Friday, June 30, 2017

Movie Review: The House

I didn't have high hopes for the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy "The House," but I didn't expect that it would come in so far below my already-low expectations. I'm going to start by telling you to stay away from this piece of dreck, which has a lot of balls calling itself a comedy, considering it made me laugh zero times. But I'll lay out the plot for you.

After a big scholarship they were expecting is pulled, Poehler and Ferrell don't have enough money to send their daughter to college. Apparently, in their 18 years of upper-middle-class suburban parenthood, they didn't think to save enough to pay for their kids education. They can't borrow money from the bank, or get a raise at work, or think of any other way to make their finances work. Move into a smaller house, maybe? Tell their daughter to go to a cheaper school or community college? That's crazy talk!

Instead, they take advice from their loser friend (Jason Mantzoukas) and open up an illegal casino in his house. That could have made an interesting premise for a well-thought-out comedy, but this is anything but. Every plot point and non-shocking twist is unsurprising and ridiculous. Don't even ask where they get the money to finance this operation in the first place. No one acts like any real person would in any similar situation. The entire cast overacts every scene. The subplots don't matter one bit. The soundtrack includes "The Sopranos" theme, fer chrissake.

It's as if, in real life, writer/director Andrew Jay Cohen needed money to send his own daughter to college, but instead of making a good movie, he decided to just throw a bunch of crap into a room and turn the camera on, in the hopes the bucks would start rolling in. I don't think that's going to happen -- and the studio probably knows it, because they didn't have a single press screening. At the Thursday night show I attended, there were exactly ten people in the audience. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 15%. With a budget of over $40 million, I'd be surprised if "The House" makes its money back, or even does more than $12 million this weekend. If it does, that would be the only thing about the movie that surprised me.

"The House" will end up on my Worst Of 2017 list. I give it a 2 out of 10.

Picture Of The Day

I was never impressed by Piers Morgan. Whether he was judging a talent show or hosting his CNN interview show a few years ago, he always came off as a pompous ass in an empty suit.

He's back in England now, co-hosting "Good Morning Britain" on ITV, and still retains the same boorish qualities. The other morning, when Morgan started whining about people posting about politics on Facebook, co-anchor Susanna Reid -- who's obviously had it up to here with him -- gave him exactly what he deserved...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sourtoe Certificate

On Friday, my Knuckleheads In The News® included an item about a bar in Canada that sells the Sourtoe Cocktail, a drink that comes complete with an actual human toe. Anyone downing the drink while making lip contact with the toe -- but not swallowing it -- gets a certificate. The story came to light after someone made off with the bar's toe, which has since been returned, and that prompted Mike (one of my listeners) to email:

Here's my wife's certificate. [Capt. Dick Stevenson, who signed the certificate] was our boat captain up the Yukon River. Told us he would be at the bar selling shots with certificates. Also, there is a Sourtoe book, if only I could find it.

What's What in "Silicon Valley"

I'm a fan of the HBO series "Silicon Valley," which wrapped up its fourth season Sunday night. I am a little worried that the show is becoming like "Entourage," in that its heroes are continually saved from their own worst instincts and professional errors by outside forces seemingly pulled out of thin air by the writers. Still, I'm looking forward to season five -- not just for the show, but for its animated opening sequence, which changes every year to spoof some of the biggest real-life high-tech companies in Silicon Valley.

Here's a video explaining which ones were included this season and why:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A War Has Actually Ended

Here's something you rarely read about: a war that has ended. In Colombia, the FARC rebels have surrendered their weapons and agreed to a peace plan with the government they have waged war against for more than five (!) decades. From Newsweek...

FARC began as a group of farmers in the 1960s, but gradually became an armed Marxist group that attacked government and civilian targets, particularly in Bogota. The battle between FARC and successive governments killed over 200,000 people over more than 50 years.

FARC began laying down their weapons in a five-stage process from March 1, during which U.N. workers were responsible for checking, listing and storing each weapon in white metal containers, for a total 7,132 arms. The containers are located in 26 demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) camps where the FARC rebels have been living since September to transition back to society. The last weapons left are those used to provide security on those camps, and will be surrendered before the final UN deadline of August 1.

Movie Review: Baby Driver

"Baby Driver" is the story of a guy known as Baby, who, every time he's introduced to someone, has to tell them, "Yes, Baby, B-A-B-Y." Because it's a hard name to spell.

Baby is the getaway driver for gangs of thieves that include Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm, who are put together in different combinations for different heists by Kevin Spacey, who engineers the entire operation but doesn't go along for the money grab. In that way, he's very much like the character he plays in the MIT blackjack movie "21," the genius behind the scenes who doesn't get his hands dirty.

Baby is played by Ansel Elgort, who was in "The Fault In Our Stars" and the three "Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant" movies. I haven't seen any of those, but in "Baby Driver," he reminds me a combination of Johnny Depp in John Waters' "Cry Baby" and Alden Ehrenreich's naive young actor or in "Hail, Caesar!"

The real star of "Baby Driver" is its soundtrack, with 30 songs from a variety of genres, which Baby is constantly listening to on his ever-present iPod. The music clearance fees for this thing must be the highest of any movie this year. It's almost as if director Edgar Wright came up with the idea for the movie, then decided which tunes to have on the soundtrack, and then threw together the script as an afterthought.

Wright has a following from his earlier movies ("Shawn of the Dead," "The World's End," "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"), and his own Tarantino-like visual style. In "Baby Driver," he gets good bad-guy performances out of Foxx, Hamm, and Eiza Gonzalez. Unfortunately, the plot isn't all that original or compelling -- in fact, I saw every development coming a mile away. A bunch of criminals pull off some heists, Baby drives the getaway car, the thieves argue and turn against each other over nonsense and, of course, there's a love interest, too (Lily James).

The car chase scenes are very well-designed, with great stunt work and cinematography that puts you right in the middle of the action. But, in real life, does any criminal ever get away in one of these car chases? Usually they end up on TV having to jump out of the car, hop over some fences, and run through several backyards before they are inevitably cornered by the cops.

My wife -- and most of the crowd at the screening I attended -- liked "Baby Driver" enough to clap at the end as the eponymous Simon and Garfunkel song played over the end credits (naturally), but I walked out unsatisfied.

So, I'm giving "Baby Driver" a 5 out of 10.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Picture Of The Day

My friend Jamy Ian Swiss is not only one of the world's best sleight-of-hand magicians, but also an author, columnist, and consultant. Since last fall, he's been writing a weekly column for the website Magiciana, highlighting some of the best magicians he's seen -- most of whom you've never heard of -- including video clips of some of their performances. I read and watch them every week and have never failed to be amazed and amused.

Jamy's most recent post is about Tommy Wonder, who was so good at his craft that other magicians would rather watch him work than have him tell them how he did his tricks. You should read Jamy's full column, which includes four videos of Wonder, including this quick one:

Worth A Link

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gonging "The Gong Show"

Stu Shostak comments on my "Gong Show" review and, in particular, the odd choice to have Mike Myers host the show in character (and prosthetics)...

I hate when so-called "real" shows have actors in character appearing on them. It drove me bat-shit crazy when Father Guido Sarducci guested on Letterman. It destroys any credibility a show has and it's a blur between what's fake and what's real (not that it matters on a piece of garbage like this anyway).

We're living in a world where fake news is the reality...and this show has always contributed to the dumbing down of this country since the 70s. I was never a fan of the original "Gong Show."

The only reason this is even on the air is because ABC wanted their own "America's Got Talent," "The Voice," and "American Idol." This would not have been greenlit otherwise. Oh...and the ratings? That was the curiosity tune-in factor. Let's see what happens in the next few weeks.
Mark Edwards adds:
Great review, and I agree almost completely. The show, to me, just isn't the Gong Show without Chuckie baby. It was what he did on the screen and in the writers room that made that show special, and his contributions have been under appreciated since the show aired and I was watching it when I should've been in school. Sometimes you can't re-create lightning in a bottle. The new version of the show is one of those times.
And Earl Burton says:
Just another demonstration of the lack of creativity that currently exists. Instead of trying to challenge their audiences, the main networks instead reheat old, stale leftovers in a vain attempt to "entertain." Sorry, won't be checking out this "Gong Show," especially since the dearly departed Chuck Barris isn't involved.

TV Review: The Gong Show

In the last year, several TV game shows of the 1970s and 1980s have been revived by the big networks, primarily because they can be produced for a lot less money than a scripted series. Thus, we're seeing new primetime versions of "Match Game," "To Tell The Truth," "$100,000 Pyramid," "Love Connection," and -- coming soon, "Battle Of The Network Stars."

Now ABC has brought back "The Gong Show," originally produced by Chuck Barris, the man behind "The Dating Game," "The Newlywed Game," and "The $1.98 Beauty Pageant." His version was a salute to stupidity, with bad performers, D-list celebrity judges, and Barris himself as the host who was terrible at his job. The one thing it had going for it was a sense of fun, celebrated every time The Unknown Comic (Murray Langston with a paper bag over his head) or Gene Gene The Dancing Machine appeared, just to kill a few minutes of airtime.

The most bizarre thing about the new "Gong Show" is that it's hosted by Mike Myers, although his name is never announced and doesn't appear in the credits. That's because he's in Jiminy-Glick-like makeup, pretending to be a middle-aged British personality named Tommy Maitland. Myers must be more comfortable in character than as himself, but I wonder if anyone under 30 even knows who he is -- it's been a long time since his two "Wayne's World" and three "Austin Powers" movies. Sure, he also did four "Shrek" movies, but that was just his voice, and the last one was seven years ago.

Throughout "The Gong Show," Myers/Maitland tries way too hard, tossing off bad one-liners that, despite not being funny at all, send the judges and audience into hysterics. There are cutaway shots to people laughing their asses off, but the editing reminds me (since we're talking about reviving old TV here) of an old Dean Martin roast, where Foster Brooks or George Gobel would do something only mildly amusing, followed immediately by a cut to Arte Johnson or Joey Bishop falling off his chair, obviously in response to something someone else said at another time. On this "Gong Show," everyone seems like they're hyped up on too much sugar, overreacting to everything they see.

The new version's contestant pool is populated by people who must have been rejected by "America's Got Talent," so bad they couldn't even appear on the who-are-you-kidding episodes that mark the start of each season of that show. On last week's "Gong Show" debut, a guy in an ape suit played bagpipes while pedaling a unicycle around the stage, a couple spit banana bits into each others' mouths, and a woman dressed as Bo Peep put a live tarantula in her mouth and played the harmonica (complete with a graphic warning viewers, "Please do not put spiders in your mouth"). Some of the performers were clearly wannabe actors who weren't there to showcase their own talents, but to do bits created by the show's writing staff.

This "Gong Show" also had its own time-killer, a guy who came out and sang Benny Bell's "Shaving Cream," a song from 1946 that returned to the charts in the late 1970s thanks to Dr. Demento. I'm guessing Mike Myers spent a lot of time listening to that radio show under the covers as a young boy. Or maybe it was Will Arnett, who is listed as one of eight executive producers.

Chuck Barris' "Gong Show" was always immune to criticism, because it was exactly what its creator promised it would be: cheap, dumb, and low-rent. The revival isn't cheap, but it does meet the original's low-bar standard on the other two qualities. It won its time slot Thursday night and may remain popular for the rest of its summer run, but, as with the original, the joke will run thin fairly quickly. Without Barris there to keep it bizarre, there's no reason to expect long-term success -- a lesson that should have been learned from three previous "Gong Show" revivals, none of which lasted more than a season.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Finn Murphy, "The Long Haul"

Finn Murphy's job is to move people and their stuff -- loading and unloading and carrying their belongings thousands of miles across the US, crisscrossing the country and encountering all sorts of characters, from clients to truckers to cops. He's been doing it for over thirty years, and writes about his life in "The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road."

When he joined me on the air, we discussed:
  • The difference between movers and other long-haul truckers;
  • Whether there's a science to packing all the stuff into the trailer so it doesn’t get damaged en route;
  • Some clients who have treated him like crap and the driver who almost killed him;
  • How the book came out of tapes he recorded while driving;
  • How technology has changed a trucker's job and life;
  • Whether he fears the advent of trucks that drive themselves;
  • The most expensive thing he dropped or broke while packing up someone's house.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 6/23/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed the movie "Transformers: The Last Night," ABC's revival of "The Gong Show," NBC's Megyn Kelly problem, plus some other showbiz news.

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

Harris Challenge 6/23/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories "Hollywood's Most Powerful People," "I Am Iron Man," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/23/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a toe stolen from a bar, a mailbox mousetrap, and a man on the trunk. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

I'm not the only one writing about NBC's Megyn Kelly problem (if you missed my piece earlier this week, read it here). Here's Variety's Sonia Saraiya:

Kelly’s cachet is that she is a thoughtful conservative woman — a kind of unicorn. Her demeanor carries with it a lot of posh worldliness; she’s tony and she knows it. On Fox News, her maternal concern about this newfangled world aligned her with her peers. But at the same time, her reasonably fair-minded consideration stood out; she offered a veneer of respectability in opposition to the at times crass politicking of its conservative pundits. She was centrist enough that some of the network’s most faithful despised her; her skepticism about Trump further alienated her from the network’s bread-and-butter base. Even colleague Sean Hannity got into a spat with her — a spat later mended, cheekily, on Twitter. But the division between her and her former colleagues was clear — enough that for liberal viewers peering at Fox News in frustration, Kelly became an occasional hero.

But outside of that context — a context which magnified her strengths and talents, because of how different she was from the network that nurtured her — Kelly has to rely not on the power of contrast but on her own resources. And so far, what we’re seeing is disappointing. On NBC, Kelly is didactic without being trustworthy; patronizing without being impressive. Her voiceover suggests doom without really proving it; there’s a scare-mongering side to her reportage. And, most importantly: She’s alienated everyone. At this point, Kelly’s most virulent critique comes from the right — the audience that she’s supposed to be helping deliver to NBC. The network is presumably hoping that centrist or center-right women will eventually tune in.

Perhaps well-heeled paranoia coming from someone who could be in your PTA meeting is not as appealing as it once was. But if Kelly’s move to NBC was both an attempt to cement her brand and a network gambit to draw a certain demographic of viewers, it has failed on both counts.
Read Saraiya's full piece here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Does USA Today Stay In Business?

While staying in a hotel earlier this week, I picked up a free copy of USA Today in the lobby. Browsing through it, I couldn't help but wonder how this newspaper stays in business.

When USA Today launched in 1982, it was a big deal. Here was a truly national daily newspaper, full of color and eye-popping graphics, with tiny stories and factoids that instantly made it every radio personality's must-read prep sheet. But over the years, and certainly with the advent of the world wide web, USA Today became less and less important. Oh, sure, it's still available in thousands of hotels worldwide -- where it's free, so no revenue flows back to Gannett, its publisher, for those copies -- but I can't imagine anyone plunking down the cover price of $2/issue to pick one up at a newsstand, not to mention $225/year for home delivery. Not in an era when you can get all of its content for free (no firewall) on its website.

Sure, with all those free copies distributed in every state, USAT can boast about its reach and readership to potential advertisers, but there are a lot fewer of the latter today. The whole paper, still broken up into four sections, is only 28 pages long. Of those, there were only a total of 3 pages of ads on Monday -- including one full page, several mini-ads in its "Marketplace" listings, a one-third page legal notice, and a small sponsorship of its national weather map.

By the way, in the digital age, why are newspapers still printing weather maps and forecasts? Is there anyone who uses USA Today as a resource for that information, which is much more easily accessible on any smartphone? Just because it looked amazing in 1982 doesn't mean you still have to do it in 2017. Along the same lines, why are any newspapers still printing charts full of closing stock prices? That is literally yesterday's data, no longer relevant as soon as the market opens today -- and also available instantly, with more news about each company, on any digital device.

The entire newspaper business has been in upheaval for more than a decade, as readers found information available for free online instead, which led to advertisers jumping off the sinking ship of print. But while paper subscriptions continue to drop, some -- including the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post -- have been smart about increasing their digital sides, where more people are paying for full access.

USA Today has made efforts along those lines, but I don't know how successful they've been. All I know is that the paper-and-ink edition of The Nation's Newspaper seems much less pertinent than ever.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Kelly File

Despite a lot of hype, Megyn Kelly's interview with Alex Jones drew only 3.5 million viewers Sunday night. That's less than a rerun of "America's Funniest Home Videos," which I didn't even know was still on the air (how many videos can there be of a father being hit in the balls by a plastic bat swung by his 4-year-old son?). That episode of Kelly's show is the lowest-rated of the three that she's done thus far, so the execs at NBC can't be happy.

They're learning an important lesson they should already have known -- there's a difference between a TV star and a cable news star. Kelly was successful at Fox News Channel because the standard for success (and truth, and sexual harassment) is much lower there than it is in the big-time TV universe. It's like when Katie Couric was hired away from NBC's "Today" show to anchor the "CBS Evening News." The latter hoped that all her viewers from the former would follow her, but they didn't because the two dayparts demand different skills and exist in separate and non-parallel universes. When it turned out that she wasn't the draw they expected her to be, Couric was yanked by CBS and replaced by Scott Pelley -- who has now been similarly dragged from the anchor chair after five years of so-so ratings and will be replaced by, oh, who knows.

Meanwhile, Kelly's former channel-mate Bill O'Reilly is making noise about how he's going to return to the public eye -- via a streaming show on his website. That's yet another universe, one with a much smaller potential audience. Of course, O'Reilly is full of so much hubris that he's sure the millions of fans that tuned in to his FNC show will now find him on the internet. Yeah, good luck with that, Bill. I think you're going to be sorely disappointed. Just ask Glenn Beck, who discovered his influence had essentially disappeared when he ran off to the online-only world to not make his fortune.

Back to Megyn Kelly. Those NBC execs who signed her to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract -- but can't love her Sunday night ratings -- must be wringing their hands over the new daytime show she'll debut this fall, taking over one of the later hours of "The Today Show." Though no announcement has been made of exactly what that show will be (news-intensive, celebrity-guest-driven, or yet another Oprah imitation?), the network has to be a little worried that Kelly will follow the daytime disaster route already forged by other TV stars who tried to spread their wings but couldn't overcome the gravity of the Nielsen ratings. Besides Couric (who failed in that daypart, too), the list includes Anderson Cooper, Jane Pauley, Meredith Viera, Jeff Probst, Queen Latifah, Wayne Brady, and Megan Mullaly.

Whether this Megyn can find success at NBC is still an unknown. But she's not off to a very good start.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

Katrina Vanden Heuvel 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:
Recent polls have identified health care as Americans’ No. 1 concern, but it has not been treated that way in the media. Since the House’s initial failure to pass a bill this spring, coverage of the issue has dwindled, with the exception of a brief spike when Republicans hastily pushed through a bill in May. Now, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) secretly maneuvers to gut the Affordable Care Act — without holding hearings or releasing any legislative details to the public — many in the mainstream media have responded with a collective yawn. Even as reports of McConnell’s machinations emerged last week, The Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times each determined, for two consecutive days, that the rising likelihood of a bill passing did not warrant a front-page story.

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.
Read Vanden Heuvel's full piece here.

Broadway Weekend

I spent the weekend celebrating my mother's 93rd birthday with her, and my wife and daughter in New York City. While there, we took in three Broadway shows of different genres: a feel-good musical about 9/11, a farce where everything goes wrong, and a Noel Coward play starring Kevin Kline.

The best of the three was "Come From Away," which was nominated for (but didn't win) the Tony for Best Musical. It's about the little Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland, where the population nearly doubled for a few days because of the 9/11/01 attacks. That day, when US airspace was closed, 38 planes were diverted to the Gander airport, where the locals opened their homes, schools, and businesses to help out the 7,000 stranded passengers and crew. The musical uses some of the real names and stories of those who were there.

"Come From Away" has a cast of 12 who play both the Gander locals and the plane people, telling their stories and experiences in song -- a score that's performed live by a band of six terrific musicians who are off to the sides of the stage. As the actors (many of whom have been with the show since its first run in La Jolla in 2015) switch between dozens of roles, the chemistry never suffers, and the characters come to life: the town mayor, an American Airlines pilot, a teacher, a gay couple, a cop, an SPCA worker, a Muslim man who is eyed warily, and many others.

The music is vibrant, the tales are gripping, the performances are so good that we joined the rest of the audience in leaping to our feet for the curtain calls (including a several-minute-long jam session by the band, which takes center stage for the finale). "Come From Away," which Ben Brantley called a "portrait of heroic hospitality," is the best musical I've seen since "Fun Home." This is a show that will not only have a long run on Broadway, but will no doubt be performed by road companies, regional theaters, and even high school/college drama departments for a long time to come.

Our second show was "The Play That Goes Wrong," an out-and-out farce. The show's basic conceit is that an amateur theater company is putting on a classic British mystery, "The Murder At Haversham Manor." In the tradition of such shows as "What The Butler Saw" and "Noises Off," "The Play That Goes Wrong" thrives on what my wife describes as The Three S's That Make A Farce Work -- slapstick, spit-takes, and slamming. Over the course of the play, the set falls apart, props are misplaced, actors forget their lines, the tech crew misses cues, and the corpse crawls off the stage only to return later.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company, a group that reminds me of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, in that they have also written and performed similarly farcical prodcutions (e.g. "Peter Pan Goes Wrong," "The Nativity Goes Wrong," and "The Comedy About A Bank Robbery"). A show like this demands perfect timing, both verbal and physical, which the cast pulls off brilliantly. It helps that most of them have been with the production since it first appeared in London in 2014.

Finally, we saw Kevin Kline in his Tony-winning performance in "Present Laughter," a 1939 Noel Coward play (in which Coward originally played the lead). It is a drawing-room comedy, also British, but without any slapstick or spit-takes. This time, the comedy comes from the spoken word and the interaction between stage star Garry Essendine (Kline), his domestic staff, his long-suffering secretary, his business partners, his ex-wife, and his young ingenue lover.

Kline is onstage for the vast majority of the play, and gives a riveting performance in which every line reading and movement is just right for the character. He's so confident up there that he doesn't even mind turning his back on the audience a few times to allow the focus of attention to drift to his co-stars. Among them, the always-solid Kate Burton is best as his ex-wife. Interestingly, she played the ingenue in a 1982 production of the show, but now is the separated-but-not-completely Mrs. Essendine. Meanwhile, the young woman cast as the ingenue this time (Tedra Millan in her Broadway debut) looks strikingly similar to a young Phoebe Cates, who grew up to become Mrs. Kevin Kline. That brings a tinge of oddness to their scenes together.

So, three shows, three successes, and a great family celebration with Mom -- that's a pretty good weekend.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Movie Review: 47 Meters Down

In "47 Meters Down," Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play sisters on vacation at a resort in Mexico. They meet a couple of cute locals who convince them to go on an adventure (too bad they didn't see "Snatched," a cautionary tale about that). They agree to get on a boat captained by Matthew Modine, who will take them out into the part of the ocean that great white sharks call home. There, they'll get into a shark cage wearing scuba gear and be lowered into the water for an up-close-and-personal view of the sharks and other fish in their native habitat.

The two guys go first, and come up reporting on the amazing sights they've seen. Then Claire (who's been on several dives and is comfortable underwater) and Mandy (who has never been in scuba gear and is scared out of her mind) get in the cage, which is lowered five meters under the water. Sure enough, the sharks come by because the boat crew has been chumming the water, and the women get a good look at the beasts. But then, something goes wrong with the winch holding up the cage, which drops all the way to the ocean floor, 47 meters down.

That's the setup for the suspense that's supposed to come from whether the two sisters will be able to be rescued, or rescue themselves, before the air in their tanks runs out. Unfortunately, with everything that follows taking place down there, we're left in a murky underwater scenario with serious lighting issues (I can't even find a still photo from the production that's bright enough to put at the top of this page!). There might have been a lot of tension if we could see the sharks in the distance coming for them, but we only get to see the animals when they're right on top of our heroines. While that does create a couple of jump scares, it's not enough to sustain the tension for the final hour.

Then there's the problem of the ending. Writer/director Johannes Roberts must have felt his story wasn't grabbing the audience enough, because he threw in a dumb twist in the last 5 minutes that was completely unnecessary. The audience that I saw the movie with actually laughed when it was over. It wasn't giggling as a release a bunch of built-up tension -- it was laughing at how stupid the end of the movie was.

Last year, I gave an 8 out of 10 to "The Shallows," a movie in which surfer Blake Lively has to avoid being eaten by a great white shark, which was one of my Best Of 2016. Its story was much more compelling and the suspense seemed a lot more real compared to "47 Meters Down" which, despite running a mere 89 minutes, isn't in the same league.

By the way, the original distributor of "47 Meters Down" must have known it was a dud, because it was destined to skip theaters and go right to video last August before another studio bought the rights and held it for a year before its theatrical release this summer. The delay didn't make it any better.

I give "47 Meters Down" a 4.7 out of 10, which seems appropriate for its title.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day

Here's a piece I wrote for Father's Day in 2000...

Father’s Day. A day to be proud to be a father, and to remember our own Dads. And to realize that, contrary to what we always believed would happen, there’s a part of us that is turning into a part of him.

Every man who has kids has gone through this. One day, you’re the son, hearing your father saying, “As long as you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules.” The next day you’re grown up with a kid of your own, and you suddenly hear that same voice saying that same phrase – only now it’s in your house, and it’s coming out of your head! You realize that, horror of horrors, you’re channeling your own father!

I asked the listeners of my show to contribute some of their favorite Dad Sayings. It’s amazing how universal they are.

“Don’t make me turn this car around!” Great threat, Dad. We’re 200 miles from home and I’m sure my brother and I will be peaceful and cooperative all the way back. Alternate version: “Don’t make me stop this car,” which is the title of a memoir by Al Roker of NBC’s “Today Show.” Yeah, go ahead, Dad, pull over and stop the car. That will get us there faster.

“This is not a restaurant, you’ll eat what’s on the table.” Lots of these sayings have to do with food, because dinner table battles are not generation-proof. Nowhere in America has any kid ever eaten brussels sprouts warm, but millions of us have sat there after everything else was cleared away, looking at those ugly orbs of yuck that we either had to swallow or look at for the rest of our lives. Alternate version: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.”

“Don’t leave food on your plate. There are children starving in China (or India, or the third world nation of your choice).” Dad, can you explain to me again how my eating this liver will help them? Logically, shouldn’t I purposely leave some leftovers, which you and Mom can box up and send overseas through some United Nations program? We could use those same boxes they give us at the Chinese restaurant, where I noticed that you didn’t finish everything on your plate!

“Just think of the broccoli as little trees.” I love broccoli now, as an adult, and can’t understand why my daughter won’t try it, even though it was always a fight to get me to eat it as a kid. My Dad actually used this tree analogy on me, and to this day I don’t get it. What made him think that I was ever in the mood to chomp down on a tiny tree to begin with? Climb a tree, plant a tree, chop down a tree, carve my initials into a tree -- these I was interested in, but not eating one. What’s for dinner tomorrow night, bonsai bushes?

Also from the world of botany, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” Of course not, Dad. It grows on broccoli!

“This family is not a democracy.” We knew this all too well. When something of vital importance came up, there was only one vote that mattered, and it was Mom’s. Which explains why Dad was always saying, “What did your mother say? If it’s all right with Mom, then it’s all right with me.” Usual kid response, delivered in overly dramatic whine as if the world will end if you don’t get what you want: “But Dad, I really want it!” Usual parental reply: “Well, people in hell want ice water.” Go ahead, think up a rebuttal for that one.

“Life is not fair.” A lesson that Dad learned all too well through his many years toiling away in the workplace. This may have been the most important concept ever passed on from one generation of workers to the next.

“This is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you.” Dad as disciplinarian. Afterwards, the big difference between us was that he was able to sit down comfortably.

“You’ll understand why I’m doing this when you grow up and have kids of your own.” One listener says her father told her that she might not understand all of his jokes while she was a little girl, but when she grew up to be 65 years old, she’d get them all. She grew up expecting that, on her 65th birthday, she’d wake up laughing hysterically as all those jokes finally made sense to her. That is, until I pointed out that her father probably was a long way from 65 himself when he told her that.

“Don’t stand in front of the television – you’re not made of glass, you know!” Alternate version: “You make a better door than a window.”

“Close that door! We’re not paying to air condition the outside!” Dads have a great temperature sense, and it wasn’t confined to the front door, either. “Close the refrigerator door! You’ll attract penguins!” I always loved that one.

“If (your friend) jumped off the (highest local structure), would you jump, too?” This one has faded in recent years as that whole bungee-jumping fad got popular.

Here’s a really philosophical one that I hadn’t heard until a listener told me that her father used to say it to her: “You can lose your car, you can lose your house, you can lose your freedom, but you can never lose your education. And with your education, you can get it all back.” I’m going to try to remember that one so I can say it to my daughter, over and over again.

If you don’t understand any of this, you will someday when you’re a parent. In the meantime, go ask your mother.

Happy Father’s Day!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dave Weigel, "The Show That Never Ends"

Here's my conversation with Dave Weigel about his book, "The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock." That's the term applied to bands like Yes, ELP, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Genesis, King Crimson, and more that rose to fame in the 1970s. Among the topics we discussed:
  • Why it took so long for Yes to finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame;
  • Which band gets credit for kick-starting the progressive rock era;
  • Whether bands of that genre refer to themselves as "progressive rock";
  • The importance of album cover art;
  • Whether progressive rock could have existed without the synthesizer;
  • Why there weren't more women creating prog rock.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 6/16/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, guest critic Jim Batts and I reviewed the new movies "Rough Night," "47 Meters Down," "Cars 3," and "Band Aid" -- plus some other showbiz news.

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

Harris Challenge 6/16/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Movie Dads, First Ladies, and more topical trivia. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/16/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about psychics who didn't see it coming, an impatient chicken nuggets consumer, and a double speeding ticket. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

As I Tweeted

With the Amazon/Whole Foods deal, Prime members can now have bananas delivered to your house in 1 hour. But they still cost $14 each.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Stop With The Hitting

According to Forbes, boxer Floyd Mayweather's net worth is over $340 million. He'll reportedly make another $100 million from his just-announced fight against Conor McGregor later this summer. But why would he ever want to be punched in the face again? How much money does a guy need?

This excerpt from a story in The Express gives you a clue:

Despite earning an eye-watering amount of cash, Mayweather has faced a number of financial difficulties in recent years. The Richest reported that the boxer has defaulted on a number of loans and claimed that he owed the IRS nearly $6.1 million in back taxes. A report from financial advisor Tony Robbins in February claimed Mayweather spends $75 million every year. Rapper 50 Cent, Mayweather’s former business partner, said of the boxer’s financial mentality: “It’s fight, get the money, spend the money, fight. If he stops fighting, the money machine stops, the cash flow stops, his income stops — his financial world comes to a grinding halt.”
I'm reminded of the recent stories about Johnny Depp -- who also finds himself in financial straits because his cash outflow was so much bigger than his inflow -- and any number of lottery winners who end up filing for bankruptcy because they mishandled their sudden wealth.

You could easily blame some of this on the lack of financial education in America, but people with as much money as Mayweather probably have lots of people giving them advice, some of which no doubt lines their own pockets. It's easier to talk someone into a risky investment than to say, "You don't have to live in poverty, but you have enough money to provide for you and your family for generations if you do it right -- and no one will ever hit you in the head again." Of course, Mayweather may like the hits -- not receiving them, but doling them out.

I remember the years when Mike Tyson was in his prime and his boxing matches rarely lasted more than a few minutes, with his opponent inevitably ending up on the mat with a stunned look on his face. The ring doctor would check the loser for a concussion and ask, "Do you know where you are?" The answer would come back something like, "Thursday." Yet, there were still idiots all over the place who claimed they'd be happy to get into the ring with Tyson for a couple of rounds for a million dollar payday. The risk of having their gray matter turned into oatmeal didn't mean anything as long as they got a big check.

As for me, being punched, in the head or anywhere else, is not part of my life. It hasn't been since I was 7 or 8 and getting the crap beat out of me by the neighborhood bully on a regular basis. Since then, I've neither thrown nor been the victim of anyone else's flying fists.

I said that on my radio show once and a listener called in and challenged me, saying he didn't believe me, that it was impossible that I'd gone this long without being in a brawl. I could tell from his tone that he was the kind of guy who would easily get dragged into a fight, but I'm just not that kind of guy.

I'm more of a 100% poultry person. As an adult, I've never wanted to hit someone. More importantly, I've never wanted to be hit by someone. I'm not going to fight you just because you bumped into me accidentally, or cut in line ahead of me, or called me a name. After 40 years in the radio business, there's absolutely nothing you can say about me that I haven't heard at least once.

Moreover, unlike my phone-friend, I don't frequent places where incidents like this are likely to happen. I stopped drinking more than two decades ago, so I'm rarely in a bar. In fact, I'm unlikely to patronize any place where anyone gets particularly rowdy.

Don't get me wrong. I'll defend my wife and daughter against any physical threats, and I'll happily engage in any kind of verbal sparring you like, but once temperatures start to rise and there's a risk things could turn physical, I'm done. You win. Congratulations. I'll be leaving now. Fight cancelled.

For me, rule number one of fight club is no fighting. And I don't have Mayweather money.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My Field Of Dreams

Here's a piece I wrote on April 30, 2001...

My daughter played her first baseball game yesterday.

She’s almost 7 years old, so the full skill set is still in development, just as with all of the kids at her age. They’re still trying to master which way to hold the glove, when to run on the bases, how to get the ball from one player to another.

They work on this skill a lot. In practice before the game, a simple game of "catch" with one of the other kids quickly becomes a game of "go get the ball" for both of them. For some reason, it’s a little harder aiming at a target your own size than it is tossing it back and forth with Dad in the yard. But they’ll get better the more they do it, and we'll keep practicing each day at home.

They’re still working on some of the basics of the game, like knowing where and how to play your position. There has been some improvement since the first practice, when the batter hit a slow grounder between shortstop and third base. Neither of the players in those positions was paying any attention, distracted by a plane flying overhead, so they were completely unaware that the ball had rolled by them. But some of the other kids noticed, and they all started running for the ball. It was eventually picked up somewhere in left field by the first baseman, who threw it back towards the infield, where it bounced, rolled, and hit the shortstop -- who was now finally looking towards home plate -- in the back of the leg.

As much trouble as a simple grounder can be, a pop fly is trauma-inducing. At this level, a ball hit in the air is more harrowing than hail falling on a new car dealer’s lot.

Some of these kids have obviously watched the pros play, because they’re all set to imitate the big leaguers. Ask them to toss you the ball, and they have to go into a full pitcher’s windup. I swear one of the kids stepped into the batter’s box, tapped home plate, and then used the bat to smack her sneakers as if she were knocking mud out of her cleats.

Every team has specialists. The kid whose head is too small for the batting helmet, which falls off whenever he runs. The kid who comes to bat and points to the outfield in Ruthian style as he takes the first of three mighty swings, none of which comes close to the actual pitch. The kid who can field the ball cleanly but refuses to throw it, insisting instead on chasing every runner personally.

My daughter has shown a special aptitude for groundskeeping. That patch of grass gets worked over by her feet more than the hardwood floor at a flamenco dance class -- all while wearing the sneakers with the heels that light up every time she takes a step. She’s the first pyrotechnic grass grooming gal.

Meanwhile, in the parents’ bleachers, we’re shouting the usual phrases of encouragement: "good swing," "nice try," "way to go," "you look cute in that catcher’s mask." Any batted ball that gets past the pitcher is enough to start a standing ovation. One father threw in a "good eye" to his at-bat son, who was surprised to hear that the ball had even been pitched.

Fortunately, we don’t have any adults who get overly excited -- no bleacher rage, yet. No one has shown the tendency to run on the field and scream at the 13 year old umpire just for having the temerity to call their son out on a close play at second base. Frankly, we’re all just happy that the runner and the fielder remembered to move towards second base in the first place.

None of this matters, of course, as long as they’re having fun, and there were a lot of smiles on their faces yesterday. They have no idea what the score is, how many outs there are, what inning it is, or whose turn it is to bat. And they couldn’t care less, as long as they get to play and wear the uniform.

Ah, the uniform. The highlight of my daughter’s day was putting on the hat, the pants, the socks, and -- how cool is this? -- the shirt with her own name and number on the back. Talk about your ear-to-ear smile.

After the game, on the way home, I commiserated with her over a strikeout in her final at-bat. I told her that when I was 8 and started playing Little League ball -- there were no leagues for 6 and 7 year olds then --I struck out a lot, too. Lots of kids did, and always have. But, I told her, as the season goes along, you’ll get better and better.

She thought about this for a moment and then turned to me with a big smile and asked, philosophically, "Dad, can I sleep in my uniform tonight?"

Yes, because you obviously have your eye on the ball.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Adam West

With the death of the iconic TV "Batman" at age 88, this seems like the perfect Picture Of The Day...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Alan Alda Improvises With Scientists

Here's my conversation with Alan Alda, who you may know from his 11 years on "M*A*S*H," or his 11 years on "Scientific American Frontiers," or his movies "The Seduction of Joe Tynan" and "Sweet Liberty," or his Oscar-nominated role in "The Aviator." He now runs the Alan Alda Center For Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, and writes about that experience in his new book, "If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?"

Among the questions I asked him:
  • When did you discover that scientists were having trouble communicating?
  • When you started the Center, were scientists reticent to play theater games?
  • What do you mean when you say in the book that you made a mistake by being too over-prepared on the early episodes of "Scientific American Frontiers"?
  • You write about using visual cues to help you listen in a conversation — does doing this via phone make it harder?
  • Why is it important to training doctors to have more empathy?
  • Did helping scientists improvise to communicate better help you as an actor?
  • Are any of the scientists you’ve worked with good enough at improvising to go to Second City?
  • What is The Flame Challenge?
We also talked about why Alda hasn't directed a movie since 1990, a writer's revenge on "M*A*S*H," and his relationship with George Plimpton while making "Paper Lion" in 1968.

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

Showbiz Show 6/9/17

This week on the showbiz segment of my show, guest critic Jim Batts and I reviewed the new movies "The Mummy," "I, Daniel Blake," "My Cousin Rachel," and "It Comes At Night." I also shared my belated review of "Wonder Woman" and some other showbiz news.

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

Harris Challenge 6/9/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes categories about Alan Alda, Guys Named Tony Who Won Awards, and more topical trivia. Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 6/9/17

On this edition of Knuckleheads In The News®, I have stories about a peacock in a liquor store, a ride to Hooters, and motor oil in your pants. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Not being a fan of comic books or most of the movies based on them, I don't know the difference between the Marvel universe and the DC universe. I don't know which superhero belongs to which company, or how they interact with the other superheroes under that corporate umbrella.

I also don't know anything about Greek mythology. Whenever it comes up as a category on "Jeopardy," I can randomly name a few, but have no idea what their powers were. If you asked me who Hippolyta was, I would have guessed it was one of the health care forms I filled out at my last doctor's visit. I also tend to confuse the Greek gods and goddesses with their Roman counterparts, and frankly lump all of them into the same category as all other invisible non-existent paranormal characters of any culture.

So, when I walked into "Wonder Woman," I was a blank slate, except for knowing that Lynda Carter played her in the campy 1970s TV incarnation (after a failed TV movie with Cathy Lee Crosby in the title role), and that the movie was going to be an origin story which might help me understand the character.

Here's what I learned. Diana was a young girl who lived on an island that contained no men, only strong, beautiful women who were called amazons even before Jeff Bezos was born. Diana had been molded from clay by Zeus, or at least that's what she'd been told. It's the kind of story you tell your kid when you don't want her to know the truth (e.g. "no, your favorite dog didn't die, we sent it off to live on a farm a couple of hours from here that you can never visit"). I think Diana's mother, played by Connie Nielsen, snuck off behind the mountain with Zeus one afternoon and nine months later had a little Wonder Baby -- but what do I know?

Unlike all the other females on the island, Diana grows older, and along the way, she's trained to be a warrior by her aunt Robin Wright (imagine Clair Underwood from "House Of Cards" with a sword and headgear). Then one day, a plane bursts through the shield that has kept Amazon Island from the world's view and crashes into the ocean. Diana, who has matured into Gal Gadot, dives into the water and saves the pilot, Chris Pine. Knowing less about the outside world than I do about quantum physics, she's shocked to hear that elsewhere on Earth, there is a raging "war to end all wars" (they were so naive a hundred years ago). After a battle on the beach with the German navy, whose guns and mortars stand no chance against women warriors on horseback with bows and arrows, Diana decides to leave the island to end the war.

At that point, if I'm Chris Pine, I tell her I'm going to stay behind on this beautiful non-dystopian island full of amazing amazons and live a happy life for a couple more decades. But Chris feels more of a sense of duty to save the world than I do, so he takes Diana to London where there's not only a war to fight, but a bed to lie down in together (I refer you to every episode of the original "Star Trek" in which Captain Kirk is asked by an alien woman, "Kiss? What is kiss?").

This is where the film bogs down for a while, as we're introduced to some British bureaucrats and an evil German general, whose sidekick, Dr. Poison, is developing a chemical weapon that will wipe out pretty much everyone. She also gives the general some other chemical formulation to inhale that makes him super strong. Chris Pine is determined to stop them and recruits three misfits for his team who are also supposed to provide some comic relief (ha! comic!), but fall flat.

At this point, it seems like we're headed for a showdown between Wonder Woman and General Enhancement, with Chris Pine and his buddies along for the ride, but then comes The Twist. I won't spoil the last 20 minutes of good-versus-evil for you, other than to say I would not have guessed that one actor could steal every scene in which he appears in both the summer's biggest action movie and the TV series "Fargo."

I liked Gal Gadot last year opposite Jon Hamm in "Keeping Up With The Joneses," but she's even better as "Wonder Woman," and it's good to finally see a female role model as the lead character in a superhero movie. Director Patty Jenkins does a very good job with the action sequences and gets good performances out of the cast. Unfortunately, the battle royale at the end of the movie is beyond ridiculous, and the whole film is too long at two hours and twenty-one minutes (less if you don't stick around for the endless credits, which do not include any scenes from the inevitable "Wonder Woman 2").

I give "Wonder Woman" a 6.5 out of 10 because I enjoyed most of what I saw -- even if, after seeing it, I would still fail a test on either the DC universe or Greek mythology.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Worth A Link

  • If you state at this for more than 5 seconds, you're going to need a glass of milk.

Democrats' Timeline On James Comey

I have to be careful what I say about this in open session, but here we go...

While nothing former FBI Director James Comey said today on Capitol Hill will change anything about Trump's presidency, one moment stood out. It was when Comey was asked why he started writing extensive notes after his very first meeting with then-President-Elect Trump, and then all subsequent meetings, as well. Comey replied, "Because I thought he might lie."

Nailed it!

However, today's proceedings, which were expected to include such huge bombshells that multiple networks carried the hearing simultaneously, didn't provide any such ammunition. The ball now sits in the hands of special prosecutor Bob Mueller, and we'll see if he can uncover anything new and definitive.

Still, for Democratic loyalists -- who detest Trump so much they were sure he'd be removed from office by January 30th -- the last 9 months (has it only been that long?), have provided a roller-coaster of emotions:

  • Last fall: James Comey is responsible for Hillary losing the election. He has to go!
  • This spring: James Comey is gone because Trump fired him. That's obstruction of justice!
  • Yesterday: When James Comey testifies tomorrow, he's going to bring down the whole Trump administration!
  • Today: Okay, not so much.

Random Thoughts, TV Edition

I like comedian Jim Jefferies a lot. I saw him at The Pageant last year on the tour that became his Netflix special "Freedumb." He offers sharp insight on a lot of issues and writes his material well. That said, I was disappointed by the first episode of his new Comedy Central series. We don't need yet another topical TV comedy show with a guy behind a desk with a fake microphone on it, doing jokes about the week's political news interspersed with clips of Trump absurdities and remotes dripping with irony. We already get enough of that from John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, and Samantha Bee (the only one without a desk). Jefferies has plenty of his own opinions to express, but he's allowed himself to be sucked into the same vortex as all the rest, rather than creating something truly new and interesting.

Speaking of late night hosts, Stephen Colbert has to stop interacting with his bandleader, Jon Batiste. Colbert keeps expecting him to be able to banter a la Paul Shaffer or (in a non-musical vein) Andy Richter. Batiste may be a good musician, but he has no comedy chops whatsoever. It's as if Colbert is trying to have a catch, but the wall he's throwing the ball against is made of molasses.

I made a big mistake with "House Of Cards." As soon as the new season was released, I downloaded it to my iPad so I could watch it while flying to and from LA last weekend. I managed to get seven episodes into it before the plot started seeming very familiar. That's when I realized that I hadn't downloaded season five -- I was re-watching season four, which I binge-viewed a year ago. Why did it take me so long to catch on? Because I'm an idiot. So, I deleted all of that and downloaded the new season, which I'm now five episodes into. I bet no one has this problem with "Fuller House."

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Maddow Is The New O'Reilly

With Bill O'Reilly out of the picture, Rachel Maddow has become the most-watched personality in primetime cable news, but she's done it without me. I used to tune into her on occasion, but I always felt like I'd stumbled into a college course where the professor was going into deep analysis of something obscure that I should have gathered background information on, but since I hadn't done any of the assigned reading, I was simply sitting through a lecture that didn't address my need to have the biggest news stories of the day explained in terms I can understand.

So, I don't watch Maddow. But then, I don't watch any of her MSNBC colleagues or her FNC or CNN competitors, either. For that matter, I consume very little TV news, other than the "your world in ninety seconds" montage that Charlie Rose introduces at the top of "CBS This Morning."

That said, I'm glad that MSNBC is beating Fox News Channel in primetime because it means that more people are getting a center-left perspective on what's going on. Or at least what's going on according to cable news, which is not the same thing as what's really going on.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Random Thoughts, LA Edition

Observations from a weekend in Los Angeles...

I don't know how anyone can afford to live there. You can't get most places without a car, and gas is twice as expensive as in St. Louis -- $4.39/gallon. Sure, you could sell your car and get around via Lyft or Uber, but how are those drivers making any money when fuel charges are so high and they're always caught in traffic jams?

I spent some time playing poker at the Commerce Casino, which I've visited many times before. Saturday afternoon, I had my back tortured by one of the massage therapists roving the room and working on players at the tables. I say "tortured" because, despite costing half what their counterparts in Las Vegas charge, I always forget how much more aggressively physical these women are. They're almost all short Asian women who stand up on a stool, then lean over and shove their elbows deep enough into my shoulders to hit lung. I didn't complain for the first few minutes, then remembered that I was paying for what's supposed to be a relaxing and pleasurable experience. At that point, I struggled to overcome the language barrier and get her to understand that she doesn't have to treat me like a spy withholding state secrets. Fortunately, she eased up and was very effective at removing a couple of knots below my shoulder blades.

Speaking of Asians, there are a lot of Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese employed at The Commerce, including almost all of the poker dealers, each of whom has an Anglo name on their badge, probably an attempt to make it easier for Caucasians to talk to them. I never knew there were so many women named Wendy, Angela, and Tanya immigrating from that part of the world.

Interestingly, those names don't appear on the badges of the dealers in the portion of the Commerce where Asian players sit in very large numbers at table games like Baccarat and Pai Gow Poker. I wandered through that area on my final evening just to do some people-watching and observe the activity, even though I don't know how to play either of those games. As if they weren't confusing enough, I came upon one that involved cards, dice, and tiles (!). The table was packed and thousands of dollars were being pushed around on each hand (if that's what it's called). I watched for 20 minutes and left with no more knowledge of the game than when I started.

Elsewhere in the City of Angels, I went out for a walk in West Hollywood and passed a car wash that looked exactly like the one in the 1976 movie "Car Wash." I didn't see Ivan Dixon, Melanie Mayron, or Franklin Ajaye anywhere. Next door, I stopped in a convenience store for a bottle of water. At the register, the clerk told me it was $1.05 with tax. As usual, I had no change in my pocket, so I handed him a five dollar bill, dreading the large number of coins I was about to receive in return. Apparently he didn't want to deal with them, either. To my pleasant surprise, he gave me back four dollar bills.

That's how you keep customers happy. And it didn't hurt my back one bit.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Oh, No, Not The N-Word!

I see that Bill Maher has apologized for dropping the n-word on HBO Friday night. This from a guy:

  • who didn't use the word as an epithet directed at anyone (context matters!);
  • whose "Real Time" airs on a premium network with no commercials and thus no sponsors to pressure;
  • who has an audience that probably doesn't include many African-Americans;
  • who has never felt the need to apologize for his anti-Muslim rants (granted they were slur-free).
Considering how Maher chastises his liberal audience for being too soft on some matters, why is he -- the former host of a show called "Politically Incorrect" -- now bowing to the free speech police? Did HBO make him issue the apology? If so, why?

Perhaps it's because of the predictable outpouring of overreaction from every corner of the internet, including some calling for HBO to fire Maher. I'll bet that less than 5% of those whiners saw the show when it aired Friday night, which -- of course -- didn't keep them from joining in the ginned-up social media outrage. HBO says it has edited the controversial segment out of future airings. As his employer and distributor, it has every right to do that, but Maher shouldn't lose his job over this -- unless there's proof he hurls that epithet at African-American employees and others regularly, like a racial Bill O'Reilly.

I'm a free speech absolutist who believes there is no such thing as a "bad word." I taught my daughter that when she was young, and despite my frequent use around the house of words I can't say on the radio, she seems to have grown up as a fine human being. As for whether Maher's utterance was offensive, that's a wholly subjective decision each of us have to make, but there's no constitutional guarantee against hearing words that sting your personal sensibilities.

As with anything else on television, radio, or the internet, if you don't like the content -- for whatever reason -- stop consuming it. So, if you're thin-skinned enough to be offended by anyone's use of the n-word, don't watch Maher. And by all means, avoid Dave Chappelle's latest Netflix special.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Friday, June 02, 2017

Neil deGrasse Tyson vs. A Barista

Do you really want to argue with Dr. Tyson about the whipped cream you forgot to put on his hot cocoa?

Previously on Harris Online...

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

Kavin Senapathy is irked by the proliferation of products with the ridiculous Non-GMO Project sticker, which is ruining her shopping experience:

As a critical thinker and champion of social and environmental justice, seeing the butterfly seal everywhere I shop -- from the pretzel crackers my kids love to whole grain bread -- irks me to no end. For one, I like to make purchasing and parenting decisions based on facts, not fear and hype, but Non-GMO Project promotes common evidence-scarce myths about genetic engineering. “There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs,” the Non-GMO Project website states. It’s an easily debunked statement. Indeed, the consensus of non cherry-picked data and major scientific bodies around the world is vast and unambiguous, all pointing to genetic engineering being no riskier, and sometimes less risky than so-called non-GMO breeding techniques. The organizations that claim danger from GMOs have a tendency to promote anti-vaccine sentiment and even conspiracy theories, as I recently discussed. That such wrongheadedness is emblazoned all over the American food supply is a testament to the alternative facts era....

Products carrying the Non-GMO Project butterfly range from mundane to ridiculous, and include cereals, chips, water, sea salt, and even cat litter. While it may be amusing to poke fun at Non-GMO Project verified salt (there are no organisms or genes to “modify” in salt) and cat litter (the joke tells itself), the proliferation of the butterfly label is far from just harmless marketing. Fear and opposition to genetic engineering have a tangible impact, with anti-GMO rhetoric and marketing contributing to consumer fear and rejection, which influences policy, and leads to overly burdensome and ideological rather than science-based regulations keeping real solutions from farmers' fields.

Given the challenges we face to feed an ever-growing population while combating climate change and striving to produce food efficiently with minimal use of land and other resources, the Non-GMO Project’s vilification of safe technologies that can reduce food waste, reduce carbon emissions, and help fight food insecurity and malnutrition if we would only let it, is indefensible.
Read Senapathy's full piece here.