Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Friday, July 28, 2017

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on my 3-6pm CT show on KTRS today.

Along the way, Max and I will review Charlize Theron in "Atomic Blonde" (as well as other showbiz stuff), you'll have a chance to test your trivia knowledge on my Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Fired For Being Accused Followup

Thanks to reader Robert Brauer, a lifelong resident of Dallas-Fort Worth, for this followup to my post yesterday about Lucky Whitehead:

Lucky Whitehead was not released because of this shoplifting issue; he was released because his play was not up to snuff, and the Cowboys drafted a player, Ryan Switzer, this past spring who has been tagged by most sports reporters as being Whitehead's replacement. The Cowboys were going to cut Lucky no matter what.

The only thing that changed was the timing of the release. As you may be aware, the Cowboys have had a rash of off-field legal incidents involving various players this offseason (most notably Zeke Elliott). Furthermore, the team has been criticized in recent years for its supposedly lax attitude towards the moral failings of its players (the signing of Greg Hardy two years ago being a paramount example). Jerry Jones is, like most other NFL owners, desperate to make it look like he is taking the concerns regarding domestic violence and other bad behavior by players seriously. To that end, when a marginal player like Lucky Whitehead appeared to have gotten into some hot water, Jerry saw a perfect opportunity to serve him his walking papers, and preach stentorian from the mount on how he doesn't tolerate this sort of tomfoolery.

So what we have here was an attempt to make a decision that had already been made for one reason look like it was made for an entirely different reason... and like so many other things Jerry Jones has done in his tenure, it blew up in his face. The true issue here is the continued lip service that NFL team owners pay towards the issues at hand, cutting a player like Whitehead (who barely contributes to the team) when he apparently gets in trouble, and leaving other, more important players (like Elliott) on the roster, even when they may find themselves legitimately in trouble.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

This Is Not Fake News (audio)

The St. Louis Ethical Society has released the audio of the Fake News speech I gave on July 16th, and has given me permission to post it on this site and as a podcast. Listen, then click here to subscribe to my podcasts via iTunes!

If you prefer to read the speech, there's a written transcript here.

Fired For Being Accused

This report from NFL.com a couple of days ago caught my eye. It's about a man who was fired from his job for being accused of a crime he didn't commit...

Lucky Whitehead didn't do it. One day after the wide receiver was informed he had been cut by the Cowboys for facing misdemeanor petty larceny charges in Virginia, Whitehead's agent, Dave Rich, announced that police had the wrong guy all along. Rich told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that all charges against Whitehead have been dropped and his arrest warrant rescinded.
The story reminded me of many years ago when I was negotiating a deal with a radio station that wanted to hire me. They sent me the basic boilerplate contract, which included a clause giving them the right to terminate the contract if I was ever charged with a crime.

I told them I wouldn't sign it unless that clause was changed. They asked why, and I explained that anyone can accuse someone of a crime at any time, but that shouldn't be a valid reason for the accused to lose their job. I demanded that, if this was going to be part of the contract at all, it would have to say "convicted" instead of "charged." Furthermore, I said, "criminal offense" would have to be replaced by "felony offense." I wasn't going to have my livelihood yanked out from under me for some petty misdemeanor.

The radio station's lawyers acquiesced to my demands, and we had a multi-year run with great success for all concerned before we parted ways when I left for another opportunity.

I'm surprised the NFL Players Association doesn't make team owners change their boilerplate contract in the same way.

Of course, this is the same league that lied to its players for decades about the effects of concussions and the rest of the head-banging that is endemic to the game of football. So the NFL can't be happy with the results of a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing even more connections between the violent hits endured by players and the onset of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The researchers checked the brains of 111 deceased NFL players, and found that 110 of them had the degenerative brain disorder. And it's not just the pros who suffer -- 87% of all football players at the high school, college, and pro level ended up with some form of CTE.

From Time magazine:
Among players with severe CTE, 85% had signs of dementia, and 89% had behavioral or mood symptoms, or both. They were also likely to have issues in brain regions associated with depressive symptoms, impulsivity and anxiety. 95% had cognitive symptoms, like issues with memory, executive function and attention.
As more research shows these dangers of playing football, don't be surprised to see the numbers of parents who allow their kids to strap on a helmet and smash their heads together over the line of scrimmage continue to decrease over the coming decades.

Maybe being fired by the Cowboys for being charged with a crime he didn't commit will turn out to be a good thing for Lucky Whitehead. Or at least for his brain matter.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adam Ruins Hospitals

Perhaps the pinheads on Capitol Hill (and at the White House) who think they have a better plan for American health care (and health insurance) should watch the latest episode of "Adam Ruins Everything" to learn about the biggest problems we face -- being over-charged, over-tested, and over-diagnosed (not to mention dispensed too many antibiotics). Here's an excerpt...


Of course, entering facts into this discussion is useless compared to the huge amount of money funneled into politicians' pockets by lobbyists for the health care/insurance industry, but at least this will help you be a little better informed. You can watch the entire episode here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

As I Tweeted

  • As of today, the new definition of "maverick" is "goes along with the rest of the crowd."

Magic Men

Lance Burton and Mac King are two of the best magicians I've ever seen.

I was first introduced to Lance's work by Penn Jillette, who told me that Lance did the finest close-up routine (Max Maven tells me the preferred term is "stage manipulation") in the world -- high praise from the man who works with Teller. On his advice, I went to see Lance's Las Vegas show, which by then had moved from the Hacienda to the Monte Carlo. Penn was right. Lance's opening routine, which he'd been doing since he was a teen, was remarkable. The illusions that followed, both big and small, were also very clever and perfectly executed. I enjoyed it so much that I went back several times over the next few years to share the experience with friends and family. Lance retired in 2010, and hasn't done a new show or TV special since.

I met Mac King when he was working the comedy circuit tour and came through St. Louis to play The Funny Bone. The club was (and still is) in the same building as KTRS, and I used to have its headliners drop by my midday show to talk and promote their gigs. When Mac came in, he was really funny and quick, and when I went to see his show that night, I was equally impressed with his sleight-of-hand. A couple of years later, Mac signed a contract to do his comedy/magic show at Harrah's (on the strip), and he's still there, ten times a week! When I did my show on remote from The Orleans in Vegas, Mac came over to talk some more and impress the small audience that had gathered around my table with a few tricks. I've taken and sent lots of people to see Mac, and they have all reported back that they had a great time.

Lance and Mac have known each other since they started out in Kentucky more than four decades ago. At one point, they worked together and helped each other develop their acts and fine-tune their tricks. They have the easy camaraderie of longtime friends, and it's evident in this video from a couple of weeks ago. The event was the annual gathering of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Louisville, where Lance took the stage ostensibly to interview Mac, but quickly decided to let the audience ask questions, which led to some wonderful stories -- and a famous rope trick -- from Mac.

Make sure you watch through to the final story, about the time a woman from the audience joined Mac onstage for a trick and it didn't go as he planned. Note: while Mac is wearing a microphone, it appears that Lance isn't, so it's a little difficult to hear him at times, but you'll still know what's going on...

Previously on Harris Online...

Movie Review: "The Journey"


"The Journey" is yet another movie based on a real event that most Americans know nothing about, including me. It takes place in 2006, when the conflict in Northern Ireland had been going on for decades between Catholics and Protestants. That year, top representatives of both sides sat down to try to negotiate the peace, led by two men who couldn't have been more different.

Ian Paisley was the ultra-religious and conservative leader of the British side. The other was Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader who wanted the two Irelands to reunify. During the negotiations in neutral Scotland, much progress was made, but they still hadn't gotten to the finish line. Then Paisley announced that he had to leave the gathering to go home and celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife. McGuinness agreed, under one condition -- he had to travel with Paisley, because neither side could be seen to have given in to any accommodation that wasn't available to the other side. Begrudgingly, Paisley agreed, and the two of them sat in the back of a car, at first simply glaring at each other but, along the way, out of the sight of their colleagues and the world, they started talking.

Paisley and McGuinness are played by Timothy Spall ("Denial," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") and Colm Meaney ("The Van," "Under Seige," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), respectively. They're both perfect for their roles, but unfortunately the filmmakers weren't content to just put them in a moving vehicle and let them talk things out.

Instead, writer Colin Bateman and director Nick Hamm use the cinematic device of over-explanation via John Hurt's character, Harry Patterson. He's the one who has outfitted the vehicle with audio and video that is fed back to a room at the negotiation site where he and others can watch and hear what's going on. He also can talk to the guy behind the wheel, who is not only charged with driving the two important men, but also trying to stimulate conversation between them. Hurt's character repeatedly provides unnecessary exposition in his instructions to the driver, and all the scenes of Patterson, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and others are a distraction from what's going on with the two main characters of "The Journey."

That's a shame because Spall and Meaney are eminently watchable and compelling. This could have been the dramatic equivalent of the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon "The Trip" series (btw, the third of those movies, in which they travel through Spain, comes out next month), albeit without Michael Caine impressions. Instead, it's a ride with too many detours.

I give "The Journey" a 5 out of 10.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Movie Review: "Dunkirk"


"Dunkirk" is the new movie from writer/director Christopher Nolan, who doesn't always tell his stories in a linear fashion. In "Memento," a story about a guy who can't remember anything that happened before today, he told it backwards. In "Inception," he monkeyed with both time and space in a story that literally overlapped itself. In "Dunkirk," he's done it again, but more about that in a moment. First, you need the setup, which tells a story most Americans don't know, but is baked into the very being of the English because it is as important part of their history as Pearl Harbor is of ours.

In the spring of 1940, before the US got into World War II, Hitler's forces had surrounded more than 400,000 English, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops in the port city of Dunkirk, France. The soldiers were trapped on the beach. They could see Britain a couple of dozen miles across the English Channel, but the Royal Navy couldn't get its big ships close enough to pick them up. So, Winston Churchill, then the British Prime Minister for only a couple of weeks, called up the private owners of smaller boats to try to cross the channel and help with the rescue. Meanwhile, German planes were dropping bombs and strafing the soldiers with machine gun fire from the sky.

Nolan includes some of that basic information at the beginning, but not much, and as the story goes along, he doesn't bother with more exposition via the typical voiceover narration. He simply tells the story and expects you to keep up.

But there's one more thing you need to know before seeing "Dunkirk," and it goes back to Nolan's non-linear storytelling style. The movie is told from three points of view: 1) the trapped men on the beach waiting to be rescued, which takes place over a week; 2) the small boat owners going to Dunkirk, which takes place over a day; 3) a British spitfire pilot trying to shoot down the German dive bombers, which takes place over an hour. The three stories and timelines overlap.

The story is very compelling. The cinematography puts you in the middle of the action, which never stops, and includes the third-most intense war scenes I’ve seen on screen (after "Saving Private Ryan" and "Hacksaw Ridge"). Watching it, I thought of the men of my father's generation who served in World War II but never shared stories about it because the memories were too agonizing. Hans Zimmer's score keeps the mood tense throughout, and at an hour and forty-five minutes, it's just the right length.

The best-known cast members include Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance (who might win another Oscar for his role as a small boat owner), Tom Hardy, and former One Direction member Harry Styles. Although he's fine in his role, I wonder about the casting of Styles. Did Nolan and his team think it would bring teen girls into the theater? I don't think the girls are telling each other about this movie on Snapchat Stories.

If "Dunkirk" has any weak spots, it's that some of the actors playing the soldiers are hard to tell apart. Perhaps that's simply indicative of how the military works -- you're never an individual, always part of a larger group that lives and works in unison (thus the term "uniform"). It's also a little difficult to understand some of the British accents, but there's so little dialogue in "Dunkirk" that you shouldn't let that bother you.

Nolan shot "Dunkirk" in 70mm, a format that makes the picture beautiful on a big screen. I saw it in Imax, a format that allows the viewer to become enveloped in the dread those men must have felt on the beach, on the water, and in the air. This is a movie best seen in a big theater, not streaming a year from now on your phone.

Three months ago, an indie movie called “Their Finest” (which I gave a 7.5) had the Dunkirk rescue as one of its subplots. That was the first time I'd heard the story, and I'm glad Nolan has gone on to enlarge it so well, in every way.

I give "Dunkirk" an 8.5 out of 10.

Poker Problems

The World Series Of Poker Main Event awarded $8.15 million to 2017 champion Scott Blumstein early yesterday morning. While it had its third-largest field ever, fewer than 3% of Main Event players were women. Worse, according to Norman Chad, there was only one woman under the age of 26, and she wasn't from the USA. Sad to see that no effort is being made to attract more female players. By the way, in the 40+ year history of the Main Event, only one woman has ever made the final table -- Barbara Enright, in 1995.

It's bad for the future of poker if the current generation of silent, hoodie-wearing, twenty-something men make up nearly its entire player demographic. The only person to inject any personality into this year's final table was John Hesp, a 64-year-old Englishman who finished fourth, exuding fun along the way and encouraging the other players to talk to each other and enjoy themselves. That spirit is missing from too much of poker. When the game loses its social element, when the players won't exhibit even basic cordiality to each other, joke around, and express their happiness at being part of the experience, you have a recipe for boredom.

Speaking of poker, the folks at ESPN have put together a very good podcast about Phil Ivey's edge-sorting case, including first-person audio from Kelly Sun, the woman who engineered the entire baccarat advantage scheme to get back at the casinos she felt had done her wrong. It's called "A Queen Of Sorts."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Concert Review: Gregg Rolie Band


I had a case of deja vu seeing Gregg Rolie and his band last night at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, IL.

What made it weird was that, 50 years ago, Rolie was co-founder, lead singer, and keyboard player for Santana -- who I had seen at the Fox Theater in St. Louis ten days earlier. At his show, Rolie performed many of the hits he'd originally done with Santana, starting with "Evil Ways," and then rolling through "Tingo," "Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman," and others. Rolie was also part of the original lineup of Journey (making him a two-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), but he only dug two of their songs out of the past, neither of which was among the band's big hits.

Throughout the evening, Rolie's voice sounded as good as ever, pretty remarkable considering he sang some of these songs all the way back at Woodstock in 1969. He's no slouch playing my favorite instrument in the rock canon, the Hammond B3 organ, either. His band was pretty tight, even though it contained three percussionists (on a drum kit, congas, and timbales), which inevitably meant having to sit through solos by each of them -- the bane of my rock concert existence.

When it was over, I was surprised 100 minutes had passed, because I thought it had only been about 70. That says something about the quality of the music Rolie and his group gave us.

Speaking of quality, there was a serious lack of it at the place we went to dinner before the show. A few years ago, when my friend Bob and I went to the Wildey to see Roger McGuinn, we stopped in for a quick meal at Laurie's Place, on Main Street in Edwardsville. That night, the service was terrible. No waitress took our order for almost 15 minutes after we sat down, and then it took well over a half-hour for our food to arrive. We chalked it up to "well, any place can have an off night." So we went back this evening and discovered it wasn't an anomaly, as we had the exact same experience.

When the food hadn't come after 30 minutes, Bob asked the waitress when we'd get to eat, and she replied, "I'm sorry, we're really slammed tonight and things are backed up in the kitchen." Um, no, that's not a valid excuse, especially on a Saturday night when you knew you'd be busy because there's a concert crowd in town and your restaurant is only about 25 yards away from the venue. While the place was packed, it shouldn't take that long to make easy bar food unless you only have one person in the kitchen, making one meal at a time. When our food finally did come, Bob's order was wrong, but he didn't send it back because we were starving by that point. As for mine, I'll just say that my hunger pangs were not sated as I suffered through the worst chicken sandwich I've ever had. Needless to say, we'll never go back to Laurie's Place again.

As for The Wildey, I'll be happy to return. Al Canal, the manager, runs a beautiful venue very well. It's a converted movie theater that only holds about 400 people, which means there's no such thing as a bad seat for concerts there -- and I say that having sat in the last row of the balcony tonight in row EE. Fortunately, the first row of the balcony is AA, so at the back, we were still in only the fifth row. With a great view and a really good sound system, we could thoroughly enjoy the proceedings, and next time Al books a band I want to see, I'll be back.

But I'll choose my a different place for the pre-show dinner.

Random Thoughts

When I lived in DC in the 1980s and 1990s, the most popular news broadcast on local television belonged to NBC's WRC-TV-4, with its anchor team of Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler, sportscaster George Michael, meteorologist Bob Ryan, and entertainment reporter Arch Campbell. Their 11pm newscast often out-rated the primetime shows it had just followed, and dwarfed the numbers of all the cable news outlets combined. Jim Vance, who sat in the anchor chair for a remarkable 45 years, died this weekend at 75. To understand his legacy, read this column by Paul Farhi of the Washington Post and watch this video retrospective from his longtime colleague Gentzler.

Now that Trump has named Scaramucci as communications director, how long before some reporter asks him if he'll do the fandango?

When the actual outdoor temperature in St. Louis is over 100 day in and day out, do we need to know what the heat index is? We already know it's ridiculous to go outside for any reason.

One last thought: in less than ten weeks, OJ will finally be able to resume his search for the real killers.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lacey Rose, "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter"


I'm a fan of "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter," a series in its third season on Sundance TV. In each episode, a Hollywood Reporter editor sits down with six actors or actresses or directors or showrunners to describe the creative process behind the TV shows or movies that have created lots of buzz in both the public and the awards season. The roundtables about television are hosted by Lacey Rose, the magazine's TV editor, who joined me to discuss the conversations she's moderated.

Among the topics we covered:
  • Why Minnie Driver hates acting in a ditch with shorter actors;
  • Why she calls Elizabeth Moss the "Queen of Peak TV";
  • Whether television offers better roles for actresses than movies;
  • How actresses still face sexism in casting (including a shocking story from Emmy Rossum);
  • Why Ewan McGregor prefers to play losers;
  • Whether TV showrunners, who have so many more outlets with streaming services, still get network notes;
  • Kumail Nanjiani's rule for whether a joke should stay in a script;
  • Why Kevin Bacon hates The Kevin Bacon Game;
  • What NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC have to do to create more buzz-worthy shows;
  • The ginned-up controversy over an upcoming HBO series called "Confederate" (which I mistakenly called "Catastrophe")
The next two episodes of "Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter" (7/23/17 and 7/30/17) will include roundtables of Lacey talking with comedy and drama showrunners. You can find previous episodes at Sundance.tv

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

Showbiz Show 7/21/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Dunkirk," "Valerian: City Of A Thousand Planets," "The Journey," and "Risk." We also discussed Netflix's "Castlevania" and "Ozark."

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

Harris Challenge 7/21/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "John McCain's Brain," "Watching OJ's Parole Hearing Reminded Me Of," and "Recognition for Martin Landau."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/21/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a tiny stolen house, one man vs. two trucks, and a woman who got her bike back. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on my 3-6pm CT show on KTRS today.

In the first hour, I'll talk with Lacey Rose, television editor of The Hollywood Reporter and host of the Sundance TV series "Close Up with The Hollywood Reporter."

In the second hour, Max and I will review the new movies "Dunkirk" and "Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets," as well as other showbiz stuff.

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

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Picture Of The Day

The latest from Improv Everywhere...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: "Risk"


"Risk" is the new documentary from Laura Poitras, who won an Oscar for her Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour" in 2014. It debuts Saturday night on Showtime.

In "Risk," Poitras gets extraordinary access to Julian Assange, the man behind Wikileaks. She keeps her camera trained on him and his inner circle as they plot to gather and release secret documents from around the world, as well as speaking out against online censorship and overzealous data-gathering. One of the more remarkable scenes shows a Wikileaks editor on a panel in Egypt during the Arab Spring, taking on the ISPs and telecoms that blocked the public from using Twitter in that country, yet claimed they were helping the revolution, not the Mubarek regime.

Throughout the movie you hear Poitras in voiceover with notes from her production journal. At one point, she says, "This is not the movie I thought I was going to make." That's because the focus turns to the accusations against Assange of sexual assault and rape by two women in Sweden. As he fights attempts to extradite him from England to Sweden -- where he's sure he'll be sent to the US to face a secret grand jury investigation into Wikileaks leaking government documents -- Poitras captures a meeting between Assange and his attorney, who tells him to be careful what he says in public about women. He then says a few ugly things about feminists that he admits he'd only say in private because they're too raw for public consumption, and yet he must know that Poitras’ camera was on him the whole time. So how are those remarks private?

Assange is seriously paranoid -- perhaps rightly so -- which we get to witness in a scene where he is talking with a Wikileaks lawyer in the woods, away from prying eyes and ears (other than Poitras). At one point, he hears a noise behind him and is sure it’s two guys spying on him. And yet, he's still comfortable having Poitras and her camera around.  Even after Assange is granted political asylum by Ecuador and allowed to move into its embassy in London, Poitras still gets inside to portray his life in a building he can not leave.

Later, the movie delves all too briefly into Wikileaks releasing tens of thousands of documents from the DNC and Clinton campaign staff — allegedly acquired by the Russians. Unfortunately, by then, Poitras is running out of movie and does not dig further into that story. Except for news footage of Hillary Clinton at the Democrat convention and Donald Trump becoming president of the United States, we're left with no real resolution to the Assange story because it's still playing out.

Since the movie screened at Cannes last year, Poitras and Assange have had a falling out. He has attacked her for spending so much time on the sexual assault claims against him, and considers the movie a threat to his safety. However, he's wrong to view Poitras as the enemy while he has to worry about the Trump administration ramping up its efforts to put Assange in jail and shut down Wikileaks.

"Risk" isn't nearly as good as "Citizenfour." In the latter, Snowden comes off as a hero for revealing privacy-busting concerns about the US government. Meanwhile, in "Risk," Assange comes off as an arrogant ass whose motives may have some good in them, but are mostly about his own ego.

"Citizenfour" was one of the best movies of 2014. "Risk" won't make the list for 2017. I give it a 6 out of 10.

My Tweets During OJ's Parole Hearing

  • This is so odd. I haven't watched a parole hearing since Ellis Redding was released from Shawshank Prison and ended up in Zihuatenejo.
  • OJ just said, "Nobody's ever accused me of pulling a weapon on them." Doesn't a knife count as a weapon? I guess dead people don't count.
  • All the people on this parole board seem like they'd previously spent 20 years at the DMV explaining why you can't renew your license today.

Picture Of The Day

Here's the newest Quirkology video from Richard Wiseman...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

This Is Not Fake News (part 3)

This is Part 3 of a speech I gave to the Ethical Society of St. Louis on Sunday, July 16, 2017. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

What drives me crazy is when news outlets that were once considered respectable fall for nonsense just because it comes out of the mouth (or Twitter account) of the President of the United States. Remember when Trump said that James Comey had better hope there weren’t tapes of the conversations they’d had? CNN went into hyper-ballistic overdrive with panels of pundits arguing whether that meant that Trump had put in a secret taping system in the Oval Office like Richard Nixon once had. CNN does this whenever Trump tweets something. I turned it on one day last month and thought they had brought back the game show “The Hollywood Squares” before I realized no, it was just a tic-tac-toe board of nine so-called experts spewing their opinions. Not seeing Paul Lynde should have been a clue.

That’s where much of the bogus news goes to a new level. It’s not bad enough that the original source of the story is our country’s Liar-In-Chief, but then the opinion class takes over and runs with it. They’re no better than those Reddit users who fell for #PizzaGate in my opinion.

Instead of hearing what Van Jones or Jeffrey Lord think about the “Breaking News” story of the day -- and when I’m in charge, I’m banning the use of that banner headline on television, since most of the “Breaking News” actually broke hours ago or doesn’t deserve that moniker in the first place -- I’d rather hear a reporter going more in-depth with his or her questions, pressing for specifics. What ever happened to who, what, when, where, why, and how? For instance, when Trump says, “I’m hearing…” or “People are saying…” stop him and ask, “Who are you hearing that from? Give me some names.” If he won’t, then dismiss his claims as fake. And when he rails about reporters using “fake sources,” remind him that in the 1980s and 1990s, that could have been used to describe him, since Trump would call reporters to boast about himself while pretending to be an employee named John Miller or John Barron.

You’ll notice that when Trump refers to the “failing” New York Times or CNN of “Saturday Night Live,” he’s not basing that on any facts — ratings for all the cable news outlets, including CNN, are higher than they’ve been in a long time. The NY Times and other newspapers have seen their subscriptions soar, especially the digital ones. “Saturday Night Live” and Stephen Colbert have achieved their highest ratings in years — all by focusing on Trump and his fellow Keystone Kops in the White House. They are far from failing.

Too much of what passes for political news is a distraction from things that really matter. Katrina Vanden Heuvel wrote an op-ed recently on the media's malpractice on Trump:  


One of the great ironies of the political moment is that President Trump’s sworn enemy has become, if not exactly an ally, an enabler of his agenda. For all of Trump’s griping about “fake news,” the mainstream media’s prevailing focus on palace intrigue and White House scandals has come at the expense of substantive policy coverage, allowing Trump and the Republican Party to advance harmful, hugely unpopular policies without the scrutiny they deserve.
She goes on to list several policy issues that aren't getting the attention they should, including climate change denial, unravelling Wall Street reforms, and health care:
At the same time, the wall-to-wall coverage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s bumbling testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was just the latest example of the media’s myopic obsession with all things Russia. While the investigations into Trump’s campaign and the president’s possible obstruction of justice are clearly newsworthy, they have denied oxygen to other issues that have a far greater impact on Americans’ daily lives.
But modern-day bogus news isn’t all about politics. On May 18th, Amanda Hess wrote a piece in the New York Times about “content discovery solutions.” In other words, companies that specialize in creating click-bait for websites. Hess wrote:
These companies occupy real estate at the margins of websites like CNN, Politico, and TMZ, and fill them with links to content landfills with names like Buzz-Hut, CollegeFreakz, Dogsome, and Timezoff. The links are often ads for stuff like bedsheets and dental implants that are disguised as news articles — or else barrel-scraping click-bait that tempts the reader toward still more ads — and because the thumbnails and headlines are written by the individual advertisers themselves, they range in caliber from straightforward sales pitches to gross body stuff. The links appear under the banner of “Related Content,” “You May Also Like,” or -- their most accurate descriptor -- “Around The Web.”
Hess mentions some of the headlines designed to get you to click through, including “Sandra Bullock’s Son Used To Be Adorable, but Today He Looks Insane.” The associated 70 pages you’d have to click through didn’t include a single photo of Bullock’s son. Then there was “18 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Committed Suicide,” teased with a picture of “Friends” star David Schwimmer who not only didn’t commit suicide, he isn’t even dead. Others in Hess’ article: “33 Amish Facts That Will Make Your Skin Crawl,” “30 Things The Ocean Is Hiding From You,” and “The Unusual Link Between Your Toes and Alzheimer’s.”

These sound almost like the headlines The Onion’s writers create, but without the humor. I’ll admit that it takes some will power not to click on teases like that, especially when you can do it in the privacy of your own home, not like the days when you had to purchase the Weekly World News in front of other people at the supermarket. Incidentally, those tabloids are still pretty popular, with their bogus news stories about UFOs that destroyed our nuclear weapons, Kardashian drug rings, Elvis sitings, and so-called “new information” about the deaths of Jon-Benet Ramsey, Natalie Wood, and Michael Jackson — and those were all in the last week!

It’s not just the tabloids that try to entice you with shocking teases. For example, last week, I found a story in the Daily Beast with the headline "How U.S. Marines Are Using ‘ESP’ to Weaponize Intuition." Below it was the sub-headline, "The Daily Beast has obtained, via the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Naval Research’s sense-making training manual -- a how-to guide for extra-sensory perception.”

The sentences The Daily Beast used to promote its piece are very misleading, for two reasons. One is there's no such thing as extra-sensory perception -- no one has ever been proven to have that paranormal ability. The other is that the article, by David Axe and Matthew Gault, says exactly the opposite of the headline -- but you wouldn't know that unless you dug more than a dozen paragraphs in and read this:

To be clear, the sense-making manual isn't asking Marines to somehow evolve psychic powers. Rather, it encourages them to be mindful of their surroundings, trust their instincts and construct narratives to explain other people's behavior. Gary Klein, a research psychologist and consultant whose work inspired the Navy's sense-making project, told The Daily Beast he prefers to call the process "naturalistic decision making."

"I was worried about how this could be viewed in a sensational way with ‘spidey-sense’ or something that sounds like ESP or something paranormal," Klein said. "That’s not what the military’s interested in. They’re interested in developing expertise and the core part of expertise is tests, knowledge and the ability to make sense of situations.”
So, what the manual actually trains Marines to do is make sense of the situations they find themselves in. There's nothing about reading people's minds or sending thoughts telepathically or anything extra-sensory. Rather, it trains Marines to use the five natural senses they do have, along with critical thinking skills.

That's very different than the nonsense promised in the headline. Unfortunately, many people browsing through The Daily Beast will come away with the wrong impression, a reinforcement of pseudoscience that the editors should have known better to steer clear of.

So, how do you avoid this avalanche of bogus information? Believe it or not, I recommend you consume less of it. I don’t mean simply not falling for the click-bait I just mentioned. I mean watching, listening, and reading fewer information sources every day. Let’s face it, there are only a small quantity of things that happen in the world every day that actually interest you. Part of that number is made up of pictures of your friends’ babies, pets, and meals on Facebook and Instagram. Another part is the major news stories of the day, which you can have summarized in 90 seconds by Charlie Rose every day on “CBS This Morning” or any hourly radio newscast. You’ll get the basic info you need to know. Then admit that the rest of it consists of stuff you’re ingesting only because you’re bored, or trying to kill time at work, or because you can’t overcome your addiction to that phone that’s seemingly in your hand 12 hours a day.

I give you this advice because it’s exactly what I have done. When I used to have a daily radio show, I had to jump into the information ocean repeatedly throughout the day to catch whatever would make an interesting talking point for that day’s show. Now that I’m only on once a week, doing a show that’s dedicated to everything but the hard news of the day, I have pulled back dramatically on my news fetish. I am anything but an information luddite, but I’m happy to find other things to do with my time than bathing my brain in the fetid backwash that exists in our information overload.

I strongly suggest you cleanse yourself of it, too.

Just don’t do it by following directions from Gwyneth Paltrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This Is Not Fake News (part 2)

This is Part 2 of a speech I gave to the Ethical Society of St. Louis on Sunday, July 16, 2017. Read Part 1 here.

Now let’s differentiate between bogus news and mistakes. If I get something wrong on my radio show, I’ll know it pretty quickly because the phones will light up. When I started doing radio in the 1970s, there was no internet, so I relied on my listenership to keep me honest. I still do, to some extent. If my colleagues in the studio don’t catch my error, the listeners always will. If necessary, we’ll Google it to see who’s right. Frankly, I’m happy to be caught making a mistake, because I can learn something from it.

You wouldn’t condemn the entire restaurant industry because your waiter brought you a Diet Coke when you asked for a regular Coke — and if they’re any good at their job, they’d apologize, pour out the wrong beverage and bring you the right one. Like that waiter, or any other person or organization, news outlets occasionally get something wrong. But the mark of any reputable business is whether they admit it and try to correct it. CNN did that last month when it went with a single-sourced story about a member of Donald Trump’s transition team meeting with an executive of a Russian investment fund before Trump took office. When challenged on the story, CNN realized it was wrong, retracted it, apologized, and three staff members resigned. That’s not fake news, it’s a bad job of reporting, and the correction was the right thing to do. On the other hand, when was the last time you heard Trump or his spokesperson ever admit they were wrong about anything? We should apply the same standard to both.

Which leads me to invoke another word that can be applied to so much of what is wrongly called “fake news.” That word is “lie.”

I’m a skeptical person by nature. My default approach to most of the things I hear is that if the person offering them up can't provide some proof of their claim, I assume they’re lying until I see evidence that they’re not. And as the great Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” For instance, if you tell me that you can fly just by flapping your arms, I’m not buying it. But if you’d like, we can go up to the roof of this building and you can jump off the edge. We will discover very quickly whether you were telling the truth or lying.

Now, it’s impossible to get that kind of validation from every claim or story we hear. That’s where the reputation of the source comes into play. Unfortunately, we live in an age of so much information — and so much misdirection — that everyone has developed their thoughts on which news outlets they believe or disbelieve. If you’re a Fox News Channel stalwart, you’re unlikely to consider MSNBC or the New York Times a valid source of news. And the reverse is certainly true, as well.

So, how can you know when a news story is real? First, ask yourself if other reputable news organizations are covering the story as factual. There tends to be truth in numbers — not the number of Twitter comments on a story, but the number of mainstream news outlets that have jumped on it. You can define mainstream any way you like, but look for the verification that I mentioned at the beginning while discussing Snopes — in other words, when you see something mentioned on your Facebook news feed, with a link to a news source you’ve never heard of, be skeptical about its veracity until you see it picked up by one that you do know.

Facebook and the other social media outlets present a startling new front in the distribution of bogus news stories designed to change your mind. The May 29, 2017, issue of Time magazine had a lengthy story by Massimo Calabresi about this, which discussed how you voluntarily hand over a treasure trove of information about yourself online. That data can then be exploited to target stories to influence you. Algorithms determine your hot-button issues and identify those most susceptible to suggestion. Then propagandists craft messages to steer you towards believing things that aren’t true in the hope of altering your behavior.

According to Calabresi, that’s what Moscow is doing:

The Russians “target you and see what you like, what you click on, and see if you’re sympathetic or not sympathetic…”

In one case last year, a Russian soldier based in Ukraine successfully infiltrated a US social media group by pretending to be a 42-year-old housewife and weighing in on political debates with specially tailored messages. In another case, officials say, Russia created a fake Facebook account to spread stories on political issues like refugee resettlement to targeted reporters they believed were susceptible to influence.
Stories with a blatant agenda went viral during last year’s election. Remember the one about Hillary Clinton and her aides running a pedophile ring in the basement of a Washington DC pizza parlor? According to Wikipedia:
On October 30, 2016, a reputed white supremacist Twitter account claimed the New York City Police Department, which was searching emails found on Anthony Weiner's laptop as part of an investigation into his sexting scandals, had discovered the existence of a pedophilia ring linked to members of the Democratic Party. The theory also proposed that the ring was a meeting ground for satanic ritual abuse. The theory was then posted on the message board Godlike Productions. The following day, the story was repeated on YourNewsWire citing a 4chan post from earlier that year. The story was then spread by and elaborated on by other fake news websites, including SubjectPolitics, which falsely claimed the New York Police Department had raided Hillary Clinton's property. The website Conservative Daily Post ran a headline falsely stating that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had confirmed that story.
A post on Reddit about the story alleged the involvement of a DC pizza place called Comet Ping Pong. That was picked up by the bogus news website InfoWars and promoted by several alt-right activists. As the story spread, Comet Ping Pong, which had done absolutely nothing wrong, got hundreds of threats from people who believed the conspiracy theory. Then, on December 4, 2016, a guy from North Carolina named Edgar Welch, went to DC and fired three shots inside Comet Ping Pong with a rifle. He didn’t kill anyone but did hit walls, a desk, and a door.

After police responded, Welch said he had planned to investigate the conspiracy theory himself. After finding no evidence that underage children were being held in the restaurant, Welch surrendered and was arrested. He told police he had read about the child sex slaves story online and wanted to see for himself if it was true — but even after discovering it wasn’t, he wouldn’t dismiss the story, and neither would other conspiracy theorists, who claimed that Welch’s shooting was a false flag attack staged to discredit the original stories, which they still believed even though there wasn’t a shred of evidence it was true.

I remind you of this story because it’s important to understand how harmful bogus news stories can be when they’re tied to an agenda, political or otherwise. And when it comes to politics, we have an entire industry geared to promote these stories as factual — Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talk radio hosts, InfoWars, etc. spread lies and create new ones almost every day. By repeating claims from each other, these outlets create a bubble of information that their viewers, listeners, and readers buy into completely. And the fact that the stories aren’t reported by other, more mainstream outlets, only confirms the veracity in their own minds — just like the conspiracy theorists I was just discussing. They’re covering it up, we’re the only ones telling the truth.

Because they’re on TV, or on the radio, or in a newspaper, or in the White House or Congress or preaching in a church, or on a website, they are considered authority figures and thus have the aura of validity to their consumers. They repeatedly claim, “We would never lie to you, like they would.” They being anyone on the opposite side of any issue.

How insane have Americans become in this regard? On July 4th, NPR tweeted the entire text of the Declaration of Independence, in 113 posts, 140 characters at a time. When it got to the part about the colonies’ complaints about England’s George III, plenty of Trump supporters took offense, thinking NPR was attacking their King, with lines like “He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers” and “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Forget the fact that those words were written by Thomas Jefferson about the English sovereign 241 years ago — it sounded a little bit too much like an attack on the current Ego-In-Chief, who can never be criticized in the eyes of his believers. So they lit up Twitter in rage about this perceived slight.

Tomorrow in Part 3: breaking news, click-bait, and how to avoid an avalanche of bogus information.

Monday, July 17, 2017

This Is Not Fake News

This is Part 1 of a speech I gave to the Ethical Society of St. Louis on Sunday, July 16, 2017...


Photo courtesy of Lance Finney
Fifteen to twenty years ago, my inbox was regularly filled with emails that people had forwarded to everyone on their contact list. Those emails contained stories, or links to stories, about how a cursed mummy had caused the sinking of the Titanic, or how a guy named John Hanson was the first president of the United States of America, or that during wartime, the Seal of the President of the United States is modified so that the eagle’s head faces the opposite direction, or that the average woman swallows six pounds of lipstick during her lifetime.

Every one of those stories was false. But because someone they knew had forwarded it to them, the recipients merely kept the game of operator going by passing it along to everyone they knew — which, in many cases, included me. And I was usually the end of the line, because unlike all the others in the email chain, I took the time to look up the stories on a website called Snopes, which called itself the Urban Legends Reference Page.

It was run by David and Barbara Mikkelson, a couple in San Francisco, who had taken it upon themselves to research these oddball stories to see if they could be verified. The vast majority of the time, the Mikkelsons ended up debunking the stories. Since I relied upon Snopes so much, I invited Barbara to make regular appearances on my radio show to talk about the newest urban legends. It became a wildly popular feature of my show but, unfortunately, it only increased the volume of emails I received. I replied to most of them simply by recommending the sender go to Snopes first before forwarding any more urban legends.

The Mikkelsons are now divorced, but David and a staff of researchers continue to investigate all sorts of stories and claims, and their work has not gotten any less challenging. I continue to use Snopes as a reference source. Those e-mail chains don’t exist anymore because social media — in particular, Facebook — has made it even easier to spread rumors and bogus stories or, as they’re now called, fake news.

I don’t like that title, because there’s nothing wrong with fake news. Anyone who has read The Onion knows that made-up headlines and stories can be funny. For instance, from just this week: “Millions of policy proposals spill into sea as Brookings Institution think tanker runs aground off Crimea coast”; “Hellmann's introduces new meat-on-the-bottom mayonnaise cups”; “Man keeping running total of how many people in the gym are in worse shape than him;” and “Queen Elizabeth kicks off Wimbledon by serving ceremonial first ace of tournament.”

Those headlines are fine because the only agenda of the people who wrote them was to make you laugh. The problem comes in when bogus news stories are created by people whose agenda is more nefarious. That can be a business trying to spin a negative report about its products into something positive. It can be a defense lawyer offering up another explanation for the details of the crime their client is charged with. It can be stories distributed with the sole purpose of affecting the outcome of an election. Or it can be a spokesperson going on television and arguing in favor of “alternative facts.”

Whenever I hear that phrase, “alternative facts,” I’m reminded of what’s said by scientists about “alternative medicine.” That is, if “alternative medicine” really worked, it would be called “medicine.” The same for facts. If they’re not true, they are not facts. Facts don’t change based on your opinion. Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it’s not true. For instance, whenever I get on my scale and look down at the number, I can’t believe it. That doesn’t mean it’s false or fake.

Speaking of “alternative medicine,” let’s talk about the bogus news produced by some promoters of that pseudo-science. People like Dr. Oz, whose claims about bogus weight-loss products got him a scolding by Senator Claire McCaskill during a congressional hearing. Or Dr. Samir Chachoua, who claims he has developed an AIDS cure from the milk of arthritic goats. Of course, he has offered no supporting evidence to back up his claims.

In particular, let’s talk about Gwyneth Paltrow, whose website Goop pushes nonsense like $66 jade eggs women should put in their vaginas to be healthier. It also claims that crystals make you healthier by transforming your energy, suggests you get colonics and cleanses regularly, and promotes homeopathic products. None of those claims have any valid evidence to back them up, or any basis in science, and yet Paltrow and her fellow Goop-sters keep publishing this crap and her audience not only eats it up, but spends millions on the bogus products she sells on the site. If you want to know more about this, get Tim Caulfield’s book, “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?” (spoiler alert: yes!).

That sort of lying is truly dangerous, because it causes people to rely on pseudo-science instead of real science when making important health decisions. Take the anti-vaccination movement, whose entire argument is based on long-debunked research that claimed vaccines cause autism. The original claims by Andrew Wakefield were based on data he manipulated to get the result he wanted, and they have been disproven time and time again. And yet, too many people in this country and elsewhere are fearful that giving their kids their shots at the right age will cause them harm — again, despite no evidence!

The more people who believe that garbage, the greater the risk to herd immunity, which can only be achieved if everyone has been vaccinated. In communities with large numbers of anti-vaxxers, we’ve seen outbreaks of measles, chicken pox, and other diseases that could be obliterated by science — but you need the public to get with the program.

A couple of years ago, I saw an anti-vaccination advocate on TV try to bolster her argument by claiming the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines aren’t worth our trust. She asked, "Do you know that the companies that make these vaccines have made over $40 billion from them?" To which I responded by yelling at my television, "Good! I’m sure the people who make brakes for cars have made a lot of money, too, but that’s not a reason to let your kids get in a car without brakes!”

It’s that kind of fear mongering, ignoring the facts, and promoting uncertainty and disbelief in proven medicine that leads to sickness and, in some cases, the death of small children. I’m hard-pressed to think of something more evil than that, and it’s all because of bogus news stories.

Tomorrow in Part 2: mistakes, lies, and how you can know when a news story is real.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mark Malkoff, "The Carson Podcast"


It has been 25 years since Johnny Carson stepped down as host of "The Tonight Show," but his legacy lives on in reruns on Antenna TV and in "The Carson Podcast," hosted by my guest Mark Malkoff. In looking back at the King Of Late Night, we discussed:
  • Whether Carson's monologue or any modern late night comedy show has real political impact;
  • Why David Letterman's reruns haven't been re-packaged for distribution as Carson's have;
  • The authors that disappeared from late night TV when Carson cut his show down to an hour;
  • How comedians all remember their first time on Carson's show;
  • What Carson thought of Dana Carvey's devastating impression of him on "Saturday Night Live";
  • What Mel Brooks told him about being on Carson's very first "Tonight Show" (which no videotape exists of).
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 7/14/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I discussed the new teen horror movie "Wish Upon," the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray, and the Beatles documentary "Eight Days A Week." Oh, yeah, "Gone With The Wind" came up, too.

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

Harris Challenge 7/14/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "Games Of People With Thrones," "Not Gonna Win An Emmy," and "Sports Stuff."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/14/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a man stuck in an ATM, a selfie gone bad in a museum, and double bank robbery failure. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

You Know You're A St. Louisan When...

...it’s 90 degrees outside and you tell people how happy you are that the heat wave finally broke.

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on my 3-6pm CT show on KTRS today.

In the first hour, I'll talk with Mark Malkoff, host of "The Carson Podcast."

In the second hour, Max and I will review the new movie "Wish Upon" and other showbiz stuff.

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

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Picture Of The Day

From last night's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," a bar mitzvah surprise...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Concert Review: Santana


Seeing Carlos Santana in concert has been on my bucket list for a long time. He plays regularly at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, but my trips there have never coincided with any of his performance dates. So, when he announced a show at The Fox Theatre in St. Louis, I grabbed a couple of tickets and my wife and I went last night.

A Santana concert is one long jam session. The songs flowed from one to another with very few breaks in-between -- but lots of solo work by the master. Santana is still one of the world's preeminent guitarists, and it's clear he was having fun onstage with his band as they tore through some new material as well as classics like "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va," "Evil Ways," and "Smooth." However, I don't understand why Carlos turned his back to the crowd so often while doing solos. I had the same problem with Derek Trucks earlier this year. The band already knows what you look like when you play, so why not face the crowd of people who paid good money to watch you perform?

I have a couple of other quibbles.

The mix was terrible, with the vocals completely lost amid the wall of sound, much of which came from the three percussionists that kept the beat rolling throughout the evening, including the very impressive drummer, Cindy Blackman Santana (yes, she's his wife). We were awed by her energy all night, right up to the point where she did a 10-minute solo. Ugh. There's no need for that, since every drum solo, ever, by anyone, has been utterly boring. After several minutes, the crowd started applauding, but not because they were enjoying the banging and clanging, but because they were trying to signal to the drummer that it should end. Either that or they were drunk.

In the middle of the show, Santana brought out Ron Isley, who lives here in St. Louis, to perform a few songs from new Santana-Isley Brothers album, "The Power Of Peace." Isley in still in good voice, and there's obviously a camaraderie between the two veteran performers.

The peace theme recurred throughout the evening, with Carlos stopping the music every once in a while for a consciousness-raising message to urge more love in the world. That's fine, but when he says "we can achieve peace on Earth on our lifetime," my skeptical side asks, "Based on what evidence, Carlos? You've lived 69 years and have been pushing this message for 50 of them, and we don't seem one bit closer to that goal today." It reminds me of when, in the Vietnam War era, John Lennon and Yoko One took out newspaper ads and billboards reading "War is over if you want it." Um, no, things don't change just because we want them to, regardless of how many times we say it during a rock concert.

The person on stage who I felt sorry for was Tommy Anthony, who played rhythm guitar and -- except for a few minutes towards the end when, out of the blue, he did a couple of verses of the Sting song "Roxanne" -- stayed out of the spotlight. Face it, he has a thankless job, since no one will ever say "I saw Santana last night and the other guitarist blew me away!"

Fortunately, the guitarist we did come to see sounded great, and I got to check off another item on my bucket list.

Picture Of The Day

Here's my friend Jamy Ian Swiss doing some card magic on a TV show in San Diego last night...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

You Know You Have A Gambling Problem When

A friend asked today if bookies take bets on NBA Summer League games. I told him to save his money to wager on NFL pre-season games instead.

The Gateway Geyser

click to enlarge

That's the Gateway Geyser, an attraction I didn't even know existed in the St. Louis area until a few days ago. But when my friend Bill (who I've known for 45+ years) came to town this weekend, I looked for things to show him besides the usual tourist stops, and found it in East St. Louis, Illinois. That's not an easy thing to do, because there are virtually no signs guiding you to the park, nor telling you where in the park to find the geyser, which goes off at Noon, 6pm, and 9pm all summer.

The show lasts about 10 minutes, beginning with four fountains around the man-made lake, each spraying water a couple of hundred feet into the air. Then the big one, in the center of the lake, starts spewing a column of water over 600 feet high -- that's almost as tall as the Gateway Arch. It's pretty cool to see, but apparently doesn't draw a lot of people. We were there in the middle of the day on a cloudless Saturday and spotted only about eight other people checking it out.

At the other end of the park, near the banks of the Mississippi River, there's a tower that you can walk up four ramps to get to the top of -- but when you get there, you have the best possible view of the Arch and the St. Louis skyline. You can't see this from the Missouri side, because you'd have the city's buildings blocking your view, but from the Illinois side, it's a clear and oh-so-scenic shot...


click to enlarge

If you can't make the trip, you can click right now on the 24/7 webcam at the top of the tower to see the skyline.

Movie Review: Spider-Man Homecoming


When Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man for the first time in 2002, we got the whole origin story of a nerdy high school kid who gets bitten by a genetically modified spider and suddenly has super strength and web-spewing capabilities. Maguire went on to two more so-so Spider-Man adventures before the franchise ran out of steam. Then Andrew Garfield took over in the 2012 reboot, and we were back to the origin story again, although no one seemed to care, and the franchise only lasted through one more sequel.

Now, we get "Spider-Man: Homecoming," and thankfully, it's not an origin story, but it's close. We don't get the very beginning of Peter Parker's web-slinging adventures, but he's still a high school nerd (now played by Tom Holland) who has to deal with his crush on the cute older girl while also trying to take down a super-villain and become one of the Avengers -- like his heroes Iron Man, Captain America, etc.

In any super-hero or super-spy movie, you need a great actor playing a great villain, and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" has one in Michael Keaton as The Vulture. That's right, the guy who's already played Batman and Birdman now takes on Spider-Man. The plot, as if it matters, has to do with Keaton and his cronies selling alien equipment on the black market, and Spider-Man's efforts to stop him. Take that premise and add in a lot of stunts and a helluva lot of computer-generated effects and you have an exciting adventure with a few giggles along the way, although some of the high school portions of the story felt too obvious and kinda flat.

Movies like this come down to two things -- the quality of the CGI and the magnetism of the guy in the spider suit. Tom Holland is so much better than Andrew Garfield was, and right up there with Tobey Maguire in handling the duality of his role very nicely. Plus, whenever Robert Downey Jr. shows up (as either Tony Stark or Iron Man) he adds an extra level of excitement to the goings-on. The supporting cast includes Marisa Tomei, who still sparkles on screen as Peter Parker's Aunt May, as well as Jon Favreau, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Hannibal Buress, and Bokeem Woodbine (a name I'll never forget from the second season of FX's "Fargo").

If you're a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you won't be disappointed. If you're not -- like me -- you might still enjoy "Spider-Man: Homecoming" because it's executed very well.

I'm giving it a 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Movie Review: The Big Sick


I'll cut to the chase -- "The Big Sick" is the best movie I've seen so far this year.

It's a romantic comedy based on the real lives of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, who co-wrote the script. In the movie, he plays himself and Zoe Kazan plays her -- and their chemistry onscreen is wonderful. Their relationship gets off to a nice start, then hits a rough patch, then enters unforeseen territory when Emily gets mysteriously sick and has to be put into a medically-induced coma.

Kumail goes to the hospital to check on this woman he's obviously grown fond of, and encounters her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) who at first don't know why he's there or what to make of him. Meanwhile, whenever Kumail has dinner with his parents (Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher), they keep trying to set him up with Pakistani-American women, unaware that he's fallen for the Emily, a Caucasian woman. All four actors who play the parents are perfect.

Meanwhile, we also see Kumail in his professional life as a comedian trying to make it in Chicago. Unlike in so many other movies, the standup scenes work because everyone in them (including Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunohler) has experience in and around real comedy clubs.

As he has proven in both his standup work and on the HBO series "Silicon Valley," Kumail is a master of dry wit, and it comes through in the script, which crackles every time he's on screen (which is most of the movie). I laughed out loud several times and will have to watch it again because the audience I saw it with laughed so much I missed some of the lines.

I can't imagine how difficult it was for Kumail and Emily to have gone through that medical nightmare in real life, then turn it into a screenplay, and then have to perform it (or see someone else perform her role) on camera. But I'm glad they did, because they've created a warm, honest, clever, funny movie that will certainly be on my Best Of 2017 list. In fact, it's likely to be at the top, because I can't find anything wrong with it -- even at two hours, it never limps along and nothing seems extraneous.

That's why I'm giving "The Big Sick" a perfect 10 out of 10.

Moreover, I'll predict that Hunter gets an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and Nanjiani/Gordon get one for Best Original Screenplay. Those are the categories in which comedies this good -- which haven't won Best Picture in a couple of decades -- at least have a chance.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

In a column headlined, "Why Does Donald Trump Keep Dissing Jews?," NY Times columnist Frank Bruni cites several incidents as evidence: the president seemingly going out of his way to leave Jews out of Holocaust Remembrance Day; his staying silent on a rash of anti-Semitic vandalism and bomb threats; and his writing a tone-deaf message in the visitors' book at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial and museum.

Considering that Trump's daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner, you'd think the Ego-In-Chief would be more sensitive on matters like this and use his bully pulpit to quiet the white supremacists and anti-Semites who are found in such large numbers among his vocal supporters. But Bruni points out that Trump's dissing of Jews in America and elsewhere may not be deliberate -- it may simply be the narcissism that is at the heart of everything he does:

I’m not convinced that Trump is much of an anti-Semite, any more than I’m convinced that he’s much of a homophobe. (Racism and sexism are another matter.) But I think he’s so thirsty for, and intoxicated by, whatever love comes his way that he’s loath to rebuff the sources of it.

A prominent Jewish Republican put it well. "I think Trump is such a pathological narcissist that the act of telling people who love you that you reject them — he can’t get around that," he told me, interpreting Trump’s reasoning this way: "What can be wrong with them? They’re for me!"

Trump is disinclined to denounce any constituency or tactics that elevate him to the throne, where he’s sure that he belongs. The outcome validates even the ugliest and most divisive ascent.

"I don’t think he’s goading these people or associating with them because he shares their views," the Republican added. “I do think that he’s so insensitive about the presidency — about the responsibilities of the leader of the free world — that he doesn’t realize it’s not enough to say, once or twice, 'I don’t agree with them.' He doesn’t realize that you have to be very clear." And he doesn’t realize — or care — that he’s validating and encouraging them.
Read Bruni's full piece here.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Kliph Nesteroff, "Funny How?"


Kliph Nesteroff returned to my radio show to talk about two TV projects he has coming up. One of them is "Funny How?" a five-part series debuting July 10th on Viceland, in which he follows Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Rhea Butcher, and other comics as they work across the country. The other is CNN's "History of Comedy," which returns on July 16th. He also has a podcast called "Classic Showbiz" that's available on Stitcher Premium.

Among the questions I asked Kliph:
  • Is the goal for comedians now to get a sitcom or a deal with Netflix for a couple of standup specials?
  • Can standup comedy -- or political comedy TV shows -- change society?
  • Who are the modern comedians the up-and-comers see as role models?
  • When you bomb, can it be the audience's fault?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Adam Conover Returns


After a successful 26-episode run of the first season of "Adam Ruins Everything," Adam Conover returned to my show to discuss the upcoming second season, which premieres on TruTV on July 11th.

We talked about what he'll take on this year, whether he'll be ruining the Emmy Awards, and which issues he purposely stays away from. We also discussed the immigration mine field he stepped into in season one, the backlash he's gotten over his episode on electric cars, and why viewer feedback has made him re-think his take on some subjects.

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

Showbiz Show 7/7/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the newest entry in the Marvel Comics Universe "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in "The Big Sick."

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

Harris Challenge 7/7/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "Fictional Spiders," "Struck By Lightning," and "It Happened In July."  Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 7/7/17


On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a fireworks mishap, a garage full of bees, and a man who sat on his gun. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.