Thursday, March 30, 2017

Not With My Eyeball You Don't

Here's a column I wrote in the summer of 2000...

I have one major phobia, and it has to do with a body part. No, not that one, thanks for asking. You’d think that if there were one body part I’d be particularly sensitive about, considering the fact that I talk for a living, it would be my throat or mouth, but it’s not.

It’s my eyes.

I can’t put anything close to my eyeball except for my own eyelid. If I get a piece of dust or something in my eye, I’m out of action for several minutes while I go into a mild panic until it’s out of there. If my eyesight ever goes south, I’ll wear glasses forever because I could never put a contact lens in. I can’t even watch other people put them in. I have to look away and grimace.

That’s why I am not jumping with excitement at the announcement this week of the latest affront to eyeball safety.

At the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, they are testing a new device called EyeTicket. No, not E-Ticket, the electronic ticketing system that was supposed to cut down on paperwork but instead made you paranoid that your reservation didn’t exist because you didn’t have printed proof.

This is EyeTicket, another system by which you don’t need a paper ticket. You also don’t need to show the airline counter clerk a photo ID or anything else tangible to prove who you are and where you’re going. All you need is your eyeball.

With this new system, you put your face up to a device which then scans your eyeball. Because eyeballs are even more unique identifiers than fingerprints, the computer instantly knows who you are and can recall your reservation more easily and quickly.

Naturally, the manufacturer claims it’s absolutely safe to use. But just off the top of my head, I can think of three good reasons why I (and my eyeballs) won’t be going anywhere near this EyeTicket gadget.

1) Anyone who has seen the movies “Never Say Never Again” (the one where Sean Connery returned as Bond) or “Demolition Man” (the Stallone-Snipes-Bullock one that’s so bad it’s campy-funny), knows that these eye-scan systems can be easily subverted by some sicko who rips your eyeball out of your head, sticks it on a pencil point, and – whammo! – your identity is stolen. Granted, your identity is of little use to you anymore because you’re lying somewhere bleeding to death out of your empty eye socket, but that’s not the point.

2) These eye-scanners will no doubt be operated by the same high-tech-savvy geniuses who now control the x-ray and metal detectors at the airport security checkpoint. I have less confidence in them than I do in the kid operating the french fry vat at Hardee’s. After all, when he hears a beeping sound, he doesn’t take you into the back room for a full body cavity strip search, just because you forgot that the sunglasses in your shirt pocket have metal rims.

3) Most importantly, I have this incredible eye phobia.

Several years ago, I woke up one day with a weird throbbing just under my right eye. It was as if I could feel my heartbeat in some tiny capillary just beneath the surface of my lower eyelid. Rubbing it didn’t help; nothing did.

I whined to my wife about it on and off throughout the day until she finally ordered me to go to an eye doctor the next morning. Notice I didn’t say “my eye doctor.” The only time I ever had my eyes checked was as a kid in elementary school (you remember, it was the same day as the finger-next-to-the-ear audiology test) and as an adult at the motor vehicle department at license renewal time.

Fortunately, right around the corner from where I worked was the office of an eye doctor whose sign I had seen, so I knew his name. I called him and he said that he had heard of this happening to many people who weren’t getting enough sleep, and it was the body’s way of sending up a warning flare. I asked him what I could do about it and he told me to come in first thing the next morning. I agreed, but told him that I was sure I’d get absolutely no sleep that night just worrying about it.

Trust me when I tell you it is nearly impossible to sleep when you can feel your heart pounding in your eye socket. And if you do drift off to sleep, even for just a few minutes, you will have nothing but weird dreams about exploding eyeballs, which do a pretty good job of waking you right back up again, this time in a cold sweat.

When I got to his office, I was far from rested, which only increased my anxiety. That was exacerbated when I went into the exam room and the doctor sat me down in front of a machine that looked like some ten year old’s erector set version of The Iron Giant’s colon, assembled inside out without so much as a glance at the instructions.

The doctor told me to sit calmly while he brought this monstrosity closer to get a good look at my still-throbbing eye. As soon as the device got within an inch of my eyeball, I flinched out of the way involuntarily. Apologizing, I tried again. Same thing. One more time? Sorry, not gonna happen.

Finally, he called the nurse in. I assumed her job was to assist in strapping me into the machine. Instead, she asked if I would tilt my head back so she could take a look at my eye. Being a male human, I immediately interpreted this as flirting. So, to impress her, I did as she requested.

That’s when I felt the burning sensation. While I had suavely leaned my head back into her hands, the evil doctor had swooped in and squirted some eyedrops in my eye. As he said, “That should do it,” the nurse released my head. Or, she may have let go out of surprise, because at that moment I let out a yowl that woke up several dogs in nearby counties.

Regardless, I wasn’t happy. He asked if I could still feel the throbbing, and I replied that all I could feel was his napalm burning my cornea to a cinder.

He explained that the effect of the drops would wear off in about an hour and then I should be fine. I left the office, cursing him each time I blindly bumped into every doorway. To my surprise, an hour later, the burning sensation did in fact wear off and the throbbing was gone.

Sure, I was grateful. But I swore two things that day: I would never return to his ophthalmological torture chamber except under extreme sedation, and I would always carry a printed airline ticket, so that no minimum-wage-earning airport rent-a-cop could ever incinerate my iris.

I’d rather stand in line and throb, if you don’t mind.

Updated 4/30/17...Since I wrote this, my eyesight has deteriorated to the point where I have to wear glasses (trifocals, in fact), which means I've had to make many visits to an eye doctor. I don't freak out as much as I used to whenever she brings her device right up to my eyeball or inserts drops into my eyes, but I have to psyche myself up for these sessions and mitigate my anxiety. On the other hand, I now use my smartphone for my boarding passes, and am glad the EyeTicket never became standard in our airports.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Another Movie You Might Not Know

When Chuck Barris died last week, all of his obituaries mentioned the TV game shows he produced ("The Dating Game," "The Newlywed Game," "The Gong Show," and The "$1.98 Beauty Show"), but not enough of them mentioned his autobiography, "Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind," in which Barris asserted that, in addition to his career in Hollywood, he was also a hit man for the CIA. It was unclear whether Barris was serious about being a part-time assassin, but the book was still a fun read that made a little bit of noise when it was published in 1984, but then was quickly forgotten.

A decade and a half later, Charlie Kaufman adapted the book into a screenplay in which Barris' CIA claims were presented seriously alongside his low-brow TV producer career. George Clooney came aboard to direct (his first feature) with Sam Rockwell -- in one of his earliest leading-man roles -- starring and capturing Barris' odd personality perfectly. The supporting cast included Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rutger Hauer, Jerry Weintraub, and Michael Cera as Young Chuck.

To tell you more would be to give away the surprises that unravel through Barris' story and the fun everyone has playing it straight. I liked "Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind" enough to give it a spot on my Movies You Might Not Know list (which also now includes another title starring Rockwell, "Moon").

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

You Must Live A Lifetime First

Last week, Variety magazine announced that, at its "Women In Power" luncheon next month, the honorees will include Jessica Chastain, Shari Redstone, Audra McDonald, Blake Lively, and Gayle King. Okay, fine, but then we hit the problem spot -- their "Lifetime Achievement Award" will be given to Chelsea Clinton.

Now, this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with chronology. Clinton is only 37 years old -- she has yet to live a lifetime. I don't know what the minimum age should be for such an honor (65? 70? 75?), but I'm sure that it's not less than 40.

Even someone who has accomplished a lot before they've completed four decades on this planet -- Serena Williams, for instance -- shouldn't qualify for a lifetime achievement award yet. Let's see what she does with the ensuing decades. Sticking with tennis, Billie Jean King qualifies because of everything she did after retiring from playing, but Serena hasn't gotten to that point in her life yet, so we don't know what she'll achieve going forward.

As for Clinton, Variety says she was selected because of "her work with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which empowers kids to develop lifelong healthy habits." Again, sounds good, but she hasn't even been at it for 20 years. She may go on to do amazing things in the next 20 or 30 years, but they haven't happened yet and thus aren't lifetime-achievement-worthy. And what if she does change the world for the better by the time she turns 70? Does she get a second lifetime award in one lifetime?

Now, let's be honest about what's actually happening here. Naming Clinton the award recipient ensures that lots of people who supported her parents politically will attend the event, and perhaps donate to whatever charity is involved. That's what many of these honors are really about -- name recognition and fund-raising -- which is why you don't hear of lifetime achievement awards being given to someone no one has heard of, even if they've done remarkable work.

Twenty-five years ago, in Washington, DC, I got a call one day from the B'Nai Brith saying they would like to honor me at a luncheon. I had never done anything for that organization, nor did I know anyone in it, but I was kinda famous because of my daily radio show and a lot of charitable work I'd done in the community. I told the caller I appreciated the thought and asked what I'd have to do (e.g. give a speech).

She told me that she'd need the names of a bunch of my friends and colleagues so the B'Nai Brith could contact them and invite them to the luncheon. I asked if they'd get in for free, and she told me they would not, that the organization would ask them to pay something like $100 each. I told her I wasn't going to put my friends in that awkward spot where they'd have to pay to see me receive an honor that wasn't actually an honor at all, but was merely a fundraising scheme.

The woman said, "Oh, no, we do this every year and we've never had anyone refuse to be the honoree." I told her that, in me, she finally had one.

I have no idea who they did sucker into going to that luncheon, but if they were doing it today, someone on the honors committee would probably suggest Chelsea Clinton.

Updated 3/28 5:29pm...Thanks to reader Jim Alexander for discovering that the original article I based this column on was incorrect. Chelsea Clinton will not receive a lifetime achievement award -- she will receive an Impact Award from Variety and the Lifetime television network. I'm glad to hear that, but stand by what I wrote about giving people under 40 (or even 50) an honor for achievements during "a lifetime."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Life

"Life" stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and four other actors you’ve never heard of, as astronauts and scientists on the International Space Station, where soil samples have been brought back from Mars containing a single-cell organism, the first known non-Earth life form. It appears to be a frozen state of animation, so one of the scientists tries all sorts of things to see if he can get it to come to life and, of course, that turns out to be a bad idea.

I do like the idea of testing the organism in space before it gets back to Earth to make sure it won't be harmful to humans -- sort of an "Andromeda Strain" Wildfire station a hundred miles up. But from there, "Life" is like an "Alien" remake, as the the creature devours the crew members one by one. Of course, they’ve lost communication with Earth (because that happens all the time), although I'm not sure what anyone at mission control could do to stop the alien from killing the crew.

My biggest problem with "Life" is its failed logic. I'm willing to go along with whatever rules you set up for your movie, but then the movie must live by them. My biggest pet peeve in this regard was in "ET: The Extraterrestrial," where we were told that the germs (or something) on Earth were fatal to ET's system, so it died. But then, it came back to life, with no explanation of how that's possible. Similarly, in "Life," we're told that the alien can't live without oxygen, and yet, it gets outside the space station to attack a crew member in space where there is no oxygen without any ill effects. Moreover, the damned thing lived on Mars, which also has no oxygen. So, WTF?

I won’t give away the ending of "Life," but I will say they blew their chance at a sequel. Oh, and while the credits roll, we're once again serenaded by Norman Greenbaum's 1969 one-hit wonder, "Spirit In The Sky," a song that's already been used in dozens of other movies and TV shows (check this partial list). The fee for using it must be ridiculously low.

The action in "Life" is very predictable, but I admit I was scared and grossed out a couple of times, and the claustrophobic cinematography inside the space station is well done, particularly scenes with the crew floating from one compartment to another. However, the filmmakers missed a big opportunity to lighten things up. Shortly after its discovery, the alien creature is named Calvin -- yet not one member of the crew is named Hobbes.

I give "Life" a 5 out of 10.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Phil Keoghan, "The Amazing Race"

Phil Keoghan returned to my radio show to talk about the 29th season of "The Amazing Race," which debuts in a new time slot, Thursdays at 9pm CT, on March 30th on CBS. The show (which has won 13 Emmy Awards, including 7-in-a-row for Outstanding Reality/Competition Program) is trying something new this time -- the two-person teams won't have a pre-existing relationship as they have in previous seasons. I asked Phil about that, as well as:
  • Whether the new season has any new obstacles in addition to U-Turn and Yield;
  • Whether CBS has renewed the show for its 30th season;
  • Whether global politics impacted where the show can go;
  • Whether the same audio/video people travel with teams the whole way or switch;
  • How hard it is to keep things secret at the final stop in the US;
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 3/24/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds in the space movie "Life," Kristen Stewart in the paranormal thriller "Personal Shopper," and some Netflix standup comedy specials.
    Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

    Harris Challenge 3/24/17

    This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Guys Named Chuck Who Didn't Die This Week, Forbes' Richest, and Space Movies Not Named Trek Or Wars.

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

    Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

    Knuckleheads In The News® 3/24/17

    On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a man with weed in his butt, a bible full of meth, and a book-burning wildfire. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

    Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

    Thursday, March 23, 2017

    You Break Health Care, You Bought It

    One of the challenges in tackling issues like health care and insurance is that far too many people don't know what they're talking about. I'm not referring to average Americans, but to the members of Congress who are supposed to be informed before they make the laws. Worse than ignorance, in many cases, is that those legislators are lying to their constituents about the effectiveness of Obamacare, according to Charles Ornstein of ProPublica:

    As the debate to repeal the law heats up in Congress, constituents are flooding their representatives with notes of support or concern, and the lawmakers are responding, sometimes with form letters that are misleading. A review of more than 200 such letters by ProPublica and its partners at Kaiser Health News, Stat and Vox, found dozens of errors and mischaracterizations about the ACA and its proposed replacement. The legislators have cited wrong statistics, conflated health care terms and made statements that don’t stand up to verification.

    It’s not clear if this is intentional or if the lawmakers and their staffs don’t understand the current law or the proposals to alter it. Either way, the issue of what is wrong — and right — about the current system has become critical as the House prepares to vote on the GOP’s replacement bill Thursday.

    “If you get something like that in writing from your U.S. senator, you should be able to just believe that,” said [Andrea] Mongler, 34, a freelance writer and editor who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health. “I hate that people are being fed falsehoods, and a lot of people are buying it and not questioning it. It’s far beyond politics as usual.”
    Perhaps the biggest falsehood being peddled about Obamacare is that is has been a disaster. You hear every Republican from Trump down selling that talking point. But as Rick Newman explains, what everybody forgets about Obamacare is that the US health insurance system was a much bigger mess before that landmark legislation was enacted:
    From 2001 to 2010, the number of working-age, uninsured Americans rose from 38 million to 52 million, which was 28% of the working-age population. The deep recession that started in 2007 was particularly brutal, since many of the 9 million people who lost their jobs also lost insurance coverage—at the same time their income plummeted, making it hard or impossible to buy coverage on their own.

    A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 62% of personal-bankruptcy filings were caused by unmanageable medical costs. A Harvard study published the same year found that 45,000 Americans died every year simply because they lacked health insurance and couldn’t get reasonable access to care. That was hardly a healthcare system to be proud of, and the millions of people falling through the cracks generated the political pressure that led to the ACA passing in 2010, when similar efforts had failed going all the way back to the early 1980s.
     The GOP has talked itself into a corner on this issue. While Obama was president, they voted dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, so now they'd be seen as lying hypocrites if they didn't do what they promised their constituents would be among their first priorities. But when you're led by an ignoramus-in-chief who tweeted recently, "Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated," you wonder why he and his surrogates weren't paying attention to all the policy discussions on this topic over the last decade -- or had even read the ACA.

    Obamacare is far from perfect, but as the Republicans' botched attempt at a replacement bill stumbles along this week proves, this isn't a matter that can be fixed in 140 characters. In their zeal to reverse anything Obama may have accomplished, they are laying an egg that's rotten before it hatches.

    The bottom line in any attempt to repeal, reverse, repair, and revise the Affordable Care Act can be summed up in one simple phrase: "you break it, you bought it." If the GOP's solution becomes the actual disaster that they claim Obamacare has been, let's hope that voters -- including those who fell for the Trump con only to find themselves worse off because of this legislation -- remember who to blame at the ballot box next year.

    That's assuming, of course, that the Democrats can get their act together enough to exploit the issue for political gain. So far, they've done nothing but show themselves to be even more inept at this than the Republicans are in pretending they care about less-than-millionaires.

    Best Thing I've Read Today

    One of the things I look forward to in my inbox every day is Jason Hirschhorn's REDEF newsletter. It's a compilation of links to fascinating stories, along with his own commentary at the open. Earlier this week, he wrote a must-read about the price of concert tickets, which get driven up by scalpers, who can end up making more on each seat they resell than the actual performers get for being onstage. There may not be a perfect answer to the problem, but Hirschhorn asks some intriguing questions:

    If 1,000 seats in a 15,000 seat arena can eventually sell for $500 or $1,000, should that be the face value for those 1,000 seats? If there's $700 in profit to be had from a single ticket sale, why shouldn't that profit go directly to the artist? In an industry where artists are squeezed from so many directions, is that a new potential source for honest and reliable income? On the other hand, what about the fan who can't afford $1,000? If you raise the price that high, do you shut out a large segment of your own fanbase? Do you end up with an arena full of hedge-funders? Or are those just for a small number of seats on a ratio basis? Or are those fans already shut out by the scalpers and their bots who swallow up all those $200 tickets within 30 seconds of them going on sale?
    Read Hirschhorn's full piece here.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Picture Of The Day

    Post-Modern Jukebox takes Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me" and turns it into a bluesy torch song...

    Monday, March 20, 2017

    Movie Review: The Sense Of An Ending

    In "The Sense Of An Ending," Jim Broadbent is Tony, a man in his late 60s who owns a little camera shop in London. One day, he finds out that an old friend has died and left Tony a diary.

    This makes Tony think of his youth, when he spent lots of time with his friend at boarding school, and we flashback to see him getting involved with a woman named Veronica. They spent some time together, but she eventually left him. He ended up marrying someone else, who he’s now divorced from, but he’s always thought of Veronica. Now it turns out that she’s the one who has the diary, and she won’t give it to him. That's about all the conflict you get out of this drudgery.

    Veronica is played by Charlotte Rampling, who (for no good reason) was nominated in 2015 for an Oscar for her role in the similarly boring "45 Years." I never got the whole Charlotte Rampling thing, all the way back to "The Verdict," and I didn’t care about Tony or Veronica or anyone else in this movie -- which should have been called "46 Years."

    When you name your movie "The Sense Of An Ending," you leave yourself wide open to easy shots from critics. For example, I wish this movie actually had an ending.  Or, I was worried that it would never end. Or, sitting through this made me wish I'd lost my senses of sight and hearing.

    You get the sense I didn't like it? You're right. I give it a 2 on a scale of 10.

    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    Conflicted About Chuck Berry

    In my review of Mel Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge," I said that I was conflicted -- I enjoyed the movie a lot, but couldn't completely put his vile anti-Semitic remarks of a decade ago behind me.

    I'm even more conflicted about Chuck Berry, who died this weekend at 90. Yes, he was one of the architects of rock and roll who deserves every musical accolade he's received. His place in the pantheon of great songwriters and performers, a major influence on everyone who followed, is secure.

    But there's that other side of Berry that still sticks in my gut.

    This is a guy who did time in prison for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines in 1962 and four more months for tax evasion in 1979. The same guy who, in 1990, had to settle a case brought by dozens of women after they discovered he'd installed a video camera in the ladies room of his restaurant in Wentzville and was recording them on the toilet. Berry also screwed his longtime collaborator Johnnie Johnson out of royalties for all those seminal rock songs that they wrote together (more on that here).

    That's a lot of back story to have hanging over you. Does it diminish Berry's legacy? I think it has to. It's one of the reasons I never went to see Berry when he was doing monthly shows at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. However, it didn't stop me from enjoying the hell out of "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll," Taylor Hackford's documentary about Berry and his 60th birthday concert the The Fox Theatre. Even in that movie, while he shared the stage with Keith Richards, Linda Ronstadt, Robert Cray and, yes Johnnie Johnson, there were also several glimpses of the prickly offstage Berry personality.

    In the end, you have to either separate the performances from the performer or decide that they're inseparable. Do the sins of the man mean you can't like his music? Do they mean there shouldn't be a statue of Berry in the Delmar Loop in St. Louis? Do they mean you have to shun all the cover versions of his songs by everyone from The Beatles and Rolling Stones forward?

    As I said -- conflicted.

    Saturday, March 18, 2017

    My Guaranteed Hiccup Remedy

    I first posted this in 2005, and still get a thank-you e-mail or two every month from someone who could not stop their hiccups. After I mentioned it again on my show yesterday, I got several emails from people who wanted to make sure they heard it right. So, as a public service, here it is again -- my Guaranteed Hiccup Remedy:

    Tilt your head back just enough that your neck is stretched a little bit. Inhale and hold a deep breath. Take 7-8 sips of water. Exhale and discover your hiccups gone.
    I don't know the science behind this, but you're welcome.

    We'll Always Have Casablanca

    Noah Isenberg has written "We'll Always Have Casablanca," to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most beloved movies of all time. On my show, we discussed:
    • Were Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman the original choices for Rick and Ilsa?
    • Whether movie censors objected to the subplot about Captain Renault and young women;
    • How this movie about refugees included dozens of refugees in the cast;
    • The "Marseillaise" scene with Yvonne singing as tears stream down her cheek;
    • Peter Lorre prank on director Michael Curtiz;
    • The two attempts to turn the movie into TV series -- and a Broadway musical version! 
    Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

    Showbiz Show 3/17/17

    This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed Disney's live-action "Beauty And The Beast" and "The Sense Of An Ending," plus other movie/showbiz news.
      Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

      Harris Challenge 3/17/17

      This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about St. Patrick's Day, March Madness, and the usual test of your knowledge of the news of the week.

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

      Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

      Knuckleheads In The News® 3/17/17

      On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about another stolen forklift, another man stuck in the wall, and a fake Secret Service agent. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

      Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

      Thursday, March 16, 2017

      Best Thing I've Read Today

      Zahra Nader, who covers Afghanistan for the NY Times, says last week's celebration of International Women's Day didn't mean much in a country where it's so hard to be a woman:

      It isn’t easy being a woman journalist in Afghanistan; it isn’t easy being a woman here, for that matter. But for many Afghan women, that is not what comes across in all these celebrations.

      It often appears that many institutions use Women’s Day to show a liberal face, but just for a day.

      "On every International Women’s Day, I keep thinking more of how suppressed we are within this patriarchal society," said Sahar Fetrat, a filmmaker and women’s activist. "The symbolic celebrations, flowers, gifts and some words of empathy and sympathy are always given to women every 8th of March while on the same day, sexism, inequality, harassment and violence against women screams from all the streets and corners of this country."

      Women’s activists say that donors find it easy to give money for celebrations, which no one criticizes, while it’s much harder to support programs that produce real — and therefore controversial — change.

      "We do not want to get flowers and head scarves," said Zubaida Akbar, an advocate for women’s rights. "Instead, respect us as humans."
      Read Nader's full piece here.

      Wednesday, March 15, 2017

      No More Hard Rock Poker

      The Hard Rock Casino is Las Vegas is closing its poker room. It was never one of the most popular places to play (it was off the strip, and there was always more action at Bellagio, Aria, Venetian, Wynn, etc.), but I had a few good experiences there back in 2008-9, when it was called the Hard Rock Poker Lounge.

      It was nicely designed, had some of the most comfortable chairs I've found around a poker table, and the tables were each covered with different rock-and-roll-themed felts. The music was pounding, the staff and players were younger than in other rooms, more alcohol was consumed, and the whole atmosphere was much more relaxed -- which explains why, one night, I noticed the players at a table using a Magnum condom as the dealer button.

      The first time I played at the Hard Rock, it was in a "Trash Talk Tuesday" game. The blinds were $2 and $5, with a mandatory straddle on the button of $10 (or up to $100), deep stacks (buy-in up to $3,000) and, as the name implied, trash talking and slow-rolling encouraged. Even the dealers that were assigned to the game would poke fun at the players -- in a joking way, and only with locals they knew because, after all, they depend on the kindness of strangers for their tips.

      The game also included the seven-deuce prop. That meant that if anyone won a pot while holding a 7 and a 2 (the worst starting hand in hold'em), everyone else had to pay them a $10 bounty. This encouraged a lot of wild bluffs and attracted lots of super-aggressive action. Twice during the evening, some young guy bet a lot of chips to get me to fold to his seven-deuce but, unfortunately for him, I had a big hand each time and just check-called to the river. I was more than happy to let him try to win $80 on a prop bet by losing $1,500 to me.

      When I got home, I tried to get a Trash Talk Tuesday game going at one of the local casinos, but the Missouri Gaming Commission got in the way, as it so often does because it doesn't know anything about poker. They didn't understand the seven-deuce prop or some of the other aspects of the game, and without those, it never took off.

      On another occasion, I was in Vegas when a friend called to tell me that Jamie Gold, who won the World Series Of Poker Main Event in 2006, was in town for a promotional appearance and playing in a cash game at the Hard Rock. I made my way over there and got a seat at the table, where there was plenty of money being pushed around. We didn't get tangled up in any big pots, but Jamie and I did talk between hands.

      I asked Gold how often he went out to play in live games. He said it wasn't that often, but he played in a Hollywood home game with several guys with very deep pockets who want to play higher stakes than they can in a casino. Plus, in their private venue, they didn't have to worry about gawkers and other distractions as they played, ate, and drank whatever they wanted.

      Side note: years later, I had a great on-air conversation with Molly Bloom, who ran the game Jamie was talking about, which also included Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gabe Kaplan, and Guy Laiberte. She recounted many of those stories in her book, "Molly's Game," which is being turned into a movie due this year, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, starring Jessica Chastain, with Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd, Graham Greene, Bill Camp, and Brian D'Arcy James.

      Then Jamie explained that winning the WSOP and appearing on "High Stakes Poker" on GSN had put a target on his back and forced him to modify the way he played. Because so many people had seen him bluffing on TV, he had locked down his game and almost never bluffed anymore. He said that loud enough that everyone at the table could hear him, and I caught several of the other players rolling their eyes and replying, "Yeah, right!"

      Then, over the course of a the next couple of hours, I watched Jamie take several big pots off exactly those players, because they believed he was trying to bluff them when, in fact, he had the nuts. Each time, he exclaimed, "I'm telling you, I don't bluff anymore!" But it fell on deaf ears.

      Jamie was interesting to watch, he was fun to talk to, and I won a few big pots of my own, so I was in a good mood, too. Considering how many people showed up in the Poker Lounge that night to try to get into the game with him, I'd say that whatever the Hard Rock gave him in exchange for his appearance was worth it.

      Sadly, the Poker Lounge didn't last long because there just wasn't enough business. The young demographic that the Hard Rock attracted was more interested in partying in the pool, hitting on members of the opposite sex, dancing in its nightclubs, and playing drunken blackjack. Within a couple of years, the casino closed the lounge and opened a smaller poker room with fewer tables, but it was never a success, either -- I haven't heard anyone mention going there during a Vegas trip for at least seven years -- and now it's gone for good.

      Previously on Harris Online...

      Picture Of The Day

      This is a picture of the meeting of the first-ever Girls Council meeting held over the weekend in Qassim, Saudi Arabia. Notice anything missing?

      Tuesday, March 14, 2017

      Best Thing I've Read Today

      Kal Penn, one of the stars of "Designated Survivor" and formerly a regular on "House," has posted -- complete with captions -- excerpts of scripts he's been given over the years when he auditioned for television roles that were inevitably stereotypes of Indian, Pakistani, or other brown-skinned nationalities. He also recounts the arguments he had with producers who regularly insisted he make the accent "more authentic," which meant more like "The Simpsons" character Apu.

      Lobbying For Libraries

      According to the Post-Dispatch, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (a Republican) is following in the footsteps of his predecessor Jay Nixon (a Democrat) in trying to cut funding for public libraries across the state.

      When making budgets, governors and legislators tend to shift money in the direction of industries that have lobbyists knocking on their doors and handing over campaign cash. Unfortunately, libraries have no lobbyists because there's no profit to be made there.

      So I'm going to lobby for libraries today.

      Part of my devotion to libraries comes from the fact that my mother was a librarian for over 40 years and, in my teens, I worked in the public library in my hometown, shelving books two or three days a week for two bucks an hour. In those days, aside from knowing my way around the Dewey Decimal System, I also used both the school and public libraries regularly as a resource for homework assignments -- not just copying paragraphs out of the World Book, but using the Reader's Guide To Periodicals to find old magazine and newspaper articles on microfilm -- and to discover non-fiction books on whatever I was obsessed with at the time (e.g. the Marx Brothers, NASA, and the Fortran computer programming language).

      Today, as adults, my wife and I borrow library books all the time -- she reads 2-3 novels a week, while I get lots of autobiographies and other non-fiction. I also use the St. Louis County Library's vast audio collection to fill in holes in my music collection, borrowing CDs that I rip into iTunes. We've even started using one of the library's research databases to learn Spanish!

      Other patrons use the library for its trove of movies on DVD and videogames, or as a place where there are computers with free internet access (an invaluable resource for people without a laptop or desktop who need more online information than they can get via their phone), or a shared location for kids programs where they can learn the value of reading and story time.

      If you're the kind of person who says, "I don't care, I never go to the library, so I don't want my tax dollars going there," that's like saying, "I don't have kids, so I don't want to pay for the schools" or "I'm homebound, so I don't want to pay for the roads."

      Libraries are an important component of any thriving community, particularly in rural areas, where they don't have access to larger collections, but can request materials through inter-library loan. They are a central part of our common knowledge base. When we're not fully funding that, we're losing something vital. Making libraries do less because of political penny-pinching hurts every single one of us.

      The other day, I wrote about the Arkansas legislature trying to ban Howard Zinn's book, "A People's History Of The United States." What I didn't say at the time was that banning books is a concept straight out of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

      If you don't get that reference, go to your local library and borrow a copy.

      Monday, March 13, 2017

      Best Thing I've Read Today

      On the 25th anniversary of its release, here's an appreciation of "My Cousin Vinny" from several members of the legal profession who say Joe Pesci's character holds up better as an attorney than Atticus Finch, Perry Mason, and Michael Clayton.
      “Vinny” screenwriter Dale Launer isn’t a lawyer but did his homework. He interviewed cops from Yazoo County, Miss., and a deputy district attorney from Butler, Ala. on whom the movie’s competitive-but-collegial prosecutor was modeled.

      A source of inspiration was a courtroom tale about Abraham Lincoln. Representing an accused murderer in 1858, Lincoln is said to have used an almanac to impeach the testimony of a witness claiming he saw his client kill a man under a full moon’s light.

      According to Mr. Launer, the tale inspired the scene where Vinny uses his newfound knowledge about grits -- and how long it takes to cook them -- to spot a hole in the timeline of a key prosecution eyewitness.

      “Are we to believe boiling water soaks faster into a grit in your kitchen than on any place on the face of the earth?” Vinny asks the man on the stand. “I don’t know,” he sheepishly responds.
      Read Jacob Gershman's full piece here.

      Movie Review: Kong Skull Island

      When you walk into a movie called "Kong: Skull Island," you gotta know what to expect. You can't walk out complaining, "That was a dumb plot and too much action." It's like exiting "La La Land" whining because you don't like musicals.

      Kong has been updated several times since his screen debut in 1933, when Fay Wray set the standard for damsel-in-distress screams. Every frightened female character since then has done a pale imitation, including Jessica Lange in 1976 (when she was named not "Dawn," but "Dwan") and Naomi Watts in 2005. In each instance, they existed purely to humanize the giant gorilla, who seemed to fall for them in some weird sort of inter-species romance that could never be consummated.

      In the new version, which takes place in 1973, Brie Larson follows up her Oscar-winning role in "Room" to play a photojournalist who is given virtually nothing to do except to take pictures with a seemingly endless supply of rolls of film that she never has to change (remember, there were no digital cameras 40+ years ago). She rides along with some scientists and soldiers who travel to Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, who's something like a hundred feet tall.

      Samuel L. Jackson is the colonel in charge of the Army helicopter squad that, when they first spot Kong, naturally begins firing weapons at him because who is he to stand so tall on an island they didn't even know existed until a few days ago? The whole shooting-at-Kong thing actually makes me laugh. Once it's clear that their machine guns and chopper-launched-missiles aren't hurting him -- they only piss him off to the point where he knocks the helicopters out of the sky -- why would you then take out your pistol and think that's going to do anything?

      John Goodman is the lead scientist who, unlike in previous Kong movies, isn't planning on taming the beast and taking him back to New York so he can climb a skyscraper. He's there to prove that there are pre-historic monsters living in giant caves under the Earth's surface. It turns out he's right -- and Kong isn't the only one. There are all sort of outsized creatures on Skull Island for both the humans and Kong to do battle with. All of this is done with some rather impressive CGI work, and the movie looks beautiful.

      But things don't really turn interesting until John C. Reilly appears midway through as Hank Marlow, a World War II vet who's been stuck on Skull Island for 28 years. He lives with the humans who are native to the island, and has learned from them how not to get eaten by the humongous creatures that roam nearby.

      Marlow is the only character with a sense of humor, which the movie desperately needs. What it doesn't need is Larson, nor Tom Hiddleston, whose character similarly serves no actual purpose in driving the plot.

      So, is "Kong: Skull Island" a complete bust? Not if you go in with the right level of expectations. Set them high for the monsters and action sequences but low for the storyline and characters and you might just walk out satisfied. You can also turn the movie into a drinking game -- toss one back for every "Apocalypse Now" allusion the filmmakers have thrown in.

      I give "Kong: Skull Island" a 6.5 out of 10.

      Worth A Link

      Saturday, March 11, 2017

      Paula Poundstone Returns

      When I heard that Paula Poundstone, one of my favorite comedians, will be at the Sheldon in St. Louis on March 25th, I bought a pair of tickets and then invited her back onto my radio show.

      We talked about social media and her addiction to technology, her children, and the experiments she conducted in writing her book, "The Totally Unscientific Study Of The Search For Human Happiness" (which will be published in May). I also asked Paula about her performance at the 1992 White House Correspondents Association dinner -- the first female comedian to headline that gig -- and whether she'd do it again.

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

      Showbiz Show 3/10/17

      This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max Foizey and I reviewed "Kong: Skull Island," "Logan," and "Before I Fall," plus other movie/showbiz news.
      Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

      Harris Challenge 3/10/17

      This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Daylight Saving Time, Bill Paxton Movies, and the usual test of your knowledge of the news of the week.

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

      Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

      Knuckleheads In The News® 3/10/17

      On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a lawyer's pants on fire, a guy having sex with a fence, and the difference between a degree and a certificate. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

      Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

      Friday, March 10, 2017

      Picture Of The Day

      Dad's on the BBC via Skype giving expert commentary on the removal of the president of South Korea, but that doesn't stop his two little kids from photo-bombing in his office -- until the babysitter children's mother literally drags them out of the room. As someone who used to broadcast from home all the time, I feel for this guy, and bet that as soon as he got off the air, he had a few words with the babysitter his wife*...

      *Updated 3/10/17 1:18pm -- Despite initial reports that the woman in the video is the babysitter or nanny, she is in fact Kelly's wife, Jung-A Kim, who is Korean. Thus, the correction above.

      Best Thing I've Read Today

      Marshall Allen of ProPublica writes about the incredible amount of medical equipment that's wasted by American hospitals, and one group that collects and re-distributes it to needy facilities overseas:

      Just outside Portland, Maine, there’s a 15,000-square-foot warehouse that’s packed with reasons the U.S. health care system costs so much: Shelves climb floor to ceiling, stacked with tubs overflowing with unopened packages of syringes, diabetes supplies and shiny surgical instruments that run hundreds of dollars apiece. There are boxes of IV fluids and bags of ostomy supplies and kits with everything you’d need to perform an obstetrics surgery.

      This, however, isn’t a story of about the crippling price of medical supplies. This is about the high cost of medical supplies that hospitals throw away.

      On a recent snowy day the warehouse’s 65-year-old proprietor, Elizabeth McLellan, gave an indignant accounting: She yanked a urinary catheter out of one bin. It’s unopened and has an expiration date of July 2018. “There’s no reason to get rid of this.” A box of 30 new feeding bags has an August 2019 expiration date. The same type sells on for $129.

      That surgical stapler? It’s unopened. The same model sells online for $189. And McLellan simply shook her head over a set of a dozen long thin laparoscopic surgery instruments that some hospital discarded. Similar used tools can go for hundreds of dollars.

      “There’s nothing wrong with these, nothing wrong with any of these,” she said.
      Read Allen's full piece here.

      [thanks to Frank Ladd for the link]

      Thursday, March 09, 2017

      I'm Just Asking

      Will there ever be a time again when I can browse Twitter and Facebook without seeing Trump's name in the majority of the posts?

      Whatever happened to Yahoo Serious, who was famous for about a minute in the 1980s?

      What's the last time you saw someone walking around (or sitting still) wearing Google Glass?

      Is there anything more pretentious than a couple sitting next to each other in a restaurant with each of them wearing a bluetooth Jawbone-like earpiece?

      Falling Down

      Here's a sentence I've never typed before: I fell down the other day.

      My wife and I were coming out of a restaurant, it was raining, and I completely missed the curb, tumbling into the street. Fortunately, there were no cars coming. The couple behind us asked if I was okay and -- acting far too macho for my age -- I jumped up and replied, "Yeah, no problem, I'm fine." Then I limped over to the car.

      My wife was driving, so I got into the passenger seat. Knowing me so well, she shot me a worried look and asked, "Are you really okay?" I told her that, no, my right leg and hip hurt like hell, and besides, I was now sitting in wet pants. She asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but I told her to just drive me home.

      When we got there, I stripped down to see a very nice bluish-red color extending from my hip all the way through my thigh. She summed up the situation immediately, "That's a deep muscle bruise, and it's going to hurt for awhile," as she went to get the big bottle of ibuprofen.

      She was right. Over the course of the next week, the bruise changed from bluish-red to a dark purple and then to a weird greenish-yellowish hue. I was popping 600mg of non-prescription painkillers several times a day as I limped around my life.

      During that time, I thought about watching my daughter when she was a toddler. In those months when she was learning to walk, she fell down a lot. Of course, her tiny body wasn't as gravity-unfriendly as my too-big adult form is, but it was remarkable to see how little impact falling down had on her growth pattern. She must have tumbled to the ground 10 times a day, often on her cushioned-by-a-diaper behind, but she'd just pop right up, giggle, and go on her way.

      I also remembered something that comedian Jack Gallagher (not the one with the sledgehammer) said on my radio show 20+ years ago -- that putting your hands out to break your fall is a learned response, not a natural instinct. He'd observed his young son falling down a lot at that age, too, and noticed that, at first, the boy didn't get his arms out there quickly enough to keep himself from slamming face down on the carpet. But after going nose-to-rug a few times, he figured it out. It didn't keep him from falling over, but at least he wasn't going to get more concussions than a Rams quarterback.

      If only I'd thought of that as I stepped off that damned curb.

      Wednesday, March 08, 2017

      They're Still Trying To Ban Books

      Right-wingers in the Arkansas legislature want to ban Howard Zinn's landmark book, "A People's History Of The United States," from the state's schools.

      I'd bet that most of them have not read the book, but ignorance never stops the intolerant from keeping others from being educated. After all, the more knowledge the public has, the less likely they are to fall for extremist agendas like those found in too many statehouses.

      Take a look at the American Library Association's list of the most frequently banned books from a few years ago, and you'll see titles like "Harry Potter," "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Catcher In The Rye," "The Color Purple," and "Slaughterhouse Five." We'd be better off if we had laws that make banning any book illegal.

      Meanwhile, the nonprofit Zinn Education Project is offering free copies to teachers, and so far over 600 have ordered one!

      More Movies You Might Not Know

      I'm adding two titles to my Movies You Might Not Know List.

      One is "Moon," which stars Sam Rockwell as the sole resident of a lunar base that's home to an automated mining system that he oversees with the help of a robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

      Sam's been up there for three years, and is scheduled to return to Earth in a couple of weeks when his contract is up. He can't wait to get back and see his wife Tess and daughter Eve, who was born shortly after he left for the moon. He's stayed in touch with them via recorded video messages, but hasn't interacted with anyone except Gerty during his stay.

      Naturally, something happens that affects Sam's plans, and I won't tell you what it is. Suffice it to say that Rockwell gives a bravura performance as he struggles to figure out what's going on and what's going to happen to him. It's a little like "The Martian," in that he's alone up there, but the events that impact his lunar life are very different than those that plagued Matt Damon on the red planet. To say any more would spoil a movie that I think is worth your time.

      I give "Moon" a 7.5 out of 10.

      The other title is "Lightning In A Bottle," a documentary about a one-night-only concert at Radio City Music Hall to celebrate the 100th birthday of the blues in 2004. The talent on stage represented some of the greats of the genre, including my favorites Buddy Guy, BB King, and Bonnie Raitt, plus Odetta, Dr. John, Keb' Mo, Alison Krauss, Jimmie Vaughan, and John Fogerty. All of the performances were stellar, especially appearances by blues legends like Honeyboy Edward and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

      There's one awkward moment about a half hour in. Ruth Brown, Mavis Staples, and Natalie Cole are singing "Men Are Like Streetcars" when Bill Cosby wanders onto the stage to interact with them. They act like they're happy to see him as he sits down on a chair to their left and, as they continue to sing, he begins mugging for the audience in reaction to the lyrics. It's a blatant case of a well-known star stealing the spotlight from the three women, who deserved better. Then again, as we now know, a lot of women deserved better than what they got from Cosby.

      Aside from that, "Lightning In A Bottle," directed by Antoine Fuqua and exec-produced by Martin Scorsese, is a terrific celebration of the history of the blues and the men and women who have kept that uniquely American musical form alive. I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

      Tuesday, March 07, 2017

      Save It For The Show

      Here's a piece I wrote in 2010...

      I've done hundreds of interviews in the course of my radio career. Only a small percentage have included a guest in the studio with me. The far larger majority were on the phone and, in most cases, that was a better working arrangement.

      If I'm talking with someone who is in another location, I can check my notes, leaf through an article or two I've skimmed ahead of time, turn my mike off to give my engineer an instruction, or do a dozen other things that help me conduct the interview while still maintaining a stimulating conversation.

      On the other hand, if they're sitting opposite me in the studio, I feel compelled to maintain eye contact. Moreover, during the commercial breaks, there's always some small talk to be made, rather than sitting there in awkward silence. Quite often, however, those off-the-air comments evolve into something more -- something good enough to discuss on the show -- but the spontaneity is nearly impossible to recreate on the air, so a great anecdote or new talking point has been wasted.

      It also makes it easier to ask tough questions when you're not in the same room. Ted Koppel understood this dynamic when he anchored "Nightline." Even guests who went to ABC's Washington bureau, where the show originated, were more likely than not sequestered in a separate studio with nothing more than a camera and an earpiece as their only connection to Ted. He watched them on a monitor, listening intently, while simultaneously devising his next line of questioning, all without having to worry about the familiarity inherent in sharing space with the interviewee.

      The best exceptions to this rule have always been comedians. Some of the top touring pros have returned to my shows again and again because they understand this. Whenever someone like Brian Regan or Jake Johannsen or Heywood Banks makes an in-studio appearance, anyone in the room would swear that we don't get along, judging by the way we nearly neglect each other during the commercial breaks. The truth is exactly the opposite. They know that if they just give me a couple of topics they want to touch on, I'll lead them to a place where they can show off their best stuff, so that's all that needs to be said while the mikes aren't on. The lack of off-air conversation comes from knowing that it's best to save it for the show, when we can improvise whatever magic we're going to create for the listeners.

      The same is true when I'm doing an ensemble show with several other regulars, all of whom are welcome to contribute anything on the air at any time. There may be times during the break when someone will say, "When you have a chance, ask me where I was last night, because I have to tell you about this party my wife dragged me to" or "At the end of this newscast, I have a story you'll definitely want to jump on" or whatever.

      But that's all they have to say. The rest gets preserved for when we get back on the air.

      Monday, March 06, 2017

      Picture Of The Day

      Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen's commentary on a transgender wrestler is the picture of compassion, tolerance, and trying-to-understand:

      Cleaned Up

      You probably won't notice it, but I spent the weekend cleaning up Harris Online.

      Over the two decades that I've been blogging, in addition to my original content, I've posted lots of links to other sites under the categories of Picture Of The Day, Worth A Link, and In Case You Missed It. Unfortunately, in many cases, the original material -- including lots of YouTube videos and, in some cases, entire websites that I linked to -- has faded away, been removed, or is otherwise no longer accessible. In all, I have removed close to a thousand entries from this site.

      However, among the 6,600+ posts that are still on Harris Online, you can still find more than 2,500 podcasts from my radio shows, plus hundreds of my columns and other items. I'll keep posting new content for you to enjoy, at no charge.

      In return, I ask one small favor: if you come across any links or graphics on this site that no longer go where they were supposed to, please let me know so I can scrub them away, too.

      Movie Review: Before I Fall

      Samantha wakes up at the same time to the same song playing on the radio and relives the same day. Okay, so it's a remake of "Groundhog Day."

      Samantha wakes up every day and rides to school with her three best friends, all privileged, upscale, cool teenagers who look down on everyone else. Okay, so it's a remake of "Mean Girls."

      Samantha gets lots of roses from male admirers on "Cupid's Day" at school, but doesn't recognize that the guy she's with isn't right for her, while paying no attention to the guy who is. Okay, so it's a remake of a dozen other teen romance movies.

      Actually, "Before I Fall" takes all three of those plotlines and meshes them into a story that kinda works, thanks to Zoey Deutch, who plays Samantha. Deutch, who played James Franco's love interest last year in "Why Him," imbues Samantha with a humanity that isn't apparent at first, but grows as she keeps reliving one tragic day in her young life. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn't as good as she is, and falls easily into plot traps straight out of those other movies.

      "Before I Fall" also lacks a sense of humor, which is what kept "Groundhog Day" and "Mean Girls" grounded. As Samantha wakes up yet again, fully knowing that she's going to encounter the same situations she did yesterday, she still dresses the same way and acts the same way, even as she's learning she must become a better person. The movie is quietly preachy in that way, and the supposed-to-be-a-shocker ending doesn't deliver.

      Granted, since I'm neither female nor a teenager, I'm not the target demo for this movie, but anyone who fits into those groups would be better off watching the movies that "Before I Fall" rips off. I give it a 5 out of 10.

      Friday, March 03, 2017

      Live On Delay

      Like the overwhelming majority of radio stations, the entire KTRS broadcast day is on a digital delay just in case someone -- a host, a caller, a guest -- utters one of those phrases the FCC freaks out about. It exists purely to protect the station's license. However, I can't even remember the last time we hit the dump button because of content.

      I do remember a show way, way back when I was interviewing Graham Nash and he dropped the f-bomb. My engineer looked at me as if to ask, "Did he just say that?" I shook my head and waved him off. He didn't hit the dump button, so the conversation continued airing intact as Graham and I had a great discussion (one of many we've had over the years).

      When we went to a commercial break, the engineer asked me if I was sure, and I told him that, in fact, I was sure that Graham had said it. Then I pointed to the phone lines -- none of which were lit up with listeners shocked by or complaining about what they'd just heard. I explained that most people who were listening at that moment probably tossed it aside thinking, "Nah, there's no way he'd be allowed to say that on the air."

      I had the same thing happen once while talking with James Randi, who used the word "bullshit." We didn't hit the dump button and, to this day, no one inside or outside the radio station has ever brought it up.

      I have one other story about doing a show on delay, which I told on this site ten years ago.

      When I did mornings at NBC-owned WYNY/New York in the mid-80s with Rick Harris (no relation), there had never been a morning show that took listener calls on the FM station, and they were scared to death someone would say something wrong. Thus, we were prohibited from taking those calls live until they installed a delay unit. Rather than ordering a new stereo unit from Eventide, their engineers borrowed two mono units from our AM sister station WNBC, wired them in (one for the left channel, one for the right), and told us tomorrow  go ahead and try it.

      The next morning, when we began the show at 5:30am, we punched in the delay system and went about our normal morning silliness. In less than a minute, every hotline number on the phone bank was ringing like crazy. We were still talking on the air, listening to ourselves in pre-delay and thus didn't know what was wrong, but it had to be something major, so we went to a commercial break quickly.

      Off the air, Rick answered one hotline and I answered another, to find the chief engineer and the program director both yelling at us to dump out of delay immediately. It turned out that the two mono units weren't slaved together, and their delay wasn't in sync. None of the engineers had considered this possibility, and they hadn't tested it on the air until that moment.

      The effect was to create an echo from the left channel to the right channel that was unlistenable. We turned the units off completely and had to do yet another show with no live phone calls. Two days later, a stereo unit arrived, the engineers put it in, and everything worked just fine -- except we had an airborne reporter then, too, which meant going in and out of delay all morning for his reports.

      I was not all that surprised when NBC got out of the local radio business less than two years later.

      Thursday, March 02, 2017

      Worth A Link

      More behind-the-scenes revelations from the Oscars from the perspective of the stage manager (who was shocked at the incompetence of the PWC accountants) and some damning photos[hat tip to Frank Ladd]

      Live On Tape (followup)

      My comments last week about Stephen Colbert's announcer saying that his show is "live on tape" -- a practical impossibility -- started a conversation on Facebook. Here are a few of those comments.

      William Difani wrote:

      Could the intention be to tell the [digital] audience that the show was filmed in a single take before a live audience? So the audience is aware there wasn't excessive editing or retakes to get perfect bits? Not sarcastic, legit question. I have zero insider information on the production practices of late night.
      Larry Larson concurs:
      I suspect they just mean to convey that it is unedited.
      I replied:
      If only that were true. These shows are rehearsed and edited on a regular basis, particularly when an interview goes too long and has to be trimmed before airing to fit the time slot. They also use a lot of content they've recorded beforehand, which is then inserted into the recording the rest of the show.
      Then John Bayer commented:
      Paul, you must understand in this New Era of "Alternative Truth" where lying to the public is accepted as being "truthful." Just look at your show, there is a time delay when speaking to guests who call in. Question, is it Live or is it on Tape since the station records your shows? So, even you can say that when you are on the air you are either Live or Taped!
      To which I responded:
      First of all, if you listen to the live stream on the KTRS app or website, you hear exactly what is happening in the studio with no delay (that's why there's a pause of several seconds at the end of some segments before we go to Tim's traffic reports -- if we didn't, he'd hear himself on delay in the plane and it wouldn't work). Second, at no time do you hear me say we are doing the show live -- there's no reason to. Third, a few seconds of delay is not the same as the several hours between the taping of Colbert's show and when it airs. They edit the heck out of that thing in the intervening time, while we do not. It would be like you listening to one of my podcasts and having me tell you that it was live.
       Tomorrow: a couple of my broadcasting-on-delay experiences.

      Wednesday, March 01, 2017

      If Not Best, Then Better Picture

      Now that we know the name of the accountant to blame for the envelope error at the Oscars, I've been thinking more about the upset Best Picture win of "Moonlight" over "La La Land." I'm on record as choosing "La La Land" as the best movie of 2016 while giving a so-so review to "Moonlight." I think in the long run, history will prove me right.

      Imagine that, five years from now, you're flicking around the cable channels and come across one of those movies. Which one are you more likely to stop on and watch for awhile, if not to the end? I don't think it'll be "Moonlight." Its morose story and tepid pacing will not hold up through repeat viewings.

      "La La Land," on the other hand, is the kind of movie I'd stick around for -- after already seeing it twice in a theater. It's a movie parents will share with their (older) children. It's a movie that stars actors who will likely be around in other good movies. It's a movie that made me go back and watch "Easy A," which I'd never seen, and marvel at how talented Emma Stone already was seven years ago.

      Quick, except for Mahershala Ali, name anyone in "Moonlight." You've probably never heard of any of the three actors who played the lead character, Chiron. Maybe you've heard of Naomie Harris because she was Oscar-nominated. Or maybe you know Jonelle Monae, although it's likely you know her from "Hidden Figures," which is a better movie and one you'd probably watch again, especially with your kids.

      That's not to say "Moonlight" is a bad movie, just one that won't stand the test of time. Perhaps it's the backlash from #OscarsSoWhite that brought it more attention than it deserved, or because it's the first major motion picture about the coming of age of a black gay man, but it strikes me as the kind of Important Movie you're told you should like, rather than something you'd seek out again and again.