Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Political Climate Change

Heard today: "If one good thing comes from Hurricane Sandy, it's that politicians will have to listen to those meteorologists whose science on this storm was so right, and finally get serious about doing something about climate change."


Not with one of the two major parties full of people who deny that humans have had any impact on the world's weather or that we can do anything about it.  Events like this won't budge them off that stance, just as they didn't pause for a minute to consider changes in gun laws after a supposedly tide-turning incident like a United States Congresswoman being shot in the head.

Before an adult conversation about climate change can occur, there will have to be a change in the American political climate, with a tsunami of reality washing away the deniers.  Don't hold your breath.

Halloween Stories

If you missed these two Halloween-related posts from previous years on this site, give them a look today:

  • Halloween Harris Style, from 2001, about choosing Halloween candy for trick or treaters, a costume for my then-seven-year-old daughter, my inept Jack-O-Lantern carving, and more.
  • Taking Fear Out Of Halloween, from 2010, in which I invoke the wisdom of Lenore Skenazy, who knows that, despite the hype and the media scare stories, Halloween is not a dangerous day for kids.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Random Thoughts on Hurricane Sandy

It's weird being in St. Louis, where it's sunny and 55 degrees, while so much of my immediate family is caught in the path of Hurricane Sandy.  My daughter's college dorm in New York has no water and no power. A teenage girl can go without a shower, but not being able to charge her cellphone and laptop is tough. She's conserving the battery, so we're not hearing a lot from her, but her school has sent regular e-mail updates on conditions there and we're confident she's fine.

The giant pine tree which has been in Mom's back yard on Long Island for over 50 years succumbed to the wind last night. It's now lying across her driveway, with the top of it in her neighbor's yard. She's trying to find a tree service to remove it, but most of them are too busy handling other calls, so it may lay there for awhile.  The rest of her yard is a swamp, but the house is high and dry and the electricity's still on.  Meanwhile, my brother's neighborhood in Maryland, where tree branches come down on power lines if someone sneezes, lost power for several hours last night, but it's back today.  My sister-in-law in Boston also lost power for 12 hours with a few downed trees in the area, but nothing serious.

I wonder how the employees of hotels at New Jersey beaches feel about having to stay on the job despite the mandatory evacuations to take care of all the media crews doing round-the-clock live shots -- while their own homes and neighborhoods are being flooded.

Agree with his politics or not, you gotta give Governor Chris Christie credit for his leadership in New Jersey. His no-bullshit press conferences are exactly what's needed during the crisis.  Nice to see him, as a Romney surrogate, giving Obama credit for the federal government's help, too.

I understand why Obama suspended his campaign during the storm -- he has to look presidential and stay in touch with the governors and mayors of the affected areas.  That means never saying "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!" or giving right-wing media a reason to blame him for the storm or the cleanup (which they'll do anyway). But Romney has no official responsibilities, so he could have gone on with his campaign stops in Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, and other battleground states without anyone criticizing him.  As long as he doesn't bring up that I'll-shut-down-FEMA remark from last year, what's he supposed to do, ride to the rescue on Rafalka?

Atlantic City casinos were already suffering from losing business to nearby states that have begun to allow gambling, so being boarded up during the storm isn't going to help.  On the other hand, maybe Sandy washed away some of the scum that makes up the boardwalk there.

Have you seen Lydia Callis, the American Sign Language interpreter for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press conferences?  Here she is in action.  Without hearing the mayor's words, watch her expressions.  She's gone viral, too, with a Tumblr page dedicated to her (albeit with her name spelled incorrectly).

This is the year that Twitter and other social media proved how important they are. There's a tremendous amount of information being shared -- some of it official, some of it personal, some of it serious, some of it silly -- in a manner that old media simply can't keep up with.  TV reporters with one foot in the ocean and newspapers with still photos from the previous day can't compete with the immediacy of millions of people with high-powered communications devices in their hands and the ability to post it from anywhere, anytime.  There was one old medium that carried the ball, though -- local radio, a repository for new information and sharing stories, especially when millions of listeners have no power, which means reduced access to TV and online outlets.

There are going to be lots of hero stories emerging from this storm, but the one that caught my eye was the staff of NYU hospital who had to evacuate newborns from the neonatal intensive care unit when the building's generator went down.  That meant carrying the babies and all that equipment down 9 flights of stairs.

One last thought:  Hurricanes and other natural disasters must be very hard for right-wingers, because they have to count on scientists and union-member first responders to keep people safe.

Monday, October 29, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Giving Rick Polito Some Credit

Rick Polito is the man responsible for this one-sentence synopsis of "The Wizard Of Oz"...

He wrote it in 1998, and it's been going around the internet ever since, too often without giving him credit. That's why I invited him to join me today on KTRS to talk about how it went viral, why he's annoyed with Jay Leno, and how he writes newspaper TV listings without watching TV. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Note: I neglected to mention Rick's app, Shake-N-Tell, an iPhone app for parents (or anyone) who need help with storytelling.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's Knuckleheads In The News® include trouble for a bell-ringer, an explosive divorce, and proof that Billy Crystal's character in "When Harry Met Sally" was right when he said men and women can't be friends because sex always gets in the way. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weather Whiners

As the weather in St. Louis changed from beautiful 80 degree days to autumnal highs of 53 a couple of days ago, a friend complained to me, "I can't stand the weather here."  I gave him a look of disbelief.

He's complaining about the days becoming crisp and cool at the same time tens of millions of people are preparing for a giant storm which will drop inches of rain and major gusts of wind along the east coast.  While my daughter and other family in the northeast will probably be unable to go outside for the next 48 hours, and will be lucky if the power stays on, he's upset that he has to put on a sweater.

While our midwestern weather can be a bit dicey in the spring and summer, with tornadoes and hail and severe thunderstorms and oppressive humidity, it's nothing compared to the winters I used to experience when I lived on Long Island and in Hartford.  In those days, I did morning radio shows, so I left the house when the temperature was lowest, and froze all the way to work because the car never warmed up sufficiently in my 15-minute commute for the heater to help one bit.  That's one of the differences in dealing with hot and cold weather -- even in summers like the one we just had, when it was 105+ degrees for 17 days in a row, I could still get in the car, crank up the air conditioning, and start cooling off within 90 seconds or so.  And I never once had to shovel the humidity off my driveway.

Speaking of which, I didn't have to clear snow off my sidewalk a single time last winter.  The biggest accumulation we got was about a half-inch, and I wasn't going to waste my time with that.  On the other hand, I remember many winter days in New England when the snow was waist-deep and it took a half-hour just to dig out the car.  Or we'd get an ice storm or freezing rain, which meant a desperate attempt to scrape a little six-inch by three-inch horizontal opening in the frozen windshield so I could see at least some of the road as I drove down deserted streets to get to the radio station -- where most of the morning was spent announcing school and business closings due to the conditions.

I also remember a storm that hit in 1978, when I was in college in Stony Brook, New York, and so much snow fell in a 24-hour period that we couldn't open the front door to the ranch house I was renting with some roommates.  We had to open the window in my room (which had no screen), then dig our way out and up through the snow, in drifts that reached the roof.  Needless to say, classes were canceled, so we spent several hours climbing up and jumping down into the 8-feet high snow.  Fun for college kids, but a pain in the ass for anyone who had to get anywhere in the following week.

I'm not saying the weather is perfect here -- the pollen gets so intense from March through May that hay fever attacks my sinuses harder and faster than Chris Christie consumes a dozen Dunkin' Donuts -- but I don't foresee moving back into a frozen climate in the future.  And I really don't understand how people live in the parts of the country where winter gets really extreme.  For instance, International Falls, Minnesota, known as The Nation's Icebox, the town that consistently sets records for the coldest place in the continental US, where it's a great day in February if the number on the thermometer doesn't have a minus sign in front of it.  Why would anyone stay there, year after year, and if they do, how old are they before they kill the next person who asks, "Cold enough for ya?"

Everywhere you go, you'll always find someone whining about the weather.  But falling leaves and football-perfect weather are not a reason to complain.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Meat Loaf's Romney Rally

I have never felt sorry for Mitt Romney, but these 90 seconds at his rally Thursday night in Ohio at least drew my sympathy. Country stars Big & Rich and Randy Owens did a concert for the crowd, and at the end, with Romney on stage, someone brought up Meat Loaf.

Here's a guy who had one hit album in 1978, "Bat Out Of Hell," which included the terrific "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and a couple of other hits, selling more than 40 million copies. Since then, he's managed to keep his career going without any other real successes -- a fact verified by his appearance on the TV home of over-and-done performers, "Celebrity Apprentice."

So, Thursday night, Meat Loaf gets to the microphone and gives Romney a rambling endorsement. I've written about how endorsements don't mean anything, and I can't see any undecided voter being swung in Romney's direction by the guy who did "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad," but we're still not up to the embarrassing part. That came when Meat Loaf and the country guys started singing "America The Beautiful." I don't know whose idea it was, but it was a disaster.

When you sing any song in public, rule number one is Know The Lyrics. These guys don't. At one point, they urge the rally-goers to sing along, probably because the crowd does know the words and can help out. Rule number two is Do A Respectful Version Of An American Standard. That's the rule Roseanne Barr violated when she butchered the National Anthem in 1990 at a Padres game, and these guys do the same to "America The Beautiful."

Then things really go off the rails when Meat Loaf hits some notes that don't actually exist on the standard musical scale. Suffice it to say that if the judges on "America's Got Talent" witnessed this, they'd hit the buzzer simultaneously at the 5-second mark.

Meanwhile, Romney is in the midst of all this awkwardness, the corporate guy-in-a-tie amidst extremely off-key singing by so-called professionals who may have consumed the kind of beverages that Mormon Romney has never imbibed. Ironically, back during the GOP primaries, Romney used to sing his own robotic and not very melodic version of "America The Beautiful" at campaign rallies. That was bad, but he was better than this.

If Romney is the CEO he says he is, the first thing he should have done Thursday night upon leaving the rally stage was fire whoever allowed this debacle to take place -- just like he canned the person responsible for allowing Clint Eastwood do that Talk To An Empty Chair routine at the RNC.  Oh, wait.

Imagine the reaction from right-wing media if some singers had butchered "America The Beautiful" at a Barack Obama re-election rally, and the President had smiled through it and hugged everyone, as Romney did.  It would have been the outrage meme for the next 72 hours on Fox News, Drudge, and conservative talk radio -- but when it happens a Romney rally, not one word.

Wizard Of Oz In One Sentence

This newspaper TV listing for "The Wizard Of Oz" was written in 1998, but for some reason went viral again this week after someone posted it on Reddit.  The man behind it is Rick Polito who, at the time, worked for the Marin Independent Journal, but now writes his hilarious TV synopses for the Pacific Sun.

Updated 11:26am...After posting the above, I received an e-mail from Rick Polito: 
I'm starting a movement.  The line went viral his week because Jay Leno used it in Headlines for the second time with the wrong name attached. So my best joke is out there being seen by many millions with the wrong attribution. Jay needs to make things right by having me on the show. Email the show, then tell everybody you know to do the same.  I demand justice! (or a least eight minutes on Jay's couch).
I replied to Rick with an invitation him to join me on KTRS Radio to talk about this and a few other things.  He's agreed, and our conversation will air Monday at 1:10pm CT.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes a man with an itch, a woman eating a bar of soap, and a romantic cemetery thief. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge

Play along with this week's Harris Challenge, which includes the categories "Homer Simpson's Favorite Food," and "Who Am I, Google Maps?," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" -- plus punishment music for the World Series. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, October 26, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Breaking Bad Break

I didn't watch "Breaking Bad" when it first came out, but decided about a month ago to check it out since it was streaming on Netflix.  I'd done this once before, when "The Sopranos" was about to enter its final season.  My wife had watched that show from the beginning, but I always had something else to do.  Then, before its swansong season, I caught up on every previous episode in one month.  I was determined to do the same thing with "Breaking Bad."

From the start, I was hooked.  The saga of high-school-chemistry-teacher-turned-methamphetamine-cook Walter White and his former-student-turned-drug-dealing partner Jesse Pinkman is told brilliantly -- with enough antagonists along the way to complicate things (Walter's DEA agent brother-in-law, Gus the drug lord/chicken restaurant owner, the Mexican cartel), a strained relationship between Walter and his wife, and a scene-stealing sleazeball attorney.

Binge-watching TV is an odd experience, particularly a show like "Breaking Bad," which usually airs with ads on AMC.  Most of the TV we watch at home isn't live, and we skip through the commercials with our DVR, but seeing episode after episode without so much as a pause adds a linear texture to a series that isn't there when you have to wait another week to see where the story goes.  Even a season-ending cliffhanger doesn't hang that long when you can roll right into the next year.

The bad news is that I've just finished season four, and they haven't released season five (the one that aired this summer) yet.  So I'm in "Breaking Bad" limbo, purposely avoiding any articles about whatever happened in the shows I haven't seen, while trying to wait patiently to see how the story proceeds.

How ironic that a show about a drug dealer has me completely addicted.

Tina Fey vs. Todd Akin Et Al

Here's Tina Fey at last night's inaugural gala for the Center For Reproductive Rights, taking shots at the students-that-failed-science who make up this year's class of GOP candidates...

Coliseum Nights

The New York Islanders announced yesterday that they'll move from their home of 40 years, the Nassau Coliseum, to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015 season.  They are the last of the teams of my youth to still play in the arenas where I first rooted for them.

I saw the Yankees and the football Giants in the original Yankee Stadium, and the Miracle Mets at Shea -- two ballparks that have since been torn down and replaced by newer versions on the same turf.  But for a few years in my teens, I spent more time in The Coliseum than both of those stadiums combined.

My brother, Seth, and I were thrilled when The Coliseum opened in 1972.  It was less than a half-hour's drive from where I grew up, so it was easier to get to than the Commack Arena, where we'd go occasionally go to see the minor-league LI Ducks play hockey.  But this was a step up to the NHL, with a brand new team in a brand new building, which was also the new home of the New York Nets of the ABA.

Seth and I used to drive my father crazy asking him to take us to see both teams as often as possible.  Dad, who couldn't have cared less about sports, would give in a few times a year.  We couldn't afford seats up close, but a cheap pair of binoculars helped us keep our eye on the puck from way up in the corner, and we were happy just to be there, munching on popcorn as we tried to follow the action.  Unlike the Rangers and Knicks, which were housed in Madison Square Garden and had all of their games on the radio (with Marv Albert handling play-by-play), the only way to know what was happening at an Islanders game was to go to the Coliseum and witness it in person -- they had no broadcast partners.

If we liked the Islanders, we loved the Nets.  I don't remember the team's history, but I certainly recall copying Rick Barry's underhand free-throws just like every other kid on The Island.  And there was the phenomenon known as Dr. J -- Julius Erving -- who flew through the air with his giant afro and made remarkable shots long before Michael Jordan.  For kids too short to even touch the rim, we were regularly astounded watching Dr. J take two steps from the top of the key, launch himself from the foul line, twist mid-air around two defenders, and jam the ball through the basket.

In May, 1976, Seth and I pulled off our greatest coup as Nets fans.  The team was playing the Denver Nuggets for the ABA Championship, leading the series 3-2.  We'd heard rumors that this would be the last year of the ABA, which would merge some of its teams into the NBA the following month.  Thinking this would be our last chance to ever see our beloved Nets, we begged and cajoled Dad to take us to the game -- and buy some good seats for once.  We probably agreed to do extra chores, or chip in some of our allowance, but Dad finally relented and somehow got three seats about 10 rows behind the Nets bench.

We could not have been more excited, except that the game wasn't going well.  In the third quarter, the Nuggets were up by 22 points, but everything changed in the fourth quarter as Dr. J went on a tear and led the Nets to victory and their second championship in three years.  Seth and I joined hundreds of fans in storming the court.  I headed for one of the baskets, and got there just as another guy jumped up and grabbed the rim.  I jumped, too, but could only reach high enough to wrap my arms around his shoulders while another fan jumped on me and tried to climb over us.  I looked up just in time to see the backboard shatter from our combined weight and plexiglass pieces rained down on us.  I let go and fell to the floor, where I found Seth gathering up as many shards as he could as souvenirs.  They're probably still in a bag in Mom's basement to this day.

Eventually, security guards got all of us off the floor, so we headed for the exits, screaming with excitement as we reunited with Dad.  Even Dad got caught up in it, greeting us with a huge smile as we walked to the parking lot.  Our Nets had won the last game ever to be played in the ABA.

We never went to another sporting event at the Coliseum.  The Nets (and 3 other ABA teams) joined the NBA the following season, but after one more year, they moved to a new sports complex in New Jersey.  I stopped rooting for them around that time, and didn't go to any more Islanders games, either.  By then, I was in college, so the only use I had for The Coliseum was when it hosted rock concerts.

In the ensuing years, I moved on to other towns and adopted their home teams as mine.  But the memories of those nights inside that concrete building in Uniondale still linger.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paul Kurtz, Seminal Skeptic

One of the world's great skeptics and humanists, Paul Kurtz, died last weekend at 86.

Kurtz was a founder of CSICOP (the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, which in the last few years has morphed into the Center For Inquiry), publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and started the independent publishing house Prometheus Books. He also was one of our most prominent secular humanists, publishing the magazine Free Inquiry and creating the Council for Secular Humanism. Kurtz's philosophy regarding non-religion and humanism, laid out in his many books, form the basis of today's "new atheist" movement.

His work fighting paranormal claims and similar nonsense are on the same plane as that of James Randi, with whom Kurtz had a long, sometimes tempestuous, professional relationship. With a few others like Martin Gardner and Isaac Asimov, they are the beacons of the skeptical movement, never retreating from the idea that reason and critical thinking are paramount in a still-developing society.

Read CFI's official Paul Kurtz obituary here.

Russell Means, American Indian Activist

Russell Means, a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, died Monday at age 72.  His longtime activism was not without controversy, much of it because the vast majority of Americans have no idea what it's like to be an Indian in this country.  In an interview I conducted with him on July 3, 2001, he explained why he wanted to be known as an "American Indian" (as opposed to "Native American"), how he wasn't covered by the US Constitution, and why he believed Indians live in an American apartheid.  We also discussed sports teams using Indians as mascots, what he called "casino Indians," and the problem of alcoholism on reservations. I recall this conversation as a vivid look inside a culture so few Americans know anything about.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tonight's Debate Tweets

From my Twitter feed...

  • Biggest losers in tonight's debate: Chinese bayonet manufacturers and exporters.
  • Whoever came up with Obama's horses & bayonets line should get a raise.
  • I think I once had a pint of lager at the Horses & Bayonets pub in London.
  • [from John Podhoretz] Obama just lost the Civil War reenactors with that attack on bayonets.
  • Obama's had Romney on the defensive from the beginning, and Romney hasn't mentioned 1 thing he'd do differently than Obama's doing NOW.
  • [from Bill Maher] Mitt, you do know that most of America thinks Mali is one of Obama's daughters, right?
  • Is it my imagination or is there Nixonian sweat visibly forming on Romney's upper lip?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Can Either Candidate Affect The Economy?

I had a great discussion this morning with Rick Newman, Chief Business Correspondent at US News (and author of "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success") about Obama, Romney, and the economy. We talked about the lack of specifics from both candidates and whether any president can really have a direct impact on things like gas prices. I also asked Rick how Congress can keep the country from falling off the fiscal cliff in January. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes a couple getting busy on a restaurant patio, a woman who loves bologna sandwiches, and a punch in the face for the boss. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Rocky Sickmann, Iran Hostage

With so much interest in Ben Affleck's terrific movie, "Argo," about a covert operation to get six Americans out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, I dug into my archives to find an interview I did in 2004 with Rocky Sickmann, who was was a 22-year-old Marine guard at the US Embassy in Teheran, Iran. On November 4, 1979, he and 51 other Americans were taken hostage by supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, and held for 444 days.

A quarter-century later, I invited Rocky onto my show to talk about how the whole thing started, explain how the US missed an important opportunity to fight the beginnings of the war on terrorism, and reveal what life was like as a hostage. This is a compelling and honest insider's look at one of the darkest times in recent US history.

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

Fact Checking Debate #2

Once again this morning, I called upon Bill Adair from to join me to dissect the claims made by Obama and Romney at the second debate, from taxes to foreign spending to jobs to energy policy. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes a woman drunk on hand sanitizer, Chicken Little's worst nightmare, and a car full of way too many kids. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In Case You Missed It -- Debate Edition

From my Twitter feed during tonight's presidential debate...

  • In an insta-poll right after the debate, 100% of respondents were pissed off that a pollster was calling to bother them at home. 
  • Thanks to Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz, women have taken a huge lead in the Moderator Gender Wars. It all comes down to Schieffer. 
  • Tonight's questioners now know what every political reporter knows -- candidates NEVER answer a question directly or with specifics. 
  • How many undecided voters make up their minds based on China's currency manipulation? How many even know what it is? I don't, nor do I care.
  • That was the first time I've ever seen a moderator fact-check a candidate's statement DURING the debate. Nice job, Candy Crowley!
  • All of the questions tonight are better than anything Jim Lehrer asked (citizen journalists!). 
  • Am I the only one who noticed the old guy in the polo shirt in the front row who looka like he's falling asleep?
  • Despite claims by both candidates, no president will ever be tough on China – they’re the landlord!
  • The middle class must be thrilled to hear Romney say they won't have to pay taxes on the huge 0.02% interest they earn on their savings accounts.

Political Laugh Of The Day

If you have a few seconds to spare (and why else would you be on my site?), click this link and enjoy.

James Randi on Sesame Street

James Randi writes about Mitt Romney's vow in the first presidential debate to cut funding for PBS:

I may feel particularly sensitive about Sesame Street because I was peripherally involved in its very first stages. When the series was first proposed in 1969, I was called in to perform a few tricks for the "pilot" episode, and I'd like to feel that my efforts just might have helped the show get noticed and accepted. I certainly hope so. My appearance in the pilot, along with those of James Earl Jones, Carol Burnett, and so many others, sold that show to PBS. To my regret, I wasn't taken on as a regular character for Sesame Street, but I've always appreciated what this show did – and still does – for so many children – not only here in the USA but around the world!
Here is Randi on the unaired "Sesame Street" test show in 1969, doing the newspaper tear-and-restore trick to reveal that day's highlighted letter...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • First thing Candy Crowley should ask Romney & Obama tonight: "are you really afraid that I'm going to ask follow-up questions?"
  • Florida officials say the giant eyeball found on a beach last week came from a swordfish. Must've run into a giant pen.
  • Mark Evanier's been writing some stories about his late mother. Here's one about the time she was an extra on "LA Law."
  • In politics, if you're behind in the polls, you claim they're biased and wrong. If you're ahead, you claim that they're right on the money.

Did Baumgartner Boom?

After Felix Baumgartner's skydive from 24 miles created such a stir on Sunday, I was curious about something, so I asked my scientist friend Phil Plait:

In exceeding the speed of sound, did Baumgartner create a sonic boom? If so, did he hear it? Did anyone else hear it? Does size matter (e.g. human vs plane) in creating the boom?

Phil replied: "He'd create a shock wave, but wouldn't hear it since he'd be moving faster than the sound of it trying to catch up to him! Size does matter, but also how high he was when he broke the sound barrier. If he was too high up, then it would dissipate."

Monday, October 15, 2012

We Don't Need A Businessman President

Mitt Romney keeps talking about how, as governor of Massachusetts, he was able to work with the Democrats who comprised 87% of that state's legislature to get new policies passed.  He implies that he'll be able to do the same with Democrats in Congress if he becomes president.  The problem is that the Romney who served in Massachusetts is not the same Romney who's running for the White House.  In the decade since, he has adopted much more right-wing ideologies and would be much less likely to reach consensus with even moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Romney also keeps touting his record as a jobs creator (a claim effectively dismantled by David Stockman in Newsweek), but I don't hear anyone pointing out why that doesn't qualify him to become our nation's chief executive -- because the responsibilities of a CEO are different from those of a president. As a businessman, your job is to make money from whatever product or service you're selling, and you hire more people to help you achieve that goal when business demands it.  No businessman ever hired a bunch of people solely because he wanted to help them -- he increased his staff because he wanted to help his own bank account (and those of his investors or shareholders).  A president, however, is tasked not with making money and protecting the bottom line, but with helping people and protecting the country.

Romney's dubious record as a job creator is moot, but his record as a big money borrower is very relevant. Romney keeps railing about the deficit, arguing that we have to stop borrowing so much money and driving up our debt (without offering specifics on what should be cut, other than taxes).  But that's exactly what he did as head of Bain Capital -- borrowing huge amounts of cash in leveraged buyouts, then often leaving those companies burdened with huge debts while he and his partners escaped with tremendous profits and management fees.

As Stockman, the one-time budget director for Ronald Reagan, explains:

Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better. 
That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value. But we have a rigged system—a regime of crony capitalism—where the tax code heavily favors debt and capital gains, and the central bank purposefully enables rampant speculation by propping up the price of financial assets and battering down the cost of leveraged finance.
Perhaps Romney's plan as president is to do the same thing, but on a much larger scale, leveraging the entire US to the hilt, then getting out with a big payday, leaving nothing but devastation in his path, as he's done so many times before.

The last time we had a businessman in the White House, under Bush 43, we went from a budget surplus to a giant fiscal hole. The last time we had a president who put people first, under Clinton, we did exactly the opposite.  In fact, in the last 30 years, it has been GOP presidencies that have driven the budget deficit upward, only to be reeled in and reversed by their Democrat successors.

Government is not a for-profit enterprise. When a nation invests in infrastructure, schools, parks,   libraries, police departments, fire departments, a military, and its own people, the goal is not to make money, but to build a better nation for all.  That investment pays off not in dividends on paper but in a better place to live, play, work, and -- yes -- start a business.

That's why we don't need business expertise in the White House, we need leadership.

Another Victory For Vaccines

Once again, fear-mongering by anti-vaccination liars has been proven untrue by a new study shows that, despite their evidence-free warnings, the HPV vaccine does not make teenage girls promiscuous.

Sit Down And Stay There

An addendum to my entry about Kathleen Madigan's show on Saturday night.

We enjoyed what we saw on stage, but were surprised by what we saw in the crowd -- people getting up from their seats throughout, either to go to the bathroom or to visit the concession stands to get more of the Bud Light that would later force them to get up to go to the bathroom. This was only a two-hour show (30 minutes of headliner Greg Warren, then 90 minutes of Kathleen), and we weren't in a comedy club, we were in a huge theater. So, any time someone got up to leave, and again when they returned, everyone else in the row had to stand up to let them through. That meant us, because I always get an aisle seat to accommodate my long legs.

 In a comedy show, particularly one with a performer as talented as Kathleen, the flow of the material is very important, and you have to really listen to catch everything. Several times that evening, our concentration on what Kathleen was saying was interrupted by a couple in our row. First, they showed up late, some 15 minutes into the headliner's set (a total of 45 minutes past the actual start time), yet not in too much of a hurry, because they made a stop at the concession stand to grab a couple of bottles of beer to bring to their seats. Then, less than an hour later, one of them had to get up to relive herself, so we were distracted again. She may have said, "excuse me," but there's no excuse for that.

They were not the only ones. At various times, my wife noticed people in other sections getting up, milling about, and returning, oblivious to the impact they were having on other audience members. I've seen this before at sporting events and music concerts -- any new song the crowd is unfamiliar with is a signal to head for the bathrooms -- but never before at an event in a large theater like this. It doesn't happen at the Fox during a touring production of a Broadway show, nor at The Rep during one of its plays. It's also rare at movie theaters, where people are used to sitting in one place for a couple of hours.

I'm not sure where the blame lies. Perhaps the human bladder has gotten smaller as attention spans have gotten shorter. My wife thinks it's the creeping influence of TV viewers who think nothing of getting up and moving around at home while watching their big screens. Unfortunately, at a live show, we can't pause the DVR until you get back, or hit the quick-reverse button to catch the punchline your interruption just stepped on (along with my feet).

Whatever the reason, here's my solution: if you can't show up on time and remain in your seat for the entire show, don't go in the first place.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kathleen Madigan

I wrote last week about seeing Louis CK in concert and mentioned that he was one of only a few comedians who can do 90 minutes alone on stage with entirely new material each time he tours.  Last night, we went to see another one of the few -- Kathleen Madigan, playing her biggest show in her hometown at the Peabody Opera House here in St. Louis.

While Kathleen's act wasn't entirely new (I'd heard the last 10 minutes before), her hour-and-a-half was very topical, making fun of the presidential contenders and their running mates, as well as discussing her many trips to Iraq and Afghanistan for USO shows with her pal Lewis Black (who she imitates mercilessly but lovingly) and Lance Armstrong (who she eviscerates).  Her material is sharp, clever, and funny as hell, as in a long riff she does on the only kind of news stories that get national news coverage for Missouri (Todd Akin, hillbilly handfishing, and exploding meth labs).

I have happily watched Kathleen's career progress from her nights on the club circuit -- I first met her in the mid 1990s in Washington when she visited my DC101 morning show to promote her appearance at the Comedy Cafe -- and then moved up to casino showrooms and medium-sized theaters, and she's now selling out thousands of seats in big houses like the Peabody.  When she comes to your town, go see her.

One other difference between Louis and Kathleen -- she has a much better opening act.  Greg Warren, also from St. Louis, did a half-hour of funny stuff that set the stage for her perfectly.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Harris Challenge

This week's Harris Challenge includes the categories "Alex Karras Is Dead" and "Saturday Night Live Is 37," plus punishment music by both Cameron Diaz and Cate Blanchett. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes a man who returned used enemas to a store, a revved-up baby stroller, and a lunch of blowtorched squirrel. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Dumping Columbus Day

Jeffrey Marlow explains why we need to dump our least popular federal holiday, which is not even celebrated any longer in 17 states:

Every October, Americans take a day off in commemoration of a slave-wrangler, a man who governed by greed and oversaw genocide. They also celebrate a bold explorer, a man who risked everything and sailed across an ocean to “discover” a New World. The holiday, of course, celebrates the same man: Christopher Columbus. But as historians have revealed ugly truths about the explorer and his atrocious treatment of native populations, Americans have developed a schizophrenic relationship with Columbus Day. A new proposal would put an end to the awkward sanctification of the deeply flawed Columbus while continuing to celebrate his exploratory zeal. The goal: to re-purpose Columbus Day as Exploration Day.
And there's this from Michael Moodian:
The United States is a country of progression. We persevere as we show respect for diversity, inclusion and tolerance. We realize that we have made mistakes with regards to racial and gender inequality, but we have become a stronger nation by recognizing and learning from parts of our history that we are not proud of. Looking at the civil rights movements of the past 50 years, it goes without saying that the United States has taken great strides in a very short amount of time.
A major step in the right direction would be to end the celebration of Columbus Day. Instead, perhaps we can focus on a new holiday that works to establish solidarity with the indigenous peoples, or perhaps we can even honor Thomas Jefferson for his promotion of liberty and inalienable individual rights. There were many who fought tirelessly for women's suffrage and gender equality who should also be honored.
We will never learn from our history if we choose to glorify individuals such as Columbus, who was neither noble nor representative of American values.
Unfortunately, I don't see any change to the federal Columbus Day holiday anytime soon, because any real effort in that direction would run into major interference from cultural, ethnic, and other special interest groups -- the kind that have organized Columbus Day parades in major cities for decades, and represent a large enough percentage of the population that politicians wouldn't risk losing their support.

But they should.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes the wife carrying championship, the human scarecrow, and the mom who tattooed her daughter. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Astronaut Mark Kelly

Here's my conversation with astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of the Endeavour space shuttle missions, husband of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and author of the children's book, "Moustronaut."  We talked about Mark and Gabby watching the Endeavour fly overhead on its way to the museum where it will be exhibited and her recitation of the Pledge Of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention, then moved on to last night's SpaceX launch of a cargo capsule headed for the International Space Station, his relationship with the late Neil Armstrong, and the future of manned space flight. Then he explained how a mouse on board one of his missions was the inspiration for his book.Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Louis CK

Louis CK came to St. Louis last night for two sold-out shows at the Fox Theater.  The place was packed to the rafters (that's 4,000+ seats) with a crowd that wasn't shy about showing its admiration for him, and Louis didn't disappoint them.

In his stand-up, Louis doesn't tell actual jokes, opting instead for funny stories from his life.  He paints pictures with his words, so you can visualize his encounter with an old woman at the airport, or another resident of his apartment building in their courtyard.  His vignettes draw you in, thanks to well-chosen phrases, clever observations about people, and his talent as a storyteller.

What's most impressive about Louis is that his show was 90 minutes long and didn't contain any material he'd done in previous years.  For a comedian to develop that much new stuff each year, eschewing the old, is a remarkable feat that few in the business attempt, let alone pull off.

Unfortunately, Todd Glass, who opened the show for 20 minutes, is exactly the opposite -- a hack comedian whose premises often don't have payoffs and whose targets for ridicule run as deep as the infomercials for the Sham-Wow.  His act might work in comedy clubs, in the midst of other comics who stomp the same turf, but in a big theater next to a unique performer like Louis CK, he's a waste of time.

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes the police arresting Batman, the woman who didn't like getting caught behind a school bus, and a company charging extra for pouring booze over naked breasts. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, October 05, 2012

This Plane Will Crash

Sunday night, the Discovery Channel will air a special in which a 727 will crash into the ground. It was produced by Broken Wing, a St. Louis company started by some ex-military pilots, who've worked on the project for four years. Two of them (Chip Shanle and Charlie Berry) joined me in the studio to discuss the experience, from how they got permission to do it, to how they pulled it off, to the entire scenario as the cameras rolled. Chip was the one who flew the 727 via remote control while in the cockpit of a Cessna that was only about 50 feet away from the big jet, so he had a unique perspective on the outcome.

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

Thursday, October 04, 2012

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Just looked at the top of my Twitter screen and realized this is my 5,000th tweet. More impressive if you think of it as 700,000 characters.
  • Same Old Stuff: Mitt Romney's 5-point jobs plan is exactly the same as McCain's in '08 & Bush's in '04/'06, says Mike Konzcal.
  • Facebook is boasting it now has 1 billion users, but as I've said before, it's a fallacy because they're not all humans.
  • This just in: the NHL can't come to a deal with players, so the regular season will feature the NFL's replacement refs on skates.

Triple Crown History

I'm not a baseball fan, but see that Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers has won the Triple Crown -- leading the league in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in.

The reason it's news is that no one has done it in 45 years. The last triple crown winner was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, preceded by Frank Robinson in 1966.  I had to check Wikipedia to discover that, and while there, noticed that Cabrera is only the 17th player to achieve the feat, along with hall-of-famers like Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, and Rogers Hornsby. Each of them hit more than three dozen home runs in their winning year -- except for Ty Cobb, who took the title in 1909 with a whopping nine homers.  For the entire season.

Still, that was better than the first-ever triple crown winner, Paul Hines, centerfielder for the Providence Grays in 1878, who led the league with 4 home runs, 50 RBI's, and a .358 average.  True, they played 100 games a year less than today's major leaguers, but four homers for the year?

It's hard to imagine a time when a ball going over the wall was as rare as a no-hitter is today.  Hines' 1878 total is 40 less than Cabrera hit this year, 69 less than Barry Bonds' record.  I know Little Leaguers who've hit 4 dingers in a single game (if you count the inside-the-parkers that rolled to the fence, followed by several lame throws and a couple of dozen parents yelling "Get The Ball!!!!").

When Hines hit his second homer of that season, the other players probably thought he had an insurmountable lead ("We'll never catch him now!").  By number three, they wondered whether he was on steroids. When he hit number four, they were calling Cooperstown to reserve a space for him in the Hall Of Fame.  Unfortunately, no one in Cooperstown knew what they were talking about, since the Hall Of Fame wasn't built for another 60 years.

By then, they had a new definition for how long it took to hit four home runs.  It was called a double-header.

Random Thoughts On The Debate

Here are some raw thoughts I wrote down while watching the Obama/Romney debate last night...

  • Blue tie vs. red tie. Righty vs. lefty (hands).
  • Where were the ZINGERS? 
  • Obama boring, professorial, and wonky, on the defensive, answers all over the place, no energy or passion. 
  • Romney still not saying which deductions he’d eliminate. 
  • My wife summed it up at 8:23pm: “This is incredibly boring.” 
  • Clear loser: Jim Lehrer, kept trying to stop them debating – at a debate. Screw the rules, let’em go. Terrible as referee, asked general questions instead of asking specifics to make O&R answer with specifics. Kept pointing out, “okay, so we have a clear difference between you” – duh! Lehrer's questions amounted to: "So talk about health care." "Talk about social security." "Talk about the deficit..." 
  • Obama had the biggest lie of the night, telling Lehrer: "You've done a great job, Jim!" No fact-checker in the world can confirm that. 
  • Last time he’ll be chosen as moderator. Seth McFarlane instead? 
  • Romney wants to cut money for PBS, where Lehrer is employed. That's the first time a candidate has ever fired a moderator on live TV.
  • Neither candidate said the word “Bush."
  • Debate score: Boring wonk-speak 100, Anniversary messages 2, Zingers 0. 
  • Early voters won’t wait for next 3 debates, so this could be a factor. 
  • Obama letting Romney get away with the GOP lie about a government takeover of healthcare. 
  • Who cares about the debate format anymore? Just let’em go at it. But someone should be there to keep one candidate from walking over the other, which is what happened last night. 
  • After tonight's debate, Obama knows what it's like to have Romney hold you down and cut your hair against your will. 
  • Team Obama obviously chose not to go on the attack, leave that to ads and spinners, but bet that changes at next debate. 
  • Shocked Obama didn’t mention the 47% once. Spinners will get into that stuff, but how many of the undecided 5% hear them – a lot less than watched the actual debate. 
  • Was this Mitt's Etch-A-Sketch shake-up? 
  • Most entertaining moment post-debate was watching Chris Matthews have a breakdown on MSNBC over Obama's performance.  Get him some blood pressure medication, stat.
  • Last time we had a debate between an incumbent president vs. challenger was ’04, when most viewers thought Kerry won big time. How'd that work out in November?
  • Surprised that when Romney said government doesn’t do anything better than private business, Obama didn’t invoke the Hoover Dam and bypass he’d visited Tuesday. 
  • Obama played not to lose, like the Rams in ’01 vs the Patriots in the Super Bowl, which didn’t work, either. 
  • Romney has the media momentum now, but whether that translates to the polls remains to be seen – particularly the impact with undecided voters.
  • Still undecided? What do you want? 

Fact-Checking The Debate

Truths, half-truths, and blatant falsehoods -- all present last night in the Obama/Romney debate. That's why I called upon Bill Adair from to join me this morning to explain which claims by the candidates stood up to some fact-checking, particularly when it came to taxes and Medicare. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News® includes the man who assaulted his wife with a sandwich, the restaurant manager who told 2 buffet customers "that's all you can eat," and a pair of incompetent sofa thieves. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Randi Remembers Johnny

Yesterday, in writing about my disgust with David Letterman for enabling nonsense by having TV psychic Theresa Caputo on his show, I mentioned that Johnny Carson never would have allowed her in his guest chair because he couldn't stand con artists who prey on people as she does (and too many others do). As I was posting that, James Randi wrote this piece about his friendship with Carson, his most famous appearance on "The Tonight Show," and how Johnny's support for the skeptic movement lives on.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • MSNBC is promoting that its coverage of the debate starts at 5pm, while CNN says its coverage starts at 7pm. As if they're not doing the story non-stop all day long.
  • Overlooked debate moments that deserve notice, from Jeff Greenfield.
  • A great, in-depth piece on how NFL Films' Steve and Ed Sabol taught America how to watch football.

The 25 Year Old Princess Bride

William Goldman's 1973 book, "The Princess Bride" was a brilliant story, but it wasn't an easy movie to make. Directors like Robert Redford, Norman Jewison, and Francois Truffaut (!) tried and failed before Rob Reiner took on the challenge 14 years later and made an instant film classic. So, in a town that makes sequels to pretty much everything, why hasn't there been a big screen followup to "The Princess Bride"? It's not because cast members Andre The Giant, Peter Falk, and Peter Cook are dead, and it's not because no one's interested. The reason is that Goldman can't figure out what the story should be and what the characters would do, as he explained last night when he and the cast and Reiner reunited for a 25th anniversary screening of the movie:

I’m desperate to make it and write it and I don’t know how. I would love to make it, more than anything else I’ve not written.
There are more behind-the-scenes stories from the screening here. Now, all together, let's repeat the best 13 words Mandy Patinkin ever spoke:

The Question For Mitt

I love this question that Andrew Sullivan says he'd like to ask Mitt Romney: "What are the main differences between your domestic and foreign policies and those of the last Republican president, George W. Bush?"

It's Not The Host (more)

In response to my post yesterday about why Seth McFarlane won't bring down the demographics of the Academy Awards telecast audience, Dennis Hartin e-mailed:

The Academy blew it when they increased the nominees for Best Picture from five to whatever, for the reasons you describe. They should have gone the route the Golden Globes and Emmys took years ago -- like products only compete against like products. There should be Best Drama, Best Comedy, Best Action Picture, etc. They already did this with Best Animated Picture, so why not other categories? And then there would be a really long preferential ballot for Best Picture, will all of the nominees in each category listed. And some kind of online voting, that would carry some meager percentage of the tally in addition to the Academy members ballots. At least more movies would have a shot.
I hate the idea of the public voting for any accolades that are supposed to come from the industry. That's what the People's Choice awards are for. On the other hand, I like the idea of breaking down the Best Pictures into Drama and Comedy, but no further, and certainly not for each acting award -- let each film's producers or stars decide which category they want to vie for. If anyone complains there's not enough time in the telecast for one more category, just kill the the production numbers.

Charge It, But Where?

It's a chicken and egg dilemma -- we can't sell more all-electric cars until we have more charging stations, but we won't have more charging stations until consumers buy more all-electric cars.  Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I discussed that dilemma and the way one company is aiming to fix it with Todd Woody, environmental correspondent for Forbes magazine. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News®

Here's today's batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, including the 10-year-old who stole a truck, the professor who took off his clothes in class, and the woman who called the cops because her boyfriend drank her beer. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

It's Not The Host

If the geniuses at the Motion Picture Academy think hiring Seth McFarlane as Oscars host will help bring in more young viewers (advertising money is all about the demographics), they're wrong.  It's not the host that affects viewership, it's the movies that are nominated and win.

This year, the Best Picture Oscar went to "The Artist," a black and white silent movie that wasn't exactly a smash with teens and twenty-somethings.  Its competition included "The Descendants," "The Tree Of Life," and "Midnight In Paris" -- all fine movies, but which drew an older crowd.  Meryl Streep won for "The Iron Lady" and Christopher Plummer won for "Beginners," two movies barely anyone saw, let alone the under-30 audience.

The Academy doesn't nominate the type of movies with youth appeal -- broad comedies and box-office blockbusters.  The exception: "Titanic" in 1997, the biggest money-making movie of all time, which not-so-coincidentally helped the Oscars telecast draw its biggest-ever ratings.  In the last few years, the Oscars even expanded the number of Best Picture nominees from five to nine or ten, then filled up those additional slots with other films more likely to enjoy long runs in an art house than in a multi-screen movieplex.

I'm not suggesting The Oscars become a popularity contest like the People's Choice Awards, nor that there's anything wrong with the movies that are nominated and win.  I'm just pointing out that until the roster changes (which may mean waiting until older Academy members die off), there's no hope of getting more young viewers -- even with the director of a movie about a foul-mouthed teddy bear.

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

David Letterman, Enabler Of Nonsense

I'm very disappointed in David Letterman.  Last night, after two segments with Stephen Colbert, Letterman's next guest was Theresa Caputo, whose show "Long Island Medium" airs on TLC (which was originally known as The Learning Channel, but dropped Learning from its name as it devolved into The White Trash Reality Show Channel).

Caputo is another in a long line of con artists like Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, and John Edward who all claim they can talk to the dead -- and that the dead speak back to them, which is the harder part, of course.  In allowing Caputo to sit unchallenged in his guest chair, by making it seem as if she was an honest person with an extraordinary ability, Letterman enabled nonsense by helping to promote her unproven claims.

During the segment, Caputo said that, while in the green room, she'd felt the spirit of Michelle O'Callaghan (longtime makeup artist for "The Late Show" who died late last year) who "gave very specific details."  Whatever details Caputo had provided there wouldn't have proven anything, as she -- or someone on her TLC show's staff -- likely had researched Letterman's recent past and dug up some basic info about O'Callaghan which she could drop in as if she'd just heard it from the dead woman's "spirit."  But instead of asking Caputo what those details were or pressing her in any way, Letterman said, "I would believe that because all of us felt and continue to feel her presence."  And then he changed the subject, jokingly asking Caputo to contact his dead Uncle Earl.

Later in the segment, Caputo mentioned that someone nearby had something with a pancreas or stomach.  Eddie Brill, who warms up the "Late Show" studio audience, spoke up from off-camera that his brother had died of pancreatitis. Caputo responded, "Your brother is stepping forward to acknowledge that he is safe and at peace.  Do you feel that if he was diagnosed sooner, that he would still be here in the physical world?"  Brill replied, "I'm not sure, I have no idea."  Caputo answered, "Because he says no."

This is classic psychic medium bullshit.  While backstage, it would have been easy for Caputo to talk to some "Late Show" staffers to find out if any of them had lost someone recently and learned about Brill's brother.  Then Brill's affirmative response makes it seem as if she's uncovered that information miraculously.  And did you notice that Caputo didn't actually tell Brill anything that would indicate she was actually in touch with his deceased brother?  Caputo's claim that Brill's brother is "safe and at peace" is exactly what all of these con artists tell their subjects, because it makes the subject feel good -- and because saying "he says he's burning in hell with incredible pain and blames you for everything that hurt him" would be really bad for business.  Moreoever, the comment about "if he was diagnosed sooner" means nothing, because severe acute pancreatitis, which has a high mortality rate, often goes undiagnosed in many patients.

Letterman's only response to this brief exchange between Caputo and Brill was "Hmmm."  No demand for proof, other than asking in softball fashion earlier, "Have you ever been tested?"  Caputo admitted that she hadn't, to which Letterman added, "Because you know there are skeptics."  Then came Caputo's biggest whopper of the night:  "I don't try to prove what I do, and I respect skeptics."
Skeptics sure don't respect her, and shouldn't.  Caputo doesn't try to prove anything because she can't, and if she did allow herself to be tested and failed, she'd be shown up as a fraud like all the others.  So don't hold your breath for Caputo to apply for the Million Dollar Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

If someone tried to pull this crap on me, invoking a dead relative and pretending to give me post-mortem messages from them, I'd be furious.  Caputo plays with the emotions of vulnerable people mourning the loss of a loved one; she preys on them, using their tragedies as a platform to spew garbage in exchange for money and fame.

Letterman's role in this disgusts me because it's exactly the opposite of how his hero, Johnny Carson, would have handled it.  It's ironic that this nonsense on "Late Show" took place exactly 50 years after Carson's "Tonight Show" debut.  In his three decades on the air, Carson often used his show as a platform to expose hokum and con artists, often with the help of James Randi (see Randi's exposure of faith healer Peter Popoff or his demonstration of what "psychic surgeons" do).  In fact, Carson was a major benefactor of the JREF, and made provisions in his estate documents for the John W. Carson Foundation to continue that financial support for Randi and his staff after his death.

That's a positive message from a dead guy, and you don't need Caputo or any other mediums to hear it.  Too bad Letterman can't live up to it.

If Letterman's interested in good TV, he'll invite Randi (or JREF President DJ Grothe or board member Chip Denman or Skeptic publisher Michael Shermer) to sit in his guest chair to explain cold reading and other techniques that "psychics" like Caputo use to defraud people.  If not, his legacy will now include the title Enabler Of Nonsense.

Ralph Begleiter on the Debate

Here's my conversation with Ralph Begleiter (formerly of CNN, now director of the Center For Political Communication at the University of Delaware) about tomorrow night's presidential debate.  I asked him:

  • how important avoiding gaffes will be for the candidates;
  • the impact of Twitter and other online media on the campaigns;
  • the history of debates affecting the final outcome of previous elections;
  • whether Obama or Romney will go after moderator Jim Lehrer (as Newt Gingrich did earlier this year, attacking John King).
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!