstaking ordeal that lasts two years or more. It’s incomparably more rigorous than other pathways to the United States.

If the Islamic State wanted to dispatch a terrorist to America, it wouldn’t ask a mole to apply for refugee status, but rather to apply for a student visa to study at, say, Indiana University. Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students? Or the Islamic State could simply send fighters who are French or Belgian citizens (like some of those behind the Paris attacks) to the U.S. as tourists, no visa required. Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists, too?
Read Kristof's full piece here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Traffic Clutter

Radio consultant extraordinaire Fred Jacobs muses about the necessity of traffic reports on the radio at a time when you can get better real-time information on demand from Google Maps, Waze, and other apps:

Traffic is not only becoming endangered content, it is also a tune-out threat, especially for stations known for playing music. A couple of traffic reports on a Classic Rock or Hot AC station in the morning may retain sponsorship dollars, but will increasingly fail to provide added value to most commuters in the listening audience. There’s no reason to wait for the 8s or randomly scheduled traffic reports when even better, customized road and commuting info is available on a smartphone that is Bluetoothed into the dash.
This is a subject I battled with management about for years when I did a daily midday show. My argument was that, 99% of the time outside of rush hour in St. Louis, there aren't enough problems to require those updates, so they serve no purpose. And that was on a talk station. If you're a music station battling for consumers' ears against Pandora and Spotify, you might think you're offering a compelling reason for listeners to tune in, but you aren't. It's like a newspaper that continues to print huge daily stock price listings (from the previous day!), when you can check the current value for your entire portfolio on your smartphone at any time.

The truth is that most traffic reports aren't about imparting information. They are merely an excuse for the reporter to read, usually in a bored tone, a live commercial for some sponsor -- and that's often longer than the traffic details. Unfortunately, despite Fred's on-the-mark analysis, it's become harder than ever to convince a station that a paid-for element is actually hurting the brand and cluttering up the airwaves.

So, as stations remain blind to the impact of new technology, those traffic reports will continue to air, even as consumers rely on them less.

Read Fred Jacobs' full piece here.

George Hrab Explains Skepticism

George Hrab, who has emceed the last few Amazing Meetings for the James Randi Educational Foundation, gave a TED Talk in which he explains skepticism and encourages you to become an evidence-based thinker:

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Julia Belluz on the FDA cracking down on companies that sell bogus dietary supplements. These pills have not been scientifically proven to work -- in fact, they cause harm, because they're not tested as rigorously as they should be.

Before USPLabs agreed to pull OxyElite Pro from store shelves, the product sickened dozens of people, leading to acute liver failure, hepatitis, liver transplants, and, in at least one case, death. Meanwhile, instead of actually discontinuing distribution of the product, the Department of Justice says the company "engaged in a surreptitious, all-hands-on-deck effort to sell as much OxyElite Pro as it could as quickly as possible."

USPlabs also allegedly knew about the potential for liver toxicity. But the company didn't properly test its products. In a weird twist, people who worked at the company are accused of simply testing products on themselves and then selling "the ones that made them feel good," Mizer said.
Supplements are a $30 billion/year industry, right up there with homeopathic products on the unregulated-ripoff roster.
Yet these pills undergo limited scrutiny by regulators. The FDA treats them like food — not like drugs — under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Supplement manufacturers can put a wide variety of claims on their bottles, so long as there's at least some research to back them up and so long as they're honest about their ingredients. There's no requirement for manufacturers to specify the quantity ingredients or to warn consumers about potential side effects. What's more, there are no regulators checking to make sure these manufacturers are telling the truth about what's in their products before they hit store shelves.

To remove a supplement from the market, the FDA first has to prove that it's not safe — which is what happened in the case of OxyElite Pro. This is basically the opposite of how pharmaceuticals are regulated. There, drugmakers need to prove their medicines are safe and effective through high-quality scientific studies before they ever reach consumers.
The burden should not be on the FDA to prove something doesn't work or is harmful -- it should be on the companies that make and sell these products to an uninformed public which, no doubt, assumes that it must be safe or it wouldn't be allowed on store shelves.

Read Belluz's full piece here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

As I Said On Twitter

By dropping out of the race, Bobby Jindal has quadrupled his chances of becoming president -- because 4 x 0 = 0. #oldjokestillworks

Nostalgia Ain't What It Used To Be

My wife and I came upon a "Columbo" episode on ME-TV recently. We hadn't seen a "Columbo" in about 40 years, but remembered it as always being highly entertaining, with a complex murder plot that unravels as the rumpled detective pokes and prods the guest star until the truth is revealed. As a teenager, I was a fan of Peter Falk as "Columbo," as well as the other NBC Mystery series that shared its time slot -- Dennis Weaver as "McCloud," Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James as "Macmillan and Wife." I even put up with the off weeks when Richard Boone starred as "Hec Ramsey."

But watching this 1972 "Columbo" episode, "The Greenhouse Jungle," we were shocked at how dumb it was. Sure, Peter Falk was spot-on as Columbo, but the script was vapid, the production quality wasn't very high, and Ray Milland was too bland as the villain.

We also happened to catch another show that was part of the original NBC rotation, George Peppard as insurance investigator "Banacek," which looked even worse in retrospect. What seemed appealing long ago as the character's suave arrogance now seems incredibly off-putting, and the women on the show were afforded no respect at all-- the sexism was glaring.

This is the kind of programming that composes much of the ME-TV lineup, interrupted regularly by commercials mostly of the "per inquiry" variety, in which you're told to mention a promo code when you order whatever piece of trash they're selling. Those codes allow the advertiser to know whether the commercial is bringing in business, and the network is only paid when viewers buy something. It's a commerce model that's moved in recent years to podcasts, where you're told to mention the host's name as the promo code when you buy from Stamps.com or whoever the advertiser is.

Many of the ME-TV ads include the famous phrase, "don't answer yet, because if you order now, we'll give you another" of whatever-they're-selling. But those two-for-one offers include some odd math. We saw one for a digital antenna that sold for $10 each, but they'd send you two and claimed, "That's a $40 value!" Huh?

After those episodes of "Columbo" and "Banacek" (and a similar experience with an original episode of "Dark Shadows" and a "Man From UNCLE" that I wrote about here), my wife and I have sworn off watching vintage shows that we remembered fondly from our childhoods. They just don't hold up, and I wonder whether the real reason we watched them originally wasn't because we had longer attention spans or lower standards of excellence, but rather because we didn't have many other options, and -- in those pre-remote-control days -- changing the channel involved getting up out of our chairs and going across the room.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Picture Of The Day

Shepard Smith, the only sane broadcaster at Fox News Channel, had some harsh words today for politicians and blowhards (including most of his colleagues) who have leapt at the opportunity to over-react to the attacks in Paris. Without naming names (e.g. the 20 governors who announced today they will not allow Syrian refugees into their states), Smith warned against taking "extreme measures to fundamentally alter who and what we are"...

Best Thing I've Read Today

Peter Van Buren on how we have to change how we react to tragedies like the murders in Paris this weekend:

We tweet hashtags and phrases in high school French and post GIFs to Facebook. We know what to do; we’ve done this before. But it has to be said, especially looking at the sick repetition of the same story, that despite fourteen plus years of a war on terror, terror seems to be with us as much as ever, maybe even more. It is time to rethink what we have done and are doing.

Since that day in 2001, the one with those terrible sparkling blue skies in New York, we have spied on the world, Americans at home and foreigners abroad, yet no one detected anything that stopped the Paris attacks. We gave up much to that spying and got nothing in return....

It has not worked, and Paris this weekend, and the next one somewhere else sometime soon, are the proof.

We gave up many of our freedoms in America to defeat the terrorists. It did not work. We gave the lives of over 4,000 American men and women in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, to defeat the terrorists, and refuse to ask what they died for. We killed tens of thousands or more in those countries. It did not work. We went to war again in Iraq, and now in Syria, before in Libya, and only created more failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide havens for terrorists and spilled terror like dropped paint across borders. We harass and discriminate against our own Muslim populations and then stand slack-jawed as they become radicalized, and all we do then is blame ISIS for tweeting.
Read Van Buren's full piece here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Random Thoughts On The Rams Game

Until today, I hadn't heard the CBS broadcast team of Andrew Catalan, Steve Tasker, and Steve Beurlein, but I'm impressed. It's hard to make a three-man booth work, but they have the timing and chemistry, led by Catalan's very smooth play-by-play call. He's so much better than Dick Stockton, the veteran whose best years are long behind him. Unfortunately, because the Rams have sucked for so long, we get far too much of Stockton and the series of usually-inexperienced, not-very-good analysts (I'm talking about you David Diehl) that Fox pairs him with.

The production crew behind Catalan/Tasker/Beurlein is better, too. The camera operators get better pictures, the director and producers get the replays up very quickly, and it's clear they've done their research and know which stories to tell as the game progresses.

If only I could offer similar praise for the Rams. They continue to be one of the worst-coached teams I've ever seen, well into a solid decade of mediocre, undisciplined play. They seem to take pride in leading the league in penalties, with far too many committed by an offensive line that's still so weak I'm surprised anyone wants to play quarterback here, considering the guaranteed multiple concussions caused by defenders getting through the front line sieve to pound the passer's head into the turf.

Jeff Fisher's been in charge for four seasons, and the Rams have yet to compile a winning season under him. He and his offensive coordinators are consistent in one regard -- uninspired game plans, which includes receivers who need 9 yards to pick up a first down but only run 6 yards downfield (somewhere in the Rams locker room, there must be a blackboard with the algebraic equation "x-3=1stD"). Even with the spark of rookie running back Todd Gurley, the rest of the team can't get it done. They somehow managed to beat the Seahawks and Cardinals earlier this season, but those games were clearly anomalies, and it wasn't long before the Rams returned to bottom-of-the-pack form.

Considering the number of times they've been called for false starts, the Rams may not even wait until the season's over before they pick up and leave for Los Angeles. Don't let the dome hit you in the ass on the way out, guys.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Clown Town

Here's a song parody about the presidential candidates from David Pogue of Yahoo Tech...

More info here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

John Allen Paulos, "A Numerate Life"

In 1988, I became a fan of mathematician John Allen Paulos after reading his book "Innumeracy." Since then, I've enjoyed his other books, including "Once Upon A Number" and "A Mathematician Plays The Stock Market." This summer, I saw Paulos speak at James Randi's Amazing Meeting and, afterward, I went over and told him how much his writing had meant to me. In the two or three minutes we chatted, he mentioned that he had a new book coming out this fall.

That book, a quasi-memoir called "A Numerate Life" has just been published, so I invited him to join me on my show to talk about it. We discussed how a bad teacher helped get him interested in math as a kid, whether the average person is better or worse at math than a quarter-century ago, and whether technology has helped or hurt students. We also discussed his unwitting role in George W. Bush's election in 2000, and how he views everything he hears through a prism of probability.

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

Picture Of The Day

Neil deGrasse Tyson responds to mean tweets about his criticisms of movies that get science wrong...

Best Thing I've Read Today

In Rolling Stone, Patrick Doyle profiles blues legend Buddy Guy:

At this point in his life, Guy is the greatest living Chicago bluesman, and one of the most influential guitar players ever. But for more than 50 years, he's also been a club manager. He started managing in 1961 at Club 99 in Joliet, Illinois, where he once booked Little Walter for a 90-cent bottle of Seagrams gin. The Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters came to play Guy's tiny old club the Checkerboard Lounge in 1981 (although their entourage filled up 55 of the club's 65 seats — "I didn't hear my cash register ring once," said Guy).

The walls of Legends are covered in guitars donated by visitors: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. "Eric don't come around anymore," Guy says of Clapton. "He can't even look at whiskey." The Stones will still visit, though — all four band members enjoyed a rare night out together at Legends in June. ("Keith hasn't slowed down nothing," says Guy. "He drank everything I was selling in the club — moonshine, gin, whiskey, everything. Son of a bitch is made of iron, man.")

Sometimes Guy sticks his head in areas the staff thinks are below his pay grade — he gets testy when drink lines get too long, or when bartenders leave the cash register open. He proudly notes that merchandise sales increase 90 percent when he's in the room. "Most clubs are not surviving because of DUI and non-smoking," he says, "but they come see me sitting at the bar and take pictures."

Legends is one of the few major Chicago blues clubs standing. "I think if I closed my club, there might be two left," says Guy. When he first arrived here, in 1957, "there wasn't even space to have another club, there were so many. You could work Chicago seven nights a week. They were small, 40 to 50 people. But Muddy was playing, Sonny Boy Williamson, all of 'em. No cover charge."
Read the full Buddy Guy piece in Rolling Stone here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Later That Same Life

This is like something pulled out of a time capsule. In 1977, Stoney Emshwiller filmed an interview -- with his future self. He also recorded all sorts of reaction shots. Now, 38 years later, he has sat in front of a camera to answer the questions posed by his younger self, and edited them together into a project called "Later That Same Life"...

Read more about the movie (which Emshwiller needs money to complete) here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Robert Reich, a progressive who served as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, spent three weeks in "red" America while on a tour to promote his latest book, "Saving Capitalism: For The Many, Not The Few." While there, he spoke to a lot of conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers and something odd happened -- he discovered that he and they had a lot in common. They both detest big money in politics, "crony capitalism," factory farms, Wall Street banks, and policies that favor the wealthy over all else...

A surprising number think the economic system is biased in favor of the rich. (That’s consistent with a recent Quinnipiac poll in which 46 percent of Republicans believe “the system favors the wealthy.”)

The more conversations I had, the more I understood the connection between their view of “crony capitalism” and their dislike of government. They don’t oppose government per se. In fact, as the Pew Research Center has found, more Republicans favor additional spending on Social Security, Medicare, education, and infrastructure than want to cut those programs. Rather, they see government as the vehicle for big corporations and Wall Street to exert their power in ways that hurt the little guy.

They call themselves Republicans but many of the inhabitants of America’s heartland are populists in the tradition of William Jennings Bryan.
Read Reich's full piece here, including his explanation of Donald Trump's appeal.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Most Basic Rule Of Journalism

The most fundamental questions of journalism are Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. With those questions, you can get into the specifics of anything that has occurred. Without them, there can be no details and, worse, no accountability. Unfortunately, too many members of the news media have forgotten them.

When Michelle Bachmann said recently that Christians have to convert as many Jews as possible because Jesus Christ will return soon, someone should have asked her, "When? Will it be a month? A year? A decade? A century? Twelve millennia?" Pin down her claim -- and then hold her to it. If she says Christ will return within a year, then mark it on your calendar and, a year from now when he hasn't, return to her office and confront her with the incorrectness of her prediction. Then -- and here's the important part -- never go to her for a quote about anything ever again! Treat her like those wacky preachers who tell us the world will end on a certain date. When it doesn't, you must never report their future proclamations, but you should tell the public how wrong they were.

The same standard can be applied to anyone on CNBC or any other business channel. When you make a prediction about a stock, a company, or the economy in general, and it turns out you're wrong, you should be held accountable for your error. And when you make that error repeatedly, your information should be removed from the guest booker's contact list. After all, you wouldn't keep asking the same guy, "Who's going to win the Super Bowl?" if every year his answer was the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Anyone who's ever written an essay in high school and college has seen the red ink of a professor wondering where a citation came from because you didn't include footnotes. The same scrutiny must be applied to public statements by presidential candidates. When CNN couldn't find anyone to corroborate some of the stories in Ben Carson's autobiography, he brushed aside the inquiries by saying, "They're well-documented." The next words out of every reporter's mouth should have been, "Where are they well-documented? Other than in your own book, can you give us a link to anyone who can verify what you've claimed?"

Multiple politicians and talk radio loudmouths predicted that Obamacare would kill hundreds of thousands of jobs and ruin the US economy, yet the opposite has occurred. Donald Trump is rarely asked for specifics on how he is going to accomplish many of the things he boasts he'll get done if elected. Bill Kristol was wrong with every prediction he made about the Iraq War, yet he still gets invited to sit on Sunday morning talk show panels. Why are they allowed continued access to news media to repeat their propaganda without first being forced to explain why they weren't even close to correct all those previous times? Moreover, for those no longer in office (I'm talking about you, Sarah Palin), why do their utterances and Facebook rantings even merit mention? If they won't hold up to simple scrutiny, there's no need to re-distribute them.

Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and the rest will argue that Who/What/When/Where/Why/How are all "gotcha" questions, but holding them (or anyone) accountable for their assertions -- by demanding proof -- isn't a "gotcha" game. It is the most basic rule of journalism, and not enough people play by it.

Also on Harris Online...

Monday, November 09, 2015

A Big Poker Problem

Coverage of the final table of the World Series Of Poker Main Event began last night on ESPN. The six members of the November Nine who are still standing will return tonight to play down to the final three, who will complete the competition for the $7.7 million first prize tomorrow night.

ESPN is again showing all of the action on a 30-minute delay so that we can see the players' hole cards without that information getting back to them during a hand. It also allows analyst Antonio Esfandiari to explain to broadcasters Lon McEachern and Norman Chad why and how the hands will likely play out. Antonio is really good and his insight makes the slow, boring process of playing poker more palatable to a television audience.

Yes, I just called poker slow and boring because most of the time, the overwhelming majority of players fold their initial two cards. When I'm playing in a cash game, I always hope to sit at a table of talkers who will engage in conversation to help while away the hours. It also helps if there's a TV nearby showing a sporting event (preferably an NFL game). Anything to distract from the tedium of just sitting there doing not much of anything except looking at other people who also aren't doing anything.

What makes this worse in a live game is when a player takes forever to act. It's okay to "tank" for a minute or two when you're faced with a tough decision, but those should be rare. Most of the time when you look at your cards, you know what you're going to do. Even if you play the hand, it shouldn't take very long to assess each situation, make a decision, then check, fold, bet, or raise. And by "very long," I mean less than 10 seconds.

Some players push the limits, pausing for too long every single time the action comes around to them. This is pure annoyance, particularly pre-flop, when they're folding a high percentage of the time. I understand they don't want to give away any tells, but when you do it over and over again, you're not protecting your secrets, you're slowing down the game.

Zvi Stern was the worst offender during last night's WSOP coverage (and will be again tonight). With his hoodie up and his sunglasses on, he'd sit still for an eternity before folding, bringing everything to a full stop. This made for horrible television and is a very bad image for our game.

That's a problem because poker needs more people. We need to attract more players, particularly more women. But when a casual player -- who is used to the fun social side of poker from playing a $20 tournament with friends in someone's basement -- tunes in and sees that, they get turned off. It's not just intimidating, it's alienating. I'm an experienced player and I hate it, so I can imagine how painful it is for someone who is used to the pace of the highly-edited television poker they're used to seeing.

The non-live WSOP shows that ESPN runs the rest of the year, or other series like the World Poker Tour and Poker Night In America, are essentially a highlights reel of a tournament or cash game. Many hours of play have been whittled down to an hour or two of airtime, during which you're shown only the hands that make for good visuals or interesting strategy or involve a well-known player. Those edited shows don't show you the drudgery of folding, folding, folding, and waiting for some young stud wasting time as if he's being paid by the second.

There's already a poker rule wherein anyone at the table can "call the clock" on a player who's taking too long, but it is rarely invoked. When it is, the floor supervisor comes over and tells the stalling player they have sixty seconds to act before their hand is declared dead. Although I've been tempted a time or two, I have never called the clock on an opponent, although I've had it called on me.

Several years ago, I was playing a cash game at the Horseshoe Hammond involving quite a bit of money. I won't go into all the details, but on the river, I bet and my opponent raised. I knew I had the best hand and was trying to decide how much to re-raise so that I could get more of his chips. After I'd been silent for about a quarter-minute, a player who wasn't in the hand called the clock. I looked over and said, "It's only been fifteen seconds!" He replied, "Come on, you know you're going to fold, let's go!!" He implored the dealer to call the floor, who came over and gave me the sixty-second warning. I tried to block all of this out and think, and as the countdown got to single digits, I announced, "I'm all in." My opponent immediately mucked his cards and I pulled in the pot, glaring at the guy who had called the clock on me.

If I had been in the tank for a few minutes, he would have been within his rights, but 15 seconds isn't enough time for a big decision, so he was way out of line. After the hand, all the other players agreed with me that the clock had been called too soon. In fact, several of them berated the floor supervisor for even beginning the countdown after such a short time.

Then the discussion turned to the need for a shot clock in poker, similar to the NBA and NFL. You'd get thirty seconds to act, but if you don't do something more than stare at your opponent by the time it ticks down to zero, your hand is dead. I understand that this could lead to players who normally act fast taking longer than usual just because they can, but I don't think the privilege would be abused for long. And I can see where, in bigger cash games or tournaments, players could be given two or three time-extension cards for use when they have a genuinely difficult decision.

But for the routine plays, or for the plurality of times when you're just going to fold, we need something to speed up the pace of poker, for the sake of television viewers -- and my sore butt.

Trevor Noah's Six-Week Checkup

It's been more than a month since Trevor Noah began hosting "The Daily Show," and he has, for the most part, kept the basic show concept alive and well-tuned. Of course, the template was already in place from 14 years of Jon Stewart, and Noah was smart not to toy with it too much. The key to its success has always been two-fold: clever writing and great video research. No other show has doggedly mined the archives to find so many perfect clips -- with the possible exception of John Oliver, who learned at the hand of the master.

Speaking of Oliver, his "Last Week Tonight" on HBO has taken over the mantle of must-see late-night television from all the others. He has consistently taken on important issues (most of which no one in the mass media talks about) with just enough humor to keep the show from turning into a dry documentary. I can't remember seeing a comedy show hitting on all cylinders week after week like Oliver's.

But back to Trevor Noah. While he's kept the "Daily Show" rolling down the same track it's been on for over a decade, I have three pieces of constructive criticism:

First, he has to stop reminding us he's from South Africa and finds many American ways of life odd. It was cute the first few times -- and his take on the American health care system after an emergency appendectomy last week was very amusing -- but there's no need to prove his immigrant status every night. Enough with the snide fish-out-of-water remarks.

Second, he has to stop laughing out loud at his own material. It's almost as obnoxious as when Bill Maher does it. I'm sure it's a crutch, a cue he thinks viewers need as proof that he's said something funny, but he must get over his insecurity about the material -- it's fine and doesn't need his own acclimation. It comes off as desperate, and is especially out of place because we know that he didn't just hear a particular line for the first time. If he didn't write it, he certainly approved it, and then rehearsed it before performing it in front of the studio audience and cameras. Laughter should be spontaneous, and his isn't.

Third, Noah should work on his interviewing skills. Again, it's tough to avoid comparison to Stewart, who was brilliant at it (except when his guest was a fellow comedian he'd known for years, in which case the conversation turned into old-pals-poking-fun-at-each-other-with-inside-jokes-we-didn't get). If Noah is taking the time to read his guests' books, see their movies, and watch their TV shows, it isn't apparent from the lame questions he asks. It seem he has no real interest in anything they have to say and isn't even listening. If that's the case, then don't have a guest every night -- save it for when there's someone or something he's passionate about discussing.

On the bright side, the breakout star of the new "Daily Show" is correspondent Roy Wood Jr. His ready-for-anything-but-seen-it-all attitude and wit jumps right through the camera. The other new members of the team, Desi Lydic and Ronny Chieng, haven't shown us anything special yet, nor has leftover Hasan Minhaj, but every time Wood is on camera, I can't look away, and that's been true since his first appearance. He's a good addition to the one-two punch of Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper (both of whom got off to rocky starts, but have become excellent go-to performers).

Trevor Noah's "Daily Show" will continue to evolve within the confines of its predetermined format, and the rough edges will get smoother over time, but it's still a work in progress.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Can't Beat The Buffalo

Anyone else notice that the first 3-bet at the WSOP Main Event Final Table tonight was The Buffalo? Neil Blumenfeld made the move with the Q8 of clubs and took it down. Later, on hand #55, Max Steinberg played it (Q8 off-suit) against Joe McKeehan's ace-five and won a decent pot on a QQTAK board. And on hand #57, Zvi Stern played The Buffalo and beat Neil Blumenfeld's ace-deuce! It's Buffalo night at the November Nine!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

David Evanier on Woody Allen

Here's my conversation with David Evanier, author of the new Woody Allen biography, "Woody." Our conversation ranged from Allen's early days in standup and television through his nearly-half-century movie-making career. Among our topics:
  • How he got an initially reticent Allen to sit down for an interview;
  • Allen's screen image vs. real life.
  • The older man/younger woman theme that has recurred so many times in his movies;
  • Allen's reputation for writing good female characters;
  • How Andrew Dice Clay ended up in one of his movies;
  • Whether Allen cares about his movies' commercial success or holds any of them in high regard;
  • His work as an actor in other people’s movies, including "The Front," "Antz," and "Scenes From A Mall";
  • Why Allen was not allowed to direct the movie version of his play, "Play It Again Sam";
  • How "Annie Hall" originally didn't include a lot of Annie Hall;
  • How far Allen's creative control goes;
  • And, of course, the sexual molestation charges filed against him in 1992 by Dylan Farrow.
By the way, David is a cousin of my friend Mark Evanier, who he quotes several times in the book.

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

Showbiz Show 11/6/15

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I review the latest James Bond movie, "Spectre," as well as "The Peanuts Movie" and "Suffragette." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 11/6/15

This week on my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- I have questions about James Bond, Rich Female Music Stars, and Republican Presidential Candidates. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/6/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a wall of gum, a plane full of farts, and a woman who didn't want her family to inherit her money. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Ben Carson Wikipedia

I don't want to say Ben Carson has been embellishing stories from his life, but he's just been endorsed by Brian Williams. Meanwhile, the Twitterverse is having fun creating facts for #BenCarsonWikipedia:

  • Some respected scientists believe that aliens built Mount Everest to get closer to heaven.
  • Susan B. Anthony was a robot.
  • Stonehenge is a game of Jenga abandoned by giants.
  • Kangaroos were the first to sink during the great flood because they have pouches that filled up with water.
  • The Amazon is the longest river named after a corporation.
  • The Taj Mahal was originally built as a handball court.
  • A magnet’s strength is determined by the blood type of the person holding it.
  • Fish pee is especially salty which is where salt water comes from. Before fish everything was fresh water.
  • The moon's high concentration of cheese puts all at risk from giant space mice.
  • The term algorithm is named after Al Gore, the inventor of the internet
  • If you punch a tiger hard enough it explodes into kittens.
  • It takes 14 metric pancakes to shingle a doghouse.
  • If you carry a lizard in your pocket, you will be able to see at night.
  • The Earth is filled with Helium, and that is how we stay in space.
  • The Chinese built the Great Wall of China using dragon power. Their remains are intombed inside it, to this very day.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

Echoing my recent comments about the upcoming final season of "MythBusters," Jason B. Meigs writes:
When the show started, the image of science and engineering in mainstream culture was at a low ebb. NASA’s Apollo glory days were long past, and the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated on re-entry just days after the show’s premiere episode. There was no leading scientist able to connect with the general public the way the astronomer Carl Sagan had before his death in 1996. Even Bill Nye, “the Science Guy,” had been dropped from the airwaves. And popular sci-fi movies of the era — “The Matrix,” “Minority Report” — depicted science and technology leading us to bleak, dystopian futures.
Academic interest in science was in similar decline: Barely 20 percent of college freshmen were signing up for majors in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM fields — continuing a long downward trend.
“MythBusters” helped reverse that trend not by gussying science up, but by taking it seriously. “You can’t underestimate the power of TV to give young people a lens to see science through,” says the materials scientist and STEM evangelist Anissa Ramirez. “ ‘MythBusters’ helped viewers feel empowered to participate.”
Read Meigs' full piece here. 

Picture Of The Day

This is crazy. Two guys in jetpacks fly alongside an Airbus A380 over Dubai...

There's more info -- and a "making of" video -- here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Poker Stories: The Buffalo

I've met many poker players who will always put chips into a pot with a certain hand. I'm not talking about pocket aces or kings, but some odd combination of cards that they've decided is their "favorite hand." It means something to them because they won a tournament with it, or it's their birthday, or whatever. For the record, my favorite hand is whatever cards I was holding when I won and the dealer pushed me the pot. That is to say I have no such superstitions.

But if you're in a game with me in St. Louis, and you see me win a hand with queen-eight, don't be surprised. Like every other hold'em player in this town, I know that queen-eight is not a good starting hand, but you'll see it played more often than it should be, and when it wins, someone will always say, "Can't beat The Buffalo!"

That combination of cards has a legend behind it, but no one is sure of all the details. If you Google it, you won't find an explanation. Here's as much as I know:

More than a quarter-century ago, Don told his wife he was going out to get some milk. Instead, he got on a bus and went to Las Vegas, where he stayed for a few years, supporting himself by playing poker at various casinos around town. It was at the Mirage that he encountered a guy from Buffalo, New York, who wasn't very good, but seemed to enjoy the hell out of himself, even as he poured money into the game. That guy's favorite hand was queen-eight, and whenever he won with it, he would loudly proclaim, "Can't beat The Buffalo!"

The story then fast-forwards to the day Don found himself broke. He was not the first (or last) poker player to go bust, but he decided he'd had enough of Las Vegas and wanted to go home. He had money for a bus ticket, with enough left over to buy some food or a pack of cigarettes. Don chose the cigarettes and quietly endured the long ride home. I don't know what happened when he encountered his wife after all that time. Part of me wishes she looked up and asked, "Where's the milk?"

Several years later, I met Don in a $20/40 limit hold'em game in St. Louis. He was a good player who usually won, and he was a pleasure to be around because he always had stories to tell. During one session, he took the pot with queen-eight, smiled, and said, "Can't beat The Buffalo!" No one knew what he was talking about, so he told us all the back-story.

Since then, The Buffalo has been played far more often than it should be, and its legend has been handed down from veteran players to newcomers. Eventually, some of them play it and say it. Part of the tradition is that, when you win with it, you must show your cards and reveal The Buffalo. Of course, we've also had people try to pull off big bluffs with queen-eight that backfired -- but they showed The Buffalo anyway. It has become part of the social fabric of poker in St. Louis, where most of the seats are filled by locals who are competing for chips, of course, but also trying to have a good time with people they've known for years.

A few weeks ago, in a five-way pot in our $5/10 no-limit hold'em game, the flop came queen-queen-eight. Mike, a talented young player, immediately said, "This would be a good time to have The Buffalo!" We all laughed, and then watched the pot grow quite large between Mike and another player. His opponent had ace-queen, but Mike had The Buffalo and pulled in the pot.

Only in St. Louis.

We've even taken the tradition further. If the flop comes out queen-eight-five, we call that The Buffalo Nickel. In several sessions, I've had a prop bet with my friend John -- I win if The Buffalo Nickel comes up, he wins if Dr. Pepper comes up (ten-two-four, because on old bottles of that soda, there was a clock with the hands pointing to those hours, indicating when you should drink it). John is also the one who said, with a smile, "The Buffalo is a great hand that always wins if you play it right. But it always loses if you play it wrong."

There have been times when I've been in a game elsewhere, looked down at queen-eight, chuckled to myself, and folded my hand. It's no fun to play if no one knows the history. But earlier this year in a $5/10 game at The Bellagio, I had queen-eight in the big blind in a limped pot, and the flop was jack-ten-nine, giving me a straight. After I bet and everyone folded, I had to restrain myself from turning over my cards and telling the table, "Can't beat The Buffalo!"

I knew no one would understand, and I didn't want to have to explain, so I kept The Buffalo to myself as I quietly collected the pot.

Best Thing I've Read Today

From my friend Will Durst, a column entitled, "Who Would Want This Job?"

It’s like a train wreck. Fascinating, repellant, and loud: all at the same time. Talking about the American presidential sweepstakes. And, as ratings for the last few debates seem to indicate, very hard to look away. It was Winston Churchill who called our election process… “a circus wrapped in a game show covered in poisonous weasel glitter.” And if he didn’t, he should have.

Look at how we treat these poor people. Gang debates. Smug interrogators. Partisan witch hunts. Hostile examinations. Substandard lecterns. Marathon fund- raisers with cold congealed Swedish meatballs in a watery mustard sauce.

What we end up with is scarred, dehydrated, emotional wrecks confused by simple math and their shoes. And that’s another question. Who would want this job? What kind of crazy masochistic flippo- unit voluntarily undertakes this mission of barbarous self- flagellation? Not just jumping into the flaming crucible of brutish internecine combat, but dragging their families along with them? You would not be far off concluding that anybody who can be elected president, shouldn’t be.

Even the serious candidates quickly turn into bewildered patsies sentenced to months of trudging through Iowa and New Hampshire mud. Constantly dodging teams of opposition researchers looking for anything resembling dirt. And forced to eat gas station sushi.

There has got to be a better way to pick the leader of the free world. The system we have now is much too long, totally fractious, unseemly, indecorous, vicious and unbecoming. Put those all together and what do you get: Television.

If we’re going to run this like a reality show, let’s run it like a reality show. We already got them jumping through hoops, all we need are enough cameras to capture the action. It’s an award-winning, mini-series waiting for the right producer.

Auction off the rights to the highest bidding network and let them fold it into one of their signature franchises. “America’s Next Top Politician.” “Dancing With the Office-Seekers.” “Keeping up with the Roosevelts.” “So You Think You Can Negotiate with Putin?” “Hell’s Campaign Trail.” “America’s Got BS.” The Real Hypocrites of Washington D.C.” “Project Inauguration.” Just insert some loophole that keeps CNBC out of the running.

“Apprentice” morphed into “Celebrity Apprentice,” why not “Presidential Apprentice?” Let Donald Trump experience the joy of being fired from both ends. CBS could transform their hour each week to “The Amazing Race: Oval Office.” Only a few disgruntled campaign managers would quibble with calling it “The Biggest Loser.”

Many shows wouldn’t need any alteration. “Big Brother” sort of already tangentially fits. As does “The Real World,” in a vague ironic sense. “Shark Tank,” definitely. “American Idol,” yeah, right, dream on. “The Voice,” or more aptly, “The Lack of Voice.” With the show’s emphasis on backstabbing and blindsiding, “Survivor: Foggy Bottom” is almost a perfect fit. We could even mimic the format and offer clues to help contestants find hidden immunity idols. “Congratulations. You may skip Nevada and South Carolina and go straight to Super Tuesday.”

A number of reality show conventions could be adopted and/ or adapted. The weekly weigh in when they strip down to their undies would immediately trigger Must See TV. And finally, forget the hand on the Bible, on January 21, 2017, Chief Justice Roberts offers up to the incoming president… one single red rose.

Copyright © 2015, Will Durst. Will Durst is an award- winning, nationally acclaimed columnist and comedian. Go to willdurst.com for info about the documentary “3 Still Standing” and for a list of personal appearances, coming soon near you.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Movie Review: Room

"Room" is one of this year's most remarkable movies. It stars Brie Larson as a woman trapped in a 10' x 10' room, where she has been held captive for seven years. She shares the room with her son Jack (Jason Tremblay), who celebrates his fifth birthday as the movie begins. I use the word "celebrate" advisedly, because there wouldn't seem to be much to celebrate in a situation like that. The fact that she's had the boy since being put in that room tells you a lot.

Yet the story is not about the brutality of their situation. Rather, it is about the love this woman has for her son, and her efforts to make his life as normal as she can. Their only view is up through a skylight, where they occasionally see clouds, rain, and snow. Jack has no knowledge of the world outside their four walls -- other than on a small portable TV, which he may be entertained by, but doesn't quite understand yet -- but since he's now old enough to ask questions, she has to figure out what to tell him and what to do.

I will not say another word about the plot of "Room," but I will warn you that you should not see the trailer, because it contains serious spoilers. This has been the common problem with movie trailers for a long time. They are not supposed to be a synopsis of the entire story. They should be nothing more than a tease, telling you just enough to make you want to see the movie, but without revealing all the important plot points. "Room" is one of many movies whose viewing experience will be ruined if you know too much ahead of time.

So I'll only tell you that the performances by Larson and Tremblay are terrific, the script by Emma Donoghue is tight and taut -- like "Gone Girl" last year, it matters that the woman who wrote the novel also did the screenplay -- and the direction by Lenny Abrahmson cleverly balances the desperation of the situation with the closeness of the mother-and-child relationship.

"Room" is one of the best movies of 2015. On my radio show, I gave it 8.5 out of 10, but after thinking about it further, I'm upgrading that to 9 out of 10.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Rare History Of The Gateway Arch

Wednesday (October 28th) was the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Gateway Arch. That morning, I had the honor of speaking with the children of its architect, Eero Saarinen, Eric and Susan -- as well as a Ciccardi Bruce, who was there when the last piece of the Arch was put in place. We discussed how Saarinen came up with the idea for the Arch, how he had to compete against his own father to win the design competition, and what the Arch grounds were like that day a half-century ago. Eric also revealed how Eero Saarinen's original plan did not include using triangular pieces to build the legs of the Arch -- that idea came from sculptor Carl Milles, to whom Saarinen never gave credit.

Watch the conversation above or listen here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!