Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Friends Without Benefits

Over the last month or so, I've had an inordinate number of friend-requests on my Facebook page. My policy is to accept all of them -- and then immediately unfollow those people. If you want to keep current with what I post on Facebook, you're welcome to, but I'm not going to reciprocate. Same thing with my Twitter account.

It's nothing personal. I just don't have time to scroll through the posts of the more than 1,300 folks who have befriended me in that artificial world, where "friend" means everyone from lifetime pals to one-time acquaintances to someone I've never met but likes my work. I do follow a select number of people I work with, some former colleagues, longtime buddies, and several family members -- and that's it.

I'm pretty thin-skinned about who I allow to continue as a "friend." For the most part, it's people who never bother me about anything except an occasional comment on my radio show or blog posts here. On the other hand, don't add me to your group that sends me announcements about when you get together every other Thursday for bowling and chicken wings. I'm not interested in every charity you're involved in. Don't invite me to like your business. Don't send me Facebook Messenger messages full of videos you find hysterical. I ignore all of that or, if you abuse the privilege, have no qualms about un-friending you. Again, it's nothing personal, simply a way to better manage my time online.

Now, here's the ironic part of all this.

Because I accept every friend-request at first, I'm sure I'm allowing some bots access to my account. Someone told me that this is dangerous because it gives them entree into my timeline, where they can post all sorts of bogus information (e.g. Russians poisoning our information stream). I'm not worried about that because, since I don't follow them back, I never see that stuff. And if they do post it on my timeline, I simply delete it -- and them.

Some of those friend-requests have come from accounts with pictures of very attractive young women. Fine, I still don't care. But the other day, one of them private-messaged me, "Hi there." Curious to see if this would turn into some fodder for my radio show, I replied, "Hi yourself." Then she/he/it followed up with, "Have you heard about the new federal grant program?"

I could have continued and played along, just to see where this was going, but I wasn't in the mood. Instead, I responded, "And...you're blocked," followed by unfriending them and removing all evidence of their presence from my cyber life. And then I told the story on my show the next day.

In retrospect, I should have given them the Facebook account info of this Nigerian prince I've been corresponding with who's going to make me very wealthy once he's released from prison -- at which point I won't need any grants, federal or otherwise.

But even when that happens, you can still be my friend, if you play by my rules.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

David Hepworth, "Uncommon People"


David Hepworth is a British journalist who has written about music for four decades. Now he's published "Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars," and joined me to talk about it. Among the topics we covered:
  • How much of achieving rock stardom comes from hard work, how much from right-place-right-time?
  • If the era of rock stars is over, who was the last of the breed?
  • What do you mean when you say, in the book, that rock stars are often rock stars before they make records?
  • You write about performers who created their own myths, like Bob Dylan — how so?
  • How much of rock history is just about guys trying to get the attention of women?
  • Did music become less interesting in the 80s and 90s when MTV and corporate America got involved?
  • Can someone who’s a genuine rule breaker become a music star today, or do they have to fit a mold?
  • Is it easier to get famous in the age of YouTube?
  • Why do you say social media has put the final nail in the coffin of the rock stars?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Kevin Maurer, "American Radical"


"American Radical" is the story of Tamer Elnoury, a Muslim FBI agent who went undercover to expose some radical jihadists who were planning to commit mayhem in the US and Canada. Since he has now moved on to other law enforcement business and is unavailable to discuss the book, I spoke with his co-author, Kevin Maurer, asking him:
  • What do the jihadists he encountered have in common? What is their motivation?
  • Was it hard for Tamer to keep up the front, especially when exhausted?
  • Why did the FBI choose him?
  • How did he get his targets to trust him?
  • Is it true he went to acting classes to learn how to better relate to his targets?
  • As a Muslim, is he mad at jihadists who have turned his religion into something evil?
  • Was his life ever in danger?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 27, 2017

On My Monday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be:
I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: "Last Flag Flying"


It's 2003 when we meet Bryan Cranston, who owns a rundown bar in Norfolk, Virginia. Steve Carell shows up as an old friend from the Vietnam War with a sad request. Having lost his wife to cancer earlier in the year, he was devastated when he learned his son had been killed in action in Iraq. Although they haven't seen each other in a long time, Carrell wants Cranston and another former Marine buddy, Laurence Fishburne, to provide moral support while he buries his son.

The three men couldn't be more different. Cranston is a loud anti-authoritarian, Fishburne gave up his wild past to become a minister, and Carrell -- in a beautifully subtle performance -- is a quiet man beaten down by life. We also discover that something happened during their stint in Vietnam that ended with Carrell doing some time in the brig, while the others didn't. Still, they have a bond across the decades, and Carrell needs that closeness to help him get through this low point.

Their adventure takes them to Dover Air Force base, where they retrieve the young soldier's casket, and then on a road trip to have him buried in his hometown in New England. Along the way, the three veterans are assigned a young marine (who served with Carrell's son) as an official escort, and to share stories from a different war.

The exploits of this group of veterans is reminiscent of "The Last Detail," a 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. That's because both movies were based on books by Darryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote the screenplay for "Last Flag Flying" with director Richard Linklater, who knows when to slow down the action to allow us to simply listen to his characters. That's particularly true in a scene where the three veterans go to visit Cicely Tyson as the mother of a man who may have died because of them in Vietnam. Thankfully, Linklater doesn't burden us with flashbacks to that war, purposely leaving their problems from the past somewhat vague.

Although Cranston is a little over-the-top in some scenes, the performances are all very good as the friends bond all over again and the story sways from tragedy to dark comedy. Fishburne plays his character with stoicism, although he lightens up as the escapade unrolls. But it is Carrell, playing a quiet, grieving man, who really got my attention and continues to impress me with his range.

I give "Last Flag Flying" a 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Oh, No!

I just realized that when we celebrate Thanksgiving later today with my brother, sister-in-law, and two nephews, the crazy uncle in the house will be ME!

Movie Review: “Coco”


Over the last two decades, Pixar has produced some eye-popping advancements in animation, from Sully’s fur in “Monsters, Inc.” to the water effects in “Finding Nemo” to the memory balls in “Inside Out.” Now, with “Coco,” the company seems to have found a whole new palette of colors to play with on the screen.

“Coco” is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a Mexican boy who loves music but is forbidden to play or sing any songs by his family, because a few generations back, his great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. But Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the legendary (and dead) crooner, and wants to be like him so much that he steals de la Cruz’s guitar out of his mausoleum, planning to perform with it at the talent show in the town square on Dia De Muertos, the Day Of The Dead. But when Miguel strums de la Cruz’s guitar, he’s transported to The Land Of The Dead, where the adventure takes off and the colors come alive.

It is there that Miguel meets some of his deceased relatives and other characters as he tries to find de la Cruz so he can get his blessing to become a musician like his idol. However, things don’t go as Miguel planned, and he needs the assistance of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who claims he knows de la Cruz very well. He’ll help, but only if Miguel will take Hector’s picture back to the Land Of The Living so his daughter will remember him. Those who are forgotten, Hector tells Miguel, turn into dust and drift away for ever.

That’s the nice message of “Coco,” which in addition to its vividly-created world, also includes several songs, including “Remember Me,” which is sung by several different characters as the story unfolds. It’s not as memorable as “Let It Go,” the song from “Frozen” that was written by the same duo, but it’s perfect for the movie’s sentimental side. Although “Coco” is wrapped up a little too easily for my taste, it still tugged at my heartstrings and will for you, too.

Not surprisingly, “Coco” opened to record-breaking numbers in Mexico last weekend. Now it’s America’s turn, and I’ll bet it will be number one here, too — ironic at a time when we have a president who has created antipathy for pretty much everyone from south of the border. Regardless, “Coco” will deservedly be a hit, even in the red states, as families look for a movie they can all watch and enjoy together.

After suffering from sequel-itis with “Cars 3” and “Finding Dory,” it’s nice to see Pixar get back to telling an original story while pushing the technical side, too. I give “Coco” an 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Movie Review: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"


It's nice to see a movie where the characters don't all act as you expect them to, where you make assumptions about them early on based on their actions, but then have them turned upside down as the plot develops. That's one of the best things about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," a dark comedy that will end up on my Best Of 2017 list.

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother grieving over the horrific death of her daughter nine months ago. The police haven't caught the culprit and have given up on the case. So Mildred decides to rent those three billboards to send the sheriff a message in an attempt to get the investigation going again. The signs raise the ire of Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his deputies, including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who try to get Mildred to take the billboards down, but she refuses and the battle is on.

I am going to stop right there, because to reveal any other plot points would be to spoil your enjoyment of this terrific movie, which has the same tone as the best work by the Coen brothers -- especially "Fargo," which also starred McDormand. She is fantastic as the deeply grieving mother, worn down by life and death. Harrelson and Rockwell match her step for step. It's some of the best work all three of them have ever done. There's also some wonderful support from Abby Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes (who was so good in the movie that made Jennifer Lawrence a star, "Winter's Bone") and Zeljko Ivanek (who I always enjoy even though I can't pronounce his name correctly).

What makes "Three Billboards" unique is the way the characters change. Just when you think you've learned who this one is and how he/she will act, they do the opposite. It's that unpredictability that drives the story and keeps us on our toes. Martin McDonagh -- who wrote, directed, and produced the movie -- has a terrific eye and ear for the way real people speak to each other. He captures these small-town Americans just right as he treads the thin line between tragedy and comedy. His script will almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

It's hard to find anything I didn't like about "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," so I'm giving it a 9.5 out of 10.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today

My friend Nolan Dalla on the absurdity of the lawsuit against Mandalay Bay over the 10/1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Jeff Smith On Helping Ex-Cons Rejoin Society


Jeff Smith returned to my show to discuss his role as Executive Vice President of Concordance Academy of Leadership, an organization that helps former inmates at Missouri State Prisons rejoin society. Jeff explained the services the academy offers, and the difficulties ex-cons face in getting back on their feet without money, a job, or a place to live.

Since he spent a year in federal prison, Jeff knows the difficulties these men have faced, both on the inside and once they've been released. His ability to speak their language while also serving as a role model is part of his appeal in this work.

We discussed Ban The Box, a campaign to remove the question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" from applications for employment or education -- Jeff revealed some surprising research about the states where it has been implemented. We also talked about the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act, a bill with bipartisan support that would finally do something about extreme sentencing.

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Best Thing I’ve Read Today

The Celebrity Perv Apology Generator. Keep clicking through!

As I Tweeted

  • John Lasseter of Pixar steps aside over you-know-what. No wonder the women who worked there wanted to make a movie called “The Credibles.”
  • Clinton-haters want to re-litigate accusations against the ex-president because “the women must be believed.” I’m sure they also want to re-open the Clarence Thomas hearings because they now believe Anita Hill, right?

Adam Savage, "Brain Candy Live"


For 10 years and 282 episodes, Adam Savage co-hosted “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel. He left that show in 2016, but you can still find him at Tested.com and on his new tour with Michael Stevens, doing a stage show called Brain Candy Live, which comes to the Peabody in St. Louis December 6th.

When Adam returned to my radio show, he explained the Brain Candy Live concept and what he's been up to in his maker studio lately. We also discussed the new MythBusters (Bryan Louden and Jon Lung, who debuted last week on the Science Channel) and Adam's memories (in his final season on "Mythbusters") of seeing the Earth from a unique vantage point, some 70,000 feet up in a U-2 plane.

I also told Adam about my idea for a new series, which I proposed on this site two years ago:
I'm a little surprised they haven't produced a "Mythbusters" spinoff yet. I envision something that's a cross between the 1973 NBC series "The Magician" (in which Bill Bixby played an illusionist who uses his talents to help people in trouble) and the 1986 movie "F/X" (with Bryan Brown as a special effects/makeup artist who helps fake a mob hit). In my suggested show, you'd have a couple of guys like Adam and Jamie, who are experts in building devices and effects, solve a client's problem each week, in a procedural format like "CSI" or "The Blacklist." There would be plenty of room for stunts and science to co-exist -- with the occasional explosion, of course.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Jessica Meir, NASA Astronaut

Since I grew up with the American space program, I have long been fascinated by the men and women who get to sit atop those huge rockets and be thrust beyond Earth's atmosphere. That's why I was happy to see "A Year In Space," the PBS documentary which is running this month. It's about Scott Kelly, the astronaut who spent 340 consecutive days on the International Space Station, and the effects on his body of such a prolonged period of weightlessness.

Its companion piece, "Beyond A Year In Space" (which you can watch aboves) features my guest, Dr. Jessica Meir, one of the new class of astronauts who may one day go on a mission to Mars. She graduated from training two years ago, and although she hasn't left Earth yet, she's been very involved behind the scenes while waiting for her first opportunity to launch.

In our conversation, I asked if she's prepping for a Mars mission, or if it's more likely NASA will return to the moon first. As a physiologist who has studied animals in extreme environments, I asked what life will be like for humans on Mars, and how much of a threat solar radiation is as it bombards everything outside Earth's atmosphere (even inside the ISS). We also talked about NASA's new Orion capsule and rocket (which will mean we no longer have to be dependent on the Russian space program to get us up and down), her experience as an Aquanaut, and what it was like to visit the Apollo mission control room with Jim Lovell, who orbited the moon in Apollo 8 and lived through the Apollo 13 mishap, too.

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

Rick Newman Explains Bitcoin


Rick Newman of Yahoo Finance has been writing about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies lately, so I asked him to return to my radio show to explain them in layman's terms. Considering how the value of these financial instruments has skyrocketed in their short lives, their story seems unreal, yet there are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon and buying their own fractional shares.

If you don't even know what Bitcoin is, my conversation with Rick might stimulate your interest. Full disclosure: Rick owns some Bitcoin, but I do not. Yet.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving Media Memo

I wrote this in 2007...


To: All News Outlets
Fr: Media Control Central
Re: Stories That Must Be Done During Thanksgiving Week

Monday: Do's and Don'ts of Holiday Travel. Include important things that the public can't figure out on its own, like a reminder of how to pack clothes neatly in a suitcase.

Tuesday: Deep Fryer Turkey Scare Stories. Dig up video of that guy from last year who burned down his house and ruined the family get-together.

Wednesday: Live Shots From The Airport. Start this at 5am, and keep doing it until there actually is a crowd of anxious travelers lined up out the door. Do not mention that a great deal of their anxiety came from getting around the many live trucks blocking traffic outside the terminal.

Thursday: Parade. Include not just the local Thanksgiving parade, but also interviews with a few people who have to make a last minute run to the supermarket because they forgot cranberry sauce. Also report on how much more this year's average Thanksgiving meal costs, and interview the Butterball Hotline lady (who has likely been outsourced to Bangalore, India).

Friday: Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year. It doesn't matter that today is not the busiest shopping day of the year -- that's always the last Saturday before Christmas, because that's when men finally remember they have to buy something for their wife, who bought gifts for the rest of the family back around Halloween -- play up the hype, especially for your advertisers.

Saturday: Retailers Report. Based on exactly one day of shopping, but hundreds of analysts making predictions, report that retailers are having a tough holiday shopping season.

Sunday: Back To The Airport. Remind the public that if they haven't left for the airport already, they're screwed.

Monday: They're Dead. Report the number of people who died on the road during the holiday weekend, and how high gas prices didn't seem to keep Americans from traveling long distances to eat and argue with their families.

Future File (Upcoming Stories To Work On):

  • Fire hazards of Christmas trees.
  • Increased popularity of online shopping.
  • Find a Jewish family that can explain Hanukkah.

On My Monday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be:
I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Movie Review: "Wonder"


In "Wonder," Jacob Tremblay (so good with Brie Larson in “Room”) is Auggie, a boy born with facial deformities. He has been homeschooled by his mother, Julia Roberts, but now she and dad Owen Wilson have decided it's time for him to be mainstreamed into a real school, for fifth grade.

That may sound like "Wonder" is just a younger version of the 1994 movie "Mask," which starred Eric Stoltz, Cher, and Sam Elliott. The difference is that movie was about a blue-collar family in a small California town, and this one is about an upper-class family in New York City.

At school, Auggie encounters exactly the kind of bullying and ignorant avoid-the-guy-with-the-weird-face attitudes you would expect, but he manages to trudge through it, and eventually makes friends. One of the aspects of this movie that works so well is telling it from more than just Auggie’s vantage point. We learn about his sister, Via, as she struggles with some social issues in high school, while also recognizing that, at home, her parents have spent most of the last 10 years taking care of her brother at her expense. We see things from the perspective of Jack, a boy who may or may not turn out to be Auggie’s best friend at school, and Miranda, Via's longtime friend. Oh, and there is a cute dog, too.

Tremblay is very good as Auggie, and you are never aware of the make up that has turned him into this character. He's sweet and smart, so you are rooting for him from the first moment you see him on screen. It is good to see Roberts' big, wide smile again, and Wilson is, well, Wilson. The cast also includes Mandy Patinkin as the principal of Auggie's school, and a very short appearance by Sonia Braga.

Unfortunately, "Wonder" ends on a cheap, sentimental finale that felt tacked on. There are other storylines that seem designed expressly -- and try to hard -- to tug at your heartstrings. Still, the rest of it is very family friendly, and I think a lot of adults -- and especially kids -- will enjoy seeing this story.

I give "Wonder" a 7 out of 10.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Money Shot


Much was made of the photo last week of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, holding up a sheet of new $1 bills. It was said to be proof of their arrogance and love of money. After all, he's an ex-Goldman Sachs banker and movie producer, and they live in a big mansion. Okay, fine, but the criticism was still off base when it came to the photo op.

In that cabinet position, Mnuchin's signature now appears on American currency, alongside that of US Treasurer Jovita Carranza. You have to admit how cool it is to look down at money and see your own name and handwriting. If that were me, I'd do exactly what he did -- go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and take a picture with some newly-printed cash that hasn't gone through the cutting device yet. And, yes, I'd invite my wife to come over and be in the shot with me.

This isn't some privilege of the super-wealthy. You can buy your own sheet of uncut currency online or at the Bureau's gift shop after you've taken the tour (worth the trip next time you're in DC -- bring the kids). That's exactly what I did 30+ years ago when I wanted something unique as a gift for my father-in-law. He loved it and put it up on the wall of his office, framed. I can only imagine how much cooler that would have been if the money had my name on it.

By the way, there's another photo you probably didn't see from the same day last week, from a different perspective. It shows both Mnuchin and Carranza showing off the brand new uncut currency, and there's nothing evil about it.

Credit: those photos were taken by Jacquelyn Martin of the Associated Press, who provides some background here.

Movie Review, "Justice League"


I'm not a comic-book-superhero kind of guy. I don't know the difference between the Marvel characters and the DC characters. I don't get excited when there's some new movie in their universes. That said, I occasionally see movies like this, knowing that I'm not going to be as excited about them as the vast majority of the audience is. I go in with low expectations, though there have been times when I've walked out satisfied, such as the first Christopher Reeve "Superman," the first Michael Keaton "Batman," the first Tobey Maguire "Spider-Man," and the first Gal Gadot "Wonder Woman." They each charmed me in different ways.

That brings us to "Justice League," in which DC brings six of its superheroes together: Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa). The latter three are new to the screen, which means we have to go through mini-origin stories of those characters. Of them, Miller is the only one worth watching, as he provides some much-needed comic relief, while Mamoa just comes off as the buffest surfer of all time reciting incredibly stupid lines. As for Fisher, he's hampered by a character that's under-written and as confusing as he is confused.

Wonder Woman is undeniably the star of the movie, and Gal Godot has proven her worth. Her standalone movie, released nine months ago, is one of the biggest earners of the year, and "Justice League" works best whenever she's on screen. However, I hated the way the camera occasionally panned up her body to show us how great she looks -- that's the difference between having Zack Snyder direct your movie and having Patty Jenkins behind the scenes. Arguably the most popular actress in the world, Gadot now has the power to ensure she isn't treated that way by directors in the future, just as she's refused to reprise the role if producer Brett Ratner (who's been accused of multiple sexually inappropriate incidents with other actresses) is anywhere near the project.

Ironically, Affleck is better as Bruce Wayne than he is as Batman. For some reason, when he's in the cape and cowl, he uses a gruff deep voice (which is then electronically enhanced). Perhaps it's to make him sound bigger and tougher, but it didn't work in the previous chapters, and still doesn't. He does have one good line: when Mamoa asks what his superpower is, Affleck replies, "I'm rich."

Considering that its predecessors were all too dark and serious, I was happy to see more humorous moments like that in "Justice League," as well as some good rapport between Batman and Wonder Woman and The Flash. The supporting cast includes JK Simmons, who I usually like, but seems out of place as Commissioner Gordon, since I still associate him with the Spider-Man universe, in which he has played newspaper editor Jonah Jameson several times.

Unfortunately for "Justice League," its villain, Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds), is quite possibly the worst movie villain I have ever seen. He's some kind of horned demon, or a demon with a horned hat or something. Whatever he is, Steppenwolf is, of course, bent on the destruction of mankind and blah blah blah. He's boring, the CGI is terrible, and the flying mosquitoes around him only reminded me of the flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz." The movie is also burdened with the idiotic decision to kill Superman in its previous chapter, but I won't spoil how it's handled (except to say it's not well done).

Remember, though, my expectations for these movies aren’t high, and I'm more than willing to just sit back and see if they entertain me at all. Despite the above objections, "Justice League" mostly did. Maybe the series can go forward now with this group of six central superheroes, forget about any more origin stories, and rely more on character interaction than CGI mayhem.

I give "Justice League" a 5 out of 10.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Andy Friendly, "Willing To Be Lucky"


What do Richard Pryor, Tom Snyder, Johnny Carson, Roseanne, and Dick Cavett have in common? They all worked with my guest, Andy Friendly, who spent over forty years writing, producing, directing, and overseeing television shows and movies as an executive, creating content for NBC, CBS, ABC, Discovery, PBS, King World, Paramount, MGM, and others. Now he has written about his career in a new book called, “Willing To Be Lucky: Adventures In Life and Television.”

We started off talking about Tom Snyder, a towering TV personality whose work I enjoyed for many years as host of the "Tomorrow" show on NBC. Then we moved on to "Good Night and Good Luck," the movie George Clooney directed and starred in as Andy's father, legendary CBS news producer Fred Friendly, opposite David Straitharn as Edward R. Murrow.

I could easily have talked with Andy for several hours about his remarkable life, but we only had time at the end for a great story about a crisis involving a white pinstriped suit Richard Pryor insisted on wearing onstage for his third concert movie, "Here and Now," which Andy produced.

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

Showbiz Show 11/17/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the new movies "Justice League" and "Wonder."

Then we discussed the Al Franken harassment story, Ben Affleck's comments on the charges against him, Universal entering "Get Out" as a comedy for the Golden Gloves, CBS making a sitcom out of "Stripes," and Amazon doing a "Lord Of The Rings" TV series.

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

Harris Challenge 11/17/17

On this edition of my Harris Challenge -- the most fun that you can have with your radio on -- the trivia categories include Who You Calling Turkey?, Thanks For Guessing, Where 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® 11/17/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a couple fighting on a plane, a really distracted driver, and homemade license plates. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, November 17, 2017

As I Tweeted

  • Today marked the last day of existence for a company known as CBS Radio, which has been swallowed up by another radio company called Entercom. That means CBS will not have a third opportunity to hire me, get great ratings with my show, then fire me nonetheless. Too bad.

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com).

In the first hour, I'll talk with Andy Friendly about his book, "Willing To Be Lucky: Adventures In Life and Television."

In the second hour, Max and I will review the new movies "Justice League" and "Wonder," plus other showbiz stuff.

In the third hour, you'll get a chance to test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and I'll have another batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Al Franken Harassment Story


I'll admit that I was quite surprised to see Al Franken's name appear on the list of men charged with sexual assault -- not because I know him, but because he never seemed to be that kind of guy. Shows you what a judge of character I am.

I only know Leeann Tweeden from seeing her host "Poker After Dark" on NBC for many years, but I don't doubt her story one bit -- it's awfully hard to deny when she has posted the above photo. She's now the morning news anchor on KABC-AM/Los Angeles, and what she says Franken did to her during a 2006 USO tour is disgusting and worthy of scorn.

Franken's original apology was lame, but he must have had staffers help him re-draft it, so in the new version, he sounds sincere -- particularly these paragraphs:
Over the last few months, all of us—including and especially men who respect women—have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.

For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it—women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.

Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.
Franken has a political reputation as a strong advocate for women. It doesn't matter, any more than Louis CK's history of helping women like Pamela Adlon and Tig Notaro get their own TV shows. None of it erases the ugliness of what they've done, which says so much more than their words.

I can hear the right-wing laughing hysterically as it equates Franken's misdeeds with those of Roy Moore, but there's no comparison because the charges against the latter amount to pedophilia, which will always rank higher on the List Of Horrible Things Men Have Done. That doesn't mean Franken gets a pass, of course, but I honestly don't know if the Tweeden story should mean he's expelled from the senate, or what the other options might be. I can predict that you won't hear many comments about the political angle that aren't tainted by agendas.

Here's another difference between Franken and Moore. The former has shown that he understands that what he did was wrong and apologized for it. That doesn't make it okay by any means, but it is much better than the latter, who has not even acknowledged that he did any of the acts he's accused of. Neither has the current occupant of the White House.

One other point. I've read terrible comments online about how Tweeden should have expected to be treated that way because she'd been a model for Frederick's Of Hollywood, FHM, Maxim, and Playboy. That's nothing less than victim-blaming, in the same manner as idiots who say, "She deserved to be groped because she was wearing a mini-skirt." Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

On my radio show today, I had originally booked Jen Chaney of Vulture to talk about three new TV pilots Amazon has made. We eventually got around to them, but not before we discussed the Franken story, some old accusations against Sly Stallone that have just come to light, and new info about Kevin Spacey, too.

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

Charles Brandt, "I Hear You Paint Houses"


Martin Scorcese's next movie is "The Irishman," starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, as well as lots of other names you'll recognize (Joe Pesci, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Romano). It will be released on Netflix early in 2018.

It's based on Charles Brandt's book, "I Heard You Paint Houses," about Frank Sheehan, a mafia hitman who was involved in the death of Jimmy Hoffa. On my show, Brandt explained how he got Sheehan to reveal his secrets, whether he was ever afraid of mob reprisals, and what happened to Hoffa's body (spoiler: it's not under Giants Stadium). As you'll hear, Brandt is a helluva storyteller.

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

Keith Humphreys -- Have Anti-Drug Ads Worked?


That is arguably the most famous anti-drug commercial ever made. But was it effective?

I asked Keith Humpreys, professor at the Stanford School Of Medicine, who has reviewed lots of studies about all sorts of anti-drug ads -- and the results might surprise you. We talked about what worked, what didn't, and what was wrong with the messaging.

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

There's also this, a brilliant parody of another ad produced by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. It starts with the original version, starring actress Rachel Leigh Cook, then extends it with a lookalike and a few family members...

Steve Smith -- Can The Senate Keep Roy Moore Out?

With even more women accusing Roy Moore of sexually inappropriate behavior several decades ago, can the US Senate keep him from being seated if he wins the Alabama special election next month? I put that question to Steve Smith, Washington University professor of social science and political science, and author of "The Senate Syndrome."

He explained that the answer has two components -- exclusion and expulsion. The first is about whether the Senate could refuse to seat someone who has legally won an election. The other is about whether the Senate could throw someone out whose ethics it felt were not worth of that seat.

But there's more -- what can Republicans do to try to guarantee they retain that seat, and thus a two-vote majority over the Democrats? Would a write-in candidate work? What if Luther Strange (who was appointed to that seat on a temporary basis when Jeff Sessions left to become Attorney General) quit tomorrow so the governor of Alabama could appoint another temporary senator until a new special election was scheduled?

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

On My Thursday Radio Show


I'll fill in for John Carney again on KTRS today 1-3pm CT. My guests will include:
  • Keith Humphreys on how anti-drug ads aren't keeping people off opioids or other drugs;
  • Charles Brandt, whose book "I Hear You Paint Houses" is being turned into a Martin Scorcese movie for Netflix called "The Irishman";
  • Jen Chaney from Vulture on three new Amazon pilots you might want to check out.
Listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Movie Review: "Murder On The Orient Express"


"Murder On The Orient Express" was one of Agatha Christie's most popular novels. Written (and based) in 1934, it's the tale of a dozen people -- including a mobster, a princess, a governess, a doctor, an American loudmouth, an Italian car salesman, an English butler, a German maid, a French conductor, and a Swedish nurse -- on a luxury train ride from Istanbul to Calais. The trip is interrupted by two events: an avalanche that knocks the locomotive off the tracks, and the murder of one of its passengers. Fortunately, the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on board, and it's up to him to determine which of the other passengers is the killer.

Kenneth Branagh plays Poirot, complete with the kind of mustache that, in 1934, was a masterwork of whiskery, but today would only be worn by a man desperate to proclaim himself ironic. Branagh also directed, and the movie looks beautiful, from the claustrophobic interiors to the shots of the train stuck atop a trestle. In one scene, he uses a very clever overhead angle of several people in conversation. In others, the snow-laden route really pops off the screen, thanks to CGI, but that sort of movie trickery don't make its pace any quicker.

That is the biggest problem with "Murder On The Orient Express." If you were reading Christie's book, she could elaborate on each of the characters, and you'd have time to put the book down between chapters to absorb all that information. Unfortunately, on the big screen, all of that character detail is left out -- and still the plot doesn't move any faster than the train stuck in the snow. Without all of that exposition about the suspects, the mystery comes to a conclusion in which Poirot reveals information about each of the passengers that was never shared with us as viewers.

I was reminded of Neil Simon's "Murder By Death," in which the world's most famous mystery writers were gathered for a dinner by someone who was sick of them keeping vital information from their readers until the last few pages, when their detectives whipped out a miraculous revelation and solved the crime. By the time we reach that point in "Murder On The Orient Express," it's not anti-climactic, it's just boring.

Aside from Branagh, the cast includes Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Leslie Odom Jr. ("Hamilton"), Josh Gad (so good in last month's "Marshall"), plus Johnny Depp (doing a ridiculous gangster accent), and Michelle Pfeiffer (who also sings the song heard over the closing credits that you won't stick around for and will never hear again).

Compare that to the cast of the last all-star version of "Murder On The Orient Express," directed in 1974 by Sidney Lumet: Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Richard Widmark, and Albert Finney as Poirot.

I saw the Lumet version, so I knew what to expect at the end of this remake. But the beginning takes far too long to get us into the adventure, and that long yawning trip the rest of the way isn't worth the price of the ticket. While this adaptation of Christie's story may have had a good opening weekend, I'd bet that word of mouth will not be good, and its box office numbers will drop dramatically going forward. In that case, the "Death On The Nile" sequel that's teased in the final scene may be dead before its arrival.

I give this "Murder On The Orient Express" a 4 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lenore Skenazy, "The Fragile Generation"

Lenore Skenazy was back on my radio show to discuss a piece she wrote for Reason about why we're raising such a fragile generation of children. She argues that millenials' demands for "safe spaces" on college campuses is because they were told by their parents that they can never be too safe. They were protected in everything they did, so they weren't prepared for any kind of conflict or interpersonal problems.

We got into that, as well as kids' lack of free time to just play, without adult supervision, and how even if your kid does want to go outside after school, there aren't any other kids out there because every minute of their lives has been scheduled by their over-protective parents. Lenore says (and I agree) that this makes children less resilient and woefully unprepared not just for a college campus but the real world at large.

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

Lenore Skenazy is founder of Free Range Kids and president of the nonprofit Let Grow Foundation.

Amanda Marcotte, "Why Alabamans Will Still Vote For Roy Moore"

As another woman came out to publicly accuse Roy Moore of sexual assault -- in this case, Beverly Nelson says he tried to rape her when she was 16 -- there's an open question of whether these reports will change the minds of Alabama voters when they go to the polls for the special election on December 12th.

My guest, Salon columnist Amanda Marcotte, says we shouldn't expect them to turn against Moore. After all, they already knew that he was an extremist evangelical Christian. Moreover, there are many others like him who believe that teenage girls are ripe for the picking (i.e. that's the age when it's best to marry them and make sure they understand that a man is the head of the household in all matters). We discussed all of that, plus the implications of Mitch McConnell saying Moore should step aside.

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


Previously on Harris Online...

Monday, November 13, 2017

Another Radio Monday


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show. Among my guests will be Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, about how we've raised such a fragile generation of children, and Amanda Marcotte on why Alabamans will still vote for Roy Moore.

I hope you'll listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com. Today’s guarantee: neither I nor any guest or caller will run with scissors, except during commercial breaks.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Roy Moore Story

I had a lot to say about the Roy Moore story yesterday, too much to type up for a single post on this website. Instead, I talked about it at length at the top of my KTRS radio show, and I want to share it with you.

I pointed out the hypocrisy of his supporters, including Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler, who said Moore had done nothing wrong by assaulting a 14-year-old girl when he was 32: "Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus." Considering that Moore and his friends are hyper-religious, you'd think that Ziegler would know the story a little better than that -- especially the part about the Virgin Mary, who was impregnated not by Joseph, but by God. For chrissake, I'm an atheist and, while I don't believe any of it, I know that!

I played the comments on MSNBC by USA Today reporter Heidi Przybyla, former Bush communications director Nicole Wallace, and GOP consultant Susan Del Percio about why Moore's accusers didn't come forward earlier -- and how their bravery, like other women telling their own stories, will give even more victims the courage to speak out.

I pointed out that this story -- like the revelations about Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, and so many other men who have done sexually inappropriate things to women -- is the result of journalism. These revelations are seeing the light of day because of hard-working reporters who deserve our praise, not the scorn they receive regularly from the Ego In Chief and others like him who throw around the phrase "fake news" whenever there's an item about them they don't like.

Most of all, I explained that the Roy Moore story has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with decency. You can't condemn Anthony Weiner for sexting with a 15-year-old girl without also denouncing Moore for stripping and fondling a 14-year-old girl. They are both scumbags, and neither of them deserves to serve in Congress.

Listen to my entire monologue on this subject, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 11/10/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the new version of "Murder On The Orient Express" and its all-star cast.

Then we discussed the just-released statement by Louis CK about his sexual misconduct, the effect he had on his victims, whether he'll ever return to the comedy stage, and a reminder to all men that no one wants to see your genitalia!

We also discussed the unprecedented replacement of Kevin Spacey by Christopher Plummer in Ridley Scott's "All The Money In The World" (which is just weeks away from its release date), the possible return of "Good Girls Revolt," and Jennifer Aniston's first TV series in 14 years.

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

Harris Challenge 11/10/17

On a special Veterans Day edition of my Harris Challenge, the trivia categories include In The Ranks, Military Movie Comedies, and The Vietnam War. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 11/10/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a gas attack during interrogation, a price-switching scheme gone bad, and a pepper spray problem. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Steven Keslowitz, "Why You Better Call Saul"


A few weeks ago, TV critic Alan Sepinwall was back on my radio show to discuss his new book, “Breaking Bad 101.” After that interview aired and I posted it as a podcast, I got a message from an attorney named Steven Keslowitz. No, he wasn’t suing me for anything -- he was pitching himself as a guest.

Steven is a practicing attorney, pop culture expert, and author of “The World According To The Simpsons,” “The Tao of Jack Bauer,” and his new one, “Why You Better Call Saul,” about the “Breaking Bad” spinoff that will move into its fourth season next fall on FX. So I invited him to come on the show and talk about it.

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today for my regular 3-6pm CT show (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com).

In the first hour, I'll talk with Steven Keslowitz about his book, "Why You Better Call Saul."

In the second hour, Max and I will review "Murder On The Orient Express" and other showbiz stuff, including more on the Louis CK and Kevin Spacey stories.

In the third hour, you'll get a chance to test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and I'll have another batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.


Jen Chaney on Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, and more


Here's my conversation with Jen Chaney of Vulture about:
  • accusations of sexual harassment by Louis CK, which caused the premiere of his new movie, "I Love You, Daddy," to be postponed;
  • whether "House Of Cards" has any future in a possible spinoff now that Kevin Spacey has been canned;
  • the unprecedented move of replacing Spacey in Ridley Scott's "All The Money In The World," which is scheduled to be released around Christmas;
  • the new TV series Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston will make for Apple;
  • what makes "Mindhunter" on Netflix stand out from others that have covered similar ground.
What we didn't talk about, but Jen told me off the air, is that she grew up as a teenager listening to my morning show on WCXR/Washington in the 1980s, and then later spent some time as an intern at DC101/Washington when I moved my show there in the 1990s. And that's your "small world" story for today.

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

AJ Jacobs, "It's All Relative"


When AJ Jacobs starts a project, he doesn't look for something simple to write about.

He read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica (remember when that was a thing?) for his 2004 book “The Know-It-All.” He spent a year following all the rules in the Bible for his 2007 book, “The Year of Living Biblically.” He tried to become the healthiest man alive in his 2012 book, “Drop Dead Healthy.” In 2014, he became obsessed with his family tree, at one point putting together the world’s largest family reunion.

Now he’s taken that to the next level, with a book called “It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree,” and returned to my radio show to talk about it. Among the topics we covered:
  • Whether his research still shows that we are distant cousins;
  • Whether he uncovered people he wishes he wasn’t related to (e.g. Jeffrey Dahmer);
  • Whether those DNA tests that purportedly reveal your ancestry really work;
  • How non-traditional relationships (polygamy, gay marriage, children outside of wedlock) make things more interesting for genealogists;
  • Whether finding out they’re related affects the way people treat each other;
  • Whether that even works for white supremacists who discover they're not "racially pure";
  • Whether so many people sharing info now makes it easier to find out about people than earlier;
  • How his wife felt when she found out she'd been having sex with her sixth cousin -- him.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Jeff Rossen, "Rossen To The Rescue"


When he was a teenager, Jeff Rossen's career was inspired by seeing a balding, overweight man talking into a microphone (funny, I didn't even notice him watching me!). He was hooked on broadcasting, so he worked his way into the business and up the ladder until he became the National Investigative Correspondent for NBC’s "Today" show. Now he has a book full of life hacks and safety suggestions from his segments on that show, "Rossen To The Rescue." In discussing it, I asked him:
  • How did you react when a producer suggested you be buried alive in an avalanche?
  • In all the stories you've done, what did you learn that surprised you or changed your mind?
  • Why did your story about coin counting machines make viewers so mad?
  • What did you discover about stores re-selling used underwear?
  • Can you really negotiate the price of big-ticket items at big-box stores?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Picture Of The Day

I had never heard of Representative Suzan DelBene of Washington until today, but I've become an immediate fan of hers, based on this video of her at work. On Monday, as the House Ways and Means committee was working on a markup of the GOP's new tax proposal, DelBene had a few simple questions for one of the witnesses, Thomas Barthold, regarding the bill's emphasis on corporate tax cuts at the expense of working class individuals...

On My Thursday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today 1-3pm CT, filling in for the recuperating John Carney (listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com).

In the first hour, my guest will be Jeff Rossen from NBC’s “Today” show, discussing his new book, “Rossen To The Rescue.”

In the second hour, I’ll talk with AJ Jacobs about his new book, “It’s All Relative,” as well as Jen Chaney, TV critic for Vulture.

The Airplane Pickup

As I wrote yesterday, I spent several days in the LA area with some friends from St. Louis, playing poker at the Commerce Casino. But I left out part of the story, and although this sounds like an old Penthouse Forum letter, I swear it’s true, though the names have been changed.

On the flight out, one of the guys — let’s call him Jack, a good-looking guy in his thirties — sat in the front row of the plane, and started flirting with one of the flight attendants (pseudonym: Jenny, an attractive blonde around the same age). At some point, Jenny gave Jack her cell phone number, said she had a 24-hour layover in LA, and invited him to meet her at the hotel the crew always stays in near the airport. All of this was confirmed by another friend we’ll call Andy, who was sitting next to Jack in the bulkhead seats.

Being an unmarried human male, Jack eagerly accepted Jenny’s invitation. When we landed, he took the ride to Commerce with us, but the hotel rooms weren’t ready yet, and he really wanted to take a shower before going to meet her. He texted her, and she suggested he shower in her room. This is what’s known as a Guarantee Of Future Excitement. But Jack didn’t want to show up there unkempt, so he sweet-talked the woman at the front desk of the hotel into letting him in to the first room that was ready (this guy is good). A half-hour later, he was showered, shaved, dressed, and ready to go.

He took an $80 cab ride back to Jenny’s airport hotel while the three of us still at Commerce were sure we wouldn’t see Jack until the next day, when her layover (ahem!) ended. To our surprise, he re-appeared about five hours later. He filled us in on the details — that I won’t share with you — and explained that after fun-time was over, he realized she was a little crazy (his words), so he had no interest in hanging around. Instead, he cabbed it back to Commerce (another $80 cab ride).

When I told my wife this story, she said it sounded like I was jealous. I admitted that I was, but not in the way she meant it. I explained that, since we’ve been married 34 years, I would never think of even trying such a thing. The sad thing is that there was no point in my life, even as a young single guy, when I was that smooth with any woman. Ever. It’s not like those days are long behind me, it’s that they never existed in the first place!

So what was I was jealous of? After returning to Commerce, Jack sat down in a Pot Limit Omaha game and proceeded to win $5,000 in about three hours. Does this man know how to start a road trip?

P.S. Fortunately for Jack, Jenny was not working the return flight we took home.