Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Picture Of The Day

This seems appropriate today, to celebrate 17 ink-free years...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Final Table #121: Kathy Liebert

Today on The Final Table show, Dennis checked in from the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, where he was on a break during their championship event. He recapped about his weekend in Reno, where he played in Jennifer Harman's charity tournament and the Nevada State Championship, including a hand he played against Men The Master Nguyen.

In our guest segment, I talked with Kathy Liebert, the winningest woman in tournament poker history. She's been outspoken in her criticism of the top pros at Full Tilt Poker, which still hasn't refunded money to its US players, and I asked her if she thinks that those who made millions off the site are obligated to reach into their own pockets to pay back their customers. We also discussed whether she'll play in the Federated poker league that Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollack are running, why she's considering getting a condo in Florida, what it's like to be a touring poker pro without a big endorsement deal, and her plans for the World Series Of Poker (which starts a week from today).

In our news recap, I touched on the newest phase of the online poker shutdown, which yesterday saw and several other gambling sites seized by the US Attorney of Maryland, and one of the defendants from the Black Friday indictments pleading guilty (and likely to cooperate with the feds).

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

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Stench of Saturday Night

I think I'm like a lot of people who have long forsaken "Saturday Night Live" as a regular viewing habit, but still occasionally set the DVR to see if Lorne Michaels' crew can turn out a decent sketch or two that week. More often than not, we're disappointed by the tameness of the cold opening political sketches, which suffer from a lack of impressionists in the cast (there's no one in the current roster who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Darrell Hammond, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, or even Tina Fey). I can't remember the last time I watched past "Weekend Update," which in a world of instant communication -- and better and more crisp topical joke writing on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" -- seems as outdated as a Leona Helmsley reference. And as talented as Kristin Wiig is, her appearance in virtually every sketch has had the pin on the over-exposure meter pinned for quite awhile.

In a critical piece he wrote for Slate, Nathan Heller calls the show "the embarrassing uncle of American comedy." He's absolutely right, although even he admits that it's extremely unlikely SNL's formulaic approach to comedy -- and the hope-I-become-a-movie-star dreams of every actor on the show -- are going to change anytime soon.

Stormy Weather

Our neighbors across the street lost a tree in their front yard today when a major thunderstorm ripped through the area. It wasn't anything close to the mile-wide tornado that swept through Joplin yesterday, but there were power outages and some damage.

Unfortunately, this comes with the territory. Just as people along major rivers have to be wary of flooding, or coastal communities keep an eye out for hurricanes, or northern states prepare for blizzards, spring has always brought severe weather here. It's rare for a week to go by without some kind of National Weather Service watch or warning for tornadoes or thunderstorms, which deluge us with huge amounts of rain and wind for short bursts as they roll through. We're bracing for lots of them over the next four days.

This is golden time for a TV meteorologist, a chance to show off all the cool graphics and gizmos (e.g. one of them has technology that shows where lightning has struck, not because anyone cares, but because they have it). They never want to be accused of not warning us about the impending weather apocalypse, so they jump right in and preempt programming like it was going out of style. Even when they do release the airwaves for the regular show to resume, they fill the corner of the screen with county-by-county warning maps as updates scroll by in the bottom third.

This can be annoying when you're in a part of town unaffected by the storm. We've had several occasions where everything was calm outside our windows, but a torrent of wind and wetness was deluging friends who live five miles away -- and vice versa. We've also been caught on the road as the rain poured over us with more ferocity than the power-blaster at the car wash.

When a storm like that is overhead, the sky turns an odd shade of dark grey, almost green, as the barometric pressure drops. The thunderclaps are loud enough to wake a coma victim, and when conditions are right, we'll get hail the size of baseballs. That's not an exaggeration. My daughter grabbed one several years ago, and it's still in the back of our freezer.

The people who owned our home before us apparently didn't know about the aural side of mother nature's wrath, or they never would have had skylights installed in the master bedroom. When one of these hailstorms hits with full force, it sounds like we're under attack. The only benefit to these meteorological menaces is that our roof got so pelted a few years ago (it had almost as many dents in it as a golf ball) that we had to get a new one, and our insurance policy covered it.

Spring is a good time to be in the roofing business in the midwest -- except for the traveling roofing crews that descend, under-price the market, do a less-than-quality job, and then move on to the next storm-damaged town, leaving shoddy workmanship behind with no recourse for the unsuspecting homeowners. One of those crews tried to weasel their way onto our job, but we went with someone we knew would do it right and still be here afterwards. Tip: don't use a roofer who doesn't have a local address and phone number.

We've been fortunate thus far in that we haven't been hit by storms as fierce as the one that hit Joplin (MO) and Reading (KS) and North Minneapolis (MN) yesterday, or the one that bashed Lambert Airport a few weeks ago, but we'll be lucky if we get through this week without losing power again and seeing tree branches strewn everywhere. In the meantime, everyone here knows to take those tornado warning sirens seriously. But even if they aren't blaring, when the sky starts looking dark and ominous, it's just springtime in the midwest.

Blue Spangled Banner

This could have been the setup for an old Bob Newhart standup bit -- the community relations person for the San Francisco Giants taking the publicist's phone call: "Yes, we do like to have celebrities come and perform the National Anthem before our home games. What are their names? Oh, they never reveal their names. Okay. Are they good singers? Oh, they don't sing. Well, we've had musicians like Chuck Mangione here, so that's not a deal-breaker. What instrument do they play? Oh, it's not really an instrument, more of a percussive tube device. Um, let me get back to you, okay?"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Movie Month

Quick notes on some movies that have spun through my DVD player over the last month:

"It's Kind Of A Funny Story."  A movie about a suicidal teenager who checks himself into a mental hospital and is assigned to an adult psychiatric ward where he meets Zach Galifinakis.  Keir Gilchrist is good as the kid, Galifinakis is good at playing the same character he always plays, and there are other decent supporting players, but no movie on this subject can ever hold a candle to "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest."

"Casino Jack."  I like Kevin Spacey a lot, which explains why I keep falling for some of his lesser works (I'll never get back the two hours I wasted on "Beyond The Sea").  The problem with this one isn't that Spacey's bad in it -- he isn't -- it's that master lobbyist/con man Jack Abramoff isn't the most compelling subject for a biography. Spacey tries very hard, even overcoming the casting of Jon Lovitz in a large supporting role, but I just didn't care.

"Megamind."  Clever writing plus great animation plus good voice acting can equal a terrific movie (see anything Pixar's made).  Or it can become this waste of time.

"Secretariat."  I'd watch Diane Lane do just about anything, and she's good as Penny Chenery, the woman behind the horse.  So is John Malkovich, as the ornery trainer with his own way of doing things.  After "Seabiscuit," I was skeptical of watching yet another overcoming-adversity-to-win-the-big-race story, but the footage of Big Red on the track makes it worthwhile.  Tangential recommendation: if you want to watch a horse racing movie that's about the other side of the business -- the down-on-their-luck bettors who populate the tracks on a daily basis -- take a look at "Let It Ride," with Richard Dreyfuss, David Johannsen, Jennifer Tilly, Allen Garfield, Teri Garr, and a classic performance by Robbie Coltrane.

"War of the Worlds."  As in so many other Spielberg special effects epics, it doesn't matter that a huge number of people have been killed by the alien invasion, because (spoiler alert!) in the end, Tom Cruise is reunited with his family and gets a big hug from Dakota Fanning.  Somewhere along the way, Spielberg must have realized he forgot the basics of HG Wells' original plot, so he brought in Morgan Freeman to explain some things in voiceover (and because Freeman has become America's Official Narrator).

"Love and Other Drugs."  Anne Hathaway is naked, repeatedly, and that's a good thing.  She's also a damned good actress.  Oh, yeah, Jake Gyllenhaal's in it, too.  But the movie isn't sure whether it's a comedy about sex-with-benefits or a statement on Big Pharma and people with Parkinson's.  An odd mix of story lines, but it kinda works -- thanks to Hathaway's talent.

"Fair Game."  While Kevin Spacey and colleagues couldn't make the Jack Abramoff story compelling, director Doug Liman takes the Valerie Plame story and revs it into an intense political thriller.  Liman (who hasn't made enough movies in 1996 but has "Swingers," "The Bourne Identity," and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" to be proud of) had great source material to work with and outstanding leads -- Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as Joe Wilson are riveting as the system they work inside turns against them.  I found myself getting seriously pissed off at Bush's operatives again.

"Inside Job."  Speaking of getting pissed off, here's a documentary that turned my Ire Meter up to 11.  It's Charles Ferguson's look at the greedy weasels who built the financial house of cards that came crashing down and sent us spiraling into this recession.  Shame on the regulators, legislators, and others who were supposed to be overseeing a system that was being exploited beyond belief while they looked the other way.  Even worse than the meltdown is the lack of accountability since then -- as Ferguson pointed out when he accepted this year's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, not a single one of these bastards has been prosecuted for what they did.  By the way, Matt Damon does a fine job replacing Morgan Freeman as The Narrator.

"The American."  Tied with "Men Who Stare At Goats" and "Syriana" for Worst George Clooney Movie Ever.  Has been known to cause narcolepsy in speed freaks.  I'm talking boring.

"Get Low."  Robert Duvall is a crotchety old hermit who wants a funeral party thrown while he's alive so he can hear what people say about him.  So Bill Murray arranges it, but by the time the funeral comes around, with hundreds of townspeople in attendance, the movie makers forgot to have them reveal anything interesting about him. A disappointment because Duvall and Murray do their usual solid jobs.

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."  That's because money is too busy filing a class-action lawsuit trying to get its money back after watching this ridiculous sequel.

"Salt."  Angelina Jolie could kill you with her toenail if she wanted to.  She might be an American super-spy or she might be a Russian sleeper agent.  Telling it one way is a cliche, telling it the other way is intriguing.  They told it the other way, and I was impressed.  Nice supporting work by Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, too.

"The Tillman Story."  A captivating documentary about how the military turned the true circumstances of Pat Tillman's death into a lie they could use for recruitment, and to keep the horrors of war from reaching the eyes and ears of American citizens.  Every son should have an advocate mother like Mary Tillman.  Director Amir Bar-Lev and his crew deserve major kudos, but were given short shrift by the Oscars, where "The Tillman Story" wasn't even nominated.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Final Table #120: Daniel Negreanu

Today on The Final Table show, in an exclusive extended interview, we talked with Daniel Negreanu about a variety of issues, starting with the WPT Championship Event, where he pointed out a player who's been accused of cheating at least 2 poker tournaments in Europe, yet was still allowed to be in the field at Bellagio this weekend, and even made it to Day 4. Daniel explained why he thinks tournament directors need to get together to prevent players like this from entering future tournaments, including the World Series of Poker.

Speaking of the WSOP, which kicks off just 2 weeks from now, we asked Daniel what the impact of Black Friday will be on attendance at the Rio, both in the smaller and larger buy-in events, as well as in the Main Event. We also asked if he's going to play in the new Federated Poker League which is being run by Annie Duke, whom Daniel has had some harsh words about over the last few years. And we discussed whether the loss of sponsorships will make it near-impossible to be a poker professional who travels from tournament to tournament around the country and the world.

Dennis and I also touched on the latest online poker news, including the problems Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet, and Absolute Poker players are having getting their money back from those sites, as well as Doyle Brunson removing his endorsement from the site named after him.

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

Previously on The Final Table...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Power Band Bull

Last week, the CBS "Early Show" did an expose about those plastic bracelets that have become all the rage in the past couple of years -- the ones that claim to help your stamina, balance, etc. Assisting in the piece was Banachek, a member of the team at the James Randi Educational Foundation that exposes pseudo-science garbage like this.

Unfortunately, even when confronted with facts and evidence that the bands do absolutely nothing more than retain mass, the members of the test group all still wanted one. That's the hardest part of being a skeptic -- convincing people that nonsense is nonsense. And don't believe the final statement from one company that makes these scam items, which says it will do rigorous diagnostic testing to show that their claims are true. No, they won't, because the truth would kill their business.

On the other hand, I like the shot that anchorman Chris Wragge takes at power band believer Shaquille O'Neal...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Customer Service

Last week, I had to call the county to have an inspector come to our house to check the work of a plumbing contractor who had installed our new dishwasher. The contractor gave me the number and said, "Call between 7 and 8am so you can make an appointment. If you call after that, they'll be in the field and you'll never nail down the time they'll show up."

As instructed, I called just after 7am and explained what I needed to the person who answered the phone. He told me to hang on, then put the phone down, and shouted, "Hey, Roger, where the f*** are the sheets for today? There's a guy who wants to make an appointment and I can't find the goddamn thing!" He went on like that for another minute, shuffling papers and cursing. Since I wasn't on hold, I could hear everything that was said until another voice picked up the phone and said, "This is Roger. What's your address?" When I told him, he said he'd arrive around 9:15am -- and he did. The inspection took all of 90 seconds. I debated mentioning what I'd overheard, but decided against it.

That night, a friend told me about a run-in he'd had with a contractor who's doing some landscape lighting for him. He'd been told the crew would show up between 1 and 5pm, so he called around 1pm to see if they could narrow it down, or at least tell him if they were running late. The woman who answered the phone said she had no idea, and the crew was working on another job at the moment. My friend asked if she could call them to see how their schedule looked, but she refused. Staying calm, he asked her again to please check and at least ask them to call before coming over, because he wanted to be 100% sure he was home so he didn't miss them.

She finally relented, contacted them, then called him back to say the crew probably wouldn't be there until about 5pm. He thanked her and hung up. A few minutes later, he got an email from the woman at the contractor's office that she had obviously sent to the wrong person -- my friend, instead of the crew -- because it read, "This turd wants you to call him before you go."

Beginning to regret hiring this contractor, my friend decided to play coy. He replied to her e-mail, "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying." She didn't respond, but about a half-hour later, he got a call from the owner of the company, apologizing for the e-mail and re-confirming that the crew would be there at 5pm.

I've mentioned this story to several people, all of whom said they would have told the owner to fire the woman for failing to represent his company in a good light with a customer. A couple said that they would have cancelled the work and found someone else to install the lighting. My wife, the ombudswoman for our family, said she wouldn't have done either of those -- she would have negotiated a discount from the owner for having been treated that way.

I don't know what eventually happened to the woman at this company -- any number of circumstances could have allowed her to continue working there, including being related to the boss -- but I wasn't surprised. I saw it as yet another example of bad customer service, a problem that seems to have become a pandemic in the last few years. In fact, I'm amazed when I deal with company representatives who are anything more than minimally competent, like the gentleman at Tele-Charge who helped me purchase some theater tickets over the phone yesterday, even finding me better seats on an aisle for a lower price.

This isn't about companies making promises they can't keep (in both cases, the inspector and the contractor showed up on time and did the work they were supposed to do to the satisfaction of the customers). It's about having people on the front lines of your business who are good at dealing with the public. True, those are often lower-paying jobs with more-than-occasional frustrations, but that's no excuse for doing it poorly.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Paul Simon Steps Aside

Last Saturday, Paul Simon performed at the Sound Academy in Toronto, promoting his new album, "So Beautiful Or So What."

Between songs, a fan named Rayna Ford asked Simon to play "Duncan," telling him that she had learned to play guitar to that song. Simon, as good a showman as he is a singer/songwriter, invited Ford onstage, then handed her a guitar and let her perform "Duncan" for the crowd. You can see the awe and joy in her face as she lets loose, with the band joining in, creating what is surely one of the highlights of her life -- and Simon gets a huge kick out of it, too...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trumped By His Own Subsidies

Donald Trump never had a chance of becoming President, and he knows it.

He's never been more than a media slut, happy to exploit every opportunity to promote himself, his reality show, and his projects. In a political vacuum such as the GOP candidates field, the press and the light-talk TV shows turned to him because he's a name people know, which made it seem like he was among the front-runners in some too-early-to-matter polls. Worse, Trump is a master at deflecting questions and answering only in ways that create more attention for him -- even though the things he spouted were so far afield from reality -- and he found a willing ally in interviewers who rarely followed up with facts, pinned him down, and pointed out how he was either dead wrong or spreading unsubstantiated rumors.

The biggest reason Trump will never be a viable presidential candidate is because, while he's been spouting anti-government propaganda, he has gotten rich at the expense of American taxpayers thanks to massive government subsidies and tax breaks. Los Angeles Times reporters Geraldine Baum, Tom Hamburger, and Michael J. Mishak explain it all in a piece that should finally kill off any scuttlebutt about Trump's candidacy that remains after Seth Meyers eviscerated him at the White House Correspondents Dinner a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. Deity & The Magician

My friend Jamy Ian Swiss appears in the latest episode of Mr. Deity as (what else?) a cynical magician...

Final Table #119: Annie Duke & Dusty Schmidt

Today on The Final Table show, we talked with Annie Duke about the new professional poker players league that she is commissioner of, which last week announced the first 217 players who will be invited to take part in the league's first season, beginning in August. She explained which pros have agreed to play in the inaugural tournaments, where the funding is coming for the league, whether they have a TV deal, and more. We also discussed a chapter in Annie's new book, "Decide To Play Great Poker," where she talks about how much you should raise pre-flop in no-limit hold'em.

We also talked with Dusty Schmidt, author of "Don't Listen To Phil Hellmuth," who has some ideas of his own about pre-flop raise sizes, as well as why "donk bets" aren't always a bad idea, and how some very successful pros (e.g. Tom Dwan) have cultivated an image of crazy play but are really just playing great poker. Dusty also shared some ideas on how players and the poker industry need to work together to clean up the game's image.

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

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Silenced Voice

Christopher Hitchens is saddened to find that the cancer he's fighting has begun to take away his voice -- though he can still write, speech has become a struggle -- a notion he finds most disheartening. As one who has made a career out of speaking, I sympathize with him.

I remember when this happened to my father. Though he didn't have cancer, his body atrophied long before his mind did. When we would sit together, I could see the frustration in his face, knowing that his mighty brain was still capable of creating ideas and images, but his mouth and throat couldn't form them into anything audible anymore. After a lifetime of conversation, lectures, retorts, quips, and rejoinders, losing the power of verbal expression must be impossibly tough.

Pendulum Waves

You never thought to do this with that old five-balls-clacking toy on your desktop, but two scientists at Harvard did, tripling the number of pendulum balls and producing something so basic yet so elegant...

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Stop Blaming Teachers

Our education system has been getting a lot of attention from documentarians in recent years. Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting For Superman" caused a stir (and got Oprah's blessing) by putting a lot of blame on teachers and their union. "Race To Nowhere," by Vicki Abeles, is getting attention at private screenings (because no big distributor has picked it up) by focusing on how high school students are severely over-burdened by homework. Tonight, "American Teacher," from Dave Eggers, Ninive Calegari, and Vanessa Roth (based on the book "Teachers Have It Easy") will have its world premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Eggers and Calegari wrote an op-ed in this weekend's NY Times, which began like this...

When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.
As the son of two educators, I know how hard teachers work. I recoil when I hear someone complain that teachers only work a few hours a day and get summers off -- especially when those complaints come from highly paid TV pundits who put in fewer hours and are clearly less prepared than the average American teacher.  The same for politicians who have shamefully blamed teachers for their states' economic woes. None of them would last a year in a classroom.  I doubt they'd make it through a month.

The loudmouths don't understand the job, the training it requires, or the time teachers devote to their jobs. They don't know that, after an 8-hour day, most teachers spend many more hours grading papers, preparing the next day's lessons, answering e-mails from students, having conferences with parents, advising after-school clubs, attending curriculum meetings, and on and on through the afternoon and into the night.

Their job (and the all-important funding for it) depends on how students score on standardized tests, and have to show improvement from year to year, like a car salesman has to sell more cars each quarter. The difference is that kids are not cars, all built to a minimum safety standard and road-ready from the moment they reach the showroom. Imagine if that salesman had a twenty-cars-per-month quota, but wasn't told what kind of cars to sell, what their features were, what they had under the hood, what their mileage was, and all the basic information they usually have.

That's how a teacher starts every school year -- with a classroom full of students of varying ability and desire to learn. It can take even the best teacher several weeks to determine what motivates each pupil and discover which ones will succeed or fail, regardless of how much effort they put in. Then, if you pay too much attention to the bottom of the class, the middle and top suffer, but if you ignore those under-achievers, they'll drag down your overall test scores.

The argument over paying teachers too often devolves into a question of how we're going to come up with the money. Taxpayers don't want their rates to go up, and critics claim that throwing more dollars at the problem doesn't solve anything. But look at the communities where the best public schools are, and you'll always see a higher tax base. People want to live in those neighborhoods because of the quality of the schools, which makes the properties there more valuable, which in turn creates higher assessments, which brings in more money for those schools. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and easy to see why poorer areas can't get out of the dreaded cycle of financial limitations.

Those schools that out-perform the rest have another important factor in common -- one more that teachers have no control over -- parents who have made education the top priority in their homes. For a child to succeed in school, there must be a constant emphasis on making school Job One. It doesn't have to be at Tiger Mom intensity, but without regular parental reinforcement about the importance of a good education, getting homework done, being prepared physically and mentally, and a positive attitude towards learning from the earliest years straight through high school, it's unfair to blame a kid's failure on teachers.

As the final weeks of this school year approach, classic rock radio stations will start to play Alice Cooper's "School's Out" in higher rotation, as they have since it was first a hit nearly 40 years ago.  In my early days as a disc jockey, I used to get tons of requests for it --an anthem for kids happy to be free of the bonds to their brick-and-mortar drudgery and "teachers' dirty looks."  In my early days as the son of two teachers, I can tell you that the feeling was mutual.

What's changed between then and now?  These days,  to cover their life expenses, both the students and the teachers have to look for summer jobs.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Mr. Perspective on Osama's Death

In discussing Osama Bin Laden's hideout in Abbottobad, several media outlets have reported he was "hiding in plain sight." Wrong! This wasn't a guy who was in the witness protection program, using a new name, watching his kids play soccer, and going to Dairy Queen for a blizzard. This was a terrorist who never left his compound while living behind 12-foot-high walls topped with barbed wire, who had a 7-foot-high wall on his balcony so no one could see inside! That's not "in plain sight."

Of course there are conspiracy nuts who doubt Bin Laden was really killed because they haven't seen the body. While this would be a wonderfully elaborate ruse to draw him out ("I'm not dead, I'm right here" BOOM!), these folks fit in the same category as the idiots who demanded to see Obama's birth certificate, because if they can't put eyes on hard evidence of something, it must not have happened. Ironically, they don't require anywhere near that level of proof for their own religious beliefs -- or whatever viral story shows up in their email inbox.

Speaking of religious beliefs, we're told that the US military did everything right in ensuring that Bin Laden was buried at sea according to Muslim custom, but naturally there are experts in that religion who are nitpicking the details. I wonder who cares, and who we're afraid of pissing off. If you're a Muslim extremist, nothing the US does will ever be right. If you're not a Muslim extremist, what difference does it make how we disposed of the body of a man who personified pure evil? This was a man who bastardized your religion into the basis for global terrorism, not some innocent Muslim mom gunned down on her way to the mosque.

As for those complaining about Americans celebrating a man's death, I have no problem with it. My daughter wonders how I can support the death penalty. I tell her that there are some people who are guilty of horrible crimes against humanity -- not an innocent man wrongly sentenced to death by the state after a hinky trial with dubious evidence and an agenda-driven prosecution, but really bad people about whom there is no doubt they committed a truly heinous act (or acts).

Timothy McVeigh. Pol Pot. Jeffrey Dahmer. Moammar Qaddafi. Charles Whitman. David Koresh. Those behind the holocaust in Rwanda. The world has over six billion people on it. Some of those people we can do without. Thin the herd. Society will continue to thrive despite their absence. Or perhaps because of it.

Then there are those worried that the killing of Bin Laden will make the world more dangerous; that Al Qaeda will try to strike back at us. This is one of the story lines the media glommed onto almost immediately after the story broke. The truth is that Bin Laden's death won't be a recruitment tool for the enemy. Murderous religious zealots were developing ways to attack us before, and they still are, but you're no less safe today than you were on Saturday.

And you still can't take your jumbo-size shampoo and toothpaste on the plane.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Final Table #118: Jennifer Harman Returns

Today on The Final Table show, we talked about the just-released criteria and list of 218 players eligible for the Federated poker league, the new tournament series run by Jeffrey Pollack, with Annie Duke as Commissioner, which will have its debut events in August. We discussed how players qualified, the surprises among those who didn't make it, what kind of turnout they'll get, and where the money's coming from to produce all of this.

In our guest segment, we welcomed back Jennifer Harman, the only woman to win bracelets in two WSOP open events, and a regular in the biggest cash game in the world in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio. Among the topics of discussion:
  • what advice she has for former online players who now have to play live cash games and tournaments for a living;
  • whether it's possible to be a touring pro without sponsorship;
  • whether she'll play in the Federated poker league (she's one of the qualifiers);
  • why she's now splitting her time between Vegas and Reno;
  • whether she wants her twin sons to grow up to be poker pros;
  • why limit poker -- her specialty, which she wrote about for Doyle Brunson's "SuperSystem 2" -- doesn't get more TV time, and whether she thinks it's a good "next game" for no-limit players;
  • what she has planned for her 5th annual Throwdown, a celebrity poker tournament at the Peppermill in Reno, Nevada, on May 21st to benefit the Nevada SPCA.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Our conversation with Jennifer Harman last year (show #62) was our most-downloaded Final Table podcast of all time. If you missed it, listen here.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The President's Speech

Saturday night, before the killing of Osama Bin Laden took over every conversation in Washington, the White House Correspondents Association held their annual dinner, with "Saturday Night Live" head writer Seth Meyers as the headliner.

I've never liked Meyers' delivery -- on "Weekend Update" he always seems to sell the joke too hard -- but his material at the dinner was strong enough to carry the night.  In particular, the crowd really enjoyed his shots at Donald Trump, who sat humorlessly at his table thinking "that's not funny, but at least the C-SPAN cameras are on me, and that's all that matters."  For awhile there, it almost seemed like Trump was being roasted (if Jeffrey Ross had showed up, it would have been on Comedy Central). Even President Obama took a few shots at Mr. Apprentice.

I'm not going to embed Meyers and Obama's speeches, but here's a piece of video that was part of the President's presentation, a parody of this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture...

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Tweeting The News

In case you don't follow me on Twitter, here are some of the quickie thoughts I tweeted tonight in the hour after the news of Osama Bin Laden's death at the hands of US special forces in Pakistan:

  • 2 stories yet to be told: details on how the special forces team got OBL, and how social media was used to create the flash mob at the WH.
  • Obama probably had a GULP moment when the helicopter went down in Pakistan, flashing back to Mogadishu and the Iran hostage rescue failure.
  • What a boost for Obama's re-election campaign. Right wing's gotta be pissed that OBL wasn't caught on their watch.
  • Many in the crowd outside the WH are from the generation that has fought America's longest war -- a war with very few victories until now.
  • Think the Secret Service crew at the WH is on high alert? What's the last time there was a crowd this big outside the WH gates?
  • Dude 1: "Let's go join the crowd celebrating in front of the White House!" Dude 2: "Okay, I'll bring my beach ball!"
  • Just saw a guy in a Hulkamania shirt in the crowd outside the White House. Probably bought it when the hostages were released from Iran.
  • David Gregory was good anchoring NBC coverage, but Brian Williams came in anyway. Meanwhile, Katie Couric & Diane Sawyer nowhere to be seen?
  • For those wondering where the Pakistan city of Abbotobad is, it's a straight line from there to nearby Costellobad.
  • As an Apple shareholder, I'd love to hear that the CIA got OBL because they were able to pinpoint his location using that iPhone tracking data.
  • Great quote from Lara Logan on CBS: "You've got to get OBL to win, but getting him doesn't mean you've won."
  • From Doyle Brunson: The U.S govt found out Bin Laden was running an online poker room, so they stepped up their efforts to find him.
  • From Bob Powers:  "I loosened it." -- Bush
  • The delay in Obama's speech is to set up a real Mission Accomplished banner -- exactly 8 years after Bush made that ridiculous announcement.
My latest tweets are always on the right side of this page, but you can also follow me on Twitter via your mobile device as "paulharrisshow."

    Atheist In America

    From an op-ed in the Washington Post by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman...

    A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

    Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon.

    As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought.
    Read the whole thing here.