This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey was out, so Dan Strauss talked about "Kung Fu Panda 3" and I reviewed "The Finest Hours," "45 Years" and -- belatedly -- "Creed." I also had a few thoughts about "Grease Live," which will air Sunday night on Fox. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Saturday, January 30, 2016
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey was out, so Dan Strauss talked about "Kung Fu Panda 3" and I reviewed "The Finest Hours," "45 Years" and -- belatedly -- "Creed." I also had a few thoughts about "Grease Live," which will air Sunday night on Fox. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "Abe Vigoda Is Actually Dead," "This Week In History," and "Oprah Is 62." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about the dangers of distracted driving, an NBA player's real-life foul, and a man in a cop's lap. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Thursday, January 28, 2016
I mentioned earlier this week that, for a 48-hour period that ended Tuesday night, Bruce Springsteen allowed fans to download the audio of his show in Chicago on January 19th. As with the other dates on his current tour, he and the E Street Band performed his 35-year-old album, "The River," in its entirety. I grabbed the file and listened to it today, and was transported back to the first time I saw Springsteen in concert, when that album was originally released. I was also reminded of this story, which I wrote up on June 20, 2011, after the death of Clarence Clemons:
It was Thanksgiving weekend, 1980. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were performing at Madison Square Garden to promote their new album, "The River." In those days, a Springsteen concert was a marathon affair, and on his home turf, this one stretched to over 4 hours. He interspersed stories with his songs, played what seemed like everything he'd ever written, and featured those long sax solos by Clarence that gave his music its unique sound.
I was the Program Director of WRCN, the rock station on eastern Long Island, and one of several radio people invited to both the show and an after-concert party thrown by Bruce's label, Columbia Records. The party was held at the bowling alley at Madison Square Garden -- a big surprise since I had no idea there was a bowling alley in that building.
At the party, I mingled with a few people I knew and watched as the E Street Band members came in to get a drink and some food and schmooze with some of the well-wishers. Some of them grabbed a ball and headed for a lane. Springsteen came in, but I never got close to him as he was mobbed by friends and music industry executives.
As I stood with a beer in my hand taking in the scene, I was suddenly aware of a presence just behind me. As I turned, I saw something huge and furry. My first thought -- I'm not kidding about this -- was that a moose or a bear had somehow gotten loose and entered the party. Then I realized that it was Clarence, wearing an enormous full-length fur coat. He looked like a giant, which is saying something considering I'm 6'4", the same height he was.
He noticed my shock, extended his arm, and said hello. I pulled myself together and introduced myself, asking him if he was going to grab a ball and knock down some pins. He replied with a laugh, "Nah, The Big Man doesn't bowl." I told him how much I'd enjoyed the concert, and we made small talk for a few minutes before a crowd of people formed and he excused himself to greet some of the other party-goers.
A few years later, during the "Born In The USA" tour, I did the first of several radio interviews with Clarence and reminded him of that story. He said he remembered the party and the fur coat -- but he still didn't bowl.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Over the weekend, I watched the "The Godfather Saga," Francis Ford Coppola's combination of the first two films plus scenes that hadn't made the final cut. It traces the Corleone family from 1901 to 1959, and runs seven hours. The "Saga" was edited to run over the course of four nights in 1977 on NBC, when it had to be censored and interrupted by commercials. It didn't air again until 2012 when it ran on AMC, still with commercial breaks. This month, it's airing several times on HBO, where's it's uninterrupted and uncensored. Think of it as binge-watching seven episodes of the best mafia drama ever.
One of the things Coppola did in compiling the "Saga" version of his story is put everything in chronological order. The flashback scenes originally in "Godfather II" now open the story, with Robert DeNiro as the young Vito Corleone. Watching DeNiro, I was fascinated by how differently he attacked the role as a young actor and how intense his work was compared to the kinds of projects he takes on now and too often walks through. It grieves me to see someone with so much talent squander it as he has in recent years.
If you'd told me 25 years ago that Robert DeNiro would get to the point where he makes movies that aren't even released in theaters, I would have laughed in your face. But you don't have to dig very deep into his IMDb listings to find "The Bag Man," "Killing Season," "Freelancers," "Red Lights," "Killer Elite," "The Ages Of Love," and "Machete." He's also made dreck that was projected onto big screens, like "Last Vegas," "The Big Wedding," and "Grudge Match."
By my count, DeNiro has made 25 movies in the last decade. Sure, he's done good work in the David O. Russell movies ("Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle") and Nancy Myers' "The Intern," but he has much more frequently appeared in absolute garbage.
Someone needs to teach this man how to say no, or at least be more selective in the productions he says yes to. DeNiro has always worked regularly, but for almost three decades he rarely went more than a couple of years without a classic:
- 1973: "Mean Streets" and "Bang The Drum Slowly"
- 1974: "The Godfather Part II"
- 1976: "Taxi Driver"
- 1978: "The Deer Hunter"
- 1980: "Raging Bull"
- 1982: "King Of Comedy"
- 1984: "Once Upon A Time In America"
- 1987: "The Untouchables"
- 1988: "Midnight Run"
- 1990: "Goodfellas" and "Awakenings"
- 1991: "Guilty By Suspicion" and "Backdraft" and "Cape Fear"
- 1993: "A Bronx Tale"
- 1995: "Casino"
- 1997: "Wag The Dog" and "Jackie Brown"
- 1999: "Analyze This"
- 2001: "The Score"
It's painful to watch acting legends working in bad movies. I'll never forget grimacing at the great Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster making fools of themselves opposite Dana Carvey in "Tough Guys" in 1986. It made me very sad, as it does seeing DeNiro alongside Zac Efron in his latest bomb, "Dirty Grandpa," which scores a whopping 7% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
At this pace and with this ratio of bad to good, DeNiro is effectively doing to his own career what Clemenza did to Carlo in "The Godfather Saga" -- choking it to death until it stops kicking.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Where [Jon] Stewart allowed himself to be a divining rod for the news, to feel it all and lose his cool accordingly, Noah is always smooth and telegenic, easy in his manner and on the eyes, never worked up, never letting things get too dark. The daft tweets that got Noah into so much trouble before he even took over The Daily Show seemed to presage a clumsy and unsubtle host, one who would say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But Tweetgate proved to be a red herring. Noah’s problem is not that he makes bad jokes but that he doesn’t take more chances to make great ones. All bloodless finesse, he never goes for the jugular.Read Paskin's full piece here.
One week from today, the first votes of the 2016 presidential election season will finally be cast when Iowans gather for their caucuses.
The whole caucus idea is old-fashioned and silly. Almost everywhere else in America, we vote by secret ballot -- no one knows who you choose because your name isn't directly associated with your political choice. But in Iowa, people gather at Jeannie's house for a pot luck dinner (she makes a mean seven-layer bean dip!), then raise their hands to indicate their preference (does anyone make sure no one's raising both hands for their candidate?).
In a busy world, very few of us would take part in such a process. We want to drive to the polling place, cast our ballot, and go on with our day -- not be forced to spend an evening filled with political dialogues and demagogues. That's why, despite the nonstop hype in the weeks beforehand, only one in six Iowans bothers to show up for the caucuses.
The caucus concept is far too informal considering the weight given to Iowa in the weeks leading up to the not-so-big day by all the media outlets that don't mention how unlike America the Hawkeye State is. It is overwhelmingly white (as is New Hampshire, which comes next on the presidential election calendar). Iowa grows so much corn that candidates must take the ethanol pledge every four years or lose large swaths of votes -- even now that we know what a boondoggle the ethanol mandate is. And there's no correlation between the candidates Iowans choose and those who go on to win their party's nomination.
For example, in 1980, Iowa Republicans chose George HW Bush, but Ronald Reagan became the nominee. In 1988, they chose Bob Dole, followed by Pat Robertson, rather than Bush -- who was not only the eventual winner but also the sitting Vice President. More recently, Iowans picked Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, clear evidence that GOP voters in that state were turning even further to the extreme right.
How did those campaigns work out?
On the Democrats side, in 1992, Iowans went overwhelmingly (76%) for their own senator, Tom Harkin, with just 3% choosing the man who would not only be the party's nominee, but popular enough in the rest of the country to become a two-term president: Bill Clinton. Four years earlier, they chose Richard Gephardt, not Michael Dukakis. At least that's better than 1972 and 1976, when "uncommitted" was the top choice of Iowa Democrats.
Who shows up to vote for no one? Must be the same people who choose "no opinion" when they voluntarily click on an internet poll, while most of the rest of us would simply ignore the question.
But at least next Monday, there will be actual votes to count, followed by pundits galore not explaining how little it means, before the hype kicks in for the New Hampshire primary one week later. And I still won't believe anyone who thinks they can predict, based on Iowa alone, whose names will be on the final presidential ballots in November.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
If you're a Bruce Springsteen fan, you might want to download the audio of his concert in Chicago last Tuesday -- it's free until Tuesday at 7pm CT. On this tour, he's doing his entire 1980 double album, "The River," as well as classics like "Thunder Road," "Rosalita," and "The Rising." At this show, in the encore, he also did The Eagles' "Take It Easy" as a tribute to Glenn Frey, who died the day before. Here's the link.
Frank Bruni writes about the media's addiction to polls. For example, the cable news networks breathlessly leading each hour with the results of the latest polls -- even those that get it wrong, or completely contradict others -- without concern about the effects of simply repeating the results without context:
An obsession with polls and a quickness to weave narratives around them bolster certain candidates and retard others, and could well affect the outcome of this presidential election.Read Bruni's full piece here.
If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination — or, heaven forbid, the White House — it will be partly because we in the media justified saturation coverage of him by pointing to polls, which in turn legitimized his fixation on them as proof that he’s up to the job: He must be, because plenty of people apparently picture him in it....
If Jeb Bush’s candidacy comes to naught, his underwhelming poll numbers — and how they were used to cast him instantly as an underachiever — will have been a factor. And if Clinton fails to win the nomination, the media’s embrace of certain polls among an ever-changing riot of them will have played at least some small role.
“If she’s three points behind in New Hampshire, it’s a close race,” [David] Axelrod said. “But if she’s 27 points behind, her campaign’s in free fall. That’s a sexier story and the one that’s chosen. It becomes the meme. It becomes the prism through which everyone filters their coverage. It skews how people view everything that a candidate does: Is it conviction or desperation?”
Desperation makes a better story. So the media dwells on the most pessimistic projections, ensuring that polling, no matter how divorced from reality, shapes it.
In the discussion of Best Quarterback Ever, why doesn't anyone mention Bart Starr, who won 5 NFL championships plus 2 Super Bowls in Green Bay?
In his era, Starr was the one calling the plays on the field, not just executing whatever was chosen by Vince Lombardi and other coaches. He (and Johnny Unitas and other legends of the time) defined the term "field general," yet he's given short shrift in modern conversations that are limited to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
posted at 2:42 PM
Saturday, January 23, 2016
I once again step into the role of my alter ego, Mr. Perspective, to examine a story about a guy in suburban Chicago who calls himself "Canhead" because he can stick cans and other objects to his bald, shaved head. He claims it's because of a mysterious medical condition -- he says one doctor told him it could be due to his abnormally high body temperature, around 100 degrees.
I call bullshit.
I think he's using suction, pressing the cans against his skin until the small amount of air in the indentation on the bottom is pushed out, causing external air pressure to hold the can in place. Of course, no TV reporter (or Ellen DeGeneres, who gave him a non-skeptical platform on her show) thought to ask why he's never sticking to the side of the can.
After I mentioned this on the air, listener Jeff Olsen emailed that Canhead was debunked on the Discovery show, "Outrageous Acts Of Science."
posted at 11:56 AM
Joe Nocera writes about how science proves the NFL wrong about Deflategate. Turns out Exponent, the company that did the supposed research for the league, had "dubious bona fides, having disputed the dangers of secondhand smoke and asbestos." But when independent scientists at several universities ran the numbers and did their own tests, they all concluded that Exponent had gotten it wrong, and that "no deflation occurred and the Patriots are innocent."
Another American, this time a student at the University of Virginia, has been arrested in North Korea for various charges including plotting against that country. Which raises the question, yet again, after repeated incidents like this, why do people keep going there? If you asked me to make a list of the places on this planet I'd like to visit, North Korea wouldn't even come in last place. My favorite line in a CBS News story on this subject says, "Pyongyang is pushing for more tourists as a way to help its dismal economy." Yes, please come to North Korea and see our beautiful jail cells.
Enough with the David Bowie stories. It's been almost two weeks since he died, yet every day there are posts on Facebook and Twitter from people who are just getting around to sharing their Bowie story or favorite song. Even "60 Minutes" is doing a story about him tomorrow night. We need a new timeline rule -- you can only publicly mourn one important classic rocker until the next one dies. That means that when we heard about Glenn Frey last Monday, we were done with Bowie.
posted at 11:50 AM
Friday, January 22, 2016
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I discussed the continuing Academy Award nominations controversy and reviewed ""The 5th Wave." We also predicted a Tina Fey sighting on "SNL" tomorrow night, and talked about how stars qualify for the all-time biggest boxoffice list, as well as the pay gap on "The X-Files" reboot. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week on my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "White As White Can Be," "The Late Glenn Frey," and "On This Day." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about man vs. car thief, woman vs. Uber driver, and gas thieves vs. sewage. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
I know I said earlier this week that I'd given up on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah," but reader Mike Bellis sent me a video from last night, in which Jessica Williams (the best of the current crop of correspondents) did a field piece that not only hit the mainstream news outlets, but also changed policy in a small town. I was going to embed it, but the video is set to auto-play, which I can't stand and refuse to have on my site, so if you want to see it, go here.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
When I heard that astronomers might have found a new ninth planet out past Neptune, I called my friend Phil Plait for an explanation. Here he is, putting it in layman's terms -- just as he does in his Slate column -- including how it's possible for an object ten times the size of Earth to have gone unnoticed by the Hubble Space Telescope, which can peer into other galaxies. We also discussed the irony that the same astronomer may have both killed and discovered the ninth planet in our solar system.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This bonus edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a 911 operator ordering lunch, a valet's joy ride, and a fiery love letter. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
- It's hard to go bankrupt in the casino business, but Robert O'Harrow Jr. explains how Donald Trump did it in Atlantic City.
- Lee Seigel draws a line from the comedy of The Marx Brothers to Louis CK and Amy Schumer.
- Snopes, the site that debunks bogus news stories, has a list of fake news websites you shouldn't trust.
- A look back at the turmoil behind The Allman Brothers' 1973 album, "Brothers and Sisters," by Asher Gelzer-Govatos.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
This bonus edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a stolen squad car, a teacher who forgot about the overhead projector, and a little green baggie. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
We haven't heard much about the Supreme Court lately, but Ian Millhiser says the justices handed down a surprising decision this morning that will benefit consumers. As he explained on my show, it has to do with class action lawsuits and a tactic the court won't allow corporations to use to weasel out of them.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Thirty-five years ago today, 52 Americans were released by Iran after 444 days in captivity. One of them was Rocky Sickmann, who was was a 22-year-old Marine guard at the US Embassy in Teheran. In 2004, I invited Rocky onto my show to talk about how the whole thing started, explain how the US missed an important opportunity to fight the beginnings of the war on terrorism, and reveal what life was like as a hostage. This is a compelling and honest insider's look at one of the darkest times in recent US history.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
- A South Carolina legislator wants to set up a registry for journalists to ensure they do "responsible" work. What part of the First Amendment guarantee of a "free press" does he not understand?
- Rick Newman reports a troubling trend for GM, Ford, etc. -- the number of young people licensed to drive has plunged.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
On a bonus edition of the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I discussed the Academy Award boycotts of Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, and Michael Moore -- none of whom were going to attend because they're not nominated or appear in any of the movies that are -- and flashed back to some remarks Eddie Murphy made on the subject in 1988. We also previewed the new home video and TV options for this week, and I questioned why Robert DeNiro doesn't say "no" to some of the horrible movies he appears in. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This bonus edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a mayor's gender deception, a wife left at a gas station, and trouble at the Waffle House. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Two months ago, I wrote that Trevor Noah was off to a shaky start replacing Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show," but that it might be too early to write him off. After all, it's always tough replacing a legend, and performers always have to grow into a show to give it more of their own voice.
But sorry, Trevor, you've lost me. The tone of the show is so much tamer than it needs to be, and Noah's raucous laughter at his own material is distracting -- and a bad comedy crutch. For the first time this century, my DVR is no longer set to record "The Daily Show" regularly.
On the other hand, I wasn't a fan of Seth Meyers during his tenure at the Weekend Update desk at "Saturday Night Live." He telegraphed his jokes, over-sold every premise, and delivered punchlines that elicited more yawns than smiles (and zero laughs). However, he must have gotten a new batch of writers in the last few months at his NBC "Late Night" show, because it's become a very good source of biting topical humor, and he's having great fun with the presidential candidates. Take, for example, this segment from last night:
That's much better than anything Noah has done because it has attitude. That's what seems to be missing from his "Daily Show" -- a devastating take on whatever he's talking about, rather than just a premise for snark. So I'm going to set my DVR to record Meyers for a couple of weeks and see if he's being consistently clever or if he's just producing occasional one-offs that go viral.
Monday, January 18, 2016
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Saturday, January 16, 2016
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I discussed the Academy Award nominations (and snubs), reviewed "Norm Of The North" and "Anomalisa," and launched the hashtag #AnimatedFilmsMatter. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week on my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "69 Years And 2 Days Of David Bowie," "Not Gonna Win An Oscar," and "Teams That Moved." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a Ruby Tuesday's coupon, a drunk tailgater, and an AirBnB vacation gone wrong. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Several people have asked me to comment on a story in Card Player about poker pro Antonio Esfandiari being disqualified from a big tournament for doing something disgusting:
Esfandiari and poker-playing businessman Bill Perkins had a prop bet that called for Esfandiari to lunge everywhere he went for 48 hours. It’s unclear how much it was for, but the three-time WSOP bracelet winner called the prop bet “massive.”It's bad enough that we have people at the table sneezing and coughing into their hands and then touching the same cards and chips that we're all going to come in contact with at some point -- which is why I'm amazed at players who eat sandwiches and other food without utensils during the game without washing first -- but to have someone touching their junk under the table, too? Extremely gross.
“Been lunging around my hotel room all day,” Esfandiari later Tweeted. “Just going to the bathroom and back is starting take a toll on my legs. I am in trouble [tomorrow]!”
After awhile of avoiding all methods of getting around besides lunging, Esfandiari apparently found himself with the need to use the restroom during play on Monday and didn’t want to lunge all the way there to the use the toilet. He decided to urinate in a container underneath the table, according to various Tweets and media reports. Esfandiari himself hasn’t explicitly said what he did, but he did confirm what had transpired when replying to a flood of comments on social media.
Esfandiari has apologized for the incident, calling his actions “unacceptable” and saying that he was “not happy with myself today.” He did say he won the prop bet.
However, I can beat that with a true poker story from St. Louis.
About 14 years ago, before the no-limit hold'em boom, the big game in town was $20/40 limit hold'em. Most nights, we'd have three or four full tables with a waiting list, and the action was great. At the time, we were playing on The Admiral, a casino boat permanently docked on the Mississippi River near the Gateway Arch.
One of the regulars was a very cranky old guy named Ed. He hated everyone and complained about the dealers, the other players, the floor staff, the food, the waitresses -- pretty much everything. Sounds like the kind of guy you don't want to play with, right? Well, we didn't mind because as obnoxious as Ed was, he also lost a lot of money by playing virtually every hand and every street. Since we're all there to win some cash, even an obstreperous jerk will be put up with as long as he continues to lose.
On the night in question, Ed was being his usual self. We'd been there for a couple of hours and there was a lull in the normally non-stop conversation at the table when the dealer suddenly pushed his chair back and yelled, "What the hell???"
To make a long story short, Ed had done the same thing Antonio did under the table -- but without the courtesy of using a container, thus peeing on the dealer's leg. As the dealer continued to scream at Ed, "What is wrong with you?", the floor supervisor came over, summed up the situation, and promptly evicted Ed from the premises while another dealer was called over to work our table. We later learned Ed had been banned permanently from The Admiral.
It only took a few seconds for the story to spread to every table in the room, and only slightly longer than that for someone at the table to joke, "I've heard of gamblers having a leak in their game, but that was ridiculous."
Do you think when Chris Rock hosts the Oscars he'll have anything to say about the fact that all 20 acting nominations went to white people? There are no nods for Will Smith (who was great in "Concussion") or Idris Elba ("Beasts Of No Nation"). Yes, the blackest movie of the year, "Straight Outta Compton," did get nominations for the two people who wrote its script -- but they're both white!
I'm also surprised that only 8 movies are nominated for Best Picture, when they could have easily expanded the list to ten by including "Trumbo" and "Inside Out." The latter is up for Best Animated Feature, but it, like many Pixar movies that preceded it, deserves to be considered for the top category. Then again, it's a comedy, which always gets short shrift at the Oscars (witness the exclusion of Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck").
This is the first time I've heard oil prices blamed for the death of a TV network. Al Jazeera America is going to close up shop because the country that funds it, Qatar, made rich by oil and natural gas exports, is having a fiscal crisis because energy prices have dropped so low.
There are some pretty decent broadcasters on Al Jazeera America, including John Siegenthaler, Tony Harris, Randall Pinkston, Richelle Carey, and Del Walters, but nobody in the US will notice its absence, because no one watched the channel -- just like no one watched its predecessor, Current, which Al Gore started and eventually sold to Al Jazeera for $500 million. I think they only times I checked out AJAM were when my brother Seth appeared as a guest on labor and employment issues. It felt like my tuning in to watch him was literally doubling their viewership.
The only other time anyone paid attention was when AJAM recently made news of its own by reporting that Peyton Manning has had performance-enhancing drugs (HGH) mailed to his home. He denied it, and the story went nowhere. Just like the network that broadcast it.
When you have a ton of money behind the scenes, you can support a money-losing, little-watched network. That's how Bloomberg TV stays on the air, right? I've never heard a single person reference that channel, ever, yet the billionaire who owns the company doesn't seem to mind. The same is true of many religious broadcasters, on both radio and television. Their audience is almost immeasurably small, but the funding keeps rolling in from somewhere behind a curtain, and their production values and talent costs are obviously low, so they stay on the air regardless of whether anyone tunes in.
How ironic that anchors and reporters at AJAM who reported on gas prices dropping to under $2/gallon didn't realize that they were simultaneously telling the world, "And that's why I'm about to be unemployed."
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
On September 7, 2014, I wrote a column called "Los Angeles, You Can Have The Rams," in which I listed the reasons why I was fed up with this sub-par team and its arrogant owner. Now the NFL has given the Rams permission to leave St. Louis and return to the west coast for next season and build a new stadium complex in the LA suburb of Inglewood.
At the press conference announcing the move last night, owner Stan Kroenke called it "bittersweet." How was it bitter for him? He bought the Inglewood property two years ago, declared he was moving the team one year ago, and now, as billionaires always do, he has gotten his way. The people who should feel bitter are my fellow St. Louisans, who were lied to by Kroenke and his NFL cronies who pretended there was a chance the Rams might stay here if the region built them a new stadium.
That was never going to happen, and I'm glad it didn't. I understand that this is purely a business decision, but I'm sick of billionaire sports owners blackmailing municipalities into giving them corporate welfare under the threat of picking up their ball and leaving town. It's the same with tax breaks like TIFs for developers (including Kroenke). Far too many cities have allowed themselves to pay this ransom in order to keep teams -- a deal that never works out for the region, but always puts more dollars in the owners' pockets.
We also lost more than $14 million in taxpayer dollars spent by the task force that wasted time and money trying to come up with a new stadium plan that would please Kroenke. If Kroenke really wanted to keep the Rams in St. Louis, he wouldn't have made the city jump through all those hoops -- he would have paid for a new stadium himself, as he'll do in Inglewood. In other words, it wasn't a matter of funding. It was a matter of a billionaire who never had any other intention than moving to the nation's second-largest media market.
Let's cut short right now the speculation on whether the NFL will give St. Louis another team. Not going to happen. Fool me twice, shame on me, as the expression goes, and we shouldn't even consider asking such a thing of a league that has allowed the Cardinals to move to Arizona and the Rams to return to California.
Face it, St. Louis, your football girlfriend doesn't love you, and hasn't for a long time (at least back to 2010, when Kroenke acquired full ownership of the Rams). Incidentally, we're not the only town to suffer with a losing franchise under Kroenke's ownership -- ask fans of the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche, or the Arsenal soccer team.
So, Los Angeles, I hope you enjoy watching a bad football team every Sunday, because that's what you'll have on your local Fox station when it shows every Rams game. We, on the other hand, will finally be able to get better NFL games broadcast -- unless KTVI makes the mistake of carrying Los Angeles Rams games (or we're deemed to be in the Chicago Bears region and forced to watch them). Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the Chiefs more often. At least they make the playoffs.
Then there's this message to the Rams and the NFL from LA Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke:
First, we didn't ask you to come back. Oh, we may have whined occasionally during Super Bowl weeks, but we didn't hold giant rallies or send emotional letters or really miss you that much. We play fantasy football, we watch DirecTV, we drive to Las Vegas for a three-team parlay. We've had our fill of the NFL without actually having a team.Previously on Harris Online...
Live football? We've fallen in love all over again with the pro-style programs at USC and UCLA, just check attendance figures.
Sundays? We've done just fine watching the Dodgers on Sunday afternoons in the fall and the Lakers on Sunday nights in the winter.
Second, we're not paying for you to come back. Every place else you've gone, the grateful locals have slipped you a few bucks to show up, but not here, not even close, which is probably why it took 21 years for you to return.
We didn't pry open civic pocketbooks or agree to any special taxes like some of those other smaller towns. We're sophisticated enough to understand that you're not a hospital or firehouse, that billionaires shouldn't need handouts to bankroll their pigskin parties.
So understand first that you're here because you want to be here and because you think you can make money here, not because anybody was dying to see you again. Consider yourself lucky to be back on our turf. And while you're here, you'll have to play by our three simple rules:
You must win. You must entertain. You must do both with the sort of decency and integrity that makes us feel comfortable enduring long lines of traffic, long lines at bathrooms, and mosh pits in parking lots for a chance to watch you play.
posted at 4:11 PM
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Brian Koppelman and David Levien were responsible for "Rounders," "Ocean's 13," and "Runaway Jury." Now they have a new Showtime series, "Billions," which debuts Sunday night on Showtime (you can watch the season premiere for free here). It stars Paul Giamatti as a US Attorney and Damien Lewis as the billionaire hedge-fund manager he's trying to take down.
I've seen the first six episodes and liked it enough to ask Koppelman to join me on the air and discuss:
- How did you get your two leading men?
- Did Giamatti know that he'd have to do scenes tied and bound by a dominatrix?
- Is it hard to get actors to do nudity today?
- How much was the show influenced by "The Wolf Of Wall Street" and "The Big Short"?
- What was the genesis of a scene in an early episode in which Giamatti references "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"?
- Was it difficult moving from 2-hour big screen movies to a 12-hour primetime series?
- How do you maintain a consistent vision when you're using different directors for each episode?
- Will there ever be a "Rounders 2"?
Here's my conversation with Kevin Hazzard, who spent 10 years as a paramedic in Atlanta, Georgia, and writes about his adventures in "A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic's Wild Ride To the Edge And Back." Among the questions I asked him:
- Is it fun to drive an ambulance?
- Do drivers always get out of the way?
- Were most of the people you helped naked?
- What did you learn about the American health care system?
- Did people ever used you for rides as if you were an Uber driver?
- Did you ever administer Naloxone, the drug that supposedly reverses a heroin overdose?
- Did you encounter people who fought you because they did not want to go to the hospital?
- What was it like to do your job in some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods?
Monday, January 11, 2016
I never had the chance to interview David Bowie, but I do have a story about him.
In 1983, I was doing mornings at WHCN/Hartford when he came to town on his Serious Moonlight Tour. As an album-oriented-rock station, we had plenty of Bowie songs on our playlist, but he hadn't done much for quite awhile. That changed with "Let's Dance," which would go on to become his best-selling album, thanks to production by Niles Rodgers and guitar work by Stevie Ray Vaughn. The title track became a big hit, as did "Modern Love" and "China Girl." We had all three in regular rotation on the air.
As the dominant rock station in town, WHCN had a great relationship with concert promoter Jim Koplik, so I was able to get a couple of floor seats for the show for Martha and me. Phil Kirzyc, our nighttime rock jock, and his wife Val sat next to us. We weren't in the front section, but the middle of the floor, with a wide aisle between us and the seats ahead of us. Bowie was in great voice as he sang his best catalog material -- I was particularly happy to hear "Rebel Rebel" and "TVC15" -- and several songs off the new album. Everything was going well until he returned for his second encore.
Above us, hanging from the scoreboard, were huge nets full of gold and silver mylar stars and crescent moons. I had noticed them when we walked in, but didn't think anything of it. As Bowie launched into "Modern Love," those nets were released, and hundreds of those mylar inflatables started falling -- directly onto us. Naturally, fans started rushing towards the center of the floor to get a souvenir, and they weren't shy about pushing and shoving. It quickly became apparent that the security guards were not prepared for the onslaught.
I was a little worried we were going to get crushed in the melee. My mind immediately flashed to The Who concert in Cincinnati a few years earlier where 11 people were stampeded to death. Was this going to be another great night of rock and roll marred by too many people squeezing into a small space at the same time?
I looked over at Val Kirzyc, who was about 8 months pregnant at the time. She had a look of pure fright on her face as more and more people jammed into the area around us. Phil grabbed my arm and said, "We have to get out of here -- now!!" Bowie kept singing, oblivious to the scene taking place in the middle of the floor, so Phil and I had to shout to be heard over the music. We pushed people away from Val (and Martha), yelling that we had a pregnant woman here and needed some space. Somehow, we managed to force our way out and get up the stairs (not an easy task with fans streaming down) and out of the arena.
Once in the concourse, we stopped to make sure everyone -- especially Val -- was okay. We were all shaken, but no worse for wear. Phil said, "That was really scary." To which Martha replied, "Yeah, but now you both have a great story for your radio shows!" You can see why I married her.
The next morning, I did tell the story on the air, and was happy to report the good news that no one in the crowd was seriously hurt that night. I heard from lots of listeners who were there who weren't happy about it, either, and others who never went down to our section of the floor and thus had no idea how nerve-racking it was. For them, that Bowie concert was a terrific show put on by a top-notch rock and roll star.
That's how I prefer to remember him, too, but the memory of the crush of people still lingers.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
The re-arrest of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who pulled off that remarkable tunnel escape from the country's (supposedly) most secure prison last summer, has me thinking about some movies. In particular, I'm thinking of films in which we cheer on the hero as he escapes confinement.
The list has to include "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Fugitive," and "Stir Crazy," but you could argue that they're about innocent men who didn't deserve to be locked up. The same would apply to the World War II prison camp movies (e.g. "The Great Escape," "Von Ryan's Express," and "Stalag 17"). But then I'd have to mention Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke." Or Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones." Or Clint Eastwood in "Escape From Alcatraz." In none of them do the escapees claim they were less than guilty for the crimes they were being punished for -- and yet, we root for all of them to get out.
The same is true of George Clooney's Jack Foley in "Out of Sight." He's a bank robber who was caught in the act, but we want him to get out of prison so he can begin his cat-and-mouse game with Jennifer Lopez's Karen Sisco. Incidentally, her performance in that movie is the best thing JLo has ever done, and it's a shame she hasn't been able to repeat it -- although I do like her new NBC cop drama, "Shades Of Blue," which debuted a few nights ago. I also wish that "Karen Sisco," the short-lived 2003 ABC spinoff from the movie, with Carla Gugino doing an equally good job with the role, had found a bigger audience.
Maybe that's the reason we've been so taken with the El Chapo escape story, with its bold plot device of having members of his cartel dig an undetected mile-long tunnel -- a pretty impressive engineering feat, especially since it came up right in the bathroom area of his cell -- and then, when he was free, returning to his heavily fortified home, only to be re-captured by the Mexican Navy after a chase through the sewers under his compound. That's right out of a Hollywood script.
Interestingly, no one is hoping that Tonya Couch, the affluenza mom, escapes from her prison cell, which she's complained about because it's too bright and she can't sleep (prompting a perfect reply from the sheriff: "This is a jail, not a resort!"). It's not that women in prison stories aren't compelling, but they tend to lean too far towards exploitation, with the exception of "Orange Is The New Black." The tale of spoiled suburbanite Tonya would have to be pitched as "Green Is The New Orange."
As for El Chapo, he apparently recognized how good his own story was, because he'd begun making plans to produce a biopic about himself. Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez says, "an important aspect that allowed us to locate him was that we discovered Guzman's intention to make a biographical film, for which he established contact with actresses and producers." I wouldn't be surprised to hear that, although he's back behind bars, his attorneys are negotiating with a Hollywood studio to portray his life on the big screen.
If only they can get Morgan "Red" Freeman to narrate it.
Saturday, January 09, 2016
This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Colin Jeffrey and I reviewed "The Hateful Eight" and "The Revenant," and discussed how The Chipmunks are still a thing more than five decades after they were created. We also discussed Ricky Gervais' history of hosting The Golden Globes, which he'll do for the fourth time tomorrow night.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week on my Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include "Not Gonna Win A Golden Globe," "They Died This Week," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a bad skunk solution, a vodka-induced morque visit, and a Hello Kitty toothbrush. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Here's another lottery-related column, this one from 2007, when the big prize was substantially smaller than today's...
If you're the person who holds the winning $254 million Powerball ticket, I'm begging you, please keep quiet about it. Every media outlet wants to discover your name, tell your story, and on and on -- and that's exactly what you shouldn't do.
Once you go public as the winner of the 7th-largest lottery prize ever, you're going to discover that you have more friends than you ever thought possible. You'll have tons of people claiming to be your second cousin by marriage twice removed, who just happen to need some cash for a great new business idea they want to start. You'll have every charity in the world calling you night and day.
Resist. Keep quiet. Find someone who knows how to handle large piles of money (if you take the lump sum payment, it's something like $80 million after taxes) and get a lot of professional advice on what to do with it so your future is secure. Too often, we hear about people who have suddenly become multi-millionaires and, three years later, after buying a couple of houses and a lot of cars, going on a lot of vacations, and giving away a lot of money, they're broke.
The people who run lotteries know this, yet they still insist on making a big deal of their winners. It's easy to understand why -- every time they show a big winner, they get more people to believe "that could be me," and sell even more lottery tickets. The odds of winning don't matter, because the public has seen someone win who looks like them, and they picture themselves as that person. It's the classic All-American get-rich-quick scheme, only this one has the endorsement of your state government. It's been said that, in that way, lotteries are a tax on people who can't do math.
Then again, there are stories like the one my father told me years ago. He was a high school social studies teacher. Often, he would have lunch with a close friend from the school's math department. One day, while they were eating, the math teacher mentioned something about having to remember to stop and get a lottery ticket on the way home. My father was aghast at this. He asked how a math teacher, a man who understands statistics and probability, could fall for the lottery. Didn't he know the tiny odds of winning, the literal one in millions shot, that he had a better chance of being hit by lightning? He went on and on in exasperation.
Finally, the math teacher looked him in the eye and answered, "It's a dollar!"
posted at 12:11 AM
Friday, January 08, 2016
That's a line from one of the people interviewed in "Lucky," a documentary about lottery winners that I'm adding to my Movies You Might Not Know list. He's talking about a friend of his who won a huge state lottery payout and saw his life go right into the toilet in the following months.
"Lucky" is the story of that lottery winner and many others, most of whom have no idea how to handle their new wealth (one guy buys 12,000 pairs of pants, all the same size and color, and a house with a second floor so heavy it nearly crushes the first floor), let alone the envy and jealousy of their neighbors/friends/family members, and the requests from others who want some of the money. One couple says that, early on, they were receiving 10,000 letters a day from people who claimed to need help in some way or another.
I saw some of the latter when my friend Dennis Phillips won several million dollars in the World Series Of Poker Main Event four years ago. In the months that followed, he was hounded by people who wanted him to back them in tournaments, invest in their businesses, or front them money for no other reason than he had it and they wanted it. He acceded to some of the requests, which were never repaid, before he had to start saying no to everyone -- a tough thing for him to do because he's such a nice, friendly guy. When he did say no, some of the beggars got really mad at him, as if he didn't deserve his windfall but they did, or that he was doing them wrong by not giving them more money to lose in whatever way they'd lost all of their other cash in the first place.
Fortunately, Dennis is a good businessman who, with assistance from close friends and trusted advisers, found projects that were worth of his time, energy, and investments, putting him well ahead of so many others who find themselves suddenly rich.
Chip Denman, head of the Statistics Lab at the University of Maryland, says "luck is probability taken personally." Every one of the lottery winners in "Lucky" takes it personally, suffering from a high degree of what John Allen Paulos called "Innumeracy." They have no idea about odds and are superstitious to a fault, relying on crazy systems, or signs, or dreams to determine the lottery numbers they'll play. Some are sure that allowing the computer to choose their "quick picks" is a guarantee that they won't win, despite the fact that the numbers they're picking by hand don't win either. They have no understanding of the concept of "random."
One single mother, who hasn't won a big prize yet, bemoans the fact that she's come close several times and is convinced her turn is coming. Meanwhile, she spends nearly $100 a day on lottery tickets, as she has every day for 30 years. That's nearly a million dollars she's thrown away, money that could have changed her life if she had just saved it instead.
"Lucky" was directed by Jeffrey Blitz, who was nominated for an Academy Award for "Spellbound," his 2002 documentary about spelling bees (also on my Movies You Might Not Know list). While this one doesn't have the competition aspect of that one, it's a stirring examination of a small group of people who have hit it big and become richer than they ever dreamed -- only to discover that dreams can sometimes become nightmares.
Thursday, January 07, 2016
Here's something you didn't see on Jimmy Fallon's show last night. During a commercial break, when he was supposed to be recording a promo, Fallon did an impromptu version of Billy Joel's song "For The Longest Time" -- with Joel and his band, as well as JK Simmons, who was also a guest on the show...
I always smile a little when some company is shown up for fraudulent claims it was making and forced to stop selling nonsense.
The latest case involves Lumosity, which claimed its games would help consumers stave off memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease -- for $15/month. But the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection now says the company couldn't back up those claims, and was doing nothing more than preying on fears of age-related mental declines. Lumosity now has to refund money to the consumers it suckered, pay a penalty as high as $50 million, and can no longer make any claims unsubstantiated by randomized, blind, independent research.
Because evidence matters.
posted at 12:07 AM
Ben Ho explains why conservatives should support solar subsidies:
For one thing, not all subsidies are created equal, and the government actually has a good track record in promoting new energy technologies. New developments often face two market gaps that can potentially delay or even kill them: the “technological valley of death,” in which promising advances hit a technical brick wall, and the “commercialization valley of death,” in which an effective technology can’t get to market. Government research labs and subsidies have supported a number of forms of energy — from nuclear energy, to hydraulic fracturing, to photovoltaic solar — through these troughs.Read Ho's full piece here.
And there’s nothing unique about the government’s support for solar. According to the Congressional Research Service, total government support for the oil and gas sector over the years dwarfs the amount of support for the solar industry.
Furthermore, the solar investment tax credit is pretty smart. It’s structured so that as solar power becomes more efficient, the effect of the credit on each watt produced becomes smaller. Ideally, we would let markets decide the winners on their own, but so long as government is intervening in markets, it should do so in an evenhanded way. Similarly, any government support for the solar industry should be impartial, rather than having government bureaucracy pick and choose favored companies as it does through its loan guarantee program. The solar investment tax credit comes close to that ideal.
posted at 12:04 AM
- Jeffrey Toobin explains the central question in the Bill Cosby case.
- Disgusting water isn't the only problem for the Rio Olympics -- there's no electricity, either.
- Court says a couple that uses the Bible as the basis for hitting kids can't adopt any more kids.
- How Wall Street works: company closes dozens of stores, fires thousands of people, stock price goes up.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Two good pieces to read about the Rams' official application to the NFL to move back to Los Angeles:
First, a great column by Tony Messenger on state legislators who are actively moving to keep Missouri money from being used to build the Rams a new stadium in St. Louis...
First, the president pro tem of the Missouri Senate, Republican Ron Richard of Joplin, wrote a letter to Slay, and copied it to Nixon, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and others, calling into question the city’s proposed financing plan approved by the Board of Aldermen.Second, Barry Petchesky on how the team denigrates St. Louis, saying,
“While it is understandable that local leaders from St. Louis are aggressively backing a plan to build a new stadium in their city, when such a plan seeks to use state resources it is only proper that the General Assembly, as the voice of the citizens of the entire state, be consulted in the matter,” wrote Richard.
That the letter came from Richard is significant, because over the years, he’s been a backer of many St. Louis economic development projects. As speaker of the House, he was an ally of Nixon’s in passing automobile manufacturing incentives that have been key in both Kansas City and St. Louis. Richard is not just some rural yokel spouting off against the big city. His letter makes it clear, to the NFL, to bond sellers and investors, that the public money promised by Nixon et al is nothing but a fantasy.
“The bottom line is this,” Richard continued, “it would be speculative at best for the City of St. Louis and for the NFL to act in reliance upon this stream of $12 million from the state’s general revenue fund being continued into the foreseeable future as they negotiate a deal concerning the building of a new stadium.”
This is what happens when public officials, even with good intentions, bypass public process. From the beginning of the stadium process, Nixon has played the role of court jester, telling Rams fans he’s using all the power of his office to build a new stadium while his lawyers tell the courts that the governor has nothing to do with the process.
"Any NFL Club that signs on to this (new stadium) proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the League will be harmed."In other words, we don't want to be here, and no other team should move here if we leave. That's gonna reverberate in the minds of locals if the Rams are forced to stay.
posted at 8:53 AM
Old friend Will Durst, still one of America's best topical comedians, looks ahead...
At the beginning of a new year, cultures all over the world traditionally perform peculiar ceremonies meant to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. The Chinese hide knives to ward off danger. In Denmark, old dishes are thrown at front doors to symbolize the collection of new friends. Spanish residents eat 12 grapes, one at each stroke of the clock to promote good fortune. And in the Durst household, we percolate sardonically cynical predictions for the upcoming 12 months.
This is to symbolize the perpetuation of a career predicated on mocking and scoffing and taunting. But with taste. So here are Durstco’s predictions for the year 2016. In the spirit of recycling and promoting a zero-waste policy, please cherry-pick your favorites and dump the rest into the laps of worthy acquaintances.
- After dropping out of the Presidential race, Chris Christie hits the talk show circuit to publicize his celebrity diet book but is turned down by everyone except a podcast in Calabasas.
- In an attempt to expand its popularity, ISIS will merge with Alcoholics Anonymous, the American Automobile Association and the American Association of Retired Persons to form ISISAAAAAAARP and then facilitate senior citizens driving soberly to suicide bombings.
- Exxon will develop a way to block out the sun and then make a big move into solar energy.
- Disney enters negotiations to purchase Tibetan Buddhism with the aim of starring a rambunctious Little Buddha in his own Saturday morning cartoon.
- At the next GOP debate, Carly Fiorina smiles so hard, all the other participants on the dais recoil at the sound of her enamel cracking. Her face will then freeze like that.
- In Dallas, Texas, a benefit held to establish the Ethan Couch Affluenza Support Group raises one dollar.
- After a heckler at the Masters Tournament shouts from the edge of the 12th green, “Give it up Grandpa,” Tiger Woods chases him with a putter, trips and falls into Rae’s Creek.
- Taking his personal quest for wholeness to the next level, Vladimir Putin enters Jungian analysis and releases an award winning series of children’s books. He also takes up pipe- smoking.
- Rents in San Francisco climb so high, members of the middle class are forced to inhabit tree houses in Golden Gate Park.
- No matter who wins the Presidency, Bill Clinton actively campaigns to get appointed Ambassador to Sweden.
- Air travel will devolve to the point that certain discount tickets require pedaling.
- During a stump speech in Concord, New Hampshire, Donald Trump’s hat will fly off and his hair will be wind- whipped into the shape of a sail whisking him airborne into the parking lot of a Montpelier, Vermont public library.
- Congress fixes Social Security by raising the retirement age to 83.
- New York Senator Chuck Schumer becomes the go-to guy in the Democratic Caucus after it is revealed that Harry Reid died months ago.
- The NFL will lobby the Catholic Church to celebrate mass on Monday mornings in order not to interfere with football ratings.
- Minnesota Department of Game officials call off the hunt for whoever shot the lion-killing dentist, Walter Palmer, with a bow and arrow.
- The Chicago Cubs lose game 7 of the World Series when a lightning bolt strikes Ben Zobrist ten feet from home as he attempts to score the tying run.