Thursday, September 29, 2011

Remembering The Dick Van Dyke Show

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the debut of one of the all-time great sitcoms, I invited an expert to talk about it today -- Vince Waldron, author of "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book," which he has updated and revised for the occasion.

Included in our discussion:
  • How the show was rescued after bad ratings in its first season;
  • Why the network objected to Mary Tyler Moore's capri pants;
  • What happened to the walnuts;
  • The story behind the episode the cast agrees was their worst;
  • The lyrics that were never heard to the show's theme song;
  • How the iconic title sequence with Dick tripping over the ottoman wasn’t the original.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another Movie You May Not Know

I was watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN last night, and one of the players they kept focusing on was Mars Callahan.  Lon McEachern kept referring to him as a Hollywood writer/director, so I went to IMdB to look him up.  Callahan's last movie was "What Love Is," starring Gina Gershon, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Anne Heche -- it was released in 2007 on only 42 screens and then disappeared into the ether.

Before that, Callahan wrote, directed, and starred in a 2002 movie called "Pool Hall Junkies."  I'd never heard of it, but since the movie was available for streaming on Netflix, I gave it a shot. The first thing that surprised me was the cast:  Callahan plays the pool hustler protagonist, Chazz Palminteri plays his backer who becomes his enemy, Rod Steiger runs the big pool hall in town, Christopher Walken is a rich guy who befriends Callahan, and Rick Schroeder is another young pro who's great with a cue stick.

The scenes shot at the pool tables are terrific.  It looks like the actors are wielding their own cues -- making some amazing shots and runs -- and Callahan does at least as good a job at putting the game on film as Scorcese did in "The Color of Money."  He also borrows a little of Quentin Tarantino's style with freeze frames and slow motion, but it doesn't get in the way.  Unfortunately, the non-pool-related dialogue is often trite, and the plot devices that get us to the climactic game offer little suspense.

But I'd still recommend "Pool Hall Junkies" for the action sequences alone, and have added it to my Movies You Might Not Know list. When it was over, I was left wondering why Callahan hasn't done more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Final Table #139: More Full Tilt Fallout + Poker Refugees

Today on The Final Table poker radio show, we continued following the fallout of the Full Tilt Poker indictments, including:
  • the DOJ's warrant to seize the bank accounts of Full Tilt principals Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Ray Bitar, and Rafe Furst;
  • public statements from Furst;
  • claims by attorneys for both Ferguson and Full Tilt that there was no "ponzi scheme";
  • comments from Tom Dwan (one of Full Tilt's sponsored pros) who says the indictments are "good news";
  • the Poker Players Alliance's attempts to get restitution for Full Tilt players;
  • Epic Poker League stripping Lederer and Ferguson of their eligibility;
  • Congressman Barney Frank saying he'll return Full Tilt's campaign contributions;
  • the possible identity of the possible investor that could possibly save Full Tilt;
  • several questions from our Twitter followers, too.
In our guest segment, we spoke with Kristin Wilson, who runs Poker Refugees, a service for Americans who want to move to another country so they can continue playing online poker legally. She explained which places are the easiest to move to, what the regulations are regarding establishing residency, how long it takes to get set up in a new home, and much more.

In our poker coach segment, Joe Tehan of explained how to simplify your game instead of over-thinking it.

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Trickle Up Economics

A funny, insightful piece by Will Durst on what the GOP calls "a class war"...

When taxes are raised on the rich, that's class warfare, but when subsidies are handed out to giant corporations who siphon jobs offshore so that rich people can have more money, that's Trickle-Down Economics. What Barack should do is rename his efforts to balance the playing field, "Trickle-Up Economics." That would at least confuse them. Although after watching the last couple of debates, confusion does not seem to be in short supply.

We're not even allowed to call them rich anymore. They're "job creators" now. And yes, jobs are being created. In Mexico. And Vietnam. And China. The American Dream is alive and well, just not here. It's our own damn fault, really. American workers have ruined everything with their irrational demands for safe working conditions and a living wage. Who do we think we are? Stockholders?

Republicans have been as strident as a looped siren in a stainless steel silo in their opposition to a specific Obama proposal called the Buffett Rule, which calls for billionaires like Warren Buffett to pay the same tax rate as their secretaries. The GOP prefers the Jimmy Buffett Rule, which postulates that anybody worried about next month's rent money- start drinking Margaritas until they pass out.
Read Durst's entire piece here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lean Low

On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski just finished talking with Bill Clinton at his annual Clinton Global Initiative conference. As they went to a commercial break, Mika turned to Joe and asked about the former president, "Has he always been a low talker?" Having apparently never seen a certain episode of "Seinfeld," Clinton injected, "A low talker? What's that?" Mika replied, "It's a person who...well...we have to lean in to hear what you're saying." I guess she forgot her own network's promotional slogan: Lean Forward.

It could have been worse. Scarborough could have been wearing a puffy shirt.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Poker Ponzi Followup

I received a lot of phone calls and e-mails yesterday from people who wanted my opinion after news broke about the US Attorney in Manhattan calling the online poker site Full Tilt Poker a "global ponzi scheme" and filing a civil lawsuit against the owners of the company, including well-known poker pros Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson.

Dennis Phillips and I spent the first half of our Final Table show discussing all the details of the story at length yesterday (you can listen to it here), with me concluding that Lederer and Ferguson may go down as bigger poker pariahs than Russ Hamilton, the man behind the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal of a few years ago. If the allegations against Lederer, Ferguson, et al are true, then they cheated a lot more people out of a lot more money -- hundreds of millions of dollars -- than Hamilton ever dreamed of, thus rushing past Hamilton and approaching Bernie Madoff on the scumbag scale.

What this means for anyone who still has money locked up on Full Tilt (which they haven't been able to withdraw since the DOJ shut down their US operations on Black Friday, April 15th) is that any hope of recouping those funds is now almost assuredly lost. This entire affair, while far from over, serves as more proof of why online poker needs to be licensed and regulated in the United States. While strict rules don't guarantee people won't get ripped off -- see Bernie Madoff, Enron, the financial industry, etc. -- they do create an environment where safety and security are a priority and, with proper oversight, limit the opportunities for customers' cash to be misused by criminal enterprises or businesses that are simply run incompetently, whether there's an intent to steal or not.

The story also highlights the difference between Full Tilt and PokerStars. While the execs at the former allegedly had a pay-themselves-first policy to the tune of $444 million over four years (!), the latter has kept players' funds segregated and secure so that they could return them to US players after Black Friday, and continue to service players in other parts of the world. That's why, going forward, the DOJ will likely look more favorably on PokerStars than Full Tilt (and Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet and other sites).

Lederer and Ferguson, along with CEO Ray Bitar and other Full Tilt owners like Rafe Furst, created a new-media business that, if run honorably, would have printed lots of money for them year in and year out. Unfortunately, they let greed get the best of them and cooked their golden goose.

I didn't have any money on Full Tilt, so I'm not directly affected by these allegations, but I worry that none of this is good for poker's overall image. Unfortunately, poker only gets major media attention when something negative like this Full Tilt story breaks, and then it seems as if none of the reporters has ever played a hand online or set foot in a poker room. Thus, their bias is to present our game as something slimy, when in fact the story is about corrupt business practices.

Most of us who play poker are upstanding, normal people who enjoy the challenge of outplaying our opponents at the table. Some play for small amounts, others play for more. Most of us play within our means recreationally, while some have turned it into a profession. I know of a friendly neighborhood game played in someone's basement for $5 each, but I also know of a weekly game that existed in DC when I lived there where the buy-in was $10,000 and the participants included a Supreme Court Justice and several big-shot lawyers.

Regardless of the size of the game or the circumstances, poker players must be conscious of the image we're presenting -- not to each other, but to the general population. I'm not suggesting that all the hoodies and sunglasses be thrown aside in favor of suits and ties, but the way players dress and act (both at the tables and elsewhere) can have a great impact on how the non-poker-playing world views all of us.

We don't play in dingy smoke-filled backrooms anymore, and we shouldn't act like it. We play out in the open in our local casinos, with dozens of cameras and personnel ensuring the integrity of the game. I don't know anywhere else in the world you'd see people leaving a stack of hundreds of dollars worth of chips behind while they go to the bathroom, secure in the knowledge it'll still be there when they get back.

As in any industry, there are people with sad stories related to finance, relationships, jobs, and other problem areas, and unfortunately, they tend to get the spotlight more often than poker success stories. Why? Because most winning poker players don't make a fuss about themselves. It's bad for business to go around bragging about how much you've won or who you beat or why you're the best. It's also bad for business for any poker player to be revealed as a cheater, because it reflects on all of us, just like every baseball slugger was assumed to be using steroids.

Besides, we're usually playing against people we know, who know us and our reputations: this guy's a great player, this guy's a lousy player, this guy's a fish, this guy plays tight unless he's had too many beers, this guy plays too many hands, this guy may be ahead now but he won't have any chips left when he leaves, this guy almost always wins, etc. Yet it's not an exclusive club -- when a visitor comes to town or a first-timer sits down at the table, they're not shunned, but welcomed to the game and treated like everyone else.

So, if you're not a poker player, please don't let the Full Tilt headlines color your view of those of us who play the game legitimately and honestly. Save your frowns for the real culprits, or for the opponent who just cracked your aces.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Final Table #138: Full Tilt's Ponzi Scheme + Vince Van Patten

Today on The Final Table, we discussed the big breaking poker news of the day -- the US Attorney in Manhattan who filed the Black Friday indictments has added to those charges a federal lawsuit against Full Tilt founders Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Rafe Furst, saying they weren't running an online poker company, they were operating a "global ponzi scheme." We went over each detail of the federal government's allegations, including the $444 million that Full Tilt paid to its owners over four years, how it continued accepting player funds despite owing $300 million to players around the world while having only $6 million accessible, and how Full Tilt insiders -- to quote Preet Bahrara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York -- "lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited."

We got some legal analysis from attorney Josh Schindler about whether Lederer, Ferguson, and Furst are facing a jail sentence and seizure of their assets and property, and if the Department of Justice would then distribute those funds to players who had money in Full Tilt's accounts. We also discussed the $130 million in "phantom funds" that Full Tilt allowed players to deposit and play with, even though it was never transferred from their bank accounts.

Want to see what the DOJ says about Full Tilt insiders in the amended complaint? Read pages 71-76 of this PDF file. You'll be left shaking your head in amazement.

In our guest segment, we spoke with Vince Van Patten, who is now in his tenth season of co-hosting the World Poker Tour telecasts with Mike Sexton. Vince is at the Borgata Poker Open, which boasts the largest field in WPT history. We talked to him about changes to this season of the WPT, whether he'll play any of the events, and why he thinks the controversy over streaming final tables with hole cards is overblown. He also revealed what goes on in the Hollywood home games he's been part of for many years.

In our poker coach segment, John Kim of explained the strategy behind "donk betting."

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

How To Know You're On Facebook Too Much

Facebook has lowered the bar on the definition of "friend" to include people who have never met or spoken to each other, but I didn't know it has done the same for the word "fan" until today. While driving around, I saw a sign in front of an apartment complex that read, "Follow us and become our fan on Facebook!"

A fan of an apartment complex? To what end? Are you hoping someday to get an autographed eight-by-ten glossy of the building? Waiting for the superintendent to "like" you?

What kind of status updates do you get from an apartment complex?  "I retained my brick facade today.  Love the color red."

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

William Shatner explains why "Star Trek" is better than "Star Wars" -- fewer special effects and more beautiful women (although he'd still run off with Princess Leia). I have no idea who the redhead sitting next to him is...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Case You Missed These

From my Twitter feed...

  • Richard Rushfield says Comedy Central's Charlie Sheen Roast is a disgusting, immoral spectacle -- and what about that rapist on the couch?
  • Bob Schieffer's advice for young journalists: it's not the questions you ask, it's listening carefully to the answers.
  • The mom who was fired for taking time off work to donate a kidney to save her son's life.
  • In Rick Perry's Texas, teen pregnancy rates have gone up since schools were forced to only teach abstinence-only instead of a comprehensive sex education curriculum.  Fortunately, at least one district has seen the light.

First Down, Touchdown, Pat Down

It's been almost a decade since I went to see an NFL game in person, and although I love the sport, I don't anticipate going back anytime soon.  I greatly prefer the experience of watching the games at home, for several reasons:

  • They're free;
  • I can record and watch at my own pace, since the timing on my DVR remote's fast-forward button takes me from the whistle that ends one play to the snap that starts the next one, making it possible to watch a 3-hour NFL broadcast in about an hour;
  • Enhanced replays and highlights from other games;
  • The pause button while I go to the bathroom (where there are no lines) or the kitchen (where the beverages and snacks are much cheaper);
  • No idiots with their bodies painted in team colors shouting at the quarterback to "throw the ball!" as if the guy rolling out of the pocket hadn't thought of that.
Even if none of those were true, the NFL has just instituted a new rule that would still keep me from going to the stadium.  Beginning today, they're going to pat down fans, TSA-style, as they pass through the turnstiles.  I wish that a lot of NFL fans would refuse to put up with this security-theater nonsense and boycott the games, but that would backfire on me because if not enough people showed up to fill the seats, the NFL would implement its ludicrous TV black-out policy (no other professional sports league requires a game be sold-out before it can be televised), which would keep me from watching at home.

So, to those fans who are still willing to pay outrageous ticket prices, put up with the crowds, and be fondled by a large man in a yellow "staff" shirt, I say the same thing I say to the players each week:  thanks for sacrificing your bodies so I can be entertained.

Government Is Good

Every presidential candidate is now, has been, or wants to be employed by the federal government. Yet that doesn't stop most of them from bashing that very institution. Paul Begala argues that they're all wrong, and comes to the government's defense...

Conservatives talk about government as if it were something foreign, alien, or extrinsic when in fact the Constitution says it truthfully and simply: “We the People.” Government is us. It’s capable of true greatness, real nobility, and majestic triumphs. I’d go further: the U.S. federal government is the greatest force for good in human history. Period.

The federal government freed the slaves and defeated Hitler. It built the interstate highway system, won the Cold War, integrated the South, put men on the moon, and killed Osama bin Laden. By the way, it also created the Internet, with Al Gore’s leadership. So there.....

The truth is many of our problems were caused by too little government, regulation, and taxation (at least of the rich). Wall Street was deregulated, and when the casino went bust, taxpayers bailed out the gamblers. Regulators cozied up to oil companies, and 11 working men were killed in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy as BP’s well gushed millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. After 29 miners were killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia, an independent investigation found that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration "failed its duty as the watchdog for coal miners."

The media have a responsibility here as well. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bashes retired teachers for getting an average pension of about $35,000 a year, why does no one point out that they’re worth it? Or that New Jersey students have the highest AP test scores in the nation? Because that wouldn’t fit the anti-government narrative.

The truth is teachers didn’t cause our recession; firefighters didn’t cause layoffs; nurses and cops didn’t turn a record surplus into a record deficit. Politicians and corporate greedheads did. And yet government remains the villain.
More here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Our Progressive Constitution

Today is the 224th birthday of the US Constitution, one of the most remarkable documents ever written. As Geoffrey R. Stone points out, those who call for strict interpretation of its original words fail to see the progressive nature of the document...

The Constitution has served as the vehicle through which generations of Americans have made and remade their nation. When one steps back, as one should on Constitution Day, and considers the most profound changes in our society since 1789, it is easy to see that, by any reasonable measure, the Constitution has served in the long run as a progressive document that has enabled us to protect the rights, liberties and well-being of our people.

The original Constitution did not even have a Bill of Rights. That was added soon after ratification of the Constitution to ensure that the new national government would not abridge the freedom of speech or prohibit the free exercise of religion; that it would not engage in unreasonable searches and seizures or inflict cruel and unusual punishment; that it would not deprive people of life, liberty or property without due process of law or convict people of crimes without honoring their rights to a jury trial, to the assistance of counsel, and to present their own witnesses and to confront the witnesses against them.

Later, after a bloody Civil War, the American people again amended the Constitution, this time to forbid slavery; to guarantee that no State would deny any person due process of law, the equal protection of the laws, or the privileges or immunities of citizenship; and to grant blacks the right to vote.

Since then, the Constitution has been further amended to authorize the federal income tax so the national government would have sufficient resources to meet the demands of a changing society; to grant women the right to vote; to provide for the popular election of senators; to outlaw the poll tax; and to grant the right to vote to all persons over the age of eighteen.

Almost without exception, our constitutional amendments have been progressive in nature, expanding both individual freedoms and the opportunity for individual Americans to participate more fully in the political and economic life of the nation.

Even apart from the process of amendment, the Constitution has had sufficient flexibility in its often open-ended language to enable government to pursue important social and economic policies that might never have been envisioned by the framers. As understood by the American people, by our elected officials and by our Supreme Court, the Constitution has enabled the national government to enact laws that helped us through the devastation of the Great Depression; prohibited private discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin and disability; promoted workplace safety and the environment; and provided a critical safety net for the aged, the infirm and the needy.

All of these laws, and many besides, were opposed by political conservatives who invoked a crabbed view of the Constitution to argue that the national government had no authority to "promote the general Welfare," but in the long run those arguments have never carried the day. If one takes the long view, it is clear that it was the progressive vision of the American Constitution, embraced by citizens, legislators, presidents and judges, that ultimately prevailed.
Stone's entire piece is here.

A Pleasant Surprise

Jamy Ian Swiss, who helped devise the Million Dollar Challenge tests for so-called psychics last month on the "Beyond Belief" episode of "Primetime Nightline," looks back at whether the show presented skepticism (and the James Randi Educational Foundation) in a good light. Like me, he was mostly happy with the results.

Speaking of Randi, here's an interview with him that includes his recommendations for books by Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and others.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Michele Bachmann's Dangerous Lie

Michele Bachmann has been catching flak for comments she made about vaccines this week, comments which put her into the same qualified-to-lead-America camp as Jenny McCarthy.

Monday night, Bachmann went after Rick Perry for an executive order he signed in 2007 mandating that girls entering sixth grade be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Specifically, the vaccine fights HPV, human papillomavirus, which kills thousands of American women, forces tens of thousands more to have surgery, or can cause genital warts.

Bachmann attacked Perry because the company that first made the HPV vaccine, Merck, donated money to his gubernatorial campaign, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000. While there are valid points to be made about political campaigns being financed by corporations that want a quid pro quo, that's the less important part of this controversy.

Perry, who is so wrong on other science issues (evolution!), was absolutely right to sign that order. Unfortunately, the Texas legislature blocked Perry's order from going into effect. Some of the opposition was because HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, and it's hard to think of sixth graders having sex, but the vaccine doesn't encourage 12-year-olds to have sex, it protects them when they do get around to that physical act -- an inevitability even if their parents are Republicans. At the debate, Bachmann combined the kid card with a typical Tea Party anti-government line: "To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection, is just flat out wrong."

Government injection. She makes it sound like the National Guard would round up pubescent girls, march them off to a state agency, and forcibly vaccinate them against their wills. The fact is, these injections are administered by the girls' pediatricians, just like the vaccines for mumps, measles, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, chicken pox, and polio -- all of which are already required by Texas law for children attending school!

Imagine the backlash if Bachmann had attacked Perry over the vaccines for polio or measles. Even Tea Partiers would toss her off the debate stage.

But that's still not the worst part. That came Tuesday morning, when Bachmann was asked about her remarks on the "Today" show by Matt Lauer, and she reinforced her anti-vaccine argument by saying that a woman had come up to her in tears after the debate in Tampa and told her "that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects. This is the very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions."

NO. People don't have to draw their own conclusions about science, especially in a country that's bordering on scientifically illiterate. The HPV vaccine does NOT cause mental retardation, which is a developmental disorder. There is no evidence of a link. Moreover, the HPV vaccine has been administered 35,000,000 times since it was approved five years ago and proven very effective, with an excellent safety record, according to the president of the American Association of Pediatrics, and its use is recommended by the Centers For Disease Control for the prevention of most types of cervical cancer.

Bachmann defended her mental retardation remarks later Tuesday by saying, "I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a physician. All I was doing is reporting what this woman told me last night at the debate." She's obviously not a scientist, but she is a United States Congresswoman (to the everlasting shame of Minnesotans), and when she say things like that out loud, many people who don't know better will believe her. Repeating this kind of nonsense does not make it true, but it can cost lives. We already have too many people who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against any disease because they fell for the long-debunked garbage linking vaccines to autism.

Bachmann must apologize for spreading misinformation, and from now on leave the rumor-spreading to TMZ and the science to the CDC.

As Anderson Cooper pointed out last night on CNN, this is just the latest in a serious of blatant lies Bachmann has been telling, just to score political points...

For more on the danger of Bachmann's remarks, read this piece by Dr. Art Caplan, director of the Center For Bioethics.

Updated at 2:12PM...Art Caplan and University of Minnesota bioethicist Steven Miles are offering $11,000 for proof of Bachmann's claim that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Michael Shermer's Believing Brain

I became familiar with Michael Shermer's work through his presentations at the James Randi Educational Foundation's annual Amazing Meeting, where Michael is almost always the first speaker. In addition to publishing Skeptic magazine, he has written several books, including "Why People Believe Weird Things" and "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design."

I invited him to join me today to talk about his latest, "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies -- How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths."

Since we've just commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we started out discussing why there are still people who believe that it was the Bush administration, not Al Qaeda, that was responsible for the devastation of that day -- despite a comprehensive debunking of those conspiracy theories in Skeptic magazine five years ago. That led to an explanation of how we're born with brains that want to believe everything, how hard it is to shed long-held beliefs, and why we see patterns in life that aren't really there.

We also talked about the danger of misinformation from authority figures, whether they're parents, politicians, or people in white lab coats -- such as the fallout from the false claims of connections between vaccines and autism, and Michelle Bachmann's "I'm not a scientist, but someone told me" lie earlier this week about the HPV vaccine causing mental retardation. Note that there is NO evidence to support that claim, while there is overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are saving lives, but just as the climate change deniers won't believe the vast preponderance of data with which scientists back up their claims while corporate interests produce phony proof from industry-paid "experts," Shermer explains that there's a political belief bias at work, as well.

Our discussion also touched on how Shermer converted from being a born-again Christian to an agnostic to an atheist as he learned more about science and rational thinking and whether Americans are more or less likely to believe nonsense than citizens of other countries. Finally, Shermer revealed what he was told backstage by the staff and host of "The Colbert Report" before his appearance this summer (his second time in that guest chair), and how Colbert's show has become one of the premiere platforms for authors trying to sell books (along with "The Daily Show").

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Final Table #137: Hall of Famer Kristy Gazes

Today on The Final Table, we opened the show with Dennis rebutting recent reports that PokerStars has severed its relationship with him, as he explained that he's still affiliated with the site and will be playing at the EPT London later this month as well as the PCA in January -- and wearing a PokerStars patch.

In our guest segment, we talked with Kristy Gazes, one of the new inductees to the Women In Poker Hall of Fame, who made deep runs this summer at the WSOP in both the Main Event and a 7-card-stud high/lo event. We discussed what it was like as a woman to sit down years ago in such a male-dominated environment, what it will take to get more women to play poker (and win!), and her advice for anyone who may be intimidated about playing in live cash games and tournaments. Kristy also explained how her poker background has helped her take on Wall Street with her own successful options trading company.

In our news segment, we discussed:
  • the poker player who's a contestant on the new season of "Survivor" that starts tomorrow night;
  • the continuing efforts to convince Congress and state legislatures to license and regulate online poker;
  • another class action lawsuit that's been filed against Full Tilt Poker;
  • the Tweet Of The Week from tournament director Matt Savage.
In our poker coach segment, Nick DiVella of explained how and when to use a blocking bet.

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tennis Loses A Legend

For the last two weeks, my wife and I have been watching the US Open coverage (as we do all grand slam tennis tournaments), which will conclude this afternoon with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic competing for the men's championship.  Regardless of who wins, it will be a sad day for tennis -- but it has nothing to do with the players. Rather, it has to do with a broadcaster.

This will be the final tennis match with Dick Enberg as the lead announcer.  He's giving up those responsibilities because he's too busy as play-by-play man for the San Diego Padres, and doesn't want to miss six weeks of baseball season (two weeks each for the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open). 

Enberg is a true sportscasting legend.  No one has been so great for so long at calling so many different sporting events. After all these years in the booth, Enberg has earned the right to choose his assignments, but his voice will be missed on future tennis broadcasts.

If you missed my conversation with Enberg in 2005 about his book "Oh, My!" you can listen to it here.

Dealing With Death Threats

Michael Moore's new book, "Here Comes Trouble," will be published next week. It's full of two dozen stories from his life, one of which has been excerpted in the British newspaper The Guardian.  It's about the death threats that followed Moore's anti-Bush statements on the night he won the Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine" and the Navy Seals he had to hire to protect him as he made "Fahrenheit 9/11."

When we got back to our home in northern Michigan, the local beautification committee had dumped three truckloads of horse manure waist-high in our driveway so that we wouldn't be able to enter our property – a property which, by the way, was freshly decorated with a dozen or so signs nailed to our trees: GET OUT! MOVE TO CUBA! COMMIE SCUM! TRAITOR! LEAVE NOW OR ELSE!

I had no intention of leaving.

The hate mail after the Oscar speech was so voluminous, it almost seemed as if Hallmark had opened a new division where greeting card writers were assigned the task of penning odes to my passing. ("For a Special Motherfucker …" "Get Well Soon from Your Mysterious Car Accident!" "Here's to a Happy Stroke!")

The phone calls to my house were actually creepier. It's a whole different fright machine when a human voice is attached to the madness and you think: "This person literally risked arrest to say this over a phone line!" You had to admire the balls – or insanity – of that.

But the worst moments were when people came on to our property. These individuals would just walk down the driveway, always looking like rejects from the cast of Night of the Living Dead, never moving very fast, but always advancing with singleminded purposefulness. Few were actual haters; most were just crazy. We kept the sheriff's deputies busy until they finally suggested we might want to get our own security, or perhaps our own police force. Which we did.

We met with the head of the top security agency in the country, an elite outfit that did not hire ex-cops, nor any "tough guys" or bouncer-types. They preferred to use only Navy Seals and other ex–Special Forces. Guys who had a cool head and who could take you out with a piece of dental floss in a matter of nanoseconds. By the end of the year, due to the alarming increase of threats and attempts on me, I had nine ex-Seals surrounding me, round-the-clock.
Read the entire piece here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another Interrogator Speaks Up

On "60 Minutes" tonight, Lara Logan interviewed former FBI agent Ali Soufan, one of the bureau's chief interrogators of Al Qaeda suspects and other Islamic extremists after 9/11, who is now telling his story in the book "The Black Banners."

Soufan discussed the tactics he employed, mostly knowledge and empathy, connecting on a human level with those he interrogated.  That strategy was very effective in extracting information -- until the CIA stepped in, pushed Soufan and his colleagues aside, and started using "enhanced interrogation techniques" (torture).  As Soufan points out, those techniques were less successful, which is why suspects like Abu Zabaydeh (who had been cooperating and providing useful intel earlier) clammed up despite being waterboarded dozens of times.

Soufan's explanation of the way he successfully got terrorists to open up sounded remarkably like what I heard from another chief interrogator, a member of the US military who used the pen name Matthew Alexander when he wrote the book "How To Break A Terrorist," in which he described his own experiences in helping to capture Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi [you can listen to my 2008 conversation with Alexander here].  Alexander, like Soufan, was an outspoken critic of using torture on detainees because it was not as effective as developing relationships with those he wanted information from -- and it helped to know Islamic culture and history, which the CIA agents who took over were not steeped in.

These are guys who know more about the subject than any pundit or politician, including those who made the policies that injured America's image in the world.  Soufan and Alexander were on the front lines, face to face with the enemies who wanted to destroy us, and they were winning.  Why would you pull them out?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hotel Not-So-Safe

Ever stay in a hotel room with a safe in the closet so you can protect your valuables with a pass-code that you create and no one else can figure out? Before you trust the techonology, you should know about the default digits that allow anyone to open your safe without your pass-code...

[thanks to Valerie Zering for the link]

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Case You Missed These

From my Twitter feed...

  • President Obama's speech whittled down to 45 seconds, and he's really on message
  • All that "chatter" about an AQ attack to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary? It's from the media, which chatters about rumors far too much!
  • An LA Weekly piece on the new role Albert Brooks is playing on screen and in real life.
  • Definition of a good day: walking into the DMV and they take me at the counter right away. It's the little things in life.
  • He says she's a stalker who called him far too often -- 65,000 times in a year.  Who has that many cellphone minutes?

The Big Job Opening

The GOP candidates continue to attack Obama on unemployment, as if there's a magic wand any President can wave that would create a national wave of private-sector hiring in the short-term. It's the platform they have to shoot from as long as jobs are such a huge issue.

So here's a question I'd like to see them asked at the next debate: "If you become President and the national unemployment rate isn't reduced substantially in your first three years in office, will you step down at the end of your first term without running for re-election?"

None of them will answer it, instead veering off into talking points about how badly Obama has handled the economy, conveniently ignoring how we got here (thanks again, Wall Street fat cats and financial industry money-grubbers!). Of course, it's possible that by the time 2016 rolls around, the labor situation in the US could improve markedly. If it's on their watch, they'll take credit. If Obama's still in office, they'll claim he had nothing to do with it (just as they continue to deny Clinton's role in the economic boom during his presidency).

Republicans have fostered an image of being thrifty with your tax dollars while positioning Democrats as the ones who tax and spend and expand government. Democrats, for some reason, haven't defended their record. The truth is that the five most recent Democratic Presidents (Clinton, Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, and Truman) all reduced national debt as a share of GDP, while our public debt increased under the last four Republican Presidents (Bush 43, Bush 41, Reagan, and Ford), according to economist Mike Kimel.

There's an economic cycle at work here that does have a correlation to who's sitting in the Oval Office. When Ronald Reagan was President, he not only raised taxes 11 times (!), but the deficit exploded. That left his successor, George HW Bush, with a bloated budget he could not get under control, forcing him to finally break his campaign promise and raise taxes, too, which cost him his re-election. Then a Democrat, Bill Clinton (who won thanks to James Carville's "It's The Economy, Stupid!" campaign theme) came into office, balanced the budget, and built up a surplus for the federal government. He was followed by a Republican, George W. Bush, who cut taxes (which did not create more jobs), got us into two unfunded wars and built up an even bigger deficit, all of which he then left to his successor, Barack Obama.

Were the economic problems of 1988-1992 the fault of Bush 41, who 8 years earlier had warned against Reagan "voodoo economics"? Not really, but he bore the brunt of America's anger over a condition he did not create, and did not win re-election.

Could this scenario repeat in 2012? Can Obama escape this cycle of blame for a mess he inherited? Does the GOP have a candidate who can stay sane long enough to work Carville's theme against Obama? Will the Democrats even attempt to take back the fiscally-responsible image?

Read my lips -- it's too early to tell.

Stop Pushing The Button!

Are Americans now so spoiled that we won't expend the physical effort to open a door?

A half-dozen times a week, I see able-bodied men and women enter a public place by pushing the button that power-opens the door instead of just pushing or pulling on their own. I understand the need for these devices -- to assist those who are wheelchair-bound, or disabled, or elderly -- but it's remarkable how many seemingly healthy people don't think twice about hitting that button.

We have plenty of technology that makes our lives easier, but using this one is simple laziness, not to mention a waste of electricity. It belongs in the same category as the button in hotel rooms that opens the window curtains for you. Really? Do you need one for the shower curtain and your closet door, too?

Louis CK on George Carlin

In March, 2010, the NY Public Library hosted a tribute to George Carlin two years after his death. The event coincided with the publication of the last thing Carlin wrote, a semi-autobiography with Tony Hendra called "Last Words." One of the people who spoke that night was Louis CK, who remembered how Carlin had inspired him to develop new material and a whole new outlook on comedy...

The NYPL's entire Carlin tribute is here.

I had three conversations with Tony Hendra about George Carlin and their "Lost Words" book. You can listen to them here.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Final Table #136: November Niner Matt Giannetti

Today on The Final Table, we talked with Matt Giannetti, another member of this year's World Series of Poker Main Event November Nine (he's third in chips). We discussed how he's planning to prepare for the finale two months from now, which of his opponents he thinks will play differently at that point, and what he thought of ESPN's live streaming video with hole cards and its affect on the game. We also discussed a big hand he played against Ben Lamb on day 7, in which Giannetti spent 10 minutes thinking before making his decision after Lamb made a huge bet on the river.

In our news segment, we discussed:
  • the continuing bad news for players who still have money locked up on Full Tilt's site after the company's recent statement offered no hope they'll return those funds any time soon;
  • the poor showing for Epic Poker League's second series of events;
  • the controversy over a player who had his seat in Epic's main event taken away when it was discovered he was a convicted sex offender;
  • Greg Mueller (who won the Epic Pro/Am) having to chase down a thief who stole a $5,000 chip from him at a craps table;
  • the sad news of the death of poker pro Thuy Doan from cancer at age 25;
  • and more.
In our poker coach segment, Jon Hemmer of explained when you should and shouldn't raise out of the blinds in low-limit ($1-2) games.

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

Leaving The GOP Cult

This is one of the most important political pieces I have read in a very long time.

It's by Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years as a Republican staff member on Capitol Hill, explaining why he left that job -- and the GOP, which he says is "becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult."

He goes into specific detail about what's wrong with the modern-day Republican party, from doing everything to help the rich and soak the rest of us to the way their religious zealotry distracts low-information voters to how the crazies have taken over the party. He details the right's success in "concocting an entirely artificial fiscal crisis," then using that crisis to get what they wanted by holding the domestic and global economies hostage.

Moreover, he reveals the GOP's strategy of purposefully creating dissatisfaction with government to create a populace more easily manipulated:

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s -- a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable "hard news" segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the "respectable" media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the "centrist cop-out." "I joked long ago," he says, "that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read 'Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'"
Lofgren doesn't spare the Democrats (he hasn't joined that party), who have lost the battle by not understanding how to use language, not appealing to the weakened middle class, and not fighting loudly and strongly enough for the core issues of our time. Why? Because while Republicans use fear to stimulate their base, Democrats are filled with fear at being painted with a negative GOP brush.
Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? -- can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax." Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.
It's rare to hear this kind of candor from someone who operated within the framework of a political machine, an insider who's seen it all from Capitol Hill. Every Democrat, from President Obama on down, should read Lofgren's piece, recognize what's going on and, rather than try to mollify and compromise opponents who will not give an inch, present Americans with a real choice-- a strong voice that stands for them.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Appreciating "Cheers"

There are episodes of "Cheers" airing 10 times today across the various channels that come into my TV (including Reelz Channel, which is supposedly about movies but has to fill much of its programming day with infomercials and episodes of "Becker," "Ally McBeal," and "Third Rock From The Sun" -- the only thing worth watching on Reelz is Leonard Maltin's weekly movie review show). I don't know of any other show that airs that often every weekday across so many channels, but then most shows didn't last 11 years, as "Cheers" did.

Michael Schur, who was a writer for "The Office" and co-creator of "Parks and Recreation," thinks "Cheers" is the greatest sitcom of all-time, and makes a pretty good case in this piece.

Friday, September 02, 2011


  • FEMA uses the Waffle House Index to measure the impact of storms. In the northeast, it should be the Greek Diner Index.
  • Bad showbiz idea of the day: despite Jake still being dead, Elwood is planning a Blues Brothers TV show.
  • How "Jeopardy!" has changed and kept its questions and categories contemporary.
  • Ken Levine says that, with the new "Dancing With The Stars" lineup, the "star" bar can't be lowered any further.
  • Baseball history: 40 years ago, the first major league baseball team made up entirely of blacks and latinos took the field. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Speech Defect

  • Husband: Honey, I've invited all the guys over to play cards next Wednesday.
  • Wife: Next Wednesday? That's the night I'm hosting book club! You can't have them here that night.
  • Husband: But I already told them to come, and Tony's bringing pizza!
  • Wife: Well, tell them some other night. Invite them for Thursday instead.
  • Husband: Thursday? No, that's the first night of the NFL season and we'll all be at Jimmy's to watch the Packers and Saints!
  • Wife: Sorry. I've had Wednesday reserved for book club for over a month, and I can't change it now, so you'll have to pick a new night to play cards.
Sounds like a marriage with a communication problem, doesn't it? There's either some sort of passive-aggressive game being played or it's a simple matter of not listening because they don't care.

Now, substitute Barack Obama for the husband and John Boehner for the wife and you have the situation that occurred yesterday regarding the date on which the Speaker will allow the President to give his jobs speech to a joint session of Congress. You don't still expect them to play nicely and come up with bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems, do you?

There's nothing wrong with two parties making separate plans that fit their own agendas -- book clubs and card games -- but our political husband and wife don't seem to spend any quality time together doing anything that will benefit the whole family.

No wonder the kids are so screwed up.

In Case You Missed These

From my Twitter feed...

  • Stores are already selling Halloween candy, cuz candy corn is perfect for your tailgate party to kick off college football season tonight.
  • Got the Larry Sanders box set months ago but just got around to the Making Of documentary. Wow, is Shandling brilliant. And awfully strange.
  • I wish "Fear Factor" was still on the air so Dick Cheney could have a media outlet to promote his book while being waterboarded (several readers subsequently informed me that NBC is, in fact, bringing the show back this year -- because, somewhere, there's an animal part that no one has tasted).
  • A store in Santa Monica did a promotion where the first 100 through the door wearing nothing but underwear got free clothes. So many people showed up that way that the store gave the next 100 a 50% discount -- half off for having half off.
  • Speaking of underwear, authorities are trying to figure out how 3,000 pairs of panties ended up on the side of the road in Ohio.
  • The kicker on this college football team is 61. That's not his number, it's his age. Alan Moore is George Blanda plus 13!