Saturday, January 31, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

A Facebook post by Mike Ginsberg, a pediatrician in the Bay Area...

Harris Challenge -- Super Bowl Edition

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- is all Super Bowl related, plus my weekly topical category, "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/30/15

It's a brand-new edition of Knuckleheads In The News® with stories about a man who just missed a lottery win, a burglar who left more than he took, and an iguana on a seawall. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ha-Ha D'Bricka What Now?

Key and Peele will air their Super Bowl special tonight on Comedy Central, and to promote it, they've released this clip, the latest in their series poking fun at some football players' ridiculous names. This time, they've included a few real players, like Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and D'Brickashaw Ferguson...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

She Convinced Them They Committed A Crime

I came upon a fascinating piece this week about a researcher who was able to implant false memories in the minds of some test subjects, even to the point of getting them to confess to crimes they didn't actually commit. So I invited the researcher, Dr. Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire, to join me on KTRS to explain how she implanted those memories, how much detail participants revealed about things that had never happened, and the implications for police interrogations in which innocent people confess.

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

Should We Sue Parents Who Don't Vaccinate?

I have been talking about the dangers of anti-vaxxers for years, so the recent outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland and has infected more than a hundred people across six states really pisses me off. This is a disease we had almost eradicated 15 years ago, before con man Andrew Wakefield released his bogus -- and long-debunked -- study linking vaccines with autism. Even though his work has been discredited again and again, ignorant celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Oprah Winfrey fell for it, and spread the lies to gullible people (mostly upscale suburban women), who have endangered herd immunity for the rest of us responsible people.

The anti-vaxxers are directly responsible for the resurgence of measles, which most people aren't even familiar with because they haven't seen it for a generation. While I've not come down with the disease -- because I had the MMR vaccine as a child as well as all the other relevant vaccines as an adult -- I am sickened by some of the people who have fallen for, and continue to spew, the anti-vaxxer hype.

Just the other night, Larry Wilmore was discussing the subject on his "Nightly Show" and one of the panelists was a woman who doesn't allow her children to be vaccinated. At one point, she said, "Do you know that the companies that make these vaccines have made over $40 billion from them?" To which I responded by yelling at my television, "Good! I’m sure the people who make brakes for cars have made a lot of money, too, but that’s not a reason to let your kids get in a car without brakes!"

I told that story this morning on KTRS while talking about the measles outbreak with Dr. Art Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, and a frequent guest on my show. Art (who's also more than a little upset with anti-vaxxers) thinks that we should sue the parents of unvaccinated children who then infect our kids.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Is Missouri Next To Legalize Weed?

A recent piece by Phillip Smith on Alternet listed Missouri as one of "7 States That Are Next In Line To Legalize Marijuana." I was dubious, since this is not exactly one of the most progressive states in the union -- after all, the nickname is The Show Me State because we want others to prove that something works before we jump, sometimes grudgingly, on a bandwagon. Nonetheless, I invited John Payne, Executive Director of Show Me Cannabis, back onto my show to discuss the possibility of getting medical marijuana, if not recreational weed, legalized here in the next couple of years.

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/29/15

It's an All-Texas edition of Knuckleheads In The News® with stories about thieves in the cloud, a Facebook humble brag, and a really bad UPS driver. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®? Click here.

Best Thing I've Read Today

This should be the last word on the deflated-football non-scandal in the NFL, written for The Players' Tribune by Rams defensive end Chris Long:

As an NFL player, watching Deflategate unfold (maybe explode is the better word) has been all the more surreal. I should have all the answers about how a football is supposed to look and feel. As a defensive end, however, when it comes to possessing the football, I’m just a fan with really good seats. I’ve probably handled the pigskin in a game about five times in seven years. The ball could turn into a small house pet in my hands and I wouldn’t notice. When I’m lucky enough to get the ball, I’m one of those kid-on-Christmas-morning defensive players who’s just trying not to pull a Leon Lett.

You want to know who handles the football more than anyone on the field? The refs. I’m not only talking about the pre-game inspection process. I’m talking about throughout the game, in between every play. Now, I’m not saying that an NFL referee should be a human psi (pounds per square inch) reading machine. (Silicon Valley, get on that.) But if a football feels so obviously different at 11 psi than it does at 13.5 psi — enough to argue that it lends a team a competitive advantage — maybe the best officials on the planet should have noticed something was awry that night at Gillette.
Read Long's full piece here.

[thanks to Stuart Snyder for the link]

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

James Randi Retires

Photo credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

In an open letter on his website, he writes:
At 86 years of age, I feel that it’s now well time to officially retire, so I’m stepping down from my position with the JREF –- the James Randi Educational Foundation.

This doesn’t mean that I’m retiring from my battle against the so-­called psychics, faith healers, paranormalists, and the assorted frauds I’ve encountered in my worldwide wanderings. I’ll in no way relax the critical attention I’ve given to them over the last busy 73 years, I promise you. I’ll still lecture and write, here and abroad – but now on my own time – not on the exhausting schedule that I’ve had these past few years.
He has certainly earned it, but I worry that the JREF doesn't have anyone to take his place. I don't mean in running the foundation -- Randi hasn't done that hands-on job for several years -- but being the public face of the world's largest skeptical organization. There are plenty of other skeptics (from Adam Savage to Penn & Teller to Michael Shermer to Bill Nye to Jamy Ian Swiss), but none of them has enjoyed the global reputation Randi has for fighting back against the con artists who pretend to be psychic, or faith healers, or homeopaths, or inventors of bogus bomb-sniffing devices.

For decades, Randi has been a hero to me and lots of other people, many of whom have joined the skeptics movement in the last decade when they discovered The Amazing Meeting, read his books, or saw him in person. My wife and I have supported Randi since before he even founded the JREF, and hope that his important work continues long past his retirement. He says he'll be at TAM this July, and I bet a lot of people who've thought about going in previous years -- but haven't -- will want to be there for his swan song.

Meanwhile, it's not like Randi is dead:
No, I’ll not yet hang up my cape nor sheathe my wand, be assured. I’ve still a few “tricks up my sleeve,” as they say, so stand back!
Read Randi's full retirement letter here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hey, Pancreas!

After reading the story of a 4-year-old boy in Australia being fitted with the world's first artificial pancreas for treatment of his diabetes, this Heywood Banks song popped into my head:

Bletchley Circle

Yesterday, I wrote about "The Imitation Game" and Alan Turing's work at Bletchley Park, an area in England where he and his colleagues broke the Enigma code the Nazis used during World War II.

Before I leave the subject entirely, I want to recommend the TV show "Bletchley Circle." It was made a couple of years ago for British TV and then aired here on PBS, but I missed it until my wife noticed that it was streaming on Netflix.

It starts in the same intelligence compound where Turing and his colleagues worked, but focuses on some of the women who worked there deciphering Enigma messages for the Allies after Turing broke the code. They, too, used their talents as puzzle-solvers to contribute to the war effort, but when the war was over, they went their separate ways, sworn to never reveal what they'd been a part of.

Seven years later, one of the women became obsessed with the story of a serial killer in London. She noticed a pattern in the crimes, but when the police wouldn't pay any attention, she tracked down some of her former colleagues to help her solve the case. Playing out over the three episodes of its first season, the plot was tense, clever, and engaging. The four actresses were really good, and the direction kept us in suspense as they worked through the clues.

The women of the Bletchley Circle returned for a four-episode second season to solve two more crimes, but weren't renewed for a third. I'm surprised no American network has bought the rights and turned it into a series here. Perhaps they're reticent to base a show on four middle-aged women in England in 1952-53, but the concept could easily be transposed to a modern scenario with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who've been involved in covert code-breaking who team up to solve crimes.

Until that happens, "Bletchley Circle" is streaming on Netflix and certainly worth your time.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Movie About The War Hero

There hasn't been as much discussion of the movie about the war hero as I thought there would be.

I'm not talking about "American Sniper," the story of Iraq war vet Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in US military history. I'm talking about "The Imitation Game," the story of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who broke the unbreakable Enigma code during World War II.

While Kyle's marksmanship may have saved hundreds of lives, there can be no doubt that Turing's work, in developing the world's first computer and using it to decipher coded messages the Nazis used about troop movements and war maneuvers, saved millions of lives. His accomplishments are credited with helping bring the war to a much earlier resolution than it otherwise would have.

Yet most Americans were never taught about Turing's story. I'd never heard of him until seeing "The Imitation Game." Part of the reason may be that his work was kept secret for decades, so he could never write a tell-all of his exploits. Kyle, on the other hand, did write a book about his life, war experience, and battles with post-traumatic stress disorder. It was a bestseller and brought him national attention. When Kyle died at 38 at the hands of another veteran he was helping, his funeral was attended by tens of thousands at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. He was considered both a hero and a man's man.

Turing, on the other hand, was gay -- at a time when that was against the law. Like 60,000 other British men of his era, he was prosecuted (which meant losing his security clearance, and thus his career) and offered the choice of jail or chemical castration. He chose the latter, which led to his death a couple of years later at age 42. That may seem extreme, but remember that our government kept thousands of gay Americans from having a role in the US military until just a few years ago.

It wasn't until the 1960s that his academic contributions to the birth of computers were acknowledged with the creation of the Turing Award, still given annually by the Association of Computing Machinery -- but even then, his role in helping end World War II was kept secret for two more decades before his achievements were unclassified and he began to get some of the recognition he deserved.

I have no problem with "American Sniper," which is a well-made story about a man, his gun, and the travails of war. Bradley Cooper is terrific as Kyle and Sienna Miller is equally good as his wife. But when we talk about war heroes, we shouldn't forget the man so superbly played by Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Imitation Game" -- Alan Turing.

We have lots of opportunities to cheer for Navy Seals, Marines, and other soldiers, but it's not too often that we get to praise brilliant, life-saving mathematicians.

One side note...

Lots of right-wingers went batshit when celebs like Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin made remarks they considered negative about "American Sniper" and Chris Kyle. This is such hypocrisy, especially exemplified by Dean Cain, who was famous for a little while 20 years ago. As a friend of Kyle's, Cain took their remarks personally -- and threatened Moore and other critics of the movie with bodily harm.

This, not long after most on the right (and the left) were shouting about how we need to protect freedom of speech in light of the Charlie Hebdo and "The Interview" stories. You can almost hear Cain and other loudmouths not connecting the dots in their own pronouncements:
  • "How dare some Muslims kill cartoonists for depicting Mohammed in a disparaging way!"
  • "How dare North Korea try to tell Hollywood who to make fun of in a movie!"
  • "Hey, what did that guy say about the Chris Kyle movie? Let's get him!!!"

DVR Alert

While you're overcoming your depression about no longer being able to order a tongue scraper from the SkyMall catalog in your airline seat pocket, set your DVR to record "American Masters" on KETC/9 at 3pm today. They're airing the Ricky Jay documentary, "Deceptive Practice," which I praised on this site 13 months ago. If you miss it on TV, it's streaming on Netflix, too.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

I was going to write about how I've been sickened by the praise pouring in for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who died this week at age 90. I was going to rant yet again how we need to stop sucking up to tyrants just because they have oil under their sand. I was going to suggest that whoever represents the US at Abdullah's funeral (Obama/Biden/Kerry) should have a woman drive the limo to the service.

Then I read this piece by David Keyes, who says everything I would have and more:

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the king was “brave” and “courageous,” a man of “wisdom and vision.” President Obama recalled his “genuine and warm friendship” with the king. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Abdullah a “powerful voice for tolerance, moderation and peace.”

Amina bint Nasser and Abdul Hammid al Fakki, beheaded for witchcraft under King Abdullah, were unavailable for comment. So too was Raif Badawi, lashed and jailed for opening a liberal online forum. Human rights lawyer, Waleed Abul Khair, jailed under King Abdullah also could not be reached.

In 2005, Abdullah said women would be allowed to drive. Ten years later, they’re still denied this most basic right. The King chose to appoint his draconian Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, crown prince and next in line to the throne until he died shortly thereafter. Abdullah massively funded the religious police, who continue to enforce gender discrimination and apartheid. The King did next to nothing to dismantle the guardianship system, which keeps women as effective slaves in their country, denied the right to travel without a man’s permission.

Why was the king considered brave? Did the he favor the right of non-Muslims to step foot in Mecca? No. Did he defend the right of people to openly question Islam? No. Did he allow direct critique against himself? No. Did he stand up for the rights of religious minorities? No. Did he pardon women from being beheaded for witchcraft? No.

The late king’s maneuverings were little more than slick PR gimmicks aimed at securing Western arm sales and diverting attention from his country’s gruesome record. Did he believe blasphemy, atheism, and homosexuality should be criminalized? Yes, yes and yes.
Read Keyes' full piece here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Love Letters To Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, the brilliant evolutionary biologist and author of "The God Delusion" and other bestsellers, reads some of the vitriolic mail sent from fundamentalists who hate him because he's an outspoken atheist. Each missive is ugly and awful -- like most online comments sections -- some including death threats. In fact, the tone and verbiage aren't all that different from the overheated rhetoric we hear from other religious fundamentalists around the world. If these were Muslims, they'd be referred to as extremists, but these are Christians, so they must be filled with love. Right?


The PBS series "American Experience" will air a documentary about Thomas Edison this Tuesday, so I invited its writer/director, Michelle Ferrari, to talk about the great inventor on my show.

We discussed his inventions, from the electric light bulb to the phonograph to the movie camera. I also asked her about other inventors he competed with or borrowed from, whether he liked being famous, and if anyone since has come close to him in the annals of invention. She also told an amazing story of why Edison paid his own son to change his name, and explained the rivalry between Thomas Edison (DC) and Nikola Tesla (AC).

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

Harris Challenge 1/23/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "War Movies Not Named American Sniper," "First Ladies," and "Have You Been Paying Attention?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/23/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a violent anti-violence concert, a man who bulldozed his wife's house, and a complaint about legal bigamy. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Socks Education

In Mississippi -- which ranks among the top six states for teen pregnancy -- sex education can not include teachers showing students how to use condoms. However, as teacher Sanford Johnson notes, they can show kids how to protect their feet through correct and consistent sock use. Brilliant!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • If you liked American Sniper -- or haven’t seen it yet-- you’ll like my interview with Marine sniper Jack Coughlin.
  • The way a reporter treated a female tennis star at the Australian Open sounds like an addendum to my daughter’s sexual-harassment essay.
  • Right wing, last week: "Ignore Michael Moore, he's an idiot!" Right wing, this week: "Everybody be outraged at what Michael Moore said!"
  • The difference between Boston and St. Louis: during a Patriots game, the balls are deflated. During a Rams game, the fans are deflated.
  • Riiiight. GOP spokesman claims editing SOTU to cut out climate change section was unintentional.
  • This story sounds like it’s right out of the DiCaprio/Hanks movie Catch Me If You Can.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

This Is Street Harassment

My daughter wrote this and asked that I post it. I think it's terrific, and important, so I'm proud to have it on my site. If you agree, feel free to share it.

14th street, one block away from an NYU dorm. 1:00am.

I'm walking in a form-fitting skirt and a loose blouse and flats, having just come back from a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm clutching my purse tightly to me, frowning slightly, and walking on the well-lit side of the street. Everything mom and dad always told me to do.

Maybe twenty feet ahead of me is a forty-something man talking on his cell phone. As I draw nearer, I begin to veer around him as anyone would. But instead of letting me pass, he closes his (flip) cell, grabs my arm, and says, “You're really f---in' beautiful. Lemme get your number.”

“Sorry, I don't give out my number.”

“F--- you!”

I yank my arm free and start walking rapidly towards my building.

Footsteps behind me. He's following me. I start to run.

“F--- you! You f---ing c--t!” He starts running after me.

Filled with adrenaline, I am able to pull ahead of him and dash into my building, where the security guard asks me what's wrong. I tell him someone was following me, and he goes outside to check. The man is gone.

Now, tell me. Was I asking for that? Did I “have it coming” because I was wearing clothing in which I felt comfortable and confident? Or was it -- just maybe -- not my fault?

Street harassment is a big problem. It's not all fun and games; it's scary. Really, really scary. How do I know when those guys whistle at me and tell me to come over that they're not going to physically assault me? I don’t know. And even if that's not their intention, it may as well be.

Catcalling is alienating and isolating, and it makes me feel like I don't have control over myself. It's as if those men are taking my body into their own hands, so to speak, and playing with it while my mind sits back and watches. And I can't do anything to stop it. I can't tell them to f--k off because I'm afraid they'll get violent. But if I ignore them, they'll keep doing it to others. Catch-22.

I should not be scared to walk though my own campus at night. I should not fear for my life when I hear footsteps behind me. I should not have to stay at my friend's dorm because I am afraid of walking through Union Square at 11pm. I should not have to ask male friends to walk me home. I should not have to preemptively dial 9-1-1 and have it at the ready just in case. I should not have to dip my polished fingernails in my drink to make sure it's not roofied! When I go out, I should not have to pick out shoes I can run in and take a long jacket with me so I can cover up to avoid “tempting” those men who “just can’t help themselves.”

(By the way, that’s the lamest excuse ever. It implies that all men have absolutely no control over their emotions and urges, and that’s beyond insulting.)

But I do have to do all these things. And not because I'm unusually paranoid -- this mindset is more than common. All the females I know -- and some males -- can tell me stories about specific times they have been harassed on the street.

For the most part, men with whom I've spoken don't have these anxieties. They might be wary of strangers who could potentially overpower them, but fear does not hold them captive. One friend told me that he walks alone at 2am with headphones on and feels totally comfortable. Another told me that he is aware of the problem, and that when he finds himself walking behind a woman, he makes noise to let her know he's there and then speeds up to walk in front of her so she doesn't see him as a threat. That’s good, but I hate that it’s necessary. And yet another said that he had no idea that women don't feel safe in these same scenarios. The only thing he knew was that catcalling happens pretty often and that it's “not really a big deal.”

Wrong. It is a big deal. Catcalling is not a compliment. It’s an attempt by insecure individuals to gain control and dominance over others in a pathetic effort to make themselves feel better.

You may be thinking, “Why focus on eliminating catcalling? It’s just words, and we should be focusing on larger matters that cause harm to women, like rape and domestic violence around the world.” But the issues are so intensely intertwined that it is impossible to view them through separate lenses. If we brush off something like catcalling as inconsequential, then what’s to stop us from trivializing those bigger issues?

It's not okay that as a woman, I feel the need to guard myself against predators. It's not okay that we are teaching “don't get raped” rather than “don't rape.” And it's not okay that I can't be myself here. Of course it's not only people who identify as female that get harassed, abused, violated, and raped. I don’t mean to trivialize what others go through. There are many, many victims: those who identify as LGBTQ and people of color, to name a couple. But the vast majority of cases like this happen to females.

And it's not okay.

This is my campus, my city, my world. So why don't I feel at home?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wilmore Be Better?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- when it comes to late-night TV shows, the first episode out of the box is usually very different from the way the show will look and sound a few months later. I hope that's true of "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore," which has the unenviable task of trying to fill the gigantic shoes of its time slot predecessor, "The Colbert Report."

Wilmore is clever and funny, but was noticeably nervous on his first show. As he settles in, he'll calm down and slow down so he's not running over his own punchlines. As a middle-aged black man, he has a view of the world that's different from all of the other late-night hosts, but if his entire act is going to be based on race, it's going to get old fast. That's one of the ways in which I expect the show to morph over the weeks to come, as there are so many other targets he can aim his cutting humor at. Still, it was amusing to see Wilmore going after Al Sharpton, and I'm looking forward to his take on the Bill Cosby rape story, which Wilmore says he'll focus on tonight.

One thing that should change soon is the not-so-round-table discussion that filled the middle of the show. It looked like every guest panel on every boring cable news show, albeit with more diversity. Four guests is way too many for a segment that doesn't even last ten minutes. Bill Maher's panel has only three people, but they get 30-40 minutes to hash things out. On Wilmore's show, the time constraint got in the way of anyone saying anything particularly funny or smart. I'd much rather have seen Wilmore talking one-on-one with guest Senator Cory Booker than having him compete for limited airtime with his co-panelists. 

Speaking of the other panelists, I don't know what to make of Shenaz Treasury, one of Wilmore's "contributors." She didn't add much last night and is obviously a television rookie who needs more direction. When introduced, she turned away from the cameras to wave at the audience, a move that must have frustrated the TV director, who couldn't get a head-on shot of her. If she's going to be a regular, someone needs to tell her to ignore the studio audience and play only to the host and the home audience.

I like the idea of the final segment, in which a viewer gets to ask Wilmore a question he hasn't seen until it's revealed on camera, and he has to come up with something witty. Of course, his producers are going to pick queries that they know Wilmore can knock out of the park, and that's okay -- as long as he does it each night.

This is all first-show nitpicking, granted, but with help from executive producers Jon Stewart and former "Daily Show" honcho Rory Albanese, I'm hopeful Wilmore and his "Nightly Show" crew will get better over time.

Largest Photo Ever

This is a 1.5 billion pixel image of the Andromeda galaxy (the closest one to ours, about 2 million light-years away) taken from NASA's Hubble telescope. It spans 40,000 light-years and 100,000,000 stars -- and it's not even the whole galaxy. Prepare to feel like an extremely tiny piece of the universe...

Read more about this image here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed @PaulHarrisShow...

  • Early line on Super Bowl 49 had Seattle -3, but it's already down to pick'em. Over/under is 49.5. No line yet on the number of dancers behind Katy Perry.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Kids Walking Home Alone

Imagine having some authority figure threaten to take away your children because you let them walk home from a park them themselves. It happened in the upscale DC suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, and when I saw the story about the police stopping the kids -- ten and six years old -- and then the division of children protective services getting involved, I knew I had to call Lenore Skenazy again.

I've talked on the air with Lenore many times. She's the woman behind Free Range Kids, and has a new TV show, "World's Worst Mom," debuting Thursday on the Discovery Life channel. Not only was she familiar with this story from suburban DC, but she's been communicating with the mother, Danielle Meitiv.

These are smart parents -- she's a climate scientist, he's a physicist -- who have taught their kids about responsibility, risk, and how the world isn't as dangerous a place as grown-ups make it out to be. There's no evidence they've done anything wrong, yet they're being treated like child abusers.

On my show, Lenore revealed what happened when the cops brought the kids home, how the Meitivs asserted their parental rights, and how the police and CPS personnel have overreacted. We also talked about "reality vs. hysteria" -- how paranoia has caused parents to over-protect their children in a country where crimes against kids, including kidnapping, are at their lowest point ever (not that we should ever let the facts get in the way of some good old fashioned American fear-mongering).

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

We also talked about Lenore's TV show, in which she gets incredibly over-protective parents to loosen the umbilical a little so that kids can do crazy stuff like go to the mall, ride a bike, or cut their own food with a knife. See a sample here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Harris Challenge 1/16/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Martins Not Named Luther King," "Famous Books, Famous Authors," and "Have You Been Paying Attention Globally?" Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/16/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a modern-day Lorena Bobbitt, the fire that wiped out the dinosaurs, and a prank on the police. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

It's Not About The Nail

Thanks to Andy, who told me about this video from 2013 that I completely missed...

Friday, January 16, 2015

How To Raise Money To Make A Movie

Kevin Costner was in town earlier this week promoting his new movie, "Black or White." In an interview with my colleague McGraw Milhaven, Costner said that he had put his own money into the project because he couldn't find anyone else to back it. That started me wondering about the process of raising enough money to make a movie, so I asked two Hollywood producers to join me on KTRS to discuss it.

David Syner did makeup for "The Birdcage," "Freaks and Geeks," and "That 70s Show," before becoming a producer for various projects over the last decade. Wade Danielson was assistant director of several movies in the 90s before becoming producer of movies like "Heavens Fall" and "Ten Inch Hero." Among the questions I asked them:
  • How smart is it to put your own money into a movie?
  • Do you have to know a lot of rich people?
  • Do you ask stars and others you've worked with before?
  • For smaller movies, what's the budget, and what do investors expect in return?
  • What about using Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to get backers?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/15/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a typo on a rug, a lunch box mistake, and a cabbie's big tip. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Failure Of Terrorism

In July, 2009, I wrote a quick blog entry entitled "To What End?"

When I heard about the bombings in Jakarta yesterday, my first thought was, what do these terrorists hope to achieve? Long term, I mean.

If you look at the various terrorist acts in the last decade or two -- the World Trade Center, the Madrid train station, the hotels in Mumbai, any place you wanna pick in the Middle East -- they have not been effective at all in changing policies of the companies and/or countries they have attacked. I know that most of the people recruited to carry out these suicide missions are poor and desperate, but somewhere up the chain, the supposedly-smarter decision makers had an agenda they hope to achieve.

These Muslim extremists must not have a rearview mirror because, while they're very good at blowing things up and instilling fear in the short-term, the long-term policy-change failure rate seems to be 100%.
I've been thinking the same thing for the last few days in light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

I wonder if the terrorists think they accomplished anything besides killing 17 innocent people. After all, if the idea was to stop the satirical newspaper from printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, that was proven a failure when the new issue came out this week, produced by the surviving staff members. Not only that, but the attacks made a not-that-well-known publication famous around the world.

Last week's issue sold about 60,000 copies. This week's print run will be five million. Air France bought 20,000 copies yesterday and gave them to passengers for free. Parisians and others across France lined up before dawn to buy a copy from newsstands, which quickly sold out. Charlie can't sustain those sales numbers, but meanwhile millions more people have been exposed to the very images the attackers supposedly find so offensive they want them (and their creators) erased from the planet.

Moreover, the Charlie Hebdo cover cartoon and other illustrations have gotten free media worldwide. Some media outlets haven't shown them over safety concerns that they might be targeted next, but lots of others have and, when you include all the internet sites that have posted the images and all the Twitter and Facebook users who are using this week's Charlie cover as their profile photo, the exposure has been enormous.

If last month's kerfuffle over "The Interview" proved that there's no such thing as bad publicity, the global response to the Charlie Hebdo attack takes it to another level. Does that frustrate the terrorists who so despise those images?

If the intent of the attack was merely bloodshed, it succeeded. If the intent was to increase Islamophobia in France, the rest of Europe, and here in the US, it succeeded. But if the idea was to crush the free (if tasteless) expression of religious criticism, it failed miserably, just like so many others in our lifetimes.

Previously on Harris Online...

Razzies Nominees

The man behind the Razzies, John Wilson, joined me on KTRS to announce this year's nominees for the worst movies and performances of last year.

Surprisingly, there isn't one nomination for Kevin Costner's bomb, "Three Days To Kill," although a couple of other movies that made my worst-of-2014 list did get Razzies nods. John also announced a new category, the Razzie Redeemer Award, for actors who were Razzie winners (or nominees) several years ago but have turned their careers around and put something good on the screen.

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

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/14/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a restaurant discount for your face, a new record for piercings, and a collapsed cop. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Best Thing I've Read Today

Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch:

Where are some Muslims getting the idea that violence against journalists who offend them is OK? Why do they see beheadings as a fitting punishment?

A good place to look for answers would be to examine Saudi Arabia's policies of intolerance and extremism. King Abdullah, as the protector of Islam's most sacred religious sites and leader of Saudi Arabia, is widely considered an important role model for Muslims around the world. So it should not come as a surprise that many Muslims take their cues from the country on the prohibitions and punishments they consider appropriate to inflict on those who challenge or disagree with their interpretations of Islam.

Saudi Arabia gave a good indication of its position on appropriate punishments last Friday, when it carried out Round 1 of a public flogging -- 50 lashes -- against Raif Badawi, a young blogger, in front of the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. A Saudi court had fined Badawi and sentenced him in 2014 to 1,000 lashes over 20 sessions and to 10 years in prison for the crime of "insulting Islam" -- in part for setting up a liberal website to debate various topics, including religion....

So is it really any surprise that extremist groups -- also acting in the name of Islam -- seem to be following Saudi's lead, meting out their own severe punishments against journalists and activists they find offensive? If Saudi Arabia thinks publicly beheading people comports with Islamic religious teachings and deters those who also might want to criticize them or question their religion, why shouldn't ISIS?

One might argue that a nation, unlike some self-designated Islamic Caliphate, has the legitimacy and authority to exercise state-sponsored violence, including against its own citizens. But countries also have obligations to respect human rights. Saudi Arabia's abusive prosecutions and cruel punishments flout these obligations, and undermine its own legitimacy.
Read Whitson's full piece here.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dean Obeidallah on Charlie Hebdo

Dean Obeidallah is a Muslim-American comedian, writer for The Daily Beast and CNN, director of "The Muslims Are Coming," and host of a new weekly program that debuts Saturday on SiriusXM. I asked him to join me on KTRS to discuss his perspective, as both a Muslim and a satirist, on the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. I asked him:
  • Do the cartoons offend you?
  • Does the Koran say you can't show a picture or caricature of Mohammed?
  • What do you think of media outlets that don't show the magazine's cartoon's for safety reasons?
  • How do you answer people like Rupert Murdoch who say it's on moderate Muslims to condemn and combat Muslim extremists?
  • What do comedians in the Middle East tell you about how they handle these issues on stage?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Dean's latest Daily Beast piece is "Are All Terrorists Muslims? It's Not Even Close."

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/13/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a vanilla drunk, an iPhone smuggler, and a really embarrassing tattoo.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Best Thing I've Read Today

Jacob Sullum points out that, despite public proclamations of support for Charlie Hebdo, France isn't a beacon of freedom of speech:

On Sunday, as more than a million people marched through the streets of Paris in support of the right to draw cartoons without being murdered, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication declared that "artistic freedom and freedom of expression stand firm and unflinching at the heart of our common European values." It added that "France and her allies in the EU safeguard these values and promote them in the world."

In the wake of last week's massacre at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, perpetrated by men who saw death as a fitting punishment for the crime of insulting Islam, these were stirring words. If only they were true. Sadly, France and other European countries continue to legitimize the grievances underlying the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo by endorsing the illiberal idea that people have a right not to be offended.

It is true that France does not prescribe the death penalty for publishing cartoons that offend Muslims. But under French law, insulting people based on their religion is a crime punishable by a fine of €22,500 and six months in jail.
Read Sullum's full piece here.

Best Ex-President Ever

No matter what you thought of Jimmy Carter as president, you have to admit that the man has had the most impressive post-White-House career ever, and an announcement this week has further sealed that legacy. He and his non-profit Carter Center have virtually eradicated Guinea worm disease, which in 1986 affected 3.5 million people in 20 countries but, through their efforts, the number of infected people is down to 126 in four countries.

From the Carter Center's press release:
Considered a neglected tropical disease, Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) is contracted when people consume water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. After a year, a meter-long worm slowly emerges from the body through a painful blister in the skin. In the absence of a vaccine or medical treatment, the ancient disease is being wiped out mainly through community-based interventions to educate and change behavior, such as teaching people to filter all drinking water and preventing contamination by keeping anyone with an emerging worm from entering water sources.

The Carter Center, together with ministries of health, local communities, and other partners, has reduced cases by more than 99.99 percent since 1986. The Center estimates that the eradication campaign has averted more than 80 million cases among the world's poorest and most neglected people. Guinea worm disease is positioned to be the second human disease, after smallpox, to be eradicated. It will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medicine.
Ok, maybe that's not as impressive as Dubya sitting around the house painting pictures of his feet, but it's something.

Read the full press release here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

In October, when Ebola was making headlines, I mocked American news networks for their fear-mongering over a disease they didn't understand, which presented no real threat to anyone in this country who hadn't swapped bodily fluids with someone who had already contracted Ebola. Along those lines, here's an op-ed piece by Wendy Orent (author of books on the impact of The Plague, Lyme Disease, and more), who says we should ignore predictions of lethal pandemics and pay attention to what really matters:

We need to stop listening to the doomsayers, and we need to do it now. Predictions of lethal pandemics have — since the swine flu fiasco of 1976, when President Ford vowed to vaccinate “every man, woman and child in the United States” — always been wrong. Fear-mongering wastes our time and our emotions and diverts resources from where they should be directed — in the case of Ebola, to the ongoing tragedy in West Africa. Americans have all but forgotten about Ebola now, because most people realize it isn't coming to a school or a shopping mall near you. But Sierra Leoneans and Liberians go on dying.
Read Orent's full piece here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Best Thing I've Read Today

David Nicklaus on why building a new stadium for the Rams is a bad investment:

Study after study has found that stadiums and teams provide no measurable boost to a city’s economy. “The biggest fear is a loss of visibility for your city” if a team moves away, says Patrick Rishe, a professor of economics at Webster University. “In terms of economic loss, most people who go to the games are local, so there isn’t any.”

“There’s not a change in net spending of a magnitude to really matter to a large, diverse urban economy,” adds Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College in suburban Chicago.

Sure, football fans buy tickets, parking and beer, but their bank accounts didn’t magically expand to make room for that expense. They shifted money from elsewhere in their budgets.

“It’s not as if people in non-NFL cities don’t spend money on entertainment,” says Victor Matheson, professor of economics at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts.
Read Nicklaus' full piece here.

Friday, January 09, 2015

If You Build It, The Rams Will Still Leave

After today's press conference about building a new stadium for the Rams on the northern St. Louis Riverfront, I invited KTRS sports guy Jim Heuer to join me in the studio to go over the plan's pros and cons. We discussed whether there's anything St. Louis can do to convince Rams owner Stan Kroenke to not move the team to Los Angeles, how much resistance the NFL might put up, and -- most importantly -- how the city and state might finance such a stadium project when taxpayers have indicated they have no willingness to underwrite yet another downtown gift for a billionaire sports franchise owner.

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

Explaining The Hypnosis Thief

Earlier this week, I linked to a story from London about a shopkeeper who was supposedly robbed by a thief who hypnotized him temporarily. The story sounded bogus to me, so I asked Ben Radford (deputy editor of The Skeptical Inquirer and author of seven books) to take a look at it and share his thoughts on my KTRS show today. Ben explained why he, too, doesn't think the shopkeeper was actually hypnotized and what probably did happen. We also talked about stage magicians who "hypnotize" audience volunteers, and the clinical use of hypnosis to stop smoking or lose weight.

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

Harris Challenge 1/9/15

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes categories "Je Suis Charlie," "They Got A New Stadium," and "Oregon vs. Ohio State." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 1/9/15

This edition of Knuckleheads In The News® includes stories about a not-so-subtle t-shirt, a woman who woke up during a brain operation, and toilet paper on a train.  Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Jimmy Fallon's Bad Night With Nicole Kidman

It's rare that anything spontaneous happens on late night TV talk shows, but this segment of Jimmy Fallon's show last night might be an exception.

His first guest was Nicole Kidman, who he had not seen since an encounter several years ago when a friend arranged for her to go to Fallon's apartment, ostensibly to talk about doing a movie. What Fallon didn't know was that Kidman agreed to the meeting because she was attracted to him -- at least before she got there. As she told her side of the story of that night, it finally dawned on Fallon what was really going on and what an opportunity he'd blown all those years ago (I'm guessing it was in 2005, when Kidman made the horrible big-screen version of "Bewitched," four years after she divorced Tom Cruise and a year before she married Keith Urban). Fallon's obvious embarrassment made for some very good television...

In Case You Missed It

From my Twitter feed...

  • Kinda disappointed I only got one vote for Speaker Of The House. In my own home. However, I’m still chairman of the trash removal committee.
  • Cancel the cancellation of poker tournaments in Oklahoma. A new law does *not* ban the wearing of hoodies.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

More On The Dome

Regarding my statement about The Dome being even more of a white elephant in downtown St. Louis after the Rams move to Los Angeles, Steven Skelton e-mails:

My understanding is the people who run the convention and visitors center believe that the Dome will provide more jobs and create more revenue without the Rams. August through the end of fall is a good time for conventions, and the Dome is virtually blacked out from hosting them because the NFL requires so many open dates for scheduling. With the Rams gone, they can schedule more business.

Also, the 10 Rams dates generate almost no money for the Dome. The Rams pay a pittance ($250k) per season in rent, yet collect all game day Dome revenue. The conventions and expos that move in will make money for the Dome, not just Stan.
I hope that's true, but I worry that many groups that might have considered St. Louis for big conventions started to look elsewhere after the incidents in Ferguson, which created a negative image of the whole region for the rest of the world -- even though the trouble spots were isolated to a few small areas and did not affect the rest of the metro area.


I have a very skeptical view of hypnosis, and doubt I could ever be hypnotized. That's why I call bullshit on this article about a shopkeeper who claims he was put in a trance by a thief who then went through his pockets and stole all his money. I'd be willing to bet it was an inside job or an insurance scam.

The article says there was a series of thefts in Northern Italy in 2008 that supposedly used hypnosis, but if this was possible, why haven't more thieves learned the technique and used it all over the world? That's one of the points raised in a Discovery News piece from 2010:

Another common myth about hypnosis is that it can put someone into a helpless or suggestible trance-like state. To psychologists, however, this idea has no basis. If it were possible to simply stare deeply into a stranger’s eyes to induce a trance-like, compliant state, then it would happen all the time. Anyone with practice or skill in hypnosis could easily turn to a life of crime by walking into a bank, casting a hypnotic stare at a teller, and take whatever they like.

In their book “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology,” psychologists Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein debunk this popular myth: “Recent survey data show that public opinion resonates with media portrayals of hypnosis. Specifically, 77 percent of college students endorsed the statement that ‘hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, quite different from normal waking consciousness.’… But research refutes these widely accepted beliefs. Hypnotized people are by no means mindless automatons.”

Monday, January 05, 2015

Random Thoughts

Chris Christie excitedly hugged Cowboys owner Jerry Jones towards the end of Dallas' victory over the Detroit Lions last night. I wonder how that image played in Michigan, a state that might be kinda important in the 2016 presidential race. And I wonder how Giants fans in New Jersey viewed their governor rooting for their arch-rivals.

I can't wait to see reports from the Consumer Electronics Show to know which supposedly amazing new life-changing devices I won't be buying this year.

I hate cold weather, but this Ice Festival in Harbin, China, looks really cool, if you'll pardon the pun.

If "Celebrity Apprentice" ever shows up on my DVR, you'll know that someone has hacked my account and recorded it remotely.

Why doesn't Netflix have its own app for those of us who want to manage our DVD queue? It has one for the instant-viewing queue, and while I know that's the company's money-maker, there are still plenty of customers paying monthly fees to get DVDs by mail -- and there isn't even a good third-party app that helps add titles to that list.

Similarly, how can Southwest Airlines -- whose smartphone app means never having to print another boarding pass because I can use its on-screen check-in image to get through security and onto the plane -- not have an equivalent app for the iPad?

After the controversial and game-changing reversed call in the Cowboys-Lions game last night, how long before the NFL considers using instant replay for penalties?

Anyone who claims they can tell you today who the two presidential candidates will be in November, 2016, is either a liar or a fool.

An Honest Liar

We supported the James Randi documentary "An Honest Liar" via Kickstarter and just got a chance to see the finished film. Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein did a very good job touching on many aspects of Randi's remarkable career as a magician and skeptic, including some footage from his early days as a performer and several major hoaxes he pulled off, as well as the story of a deception including his partner that nearly tore them apart. The film has been shown at several festivals, where it's won a bunch of awards, and will be in theaters in March. I'll write more about it as we get closer to its general release, but here's the trailer...

Good Riddance, Rams

On September 7, 2014, after the St. Louis Rams lost their season-opener on their way to yet another sub-.500 season, I wrote a piece entitled, "Los Angeles, You Can Have The Rams." Now it looks like that will become reality very soon -- a story in this morning's LA Times says that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going to build an 80,000 seat stadium in Inglewood.

The NFL won't let the Rams move until 2016 at the earliest, although the new venue won't be completed until 2018. That means we'll have a lame-duck team that's itching to leave town, and why would any sucker season ticket holder continue to cough up their hard-earned cash to support a team with one foot out the door? This is a team that's abandoning a fan base that still fills 88% of the seats despite a horrific record over the two decades it has been here -- the Rams have managed four winning seasons out of twenty, and the wonderful sweet taste of The Greatest Show On Turf years has long since faded.

Kroenke and Company have complained about The Dome not being up to newer NFL standards, meaning it didn't create as much income as the team would have liked, but if he wanted to, he could have built a new stadium here with his own dollars -- as he plans to do in Inglewood. The Rams have complained about a lack of corporate support, but when local companies are looking at where to spend their advertising and entertainment dollars, they've always been better served by the Cardinals, who make the post-season more often than not and will always be the number one sports franchise in St. Louis. The only way any of the Rams can get to the post-season is by being traded elsewhere (or attending a Cardinals playoff game).

The Rams will surely find more dollars in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest media market, and they'll probably sell out the new stadium for two or three seasons. But eventually LA will realize what we in St. Louis have known for a long time -- this is not a very good team. And when that reality sinks in, an unfilled 80,000 seat stadium will look a lot worse on TV than the 66,000-seat venue they currently occupy.

I'm an NFL fan, and I like having a team in my city, but there are only so many seasons of suck any fan base can endure, and since the Rams keep failing to live up to their promises on the field, and now are planning to pick up and move to a new field, I say good riddance.

One last thought: although we're going to lose the team, St. Louis will still be stuck with an empty sports venue, The Dome, which will become even more of a white elephant. I just checked the schedule of upcoming events at the venue and found exactly two -- a monster truck show on January 31 and a motorcycle supercross on March 28th.

Yes, the Rams only played in the dome ten times a year (two preseason, eight regular season, none postseason). Yes, there will be other events in the adjacent convention space. But how much is it going to cost us, the taxpayers, to keep open a venue that goes unused 95+% of the time? And how much longer will the company currently paying for the right to have its name on The Dome want to keep writing that check when no one is talking about it and it's no longer mentioned on national TV broadcasts?