Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I'm Paul Iorio, and here's my regular column,
The Daily Digression, which covers pop culture and beyond...

My homepage is at:
My photography site is:
Online edition of my new music album, "BANNED MUSIC," now streaming
My other music site (featuring my lyrics) is at:

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All posted text on this website written solely by Paul Iorio. (Unlike other blogs that include writings from a variety of writers, this blog only features the work of Paul Iorio.)



for August 4 - 5, 2009


Bill Clinton: President Obama's most powerful foreign policy tool.

[photo of Clinton by Paul Iorio]

Clinton's successful negotiation of the release of Laura Ling

and Euna Lee reminds us that he is still the most repsected and

effective American foreign policy player on the world stage.

My guess is that if a Cuban missile crisis were to occur, it

would be Obama's judgment plus the former president's negotiating

skill that would solve it. Biden may have extraordinary foresight,

Hillary might have a mastery of issues, but it's Bill Clinton who

has the ability to -- what's the word for it? -- get it done.

* * * * *

So great to see Laura Ling and Euna Lee walking to

freedom in Burbank this morning. I've been

fascinated by this case for months, and have even

written about it as a journalist (click here:,

and I think part of my fascination with it has to do with

the fact that when I was much younger -- barely 19 --

I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron

Curtain during the Cold War and was even briefly detained by

the Yugoslav authorities in Zagreb before traveling on into the

most Soviet of Iron Curtain countries, Bulgaria.

So I definitely understand what it's like

to cross a tough Communist border and to be detained

in a country at odds with the U.S. You can read

my account of the journey (based on my own

contemporaneous journals) at:

But I digress. Paul



for August 4, 2009

Palin's New Life: Divorcee, Crusader Against 1st Amendment?

Sarah Palin's attorney emailed this pdf (above) to
a small-fry blogger/kindergarten employee a couple days ago,
threatening legal action if he didn't remove
info about her from his blog.
[click it to
enlarge it]

To hear the blogs tell it, and the reports are astonishingly

widespread, Sarah Palin is about to divorce husband Todd

and move to Montana, where she will probably spend a lot of

time denying stories that both she and Todd had extramarital

affairs that led to the breakup.

At this early stage -- the reports started emerging just

last Saturday -- it's hard to confirm much of this stuff.

But it should be noted that some of the blogs reporting

the info have been highly credible and ahead of the curve

in the past (for example, the Alaska Report was the first

media outlet to have reported that McCain had chosen

Palin as his running-mate).

Whatever the veracity of the claims, one thing is certain:

since resigning as Governor, she has become a dedicated

crusader against the First Amendment, seemingly picking

on every podunk blogger in cyberspace in trying to suppress


Like most right-wingers, Palin doesn't understand a core

truth about free speech: when one tries to suppress

information, that information becomes even more public

than it would have been if you hadn't tried to quash it.

In fact, this column would not be covering the situation

had Palin not used a sledgehammer against an Alaska preschool

employee who runs a blog -- -- that

cited sources saying Palin's marriage was on the rocks.

Believe it or not, Palin actually had her attorney send the

blogger (he writes under the name Gryphon) an email pdf threatening

legal action if he didn't take down the report from his

website (letter is posted above).

Picture that for a moment: she's threatening to have a

high-powered law firm serve legal papers to some guy in

front of five-year old kindergarten students for

writing a blog that has miniscule circulation.

Can you imagine what this sort of behavior would have

translated into if she had become vice president of the

United States? Palin's orientation is so small-scale

and petty, her mind-set so censorious, that she would have

probably tried to suppress almost every story written

about her by media outlets of all sizes -- and

would have been able to use the apparatus of the federal

government to do it.

Incidentally, if the rumors are true, they would sure go

a long way toward explaining why Palin made the alarmingly

unusual decision to step down as Governor.

As we all know, the best way to show your law firm
has stature is to have your attorneys pose with dead fish.
(Above, lawyers with the firm that reps Palin (Clapp, Peterson,
Van Flein, Tiemessen and Thorsness), as shown
on its own website!).

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, wanna know who Sarah Palin

is said to have had an affair with? Dude's name,

according to numerous blog and media reports,

is Brad Hanson, snowmobile dealer and former business

associate of Todd's. (Word is he can get you an

Airwave Rear Shock for a deep discount!) Again,

impossible to confirm at this point. Here's his pic:

Is this the goatee that caused Sarah Barracuda to abandon
that pesky 7th Commandment?



for August 3, 2009

Counting Crows Plays a Hometown Show in Berkeley

After a rousing encore of "Mr. Jones," still the

most irresistible song in the Counting Crows catalog,

Adam Duritz went to the mic to talk about politics and

his former hometown, Berkeley, Calif., where he had

just finished a generous set with numerous collaborators

at the Greek Theater (7/26).

Referring to Berkeley, Duritz said: "This city

was founded on the idea that we believe in things.

Well, you can protest all you want, but the way

to make it happen is to show up and vote. Believe

me when I tell you I don't give a fuck who

you vote for."

Then Duritz closed the show with Woody Guthrie's

"This Land," a song that seems to be gradually

evolving into the U.S.'s de facto national anthem.

"This is a very old song written about our country,"

Duritz said, intro'ing the tune. "At the time it was

written, if you sang it, you were thought to be a

Communist. The truth of the matter is, it's the most

American of all songs."

Musically, however, the highlight of the night came

with the surprise appearance of trumpeter Chris Bogios

of the San Francisco Symphony, who performed with the

Crows on "Carriage," a truly sublime and bootlegable

moment. (His son Jim Borgios is the Crows's drummer.)

* * * *

Last Friday's Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago Show

Several nights after the Crows's show, Earth, Wind & Fire

and Chicago took the stage at the same venue (7/31).

I was skeptical at first. After all, Chicago without

Peter Cetera is not really Chicago; and Earth,

Wind & Fire without Maurice White is not truly EW&F.

And I'm always a bit wary of oldies bands on package

tours that include, say, The Grassroots (featuring the

original bassist and all new members!) plus the Dave

Clark Five (with the founding drummer and a bunch of

session guys).

Still, the configuration of Chicago that played here did

include vocalist/keyboardist Robert Lamm and the group's

original horn section, an essential element, so they did sound

very much like Chicago. And this version of Earth, Wind

& Fire featured Philip Bailey, whose falsetto is the

trademark of many of their classics, so EW&F also

sounded very much like EW&F.

And as the show progressed, one tended to forget

about the absence of Cetera and White, if only because

most of the music was so enjoyable, as number one hits

from the 1970s flew through the air like arrows, one

after another, with half-forgotten zingers always

aiming for the heart, and sometimes hitting it,

inciting widespread dancing and smooching.

Of course, the bands's two separate catalogs feature

very different material, though one of the high points

came when EW&F performed its own quite amazing

arrangement of Chicago's "Wishing You Were Here."

The magic of EW&F has always been its cool hot flame,

on display here in vintage form, and never hotter than

when it played encore "Shining Star," which turned the

place into a dance floor (for the record, I heard the

show from the hill above the theater, where everyone

was dancing at the end).

Meanwhile, Chicago played top ten hits like it was

giving out candy, always aiming to please, from the

show's opening salvo -- "Saturday in the Park" and

"Make Me Smile" -- to the concert finale, "25 or

6 to 4."

All told, a surprisingly satisfying double bill.

But I digress. Paul



for July 31, 2009


Exclusive Transcript of the Meeting Between Crowley, Gates and Obama
(with apologies to Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo!)

A waiter brings bottles of beer to guests seated
at a table on the White House lawn.

: How's the beer here?

Blue Stripe. It's the best in the city.

CROWLEY: I'll have it.

GATES (to the waiter): Capiche?

The waiter nods, opens the bottle and pours the beer.

GATES (to Crowley): I'm gonna speak Harvard
to Barack.

CROWLEY: Go ahead...

GATES: Mi dispiace...

: Forget about it.

GATES: What happened -- the interruption of your
health care plan -- was just business, not intended. I have much
respect for your public option plan -- but you must understand
why I blew my top.

OBAMA: I understand, but let's work through
where we go from here.

The waiter brings another beer to the table.

OBAMA: Come si dice? What I want -- what's most
important to me -- is that I have a guarantee: No more
distractions from my health care plan.

GATES: What guarantees can I give you, Barack?
I am the hunted one! You think too much of me, kid -- I'm not
that clever. All I want is a truce.

: I have to go to the bathroom. Is that all right?

CROWLEY: You gotta go, you gotta go...

* * *

After the get-together, Obama visits Gates at his hotel room:

GATES: Barack, I wish you would have let me
know you were coming; I could have prepared something for you.

OBAMA: I didn't want you to know I was coming.

Obama shuts the door.

OBAMA: You heard what happened to my health care plan?

GATES: Barack, I almost died myself.

OBAMA (shouting): To my health care
plan! To the central issue of my presidency. One of the
reasons I ran for office.

A long pause.

OBAMA: I want you to help me take my revenge.

GATES: Barack, anything -- what can I do?

OBAMA: Settle these troubles with the Cambridge
police department. They're a distraction.

GATES: Barack, I don't understand. Look, I
don't have your brain for big deals -- but this is a street thing.
Why do you ask me to lay down for them, Barack?

OBAMA: [a long pause] You know,
my father taught me: keep your friends close but your
enemies closer. Now, if Crowley sees that I interceded
in this thing on his behalf, he's going to think his
relationship with me is still good. Capiche?

Gates nods head.

OBAMA: That's what I want him to think. I want
him completely relaxed, and confident, in our friendship. Then
I'll be able to shift my focus to health care and find out who
the Blue Dog traitors in my party are who are stopping the health
care plan.

CUT TO: The bedroom of Bill and Hillary
Clinton's house, late at night. Bill and Hillary are sleeping.
The telephone rings, Bill picks it up.


Mitch, Mitch McConnell. We need some more help.

BILL: Mitch, Jesus Christ, what the hell time
is it?

HILLARY CLINTON (groggy):Who's that, honey?


VOICE OF MCCONNELL: Listen good, Bill.

BILL CLINTON: What are you calling me
here for? I don't want to talk to you.

: We're setting up a meeting
with the Blue Dogs -- they say they're gonna go for our deal.

: Oh, God --

VOICE OF MITCH MCCONNELL: Are they on the level?

BILL CLINTON: I don't know anything -- you got
me in deep enough already.

everything will be all right. Mike Ross and the Blue Dogs
say they're willing to make the deal. All we want
to know is if they're on the level.

BILL CLINTON: You guys lied to me -- I don't
want you to call me anymore.

to find out we talked.

BILL CLINTON: I don't know what you're talking about.

Bill hangs up the phone and sits up in bed.

HILLARY: Who was that?

BILL: Ahh -- wrong number.

But I digress. Paul



for July 29, 2009

One very smart local TV news anchor in San Francisco

came up with the best question that anybody has yet

asked about yesterday's international swimming

competition: Why didn't Michael Phelps wear the

superior swimsuit?

And the question is really quite bright. In yesterday's

200-meter freestyle race in Rome, Phelps was

wearing last year's hot innovation, the Speedo LZR, not

this year's, the Arena X-Glide. All the other swimmers

had the option of wearing the Arena but Phelps and others

chose the inferior Speedo (and it now emerges that Phelps

was offered the polyurethane suit but didn't wear it

because he had signed a contract with Speedo).

Let's be real. Phelps didn't wake up yesterday

morning saying, "Gee, let me wear something

bulky that creates a lot of hydrodynamic resistance

so that I can be fair to those who aren't clever

enough to wear something better." No, Phelps

wanted to wear what he felt would reduce

drag and resistance as much as possible.

Only problem (for Phelps) is that -- guess what? -- somebody

invented something better. And it doesn't use a motor or a

propeller and doesn't administer steroids like a patch,

so it's completely legit.

Some say the polyurethane Arena should be prohibited

because it's too close to a floatation device. But every

swimsuit is, to some degree, a floatation device, and the

superior ones have greater buoyancy and less drag. Buoyancy

is the point, or part of it, after all.

As Phelps well knows, if you build a better bong,

the world will beat a path to your doorstep!

And equating the Arena to an aluminum bat in baseball

is a false comparison. Aluminum bats, which hit balls

with far greater force than wooden ones, are not used in the

major leagues, largely because of safety issues

related to pitchers being hit with baseballs speeding

at 100-miles an hour. There is no such safety issue

involved with a polyurethane suit being worn by a swimmer

swimming in his own lane in a pool.

There is, however, a dangerous tendency among some to

criticize almost any new innovation (in any field)

because that person didn't come up with it or use it

first. In many cases, envious people say there is an

unfair advantage merely because they weren't smart enough

to have taken advantage of a legitimate advance in technology

or approach. Losing competitors in every profession

have a habit of saying, "Hey,that's a clever and fresh

way of doing things -- no fair!"

The polyurethane suit does pretty much what the Speedo

does -- except it does it better. And that's why Phelps (and

his allies in the sports media and those associated with

Speedo) are acting like a bunch of sore losers, because

they know Phelps could've used the better brand if he

hadn't been locked into a contract with Speedo.

Fact is, all suits have inherent advantages and disadvantages.

The only way competitive swimmers could truly be on

an equal footing with one another is if everybody

swam nude (which might be great for TV ratings but a nightmare

for Standards & Practices). Even then, of course, there would

still be, uh, other elements of the bodies of (unequally endowed)

swimmers that could create drag.

Germany's Paul Biederman, using the best technology legitimately

available to him, as any other swimmer could have, won fair

and square and should be duly congratulated by all.

But I digress. Paul



for July 24, 2009

He's Saad, I'm Glaad

Osama bin Laden's son Saad bin Laden, 27, is saaid to have
died (27 years too late, I might aadd) in an American bombing
raid earlier this year.

To celebrate the fact of Saad's death, a good thing for

the world, like the death of a tumor, here's a song I

wrote and recorded last year called "I Shot Osama

bin Laden."


[cvr art for "I Shot Osama bin Laden."]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Someone asked me whether I'm also the producer

of my own music. Yes. I write everything, perform

everything, produce everything that appears on my

albums. Literally everything -- from the initial

songwriting idea to the finished track to everything

in between -- is solely my work. Only in 2005

did I use an outside producer for an album, and

that album didn't work out and has since been

withdrawn from circulation. But even in that one

instance, way back in '05, the outside producer was

essentially just a tech support person (and we

haven't spoken to each other in years).



for July 23, 2009

Anyone who has lived in Hoboken , New Jersey, for any

length of time knows its city government has always been

incorrigibly corrupt. For honest everyday people, living

there can be a fright if you're at odds with someone at

City Hall (or with a businessperson associated with

City Hall).

So it was heartening to see the FBI put the handcuffs on

the newly elected mayor of Hoboken, the mayor of

Secaucus and others in the venal infrastructure out there

this morning.

To note the housecleaning, I'm posting a song I wrote

while living in Hoboken and recorded last year in

California: "Old Fashioned Mafia Town." Here's an

audio link:

But I digress. Paul



for July 18 - 22, 2009

On the 40th Anniversary of the First Moonwalk, My
Conversation with a Moonwalker

I've interviewed many stars and celebrities over the

decades, from Woody Allen to Richard Pryor

to Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Frank Zappa, and one

that I'm particularly proud of is my Q&A with Alan Bean,

the fourth person to walk on the moon, one of only

12 human beings who can truthfully put "moonwalker"

on a resume.

In this one-on-one, I wanted Bean to describe

exactly what it was like, on an experiential level,

to walk on the moon. And Bean (who also has a thriving

second career as a visual artist) talked about

it in vivid, painterly detail. (For the record,

Bean went to the moon in November 1969, as part of

the crew of Apollo 12, which included the late

Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr., and Richard F. Gordon.)

I conducted this interview on October 13, 1998, but

got around to publishing it in 2004, when I

sold it to the Austin American-Statesman, which

ran it on July 18, 2004. Here, on the 40th

anniversary of the first lunar landing by astronauts,

is the (mostly) uncut interview with Bean. Fasten your seatbelts!


BEAN: It looks bright outside but you're fairly dim inside...It's
like coming out of the house at night onto a
patio that's super brightly lit...You're saying, "Look at this!
This looks so different than when I was inside.'"
It looks scarier. You're saying, "Look at this place, it's
not like any place on Earth. And I hope my suit
doesn't leak because if it does, I'm dead. And look at
those rocks. And look, there's Pete [Conrad,
Commander of Apollo 12] over there, jumping up and
down -- that looks like fun." And then you let go of
the ladder to start to move and you start to wobble around,
and you think, "I'm going to fall down and I don't
want to; I might cut my suit."

...If you've looked at TV [footage] of Apollo'll
see they're bouncing around continually at first. It's
easier to stand up when you're bouncing around....If you try
to stand still in a spot, it's much more difficult
than just kind of moving around a little bit, because
naturally you'll move in the direction you're leaning, and
that'll keep you from leaning farther.


BEAN: We worried about it, we worried you could. You've got
a cover layer over it but we said, "Those
rocks are sharp." It's funny: you know things and yet you
don't know them until they really happen...I fell
down a couple of times on the moon -- most people did -- because
there are dust layers there, and under the
dust are rocks, and it's like you’re running through snow,
and there are rocks under the snow that you don't
see. You trip every once in a while.

But with light gravity, things fall much more slowly, so
when you trip you start to fall down much more
slowly. Sometimes you can run under your body and catch
yourself, where on Earth you would've really
fallen down. Nothing happens real fast like on Earth.

,,,To get up, just give it a little push with your hands
and you'll stand right back up again. The first time I
tried to stand, I gave a push with my hands and nearly
went over backwards I pushed so hard...

Someday, when they have the Olympics up there in a big dome,
it'll be fun. It'll be fun to watch the high
jump, because they're going to jump fifteen feet or
something, and they're going up very slowly and keep
going up and up, almost like a football. Then they're
going to come down very slow....No telling what pole
vaulting would be like up there!


BEAN: We did that, but don't forget we were in these
bulky suits, so even though you could jump and go
up a long ways, it was so slowly that you went up and
were pulled back.

What I found was the problem was not jumping up high
but...the minute you jumped off the ground, you
never pushed through your center of gravity really
perfectly. On Earth, you jump up and land right down
again, so it's no problem. But [on the moon], you're
going up, and all of a sudden you see you didn't push
through your center of gravity, and you see you're
starting to lean to the left.

When I was running [on the moon], I always felt that
I was over-rotating forwards, backwards, left or right,
and each time I landed I would think, I've got to hurry
up and land, I'll never make it." And then when I
would touch down, I would push off and try to make a
correction in the other direction. Then I would
overcorrect. [laughs] So it was like I was reeling
across the moon....It was a constant balancing act almost.
You had to look where your foot was going to land every
time. You couldn't run and look ahead, because
you'd go into a crater. You had to make sure you didn't
step on rocks or twist your ankle...It would be fun to
do it in a bubble without the suit on.


BEAN: It looked like volcanic fields that we had practiced
on in Hawaii and Oregon and Ireland and
Mexico and some in the southwest [U.S.]...except there's
a lot more dirt around [on the moon]. With the
dirt on Earth, the rain washes most of it away, particularly
the fine stuff, so usually the volcanic fields...have
more rock exposed. Up there, the rocks are around but
all the little chips that have been knocked off the
rocks are still there.

So I thought, initially, it looks sort of looks like
volcanic fields....However, it never looked like any place on
Earth because of the incredible sun, because the sky is a patent
leather black instead of a nice blue and because nothing
moves up there. The only things that moved when we were
up there were the two of us and our shadows. Nothing
else moves. We'd never been to places like that on
Earth. Even in the desert you can look up and see maybe a
wisp of a cloud go by....It's so still, so dead. I never
for one second felt like this could ever be a place on
Earth, even though parts of it looked like other places
we'd been. It's an unearthly place, an out-of-this-world


BEAN: You're on this [moon] that's black and white and the
whole universe is black and white, except on
Earth. And there is this blue and white marble. And
also, it changes. You do some work and look at the
Earth an hour later, and it has moved 15 degrees. So some
clouds have moved to the right, the part that was
in the shadow 15 degrees has come out.


BEAN: We weren't cramped -- we had a big Skylab. I've never
heard anybody come back from space for no
matter how long and say, "Well, we didn't have enough room."
Because when you can float
always seems like you have enough room. I've never heard an
astronaut say the spacecraft was too little, but
I've heard lots of astronauts say, "We need better food" or
"We've got to invent a better sleeping bag" or
"We've got to get bigger windows because we can't see out."
As [lunar module pilot] Bill Anders on Apollo
8 said, "It's like going through Yellowstone Park in a tank
and looking out the little window."

...People complain about the fact that it's kind of
messy up there for pooping and urinating. It's like
camping out [but] not as much fun as on Earth.


BEAN: "Apollo 13," easily. "Apollo 13" was as good a movie
as could be made about space flight as I knew it.

* * * *

* * * *

The best line about remembering the events of 1969 came

from Meredith Vieira on today's "Today" show: "Forty

years ago I was alive -- that's depressing."

But I digress. Paul



for July 17, 2009

Remembering Walter Cronikite

The only time I ever saw Walter Cronkite in person

was in the early-1980s at the Black Rock building in

Manhattan. He was alone in the elevator lobby on an

upper floor as I walked by behind him. I remember he had

a terrific red tan, and when I passed, he turned his

head all the way around to look at who was walking by.

And I was about to stop and introduce myself and say a

few words, but his elevator arrived and he got inside.

That backwards glance will stick with me forever; you

could sense he was genuinely curious about whatever

entered (or didn't enter) his field of vision.

Cronkite died today, and it's almost impossible to

overstate his influence, especially on the boomers

that came of age in the Sixties and Seventies. To me,

his finest hour on TV -- and he had many fine ones -- was

the one I saw as a politically active 11-year old in 1968:

his coverage of the Democratic National Convention,

particularly the famous incident in which Dan Rather

was decked by security goons on the Convention

floor for merely asking why a Eugene McCarthy delegate

was being ejected from the hall. Cronkite, moderating the raucous

gathering from a booth, had clearly had it with cops and security

people being violent to the press and others.

"I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, Dan,” said Cronkite.

And there he was, the most trusted source of news in America,

calling the authorities "thugs." That made a big impression on

me as a kid. He wasn't mincing words or prettifying things or

doing anything but calling it as he saw it and as it was.

He died at age 92, meaning he was a year younger than JFK

(which also shows the staggering amount of time and

history that our 35th president was robbed of). Cronkite lived

exactly twice as long as JFK, despite the risks of his

profession, and maybe his longevity had something to do with

the fact that, as I saw first-hand, nothing ever got past him

unless he took an unflinching look at what it was.

But I digress. Paul



for July 16, 2009

Bruno Hoaxes Ron Paul!

U.S. Congressman in a compromising position!
[photo of "Bruno" by Paul Iorio.]

The main astonishing things about "Bruno" are 1) how

Sacha Baron Cohen, in his cinematic guises as both Bruno

and Borat, has avoided being assaulted and seriously

injured by irate prankees; 2) how he could

find celebrities who, at this late stage, were still

unfamiliar with either Bruno or the phenomenon of

Baron Cohen himself.

I mean, Paula Abdul was not aware of Bruno? And Ron

Paul hadn't heard about how Borat famously hoaxed

Bob Barr and Alan Keyes back in '06? Evidently not.

The most striking part of "Bruno" is the hoaxing of

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who is caught on film genuinely

losing his temper in a very politically

incorrect way after being pranked by Bruno.

The sequence in which Bruno tries to seduce the

Republican Congressman (imagine if this had been

the Larry Craig of a few years ago!) begins with

the Austrian fashion icon entering Rep. Paul's hotel

room and asking if he would like some Champagne.

BRUNO: Do you want some Champagne?

RON PAUL: [nervously] No Champagne, no.

BRUNO: I'm going to light some candles, if it's
OK....Has anyone ever told you you look
like Enrique Iglesias?

RON PAUL: [grunts "no"]

BRUNO: Of course not. You're much cuter.

Bruno then puts on music and dances a bit, as Ron
Paul -- his antenna finally up, albeit a bit too
late -- stands and pretends to read a newspaper.
When Bruno takes off his pants and stands at the
door, that's the last straw.

RON PAUL: [pushing the half-naked Bruno out of
the way and shouting angrily]
Get out of here!
Alright, this is ended. [to his own people, still hollering
and pissed]
That guy is queer to the blazes. He took his
clothes off. Let's get going. He's queer! He's crazy!
He put a hand on me, he took his clothes off!

(By the way, fair game. Ron Paul is a guy who wanted

to become president of the United States; well, here's

how he responds in a pressured situation. If Obama

had been pranked by Bruno, could you imagine the same

tantrum? Not a chance. Obama would've kept his cool,

smiled that smile, and said, "Sorry, guy, not into that

sort of thing," and left the room.)

Paula Abdul also gets the treatment. At first, Bruno

lures in Abdul by asking a couple softball questions

that feed into her instinct for self-promotion.

BRUNO: So tell me about your humanitarian work. How
important is it for you to help people?

PAULA ABDUL: [while sitting on a person paid to be a
] Helping other people is so vital to my
life. It's like the air that I breath and the water
that I drink. You give love to other people and you get
love back in spades.

Then Bruno rolls out a food buffet that is on top of a person's
naked body.

ABDUL: [shocked] Oh, my god!! This is really not for
me. I'm sorry this is really not right. [And then
she runs off in horror.]

As Abdul runs off, Bruno pleads, "Come back, please!"

Paula Abdul, caught in Bruno's web of lies
(and sitting atop a person paid to be a chair!).
[photo of "Bruno" by Paul Iorio.]

Another memorable bit is this one between Bruno and a

self-defense instructor:

BRUNO: How do you spot the homosexual?

INSTRUCTOR: Very hard to do. Because many look no
different than myself or you. It's kind of like

BRUNO: But obvious things to look for?

INSTRUCTOR: Obvious is a person who is being extremely
nice to start with.

BRUNO: So someone approaches you...and is very very nice
to you, you know that they are homosexual?

INSTRUCTOR: Most likely.

And what follows is a marvelous and surreal bit of

choreography in which the instructor trains Bruno in

how to defend himself against someone coming at him

with a variety of exotic dildoes (you have to

see it to believe it).

Other funny scenes include one in which Bruno tries to

negotiate peace in the Middle East with an Israeli and a


BRUNO: Could the Palestinians agree to give the Pyramids
back to the Israelis?

PALESTINIAN: This is in Egypt, not in Palestine.

BRUNO: I don't care where you put them. Give them back.

He also jets off to a Lebanese refugee camp where he

meets with a hard-line militant.

BRUNO: Can I give you guys a word of advice? Lose the
beards. Because your King Osama looks like a kind of
dirty wizard or homeless Santa.

LEBANESE MILITANT: [through a translator] Get out!
Get out now!

[Again, fair game. Bruno is interviewing a guy

whose terrorist beliefs are based on his reading

of only one book (and not a very good one, at that), The

Koran. The militant is arguably more superficial

than Bruno himself.)

All told, "Bruno" is (as everyone says) not quite as funny as

"Borat," though it still has plenty of hilarious sequences

and is funnier than some critics say it is. I've always

thought Bruno the character was incompletely

conceived in that his Nazi side should've been developed

more than his gay side (think of the possibilities if

Bruno had infiltrated and hoaxed some Aryan Nation

groups who thought he was one of them, a worshipper

of the gay Hitler).

But the Ron Paul and Paula Abdul segments are pretty

much worth the price of admission, or at

least the price of a DVD rental.

But I digress. Paul



for July 14, 2009

I know I'm a compulsive thanker, but I must say

many thanks to Marshall "Hussein" Stax for playing

my new song "Kim Jong-il" last night on KALX (along

with my own tribute to the NBT). Free stream of "Kim"

now posted at! Juche, baby, Juche!

But I digress. Paul



for July 12, 2009

Last Night: Death Cab, Andrew Bird, Ra Ra Riot -- and Sunshowers!

There was natural magic onstage and off last night in

Berkeley, Calif., as Death Cab for Cutie and two primo

indie acts performed while nature itself almost upstaged

the show with sunshowers, weird sunlight and a massive


"This is a song about a day like today and a night like

tonight," said Death Cab's Ben Gibbard, referring to the

weather. "The song is called 'No Sunlight.'"

And then the band, as confident and masterful as

ever, started into the tune: "More clouds appeared/the

sky went black/And there was no sunlight/No sunlight."

Also mentioning the rain from the stage was opening

act Andrew Bird, who lately has been the headliner at

other gigs and had most of his set here accompanied

by a steady drizzle.

"You ok?," he asked the crowd once the showers began.

"It's nothin', right?" The crowd cheered. Bird tried to

make everyone forget about the precip, building tension

from note one.

As Bird played an immensely enjoyable "Fitz and the Dizzyspells,"

from his new EP of the same name, the rain seemed to awaken

nearby exotic birds who began to chirp along with Bird's own

prodigious whistling (Bird makes novel use of whistling and

the violin, which he occasionally plucks like a mandolin,

like no one else in pop music).

After Bird finished his set, the rain stopped and sunlight

scattered through the hilly woods like an orange fire. "A

rainbow, a rainbow," a woman started shouting, pointing to

a big rainbow in the southern twilight sky. (By the way, I

heard the whole show in the hills adjacent to the Greek

Theater, an open-air venue.)

Minutes later, the real magic began, as Death Cab took

the stage with a double blast from "Plans," its 2006

breakthrough album, which comprised around a third of

its setlist. And then a taste of "Transatlanticism," the

band's most critically praised album, before playing

a couple tunes from its new CD, "The Open Door,"

the best being "My Mirror Speaks," well worth

checking out.

Tracks from '08's "Narrow Stairs" sounded weightier

than they did at first listen last year, with the high

point of the entire show being the long version of "I

Will Possess Your Heart," which worked up a groove and

momentum that was almost hypnotic.

Opening the concert for both Death Cab and Andrew Bird was

Ra Ra Riot, who've roared out of Syracuse University in

the last few years to become one of the more promising

bands in indie rock. The group is touring behind its

debut album, "The Rhumb Line" (and has already

appeared on Letterman and at top festivals); it's the

sort of stuff that kicks in after a second

or third listening, and the highlight here was the

infectious and catchy "Can You Tell," which shows why

the band is generating lots of enthusiasm, not least

of all from Death Cab's Gibbard, who dedicated a

song to the Syracuse band.

"Here's an old song...from our first record, and it goes

out to Ra Ra Riot," said Gibbard from the stage, intro'ing

"President of What?"

By the time the whole three-band shebang ended, the rain

was gone, the ground was almost dry -- and Bird had

turned 36. It was cooler, then warmer, and I felt

vaguely as if the seasons had changed, but to

what, I didn't know. Perhaps to an imaginary fifth


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, before "Death Cab took the stage,

a pre-recorded disc played a welcome surprise through

the p.a.: "You're My Favorite Thing," a 25-year-old

post-punk nugget from The Replacements, and it sounded

fantastic. So much so that I began to think of how great

it would be if the surviving Mats were to re-unite

(bringing together Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars and Tommy

Stinson, if that's even possible). People tend to forget

how great that group was, both on stage and in the

studio, until they hear a prime track. A reunion tour

would turn on a whole new generation to a massively

influential (and very, very fun) band that should be

better known than it is today.



for July 11 - 12, 2009

A 25-Year Old Recluse, and His Own Private Nukes

The rising son? Said to be the only publicly-available
photos of Kim Jong-un as an adult. [from a South
Korean newspaper, via the Daily Telegraph]

In the wake of President Obama's trip to Moscow, it's

clear the central problem with nonproliferation policy

is and has always been hypocrisy, the paternalistic

notion that one set of nations can be trusted with

nukes but another cannot. Obama has gone a long way

toward removing hypocrisy from the equation by saying,

ok, we'll reduce our nuclear arsenal, and in return

we expect you, North Korea and Iran, to take an

equivalent action, to not develop nukes at all.

(By the way: oh, how these meetings with Russian leaders

have changed; legend has it that Boris Yeltsin used to

show up at summits, saying, "Take me

to your liter!")

Jokes aside, the unfunny truth is that the DPRK

will soon become a nuclear power, if it

isn't already, and there's not much we can do about it.

Any U.N.resolution authorizing the use of force

against the DPRK will always be vetoed in

the Security Council by the PRC (and Russia), though

President Hu Jintao, who sometimes acts as if Kim is his

Agnew, can always be persuaded to vote for a

non-binding resolution that has all

the impact of an impassioned letter to the editor.

Meanwhile, six-party talks always amount to mere

two-party talks and impasse.

Frankly, the DPRK could get away with anything (short

of attacking Seoul or Tokyo) without suffering much

more than a strongly-worded condemnation.

And let's be real: Kim Jong-il is not testing nukes to get

attention. We say that he's trying to get attention

as a backhanded insult, a way to infantilize him

and his regime.

No, he's developing weapons of mass destruction for

the same reason we have them: for self-defense. Kim

doesn't send out press releases every time he

fires off a Taepodong or explodes a nuke; in fact, we learn

about it only through our own seismographic info. The DPRK is

doing this stuff in private, and we're the ones publicizing it and

saying they merely want attention.

Further, the DPRK has not put Euna Lee and Laura Ling in prison

in order to get attention or to have a bargaining chip any more than

the United States is incarcerating Charles Manson for those

reasons. North Korea has put them in prison because it believes

they broke one of its eccentric laws -- and the punishment there is

almost always universally (and absurdly and tragically) harsh.

By the way, the campaign to spring Lee and Ling might be more

effective if there was an appeal for their release by film

stars and movie moguls rather than by U.S. government officials.

You see, Kim Jong-il really does follow movies closely and

always has, and he might listen more attentively to Hilary

Swank than to Hillary Clinton.

Kim may have the ambitions of a film maker, but not the talent.

I've read many of Kim Jong-il's writings, mostly essays,

and what comes through is that he's no Robert Towne (and

certainly no Mao). I mean, he's not stupid but his writing

is shockingly lousy, plodding and autocratic, far from

the aphoristic wisdom of Mao (even when translated into English

by Kim's own editors in Pyongyang).

Kim's intellectual development might have been stunted by the fact

that his college education happened at a university named for his

dad, who was running the country at the time (what prof

would've risked flunking him?).

That lack of education may account for his persistent

delusional dream of re-unifying the Korean peninsula.

Kim and many others are evidently unaware that the division of

Korea is not a modern invention. The peninsula was

divided as far back as the Han dynasty and divided again during

the T'ang era; in the modern age, it was artificially

unified as a Japanese colony for around 30 years in

the 20th century, a colonial relationship that ended very

badly, as we all remember, with the atomic bombing

of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in '45.

The good news about North Korea is that

we might have caught a break; Kim is said to have

had a stroke last year, is in declining health and

recently sent his sons to Beijing to beg for advanced

medical equipment to treat his ailment, which

can only mean his illness is unusually serious

(word is he has pancreatic cancer).

He could have been one of those dictators who

lives and rules in good health until age 90.

Instead, we probably won't have to deal with him

much longer.

The bad news is his successor -- son Kim Jong-Un, who

is only 25 (or 26) -- might be worse. Given his age

and temperament (he's said to be a lot like his dad,

and has a taste for Claude Van Damme flicks), he's

probably prone to making rash, callow hot-headed

decisions that could be dangerous for everybody.

In terms of U.S. policy: whatever we're doing now

seems to be pushing the DPRK away from disarmament.

The key question is this: What was the international

community doing in the spring of '08 that convinced

Pyongyang to topple its own reactor tower at Yongbyon?

Whatever the world was doing then to persuade Kim to

de-nuclearize, it worked, and we should do it again.

Even during the ancient Han Dynasty, the
Korean peninsula was divided between north and south.
[from the book "Historical Atlas of Empires," by
Karen Farrington]

- - -

And in the later T'ang dynasty, Korea was
similarly splt. [from the book "Historical
Atlas of Empires," by Karen Farrington

- - -

I walked by Current TV's headquarters in San Francisco recently,
which is near the bayfront and AT&T Park, a baseball stadium
and concert venue. And I felt sad thinking that Euna Lee and
Laura Ling must have enjoyed this very fun area of town, which
is so radically different from the landscape they're in now.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * * *

Scandalous Picture of the Day!

Seeing is believing, right? Here's a shot of U.S. Senator
Mel Martinez taking indecent liberties with an 11-year-old
boy! Looks like inappropriate touching to me. Scandal!
[photo published in today's online edition
of The Washington Post.]

* * * *

I have a friend who is not very artistically

smart who visited me a few years ago and, after

hearing my latest album, pompously asked what

the "theme" of the album was.

I told him that I was no fan of the idea of

superimposing a conscious theme on a work

of music or art, that any theme (if there is one)

should emanate organically from the work itself

and not be forced upon the music. Theme, unless

it is organic, is generally a contrivance, and

I prefer to allow the unconscious

to shape a work as much as possible.

But my friend still had these high school

English teacherish ideas about writing and

music that he hadn't outgrown and

needed some convincing.

"OK, what's the theme of Rubber Soul?," I asked him. "What's

the theme of Who's Next, one of the greatest albums of

all time?"

He didn't have an answer, and I could see that I

was getting him to re-think "all the crap he learned in

high school" (to coin a phrase).

The greatest pop albums of all time were collections of

songs that fit together intuitively, for reasons that

can't be fully consciously explained -- and that's the

most genuine and authentic way of shaping a work.

What about an album like the Beatles's "Sgt. Pepper's

Lonely Hearts Club Band," which (supposedly) has a

deliberate unified structure?

Does it? Think about that for a moment. Was "Sgt. Pepper"

really a themed album? The best insight about "Sgt. Pepper"

comes from John Lennon, who once stated that the idea

that that album had a theme or concept was really false. I

don't have the exact quote in front of me, but Lennon said

that if you take away the reprise of the title

track near the end, it's just a collection of songs

that has absolutely nothing to do with the "theme" of

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." I mean,

"Within You, Without You" had zero to do with the idea

of "Sgt Pepper." And the rest of the songs didn't

go with the concept at all.

But the album fits together -- frankly, despite the

forced concept, not because of it.

So to those who ask what the themes of my albums

are, my answer is: I don't work that way and never will.

I simply write songs that feel right and put them together

on an album in a juxtaposition and sequence that works.

But I digress. Paul



for July 3, 2009

The Best American Film of 2009 (So Far)

In "Public Enemies," Johnny Depp compares
favorably to vintage Pacino.

Michael Mann's new film, "Public Enemies," is not

just the best American movie of the first half of

'09, but also the best gangster picture in around

20 years, a symphony of violent light that must

be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

The movie stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, the

bank robber who terrorized the Midwest in 1934 and gained

fame for his legendary prison escapes and chases

from police, all dramatized here as vividly as

cinematically possible. Depp is as charismatic as he's

ever been, recalling no less than Al Pacino

in the first two "Godfather" films.

Depp's Dillinger sums himself up to a gorgeous hat

check attendant (Marion Cotillard) this way: "I like

baseball, movies, and good clothes and fast cars

and whiskey -- and you. What else do you need to know?"

Also notable is Stephen Graham as Baby Face Nelson,

Dillinger's number two, as brutal and breathtaking as

chilled vodka; and the soundtrack, one of the best in

years, featuring vintage, dangerous-sounding Depression-era

songs that mix magically with the robbery scenes.

And the film also draws a devastating portrait of

J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), the autocratic

founder of the FBI, who obsessively pursued Dillinger

and is shown here as callow, bureaucratic and always

trying to take credit for the achievements of others,

as in this scene in which he's quizzed

by a U.S. Senator:

SENATOR: How many [felons] have you actually caught?

HOOVER: We have arrested and arraigned 213 wanted felons.

SENATOR: No, I mean you, Director Hoover. How many?

HOOVER: As Director, I administer.

SENATOR: How many have you arrested personally?

HOOVER: [pause] I haven't arrested anybody.

SENATOR: You've never arrested anybody?

HOOVER: Of course not. I'm an administrator.

SENATOR: With no field experience, you're shockingly
unqualified aren't you, sir?

Hoover's agents, after many missteps, eventually got

Dillinger, outside a movie theater in Chicago, exactly

75 years ago to the day (this July 22); Mann, as always,

finds fresh, surprising and memorable ways to show the


And the denouement might actually bring a tear to your

eye, making this a real rarity: a gangster movie that's

not just suspenseful and visually stunning but humorous

and moving, too.

But I digress. Paul



for July 2, 2009

The New Nixon Tapes, "Frost/Nixon," Title VII, etc.

Last year bumper stickers cropped up in my neighborhood

that said something like "Bush Makes Me Nostalgic For Nixon."

But I've never agreed with the stickers or the progressives

who say George W. Bush was worse than Richard Nixon as


Look, I'm no Bush fan, but he was far preferable to Nixon

in almost every significant way. Whatever else you might

think about Bush, W. was transparent, unbigoted, and

there was almost no difference between the private Bush

and the public one. W.'s sins were mostly those of omission,

Nixon's of commission.

In other words, domestically at least, Bush had a laissez-faire,

less-government approach that led to neglectful policies,

disasters like the Katrina response and the partial collapse

of the U.S. economy. Nixon, however, was more predatory,

aggressively using the apparatus of the Federal government

to ruin political opponents.

Last week a new batch of Nixon tapes was released by the

National Archives that, once again, confirm almost

every nightmare we've ever had about him, one of the most

shocking being his racism. Abortion, said our 37th

president, the product of a mixed marriage between a

Quaker and a Methodist, may be necessary when there is a

pregnancy between "a black and a white." Hard to fathom

the sort of mind that would say such a thing.

The new Nixon tapes are reminders of why progressivism,

and even its more radical variants, made a lot of sense

in that era.

Nixon's Watergate-related crimes were so egregious that I

think Congress should seriously consider passing a bill

that urges courts to reevaluate the criminal cases of

citizens convicted of crimes committed in the course

of group political action between January 1969 and

August 1974, allowing judges to give greater weight to

such mitigating factors as abuses of power by the U.S.

government and by Hoover's F.B.I.

So, for example, if, today, some sixtysomething guy

who was unfairly caught up in a group arrest during, say,

an anti-war protest in 1970 wants to get his official

rap sheet cleared, such a law would make it easier for

him to do so.

I think there has to be some sort of additional formal

acknowledgment by the government that the Nixon regime

operated outside accepted legal frameworks -- and the best

way to do that might be to allow a reassessment of

legal cases involving dissent in those years.

The tapes also spurred me to revisit last year's

"Frost/Nixon" film and the actual Frost broadcasts

that it was based on. "Frost/Nixon" is beautifully crafted

and engaging but fundamentally flawed in its elevation

of Frost to a level that is way beyond his relatively

minor cultural and journalistic significance.

And some of the most riveting parts of the real Frost

interviews with Nixon weren't dramatized in the feature

(such as the real-life part when Frost nails Nixon about

the paying of hush money to the Watergate burglars,

citing 16 audiotaped examples of Nixon directly approving

such payments).

Some say this is the closest Nixon came to being put on

trial, but if that's so, Frost was the wrong prosecutor,

because he lacked the professional finesse of, say, the

best "60 Minutes" interviewers. For example, instead

of telling Nixon, "I would say,'that is an obstruction of

justice,'" Frost should have said something like, "What would

you say to someone who calls that an outright obstruction

of justice?" Frost repeatedly assumes the posture

of an advocate or prosecutor, not of a disinterested


In the actual Frost Q&A, Nixon has the air and anger

of a generalisimo in a military coup. One gets the sense

that he saw his own vice-presidency of the 1950s as a

case of being second-in-command during America's military

regime -- Gen. Eisenhower's presidency -- even if Ike himself

never saw it that way. Elsewhere, unprompted, Nixon brings

up a characterization of H.R. Haldeman as a "Nazi storm

trooper" as though that excites him in some way. And when he

says, "I let the American people down," Nixon has a slight

smile on his face, as if he's really saying, "I finally got to

stick it to all those people who tormented me."

No wonder he got along with the despots of the

People's Republic of China, who we now see more

accurately as human rights violators and autocrats.

Nixon fit right in with the dictators who wanted

to quash peaceful dissent by shedding blood, and lots of it,

if necessary.

Sure, opening the door to China was a progressive move -- nobody

is going to deny that. But factoring in what we now know

about both Nixon and China, we can see his PRC policy as

motivated by a simpatico between a would-be dictator and the

genuine articles.

The conventional wisdom has always put Nixon in the moderate

wing of the GOP of '68, along with Nelson Rockefeller and

George "Brainwashed" Romney, but that's because the

conservative wing of the party at the time

was co-opted by George Wallace and his segregationists.

The ultra-conservatives had spun-off, and the only ones left

in the GOP (besides marginalized Goldwaterites) at the

time were so-called moderates.

Today, conservatism is rooted in supply-side Reganomics,

now discredited and really just a white-collar reformulation

of George Wallace's basic gist. What I mean is, in the

1960s, Republicans said, We don't want to use the government

as a tool to give black people equal access to institutions

and to their own rights. But after Reagan in the 1980s,

conservatives dressed up that belief in different clothing,

saying, We don't want to use the government as a tool to

give blacks fair access to the money that could

liberate them.

It's a different era in other ways, too. It would be

almost impossible to imagine America electing a president

as racist as Nixon today. And the fact of Barack Obama's

electoral triumph should spark a reevaluation of race-based

statutes and policies. For example, the assumptions

around Title VII protections appear to have been built

for a different era, a time when even the president of

the U.S. was full of irrational ideas about blacks (and

Jews and Italians and...).

In the recent Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano (aka,

the New Haven firefighters case), the disparity of the

test results at issue is perhaps more convincingly

explained by the self-fulfilling prophecy brought

about by rulings such as the one Sonia Sotomayor was a

part of on the Second Circuit. If you signal to people that

they will pass a test whether they fail it or pass it, then

you are creating a disincentive for them to study for that

test. And that dynamic may explain the disparity better

than the Title VII assumption that a group's failure is

circumstantial evidence of its victimization by


Sotomayor's decision was more correct at the time she

made it and would have been more just at any time

before the U.S. presidential election of 2008, which

proved beyond a doubt that racism and bias are not as

prevalent or as debilitating as we once thought they were.

In the wake of the Obama election, which proved

that an African-American progressive can win amongst

white voters in red states (against a strong conservative

opponent), we must rethink some of the assumptions around

Title VII, much as we would reassess the disability

status of a person who was once unable to walk

but can now run and win top track and marathon


But I digress. Paul



for June 28, 2009

Wilco (The Concert)

Wilco performed last night in Berkeley
(above, a picture of Jeff Tweedy from '07).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Jeff Tweedy and Wilco were soaring from peak to peak

last night on stage in Berkeley, Calif., topping themselves

with almost each new song. By mid-set, Tweedy was clearly


"I have to tell you, I think this is my favorite place

in the world to play," Tweedy said, referring to the Greek

Theater, where he was playing a sold out gig in support of

his band's new album, "Wilco (The Album)," due Tuesday and

already the number one non-Michael Jackson CD on Amazon.

And then he started strumming the opening chords of

"California Stars" -- and it would be hard to imagine

louder applause if Clapton had just ignited "Layla" -- and

singing Woody Guthrie's words and his own melody:

"I'd like to rest my heavy head tonight on a bed of

California stars..."

Under the California stars on this midsummer night, almost

everyone clapped and sang along (even in the hills above

the Greek where I heard the whole show) to a tune

that has an undeniably powerful effect on audiences,

perhaps the greatest song about the Golden State since

"California Dreamin'" itself.

As the gig progressed, the peaks got higher: an irresistible

"Handshake Drugs," an unstoppable "I'm the Man Who Loves You"

and the band's new single, "You Never Know," an instant Wilco

classic that recalls CCR and the Beatles without sounding

explicitly like either. (Also, an impressive "You're My Face.")

Anyway, this tour is just getting started, so see it if it

comes to your town (unless you're averse to enjoying yourself).

But I digress. Paul



for June 27, 2009

Last Night's David Byrne Show

I went to David Byrne's concert last night in Berkeley,

Calif., wanting to hear Talking Heads's classics, but

left the show humming a few of the new ones like

"One Fine Day" and the title track of his latest

album, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," a

surprisingly strong CD that I had underrated until

several hours ago.

That said, the dozen or so Talking Heads tracks he

and his band performed were exciting, particularly

"Life During Wartime," whose main riff now sounds

like a classic rock thing; "Once in a Lifetime,"

which comes to life magically onstage (even for

people listening in the hills above the theater, as

I was); and the unexpected "Road to Nowhere," which

he hasn't played much on this tour.

It was wonderful to hear Byrne sound as fresh

and un-burned out as he did when I first heard

him perform (in 1979 in New York's Central Park,

headlining a concert that included brand new arrivals

The B52s).

Last night, Byrne was affable, loquacious and in very

good humor: "It's great to be back here at the Greek

Theater," he started, as the crowd thundered. "...Appropriately,

we'll be doing some Greek tragedies. Euripides..."

Byrne continued his droll banter. "...You are welcome to

take pictures...We ask you, politely, to delete the

pictures where we don't look so good," he joked, before

energetically launching into openers "Strange Overtones"

and "I Zimbra."

His Berkeley gig was the last U.S. date of his tour

(or at least the last announced date); next, Byrne

goes to some real Greek theaters, in Athens and

elsewhere in Greece.

But I digress. Paul



for June 25, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson

Shocked, saddened by the unexpected death of Michael

Jackson, a pop music genius if anyone is. I saw him

in person only once, in '86, at a press conference in

New York, where he stood smiling on a stage in his

neo-Sgt. Pepper outfit, letting others do the talking,

speaking maybe ten or fifteen words. I remember

thinking he seemed overly stage-managed by his handlers

and was wishing he'd loosen up a bit.

At the time of his death this afternoon, he was preparing

to re-invent himself a la Garland, but instead ended up

resembling her in another way.

Back in 2007, on the 25th anniversary of the release of

"Thriller," I wrote this about Jackson for the Digression:

Now that the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"
is being celebrated, perhaps it's time for a fresh
re-evaluation of Jackson. A good place to start is
the footage of the Jackson Five's first performance,
in 1969, on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (available on
disc three of Sullivan's "Rock 'n' Roll Classics" series).

Sullivan is not just enthusiastic but in genuine awe
after watching 10-year-old Michael and his brothers
light up the place with "I Wonder Who's Loving Her Now."
And he applauds Diana Ross, who's in the audience, for
her gargantuan A&R find. "The little fella in front is
incredible," says Sullivan of Michael, seemingly dazed by
the performance.

Michael Jackson's performance was both dazzling and sad;
dazzling because you could see what an epochal talent
Jackson was; but sad because...well, he looked and acted
more like a pressured adult than he does today. At age
10, he acted sort of like a 40-year-old, and at age 40,
he acted sort of like a 10-year-old. The anxious expression
on his face tells us everything we need to know about
the very adult pressures he was being saddled with
as a kid (show biz deadlines, contracts, complex cues,

Sure, we all danced to the sounds of Michael Jackson's
lost childhood -- sounded great, didn't it? -- but many
of us now have no sympathy for or understanding of
the all-too-human flaws that loss has produced.



for June 16, 2009

Tehran Spring

Echoes of the Green Revolution were felt as far as Berkeley,
California, on Sunday when passionate protesters (above)
rallied to condemn the results of the so-called "election"
in Iran. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Another shot of Sunday's protest. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Unfortunately, it's hard for the United States to

claim the clear moral high ground about the rigged

election and subsequent brutality toward protesters

in Tehran. After all, we denied victory to the

victor in our presidential race of 2000. We

shot unarmed student protesters at Kent State in

1970. We brutally beat dissenters in the

streets of Chicago in 1968 (while making sure

television networks couldn't cover the violence

live). And then, like a chain-smoking parent

telling his son not to smoke, we (the biggest

nuclear bomb maker of them all) forbid them

to have their own nuclear weapons.

So when we look at Tehran, we look in the mirror at

our own moments of right-wing oppression. Let's

condemn it there, but let's also stop it when it

surfaces here, too.

* * *

You know, I was not at all offended by David

Letterman's joke about Bristol Palin. And what's

with this brand new comedy rule that

you-can't-make-jokes-about-minors? "Seinfeld"

did it all the time (remember the episode about

George looking at an underage girl's cleavage?).

Jonathan Swift even joked about eating young

children (see: "A Modest Proposal") in a

satiric piece that irony-deficient people did not

understand. (For the record, Swift never

apologized for "A Modest Proposal" -- and he

shouldn't have.)

No, Letterman bowed to a cynical politician

who willfully misread his joke in order to

score points on the campaign trail.

That said, I am offended by the fact that

Letterman (or one of Letterman's writers) ripped

off one of my original ideas that I published in

my June 1, 2009, Daily Digression. I posted

a humorous bit -- "An Excerpt from Bob Woodward's

Upcoming Book on the Obama Administration" -- on

the morning of June 1. And that night (or the next

night) Letterman did his own "excerpt from Bob

Woodward's book on the Obama administration."

Does it feel right that a millionaire

comedian can rip off the ideas of a small

entrepreneur who writes an online column like this

one? Does that pass the fairness test for you?

But I digress. Paul



for June 5 - 8, 2009

A label on a U.S. government map of the Pyongyang area
stamped "Distribution Limited -- Destroy When No Longer
Needed." (I found it (and other rare maps) at a map
archive at the University of California at Berkeley.)

Just before they were busted near

the China-North Korea border last March, Current TV's

Laura Ling and Euna Lee found themselves within sight

of a North Korean winter wonderland of snow-covered

peaks, seven and eight thousand feet high, ranging

from slate gray to white. On that day, the shallow

Tumen River, the border between North Korea and

China, was looking less like a river and more like

a continuation of the ice that was already on the

ground, according to photos taken around that time.

For the crime of crossing the border without a visa

(and there is some dispute about which side of the

line they were on), Ling and Lee have been sentenced

to twelve years of hard labor (doing logging or mining,

in all likelihood).

That sentence, by the way, is effectively a death sentence

for many prisoners, who are forced to work 12-hour days

of strenuous labor on dangerously small amounts of food.

(Read about it in detail at

And this is one of the least sensitive areas

in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

(DPRK), a desolate patch in the far northeast where

almost nobody lives (the only real city in the

vicinity is Yanji, on the China side, which is

around the size of Oakland, California).

The case of Ling and Lee underlines this lesson:

the best way for any outsider -- tourist or

journalist -- to see that northern

area is from deep inside Manchuria (with binoculars),

because that border is something of a Venus


As for visiting the rest of North Korea from the

inside, forget it, if you're a U.S.citizen;

North Korea is as reclusive and secretive as

it's reputed to be. In the unlikely event that

you are allowed entry, you would almost

certainly be restricted to visiting Pyongyang,

and only certain parts of Pyongyang at that,

in a group led by a DPRK-approved tour guide.

Visitors would do well to heed the warnings and

advisories about travel to North Korea posted

on the U.S. State Dept. website, among them:

your hotel room and phone conversations may

be bugged; you can't take pictures of anything

without permission; you can't pay for anything

by credit card or personal check; you can't

bring anything resembling pornography into the

country; you can't take the subway or buy a bike;

it's illegal to dis ruler Kim Jong-il; if you

develop a medical problem, you should avoid

surgery (because "functioning x-ray

facilities are not generally available"); and if

you run afoul of the many eccentric, arbitrary

laws of the DPRK, you're on your own, as America

has no diplomatic relations with the North (you would

have to cry to the people at the Swedish Embassy in

Pyongyang, a "U.S. protecting power").

Whew! Still want to visit? If you could visit,

you might want to start with the most private

place in all of the DPRK: the Nuclear Research

Center at Yongbyon.

It would be an exaggeration, though

not much of one, to say that more Americans

have walked on the moon than have visited

the nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which

seems as sealed and insulated as the heavy lead

casks used for spent fuel rods.

Nestled in the Myohyang Mountains on the

winding Kuryong River, at the point where the

river becomes shaped like a horseshoe or a "U"

(as in Uranium), Yongbyon is the heart

of the nation's nuclear weapons development


A rare detailed map of the Yongbyon area
(U.S. Army map, 1945).

Not only is access to the center heavily restricted,

but the only major highway to Yongbyon -- the

Myohyang-Pyongyang Expressway -- is from

Pyongyang and said to be for official use only.

In other words, when Kim Jong-il wants to drive

to see his budding nukes, if he drives, he has

to take the Expressway north for around 60 miles,

traveling for around 90 minutes through plains and

mountains on a highway that is, presumably, almost

completely car-less and truck-less.

Around halfway there, he'd pass near the city

of Suchon, site of a major uranium mine, and

then veer northeast through the Myohyang

Mountains, coal mining country.

After Kim arrives at the nuclear facility

area -- he probably exits the freeway near

a town called Kaechon -- he likely continues

by local roads near the Kuryong to


The nuclear facility, which is reportedly not

linked to the rest of the DPRK's electrical grid,

includes structures for fuel fabrication,

uranium processing, assembly of fuel elements,

etc. -- in other words, everything required

to makes nukes. Photos from a tower-toppling

event at the site in 2008 make the center

look like a factory in a green river valley.

Satellite photos make it seem something

like a warehouse district or a

Burbank movie studio backlot for a nuclear

disaster flick.

But Yongbyon is the real deal. Fueled by nearby

uranium mines, with facilities for reprocessing

plutonium, Yongbyon is currently back in

operation, according to Kim Jong-il's own

recent public pronouncements. And it's widely

believed that Kim might soon have fully

functioning Taepodong 2 missiles, which could

deliver a nuke as far as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Several miles to the west are far more modest digs:

the residences of nuke plant workers (the Homer

Simpsons of the DPRK), according to online maps.

All told, there's probably a better chance that

Yongbyon will be visiting America (so to speak)

than that Americans will be visiting Yongbyon any

time soon.

Far more accessible is Pyongyang, though that's

not saying much. (For the record, I've never had the

pleasure of visiting North Korea!) But it is possible to

catch a flight into the capital from Beijing (and there

have been irregular charter flights from Vladivostok,

Russia, in the past).

Pyongyang is a big, vertical city -- slightly larger

than Chicago -- built mostly after

1953, after the Korean War destroyed much

of the previous city.

But if you're looking for bars and restaurants,

they're as scarce as street crime here, which

is to say, almost non-existent.

Built on the flatlands and low hills around the

Taedong River, Pyongyang is full of tourist sights designed

to praise and glorify the current and past

governments of the DPRK.

Remember the Pueblo? Well, the North Koreans sure do,

and they now have that U.S. Navy ship -- the U.S.S. Pueblo,

which was captured by the North Koreans in 1968 after it

allegedly strayed into its territorial waters -- on display

in the river that runs through the capital.

Then there's North Korea's Statue of Liberty -- the Tower of

the Juche Idea -- a granite, riverside tower

topped with a bulb shaped like a flame, which dominates

a good part of the Pyongyang skyline. (Juche, by

the way, is the guiding philosophy of modern North Korea,

promoting self-reliance as a universal goal in both personal

life and governmental policy.)

The city's subway, the Pyongyang Metro,

seems more like an oddly ornate bomb

shelter, around 360 feet underground,

reportedly a record depth for a major

city subway system. Even official photos reveal

an overdressed facility, what with all those

chandeliers and colonnades -- not to mention

the propagandistic mosaics and art at many

of the stations.

To the northwest, there's an attractive hilly

neighborhood called the Peony Hill (Moranbong)

District, with elevations to around 300 feet (not

quite as tall as, say, San Francisco's

city heights). Near the Peony District is North

Korea's Harvard University (such that it has

one!): Kim il-Sung University, where Kim Jong-il

studied economics in the early 1960s. Government-released

photos of the campus make it look drab, sort of like

a combination meat-packing plant and reform school.

A U.S. government map (stamped "Distribution

Limited -- Destroy When No Longer Needed") shows

that the most notable landmark in the Pyongyang area

is a large reservoir to the city's southeast that's

absent on many other maps of the region.

A confidential U.S. government map of the greater
Pyongyang area that shows details that aren't on other
maps of the area (like that huge reservoir to the
southeast of the city).

Farther north is the international airport, where

virtually all passengers are either coming from or

going to Beijing.

Much farther north is the Yalu River, which forms

most of the border with China, and it's wide and

partially clogged with islands claimed by both

Manchuria and North Korea. It's an almost entirely

mountainous region whose star attraction is Mount

Baekdu, the highest peak on the peninsula at

nearly 9,000 feet, with a lake near the top

that straddles a once-disputed border.

Other areas along the Yalu are less idyllic,

according to photos published by Reuters and

other news organizations; the landscape around

Hyesan, for example, is a forest of

factory smokestacks; some of coastal Sinuiju,

in the far northwest, looks very dilapidated.

Finally, truly adventurous travelers looking

to enter the DPRK through a relatively weak

border can try taking a train from Russia into

the first North Korean town over the line, Tumangan.

(There are recent reports of lucky westerners

making the trip successfully and safely). The

two countries share both an eleven-mile border

in the northeasternmost part of the DPRK (which

is around 90 miles west of Vladivostok) and railroad

tracks, and those who make it to the peninsula can

continue their rail journey to the nearby port city

Najin (there's great cod fishing in Najin Bay, they

say) and even farther on to Pyongyang.

Unfortunately, making the reverse trip and getting

out of the DPRK is a much harder task, as Laura

Ling and Euna Lee now understand all too well.

C.I.A. map of the Russia-North Korea border area.

* * *

Satellite photo of the Yongbyon nuclear facility
(with my own annotations). (From the site.)

* * *

Some think this is the mansion where Kim Jong-il
stays when he's visiting his nuclear center
at Yongbyon, though it's impossible to confirm if
that's really his house. (I printed this out
from the website.)

* * *

The Yalu River border, near Sinuiju, China (map shows the
numerous islands in the Yalu that make the border
ambiguous). [Army Map Service, 1945]

* * *

Map of Pyongyang, from "The Rough Guide to
North Korea" travel guidebook.

* * * *

A C.I.A. province map of North Korea (2005).

* * * *


Juche, baby, Juche!
Appreciating the Oeuvre of Kim Jong-il

Kim Il-Sung University, economics major, class of '64!
[photo from website]

If you're planning to visit North Korea anytime

soon -- and now that that naton is opening up,

this might be the time! -- the U.S. State Dept. wants

you to know that it's a criminal offense to dis

the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il while there. In fact,

as a tourist, you might be called upon by your

government guide to show some sign of respect to

the Dear Leader a few times during your stay.

So it might pay to bone up on some of the

many published writings of Kim Jong-il, who

has weighed in on a wide range of

topics over the decades, many of them far

from his collegiate major, economics.

In this 1968 essay -- "On the Direction Which Musical

Creation Should Take" -- Kim shows his own singular,

uh, taste as a music critic, as he raves against

all piano playing and praises a new song about his

dad! Here's an excerpt:

"I have called you creators here today to tell you
which direction musical creation should be developed
for it to conform with the Great Leader's revolutionary
thought on art and literature. Recently some success
has been achieved in musical creation. However, many
shortcomings are still evident and these must be remedied.

Among the songs that have been composed recently,
"General Kim Il Sung is Our Sun," "The Azaleas of our
Homeland" and "The People Sing of the Leader" are very
good....These songs are suited to the sentiments
of our people and are also easy to sing because
their melodies are elegant and yet soft and gentle.

Songs that are too jumpy with melodies that rise and
fall too sharply are both difficult to sing and unsuited
to the sentiments of Koreans...If composers are to
produce good songs, they must, above all else, have
a correct stand and attitude concerning music.
The Great Leader taught us that music, like all
other forms of art, should serve the revolution
and the people.

Listening to the song "General Kim Il Sung is Our Sun,"
I once again felt deep in my heart that the leader is
a genius of art...

From now on, woodwind instruments should be used as
little as possible in instrumental music. The use of
the piano should also be reviewed. The piano does
not stimulate the interest of people very much
because it disrupts that melody when it is played.
The frequent use of the piano, in accompaniment, is
outdated and does not suit the tastes of our people.
In the future, the piano should not be used in a
performance or accompaniment by a single person.
Songs should be accompanied mainly by a small
instrumental ensemble. An orchestra of our national
instruments should be developed."

-- essay from "Kim Jong-il: Selected Works" (1992),
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang.

A sample of The Pyongyang Times's tough, skeptical
investigative coverage of Kim Jong-Il, shown here at
the dawn of his reign in '95.

But I digress. Paul



for June 4, 2009

A line Obama should've added to his speech in Cairo:

"He who doesn't want to be treated like a stereotype

shouldn't act stereotypically."



for June 3, 2009

Wow! According to MySpace, my new song

"Life's Just a Single Blast" has already been

played hundreds of times by visitors to my MySpace

page -- and I just uploaded the song to the site

around a week ago!

I'm grateful and glad listeners are

connecting with the tune (and I'm thankful great

radio stations like KCRW and KALX have aired it).

Check it out (and download it for free) at

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Yes, all songs on my MySpace site were

composed, performed and produced solely by me!



for June 1, 2009

Hey, dig those pics of Barack back when he was a member

of Sly and the Family Stone! Very phresh! And now

he's hangin' out in the West Village, too. I'm liking

this guy more and more!

And, the other day, I heard a recording of him singing, and

-- guess what? -- he's not a bad singer at all. He croons

plenty better than Clinton (Bill, that is) plays

sax. He should cut a record.

* * *

Excerpt from Joe Biden's tell-all memoir, "Biding My

Time: My Years as Vice President," which I'm guessing

will be released around 2025:

"You know, I never really had the chemistry I

should've had with some of Obama's inner circle. I

think a few of them always thought they

were just a little bit better than cup o'-Joe Joe

Biden, the Amtrak-riding senior Senator who never got

in the Georgetown swim. I have to confess I was shut

out of too many decision-making meetings and my advice

went unheeded too often."

* * *

Excerpt from Bob Woodward's upcoming (and unwritten) book

on the Obama administration:

President Obama's voice on the telephone was tense,
agitated, unlike his usual calm. The President
wanted to talk with Vice President Biden in
the Oval Office, right now, post-haste.

"I do have some business in Wilmington this morning,"
the vice president said.

"Cancel it," said the president tersely.

"Yessir, I'll be right over to the Oval Office,"
Biden said.

When the vice president arrived, Obama wasted no time
getting to the point.

"Joe, what were you thinking?! 'Everyone should stay away
from crowded places' because of the H1N1?"

"I'm sorry Mr. President -- a poor choice of words on
my part," said the vice-president, scratching the part of
his head where he had had surgery years before.

"I know you know that's exactly the sort of thing
that can cause a panic, Joe."

"I didn't mean for it to come out that way," Biden said.

"Joe, you know I love your frankness, your candor. That's
why I picked you," continued the president. "But let's try not
to stray from the script anymore, ok?"

"Yessir, Mr. President."

* * * *

Well, some of you have heard my new song "Life's Just a

Single Blast" on KCRW, KALX and other great radio

stations (thanks a lot to those stations for playing

it, by the way!).

Now everyone can hear "Life's Just a Single Blast"

on MySpace. Just go to to listen to it.

I must admit that of all the hundreds of songs

I've written over the years, "Life's Just a Single Blast"

has connected with more listeners than any of

my other ones. And I'm real glad people seem

to enjoy it! (You can download it for free for

now -- it's on me.)

(P.S. -- I'm posting new uploads to MySpace every few

days so you can have a fresh selection of the many

songs I've written and recorded. Today I added "Time

Begins to End." Of course, every song I've posted

is composed, performed and produced solely by me.)

But I digress. Paul



for May 20, 2009

Maureen Dowd Should Take Six Months Off

And not just because she plagiarized Josh

Marshall's Talking Points Memo in her

column last Sunday -- though that's a serious

journalistic felony -- but because she's

becoming predictable, repetitive, stale,

off-key. She needs to freshen up her prose,

do something else for several months and

then come back to her twice-weekly column.

First, the plagiarism scandal, which resonates

in Dowd's case because: 1) she actually defended

the disgraced Jayson Blair in print in the early

stages of the scandal that almost brought down her

newspaper, and 2) there have been several

instances (and I've mentioned them in the Digression

over the months (search columns posted below

for the name "Maureen Dowd" to find them)) where

she appears to have swiped unique coinages or phrases

or ideas of my own (to cite only one example, I

coined the term "Palinista" to refer to supporters

of Sarah Palin last year and the very next day she

also used the word "Palinista," which had not been

used by anyone else up to that point).

In the current Maureen Dowd plagiarism case,

she plagiarized, virtually verbatim, an entire

paragraph from Marshall without crediting him.

Here's what she wrote:

"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why,
if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to
happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was
looking for what was essentially political information to justify
the invasion of Iraq."

And here's what she plagiarized from Marshall:

"More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the
torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly
during the period when we were looking for what was essentially
political information to justify the invasion of Iraq."

Now, according to media blogs, she's justifying

herself with what appears to be a transparent lie: that

a friend discussed the idea with her on the phone, and

then she repurposed that idea for her column.

So we're supposed to believe that her friend

discussed the idea with her using Marshall's

exact words?! And that Maureen took word-for-word

dictation from her friend?! You expect us to

believe that?! That's High Cheney, Maureen. No

wonder you believed Jayson back when.

Now there appears to be a second excuse: that

she cut-and-pasted the passage and

then mistook it for her own. (Hey, she

wasn't writing a book, for crissakes, just

a dinky column!)

So in addition to her plagiarism violation, she

now now has a credibility problem, too. As her

dad the cop probably told her: sometimes the

cover-up is worse than the crime.

And as I mentioned, she's also becoming too

predictable. I mean, here's my own imitation of a

typical Maureen Dowd column:

"W was a president without a precedent when it came to torture,
but might the closing of Gitmo turn out to be a precedent
without a president?

Is Barack Obama second-guessing his own decision to
shut down the un-American detention center designed to
defend America?"

Typical (and right off the top of my head, too). There's

too much word reversal, idea reversal stuff, and

labored convoluted wordplay. She should take

six months off and come back to the paper around


But that won't happen. She'll get a pass (much as

the far less well-known and far less-talented Edward

Guthmann got a pass at the San Francisco Chronicle).

Why? Because if you're friends with the right

people in journalism, your editors will overlook

almost any transgression. If you're not,

you'll be fired for merely misplacing a comma.

* * * *

Californians to California: "Drop Dead"

Funny thing is, the election in California

yesterday, in which almost all of several

ballot propositions to raise taxes were

defeated at the polls, seemed to generate

more media coverage in the national press than

locally. I live in the Bay Area and didn't

vote, and I usually do, and I don't know

anyone who did. There was almost zero buzz

about the ballot measures -- and most

of the local news coverage was about the

low voter turn-out.

I know: if the propositions had passed, they

would have helped to solve the huge budget

shortfall that the state government now has

to offset with deep spending cuts.

But in this recession, when everybody except

the state of California seems to be getting a

federal bail-out, I and most Californians

echoed that famous New York newspaper

headline of the 1970s and, on Tuesday, said

to the state, "Drop dead!"

But I digress. Paul



for May 3, 2009

Last Night's Van Morrison Show

There are tales and legends of Van Morrison concerts

at which Van rides a sunbeam up through the cumulus

clouds and into centrifugal orbit -- and last night's

show in Berkeley, Calif., or part of last night's

show, was sort of like that.

I'm referring to his performance of "Like Young Lovers

Do," which simply overflowed with melody into the

open-air Greek Theater and up to the hills above

(where I heard it) and into the clouds, where I'm

sure that deities from Zeus to Krishna were

sitting, catching a freebie, catching the

sounds of heaven on Earth, on this

intermittently rainy night.

"Then we sat on our own star and dreamed...,"

he sang, and he sang it as if he had just

freshly composed it, with the lyrics, of

course, just sounds, a way to facilitate

emotion, given that Van generally sings

(or scats) along the contours of the feeling

of the moment, whatever that sounds like.

Whatever. If you haven't yet discovered the

live version of "Like Young Lovers Do," do

so. (It's available on his "Live at the

Hollywood Bowl" DVD, released a couple

months ago.) By the way, can you imagine

what David Hidalgo and Los Lobos could

do with that one?

The design of the concert was to perform

his entire "Astral Weeks" album, after

a warm-up set of Van classics, so

"Like Young Lovers Do," the peak of

a concert full of peaks, came around

mid-way through the "Astral" segment.

Earlier, Morrison had performed "Moondance,"

reimagined in a jazzier arrangement, an

irresistible "Wild Night" and a version

of Them's "Baby Please Don't Go" that had

people dancing wildly -- plus plenty

of radical scatting that made it seem

like Van was trying to re-invent singing


This tour is well worth checking out.

And you can see him on Leno this Wednesday.

But I digress. Paul



for April 29, 2009

Suddenly, unexpectedly, the balance of

political power in the United States has

come down to one single individual: the

guy who used to play Stuart Smalley on

"Saturday Night Live." Who'd-a thunk it?

* * *

Now that the state of Florida is

considering offering car license

plates with a picture of Jesus Christ

on them, here are a couple captions

to go with the pic.

"Right Guard Dry: never let them see you sweat!"

"Gee, Dad," says Jesus from the cross, "thanks
a whole lot -- you were a huge help!"

* * *

I've decided that Bill Maher is a funnier Lenny

Bruce -- or (more accurately) a funny Lenny


* * *

I don't have a pet dog, but if I ever get

one, I've decided to call him or her Rolf.

But I digress. Paul

[picture of crucifixion by unknown artist]



for April 27, 2009

"Dr." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ph.D.; "Those who
believe fact-based truths are racist" is
the level of a lot of what he says. [drawing
by Paul Iorio]

Funny thing about personal experience; it doesn't

always have a direct, linear effect on what

you do or say. A songwriter, for example, can

have personal tragedy or trauma in his life and

still continue to write mediocre songs. But

another writer who is merely moved by someone

else's tragedy or trauma can come up with a

work of genius like "Hey Jude" (as Paul McCartney

did, loosely playing off circumstances

surrounding John Lennon's painful divorce

from Cynthia). Interesting that Lennon

himself, as brilliant as he was, never came up

with anything nearly as moving that directly

related to his marital break-up.

Likewise, lots of soldiers endure the trauma of combat,

but very, very few come up with a work on the order of

"The Naked and the Dead" or "Platoon." Most soldiers

who have seen friends die on the battlefield write

only banalities and doggerel and are unable to

transform their experience into meaningful art.

One of the greatest war novels ever -- "The Red

Badge of Courage" -- was penned by someone who

never saw a day of combat, Stephen Crane.

And, likewise, one can have an education and still

not be educated at all. Witness Mahmoud

Ahmadinejad, who has a Ph.D. but is still

"astonishingly uneducated," to quote

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger.

The latest evidence of that was his appearance on

ABC's "This Week," in which he said the following:

"The Holocaust, if this is indeed a historical event,
why do they want to turn it into a holy thing? And
nobody should be allowed to ask any questions about
that? Nobody study it, research it,
permit it to research it. Why?"

One wonders about such a mind. If Ahmadinejad doubts

the Holocaust, what else does he doubt? The existence

of gravity? The fact that the Earth is round? Does

he have the same problem with all fact-based truth?

Does he only accept mythological truth?

And Ahmadinejad seems to be drawing a feeble

parallel, saying, See, you're as totalitarian in

the West as we are when it comes to something

you hold sacred.

But that's not true. If he wants to deny the Holocaust,

we in the West say, go ahead. We allow you the freedom

to publicly say and write that the holocaust didn't

happen. Sure, people might get angry, but there would

be no deadly riots in the streets as a result

(the way there were riots after the Jyllands-Posten

published the irreverent Mohammed cartoons).

What Ahmadinejad and other fundamentalists don't

understand is there are many different tools with

which to respond to something offensive (e.g.,

boycotts, civil disobedience, opinion pieces,

etc.). But, when offended, too many Muslim

extremists choose homicide from their tool kit -- as

their first and only response.

My feeling about newspapers and public figures that

deny the Holocaust is that they bring on their own

punishment: lack of credibility. Who would ever

take such a source seriously again?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is:

too many members of the U.N. General Assembly --

and too many Ph.Ds with disdain for

fact-based truth.

But I digress. Paul



for April 26, 2009

The Dalai Lama Visits Berkeley, Calif.!

Free Tibet buttons (which, by the way, aren't
free) on sale outside the theater where the Dalai
Lama appeared in Berkeley yesterday afternoon.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Students hanging out of dorm windows at
the University of California to catch a
glimpse of His Holiness.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for April 23, 2009

What Ever Happened to Al Gore?

my own Al Gore sighting, as seen at
around two o'clock this afternoon in
Berkeley, Calif. (above).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

I was wondering the other day: where did Al Gore

go? He seems to be the only first-rank Democrat

who hasn't become an Obama appointee or subsidiary.

In fact, he's been sort of invisible since November.

Well, I got my answer this afternoon. Gore was

speaking at the University of California at Berkeley,

and I dropped by to listen.

And I am here to report first-hand that he has

not reverted to his post-Beatles break-up beard,

that he seems almost younger than yesterday,

even slimmer than when I last saw him (two-and-a-half

years ago at a Prop 87 rally), though grayer, looking

much like the ex-president he'd finally be now, if

he hadn't been unfairly blocked from taking

the job he won in '00.

And on this day after Earth Day, his speech was

vintage Gore ("The entire north polar ice cap is

melting right before our eyes....."), though the

actual reason for his appearance was a

groundbreaking ceremony for UC's Blum Center.

For those wondering: Gore didn't mention whether

he'd run again for president in 2016 (or whether he'd

pull a -- banish the thought! -- primary challenge

in 2012).

* * * *

Obama's First Hundred Days

Barack Obama may well become our greatest

president since JFK and has probably already

inspired as many people as Kennedy did by

'62. Time will tell. But one hundred days

into his presidency, he still seems a bit

like the hip, super-smart substitute teacher

at the experimental school who does wonders

with the students and maybe can even help

junior get out of his funk! (And wouldn't

it be great if we could put him on staff


Joking aside, Obama seems to be made for this job.

I don't think there's another recent president

who has had fewer mis-steps and made fewer

mistakes in the post-inaugural months. And

he's checking off his campaign promises, one

by one, doing exactly what he said he'd do during

the election season.

I bet some of his supporters must be thinking

that this might be the time to repeal the 22nd

Amendment (because he's only going to be 55

when he finishes his second term, if he wins

in '12).

But I digress. Paul



for April 22, 2009

The Rise of Religious Tyranny
(and Why Blasphemy Makes More Sense Than Ever!)
The badly-educated religious totalitarians who
wrote this trashy U.N. resolution (above) probably
would've stoned Copernicus and Galileo for "religious
defamation." (Has Obama condemned it yet?)


The new U.N. logo?


Written by lazy plagiarists who shamelessly
stole supernatural tall tales from "The Book of the
Dead," the Hammurabi Code, etc.


Now that it's finally being released in
the U.K., might Bill Maher's very funny
"Religulous" run afoul of Britain's
antiquated blasphemy laws?

And so the United Nations's so-called Human Rights

Council -- a mis-named group dominated by Muslim

fundamentalist sympathizers that (by the way) has

yet to formally condemn the many human rights abuses

under Sharia law -- has drafted a

resolution condemning what it calls "religious


Free speech, says the non-binding resolution

passed a couple weeks ago by the General

Assembly, should be restricted to protect

"morals and general welfare," which

pretty much opens the door for censorship

by any government for any arbitrary reason.

Because the backers of the resolution, led by

Pakistan and cheered on by Hugo Chavez, obviously

did not do much critical thinking in drafting it,

let me ask the questions they should have.

Are you aware that religious defamation is what

scientists like Copernicus and Galileo were accused

of? Are you aware that many major advances in

science and philosophy throughout history were

once called blasphemous by religious literalists?

If you're against "defamation" of religion, then

why aren't you also against defamation of

political groups, governments and individuals?

Is it a human rights violation to make a joke

about the Saudi King? Is it a human rights

violation to ridicule the Republican party?

If not, why not? If I consider

my political beliefs more sacred than

my religious beliefs, then why shouldn't

my political beliefs be equally protected

against defamation? By defamation, don't

you really mean...merely criticizing


Lately there has been a lot of platitudinous

talk about showing respect for various

religious fanatics. But certainly there

are some people and groups not worthy of

respect. For example, bin Laden

and his followers are not worthy of respect

(just as the Ku Klux Klan and Charles Manson

are not worthy of respect). Others who have

not earned respect are: the Muslim

fanatic who murdered Theo van Gogh, abortion

clinic bombers, Islamic militants

who kill people because they're offended

by a mere cartoon. (Muslim militants have

apparently become the new Rodney Dangerfields!)

You see, the people who wrote that U.N.

resolution misunderstand the real problem,

which is religious totalitarianism and

the tyranny of absolutism. Muslim

fundamentalists simply don't want to give

Western progressives the same freedoms that

progressives give to fundamentalists.

In the U.S. and in most of Europe, we

say: if you want to prohibit pictures

of Mohammed in your mosque, you can do so.

You can lay down the law within your

mosque and forbid any drawings of

deities. That is your freedom.

But Muslim fundamentalists do not reciprocate.

They don't want to grant secularists the

freedom to display pictures of

deities if that's their choice.

The people who wrote that U.N. resolution

don't understand that Mohammed, to me,

is a figure from history, not from

religion -- and I will portray him (and

Napoleon and Hirohito and Plato

and Mao, etc.) any way I choose, thank

you very much.

It's disturbing that even Britain has

blasphemy laws on the books, but,

thankfully, that hasn't stopped the recent

release of Bill Maher's very funny and

wise documentary "Religulous" in the U.K.

In "Religulous" -- the top grossing documentary

of '08, yet unfairly shut out from the Best

Feature Docu category at the Oscars -- Maher

shows wit worthy of Groucho as he takes

apart the supernatural plagiarized tales of

the Bible.

One of the best parts of the film is when

Maher shows how the supposed biographical

details about Jesus (e.g., the virgin birth,

the resurrection, his ability to heal the

sick, etc.) are suspiciously similar to and

seem to have been lifted from stories about

the lives of deities from centuries before

the supposed birth of Christ (e.g., Mithra,

Attis, Buddha, etc.).

In other words, the holy tall tales told

for centuries in ancient Egypt and India

were such a great box office draw in Cairo

and Bombay that the writers of the Bible

couldn't help but steal some of the best

bits for their brand new character, Jesus

Christ, star of a sketch in which a father

(God) is OK with having his only son

murdered by a mob. (How heartwarming!

And one of Melissa Huckabee's favorite

stories, by the way.)

And the way the Koran steals from the Torah,

you'd think the holy wars would be about

copyright infringement!

Elsewhere in the Bible, Maher notes, there are

supernatural yarns worthy of Marvel comics.

As he notes, it's astonishing that otherwise

smart adults actually believe cartoons about

a talking snake, a man living inside

a whale, and a virgin birth.

By the way, Ray Suarez's comment that fewer people

went to church less often in America in the 18th

century may be true, but it's also true that

far more people back then took the Bible more

literally than they do today; as science

continues to explain phenomena that the Bible

had attributed to supernatural forces, the

overall trend is, generally, away from


As I said, a terrific docu. I only wish Maher

had interviewed the loony former mayor of

Inglis, Florida, who memorably banned

the devil from her town! Also wish he had

been able to use Tom Lehrer's "The Vatican

Rag" for his segment at the Vatican.

To digress for a moment: I've always thought

that if the story of Jesus Christ were true,

and it's probably not, and if Jesus were

to come back to life and to Earth, Jesus

would probably not be well-liked. I mean,

after the initial novelty of Christ's

resurrection wore off, people would get

very tired of Jesus throwing around his weight

and saying arrogant and egotistical things

like "I am the way and the light" and "I

am the son of God" and "Hey, babe, you

can't worship anyone but me." Imagine him

demanding a good table at a crowded restaurant

because "I'm the son of God." After two or

three months of this, I can imagine people would

want to crucify him all over again!

Anyway, see "Religulous," if you haven't already.

And put that U.N. resolution to good use -- in

the bird cage.

But I digress. Paul

[U.N. resolution from; satiric U.N.
logo by Paul Iorio (Mohammed drawing from
Jyllands-Posten); Holy Bible from; "Religulous" image
from the Lion's Gate DVD.]



for April 10 - 12, 2009

New on DVD: "Slumdog Millionaire"

The TV biz is murder in India, no? They actually

dish out torture for suspected game show

cheating? I can't imagine the authorities

could torture someone more if they thought

he knew where bin Laden was hiding. (I hope

Regis isn't like that!)

That said, the quiz show subplot is

surprisingly secondary, or almost

secondary, and doesn't even fully kick

in until the 90-minute mark, despite the

film makers's contrived attempts to show

how the questions on the TV program relate

to past experiences in Jamal's life. Still,

one wonders how a guy raised in bookless

squalor came to have such an expanse of

knowledge (and such fluency in English,

too!). In somewhat similarly-themed

movies about braniacs, like "Quiz Show" or

"Good Will Hunting," one gets a real sense

of a character's brilliance permeating other

parts of his life -- but here, Jamal

doesn't seem exceptionally bright

off screen.

Also, he's handed over to the cops (by

the host of the show, no less!) and

suspected of fraud (an accusation that

even makes headlines!) and then is allowed

to return to the program for the final

round, all freshened up after a session

of torture, his reputation restored.

But such loose ends can be overlooked

because the film making -- by the guy who

directed "Trainspotting" and the writer

who scripted "The Full Monty" -- is genuinely

seductive. Despite its flaws, "Slumdog" is

gripping, harrowing, scalding, touching,

suspenseful, twisty.

Everyone (rightly) talks about how impressive

Dev Patel is as Jamal, but the real unsung

actor here is Madhur Mittal, the guy

who plays the older version of Salim,

who benefits from some memorable lines

and makes the most of some very

small lines (e.g., "Still?!,"

which Mittal makes so poignant; it takes a

resourceful actor to draw out the vast meaning

in that one small word).

But Mittal is also the victim of an oddly

conceived scene in which he covers himself

with money in a bathtub (it would have been

better if he had filled the tub with dough

and then put a match to it, saying something

like, "Hey, Javed, here's your money").

Movie could've easily been more multidimensional,

showing how some of the elements of "Who Wants to

Be a Millionaire" are much like the capitalist

system itself, in that you can lose (or gain)

everything with a single risk.

Still, it's well worth seeing, though not the

best movie of 2008 (that was "The Wrestler,"

which itself could have been far greater if

the film makers had merely added 15 minutes

of footage dramatizing The Ram's glory days

as a wrestler; instead, it's like "Raging Bull"

without LaMotta's early period).

The dance sequence finale is winning, a sweetener

that's necessary in order to counterbalance the

brutality elsewhere, which threatens to overwhelm

one's overall memory of the film.

DVD has no extras of note, no deleted scenes,

but the film is so meaty that you don't

notice that.

* * *

Bravo to Madonna Ciccone for donating money to

the earthquake victims near L'Aquila, Italy.

Far less admirable is Prime Minister Silvio

Berlusconi, who surveyed the tent city of those

made homeless by the quake and said it looked

"like a weekend of camping." And I guess he

must think the Nazi concentration camps were

just a huge slumber party.

* * *

the perfect song for Good Friday and Easter!

* * * *

Turns out that the face of pure evil is
(evidently) a Sunday school teacher, the
granddaughter of a pastor. (Above, the
official booking info for the suspected
Tracy killer.) By the way, if she did
do it, you can bet it wasn't the first time
she had done something like that. Are there
any similar unsolved murders in the area of
L.A. County where she lived before last year?
In all likelihood, she wouldn't have been
so brazen as to commit an abduction
in broad daylight (and in public) if
she hadn't done it before and gotten
away with it.

* * * *

Newt Gingrich has once again proved how heartless

he is by calling the hoopla around the First Pooch,

Bo, "stupid." Aw, c'mon! Thatza cute pup. Look

at those boots. And you gotta love the name, redolent

as it is of Bo Diddley, who would be smiling right

about now. The best White House pooch in a

long time (and better than the one that bit that

Reuters reporter!).

* * * *

One way to manage the pirate problem off Somalia

might be to have the Coast Guard or Navy send out

decoy ships (posing as private vessels) on a regular

basis to those waters. Then we can capture and

jail the pirates who take the bait, creating a

huge downside for the bandits, reducing their

confidence and incentive.

* * * *

People continue to ask about songs I wrote

for my album "75 Songs," which I self-released

last year. (And I must say I'm very grateful

to those who have connected with my songs

and have played them on the radio!)

A couple people asked about how "Time Begins

To End" came about, and another asked about

"Chasin' You."

"Time Begins To End" is perhaps the most

personally cathartic song I've written,

in that I felt better after writing it.

Based loosely on the very sad experience

of having seen my father just before

he died of cancer.

I wrote "Time Begins to End" in my apartment

in Berkeley, Calif., between late December 2007

and early January 2008. I began

writing the song in late November 2007 when

the line "asleep at the wake" came to me

out of the blue. In late December '07

and early January '08, the whole song came

rolling out of me, melody and lyric in

one piece.

Finished it on January 13, 2008, and (as

usual) sent it to myself in an email,

presented below:

* *
And (below) here's the line I came up with that gave

birth to the track:

* *
"Chasin' You" has a different origin. I

wrote that one in 1981 during my New York

years, put it on a 1994 cassette of my

own songs, which I didn't release until

1998, when I put together around a dozen

of my songs on a cassette tape

and sent it around (to around ten people!).

[None of my songs was released on CD

until late 2005 -- except "Ten Years Ago."]

I wrote most of "Chasin' You" while living on

West 74th Street in Manhattan. And I wrote

the rest in '85 after I had moved

to a new place on West 110th St. that

had a broken window (actually, the whole

window frame was pushed from its hinges

after I tried to buttress it during a

hurricane -- yes, a hurricane! -- in New

York City in the late Fall of '85).

Anyway, through this busted window I could see,

in a nearby apartment building, a really hot

looking woman who was dancing in her room

virtually naked. And that's when I came up

with (among other things!) a new song,

or a fragment of a song, that went,

"Fortunate for me, good luck dances naked

in broken windows."

But I was unable to develop the fragment, though

I found it fit well as a sort of cryptic coda

to "Chasin' You," and that's how that part

was written.

the "broken window" in my apartment (above)
on the Upper West Side from which I once saw a
beautiful woman dancing naked (fortunate for
me!), inspiring part of my song
"Chasin' You" in the 1980s. (window wasn't
broken when this shot was taken!)

* *

"Chasin' You" (number 9 on the list, above) was one of
around 17 songs I had written that I was going to
release in 1994; most didn't get released until
1998 (on cassette tape, to around 10 people!). None
of my songs was released on CD until late 2005 --
except "Ten Years Ago."

But I digress. Paul



for April 9, 2009

Kurt Cobain died 15 years ago this week,

which means he would've been 42 by now,

older than John Lennon ever was, but only

halfway to a full lifespan, which

should've ended naturally sometime in

the 2040s, in mid-century, after he had

created at least a couple dozen new

albums, both solo and with Nirvana and

perhaps with others, too.

But he ended it way back in the 20th

century, in the pre-Internet era, so

long ago that no undergrad currently in

college could have a contemporaneous

memory of the release of a brand new

Nirvana studio album.

Anyway, to mark the 15th anniversary, here

are some original photos I shot in 2002 of

Cobain's house and of other Cobain-related

locations in Seattle. Several photos from

this series were published

by the Washington Post in 2002,

accompanying a story I'd written and

reported about Seattle for the paper.

But most of these shots have never been

published, so I thought I'd share

them here.

a bench marked with graffiti about
Cobain, next door to Cobain's house. [photo
by Paul Iorio]

* * *

the house where Cobain killed himself.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Cobain lived in the Madrona district
of Seattle, on Lake Washington. (As you
can see, I was there on a very rare
blue-sky day in Seattle!) [photo by Paul Iorio.]

* * *

Seattle's Re-Bar, site of the "Nevermind"
record release party, from which Nirvana
was bounced for food fighting! [photo
by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for April 8, 2009

A friend asked me the other day what I

meant when I wrote a particular line in

my song "Love's the Heaven You Can't Reach."

The line she wanted to know about is:

"She's living in a hole/the pilot light

has gone from blue to yellow/you can

almost see the CO in the air."

I wrote that line after going to an

apartment (I won't say whose!) in the

Bay Area in '08 and feeling dizzy

because of the air quality in the

place. I suspected there was CO in the air

and noticed that the pilot light on the

heater was a sort of sickly yellow. Later,

at my computer, I Googled "pilot light" and "CO"

and found that one major indicator of CO emission

is when a gas pilot light goes from a healthy

blue to a flickering yellow. So I put that

detail into the song, which is sort of about

a woman living a boho Lower East Side

existence, and it fit nicely.

I wrote "Love's The Heaven You Can't Reach"

as I've written almost all of my songs, on

the tape recorder, with the lyric and melody

coming simultaneously. (And then, as I also

always do, I emailed the song to myself

so that I would know exactly when I came

up with it. Hence, for what it's worth, I

know I finished "Love's The Heaven" on

August 9, 2008, at around 9:30 AM! (A nifty

device, this email thing, eh?) Studio

version is from an August 19 session, by

the way. For anyone interested, here's

the top of the email I sent to myself:

But I digress. Paul



for April 6, 2009

The word is out: Crime, the pioneering San Francisco

punk band of the 1970s, will definitely appear on

Marshall Stax's show on KALX radio next week!

For those unfamiliar with his program, it

features music by the unsigned and the

unsung, happens every Monday at 6pm, and

is one of the more inspired shows on the

airwaves. (And I'm not just saying that

because he has played my own songs on

KALX from time to time; I'd still tune in,

even if he didn't air my stuff!) Anyway,

his show is called the Next Big Thing and

(I think)it's streamed live on the web -- and

the Crime appearance should be

well worth checking out.

* * * *

I just wrote a story with John D. Thomas

for the online edition of Playboy magazine;

it's a humorous look at all those

misleading ads that A.I.G. and other financial

services firms ran before the recession,

and here it is:



for April 5, 2009

On the Sunday morning talk shows this morning,

all the expert analyses of the North Korean

missile test omitted one of the most chilling and

truly dangerous elements of the launch:

the fact that Kim Jong Il recently had a

major stroke. As any medical professional

would tell you, strokes can easily turn

someone into a clinical paranoid or create

other kinds of mental illnesses.

Which is doubly troubling in Kim's case,

given that the North Korean leader had

obvious paranoid tendencies before

the stroke.

Isn't this what we've all been worried about

since the birth of the Bomb: that some

deranged leader will become mentally unstable

enough to start lobbing nukes? I guess we

should be truly alarmed if Kim starts talking

about his "precious bodily fluids."

It's altogether possible that, a year from now,

President Obama will be saying stuff like: "If you

told me a year ago that my main foreign policy

concern right now would be American involvement

in the war between North Korea and Japan, I'd

have said you're wayy off."

* * * *

Good for George Stephanopoulos for questioning

Obama advisor Susan Rice about the

administration's silence on the horrific flogging

of a 17-year old Pakistani girl by the Taliban

for refusing to marry some local geezer (or some

such "offense") -- an act of violence that is

all the talk in Pakistan and elsewhere lately.

Susan Rice was so outraged by the brutal beating

that she even went so far as to call it

"inconsistent." How Dukakasian.

I know what they're probably thinking in the White House:

let Zardari handle it; it will only harden

the Taliban position if the Great Infidel (aka, the USA)

weighs in with predictable condemnation.

Maybe. But the application of Sharia law

in this sort of way is a human rights

violation, plain and simple, and we should

call it exactly what it is: barbaric.

Cultural relativism doesn't apply in this

case, any more than it did when Dr. Mengele

did his medical experiments in Germany in

the 1940s.

But I digress. Paul



for April 4, 2009

Editing Maureen Dowd

While reading Maureen Dowd's latest column in The

New York Times (3/5/09), I couldn't help but think

that perhaps she needed the help of an editor

this time.

So I've decided to present Dowd's column here,

along with my own editorial comments and suggestions

(in bold caps):

Barack Obama grew up learning how to slip in and out

of different worlds — black and white, foreign and

American, rich and poor.

The son of an anthropologist [WHO BARACK NEVER KNEW

], he developed a lot of “tricks,”

as he put it, training himself to be a close observer



figuring out what

others needed so he could get where he wanted to go.

He was able to banish any fear in older white folk

that he was an angry young black man — with smiles,

courtesy and, as he wrote in his memoir, “no sudden

moves.” He learned negotiating skills as a community

organizer and was able to ascend to the presidency

of the Harvard Law Review by letting a disparate

band of self-regarding eggheads feel that they were

being heard and heeded [THIS PART READS LIKE A GLOWING






As Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard law

professor who mentored the young Obama, put it,

“He can enter your space and organize your thoughts

without necessarily revealing his own concerns

and conflicts.” He can leave you thinking he agrees,

when often he’s only agreeing to leave you thinking










He privately rolls his eyes at the way many

in politics and government spend so much time

preening and maneuvering for credit rather

than simply doing their jobs. Yet with that

detached and novelistic eye that allows him to

be a great writer [SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE

he is also

able to do a kind of political jujitsu,

where he assesses the bluster and

insecurities of other politicians,

defuses them, and then uses them to his advantage.

Gabriel Byrne’s brooding psychoanalyst on

“In Treatment” might envy Barack Obama’s



psychoanalysis in Europe. He may not have

come away with all he wanted substantively


His hand was too weak going in, and there was

too much hostility toward America, thanks

to W.’s blunders and Cheney’s bullying. But

he showed a psychological finesse that has

been missing from American leadership for

a long time.

“Each country has its own quirks,” he said at

his London press conference, indicating that

you had to intuit how much you could prod

each leader.

W. always bragged about his instincts, saying he


] to trust based on his gut. But even

with the help of psychologists putting together

profiles of dictators and other major players for

our intelligence services, Bush and his inner

circle were extraordinarily obtuse about reading

the motivations and the intentions of friends

and foes.

How could it never occur to them that Saddam Hussein

might simply be bluffing about the size of his

W.M.D. arsenal to keep the Iranians and other

antagonists at bay? [HEY, I HAVE ALWAYS
























W. bristled at French and German leaders

because he thought they were condescending

to him. He thought he saw into Vladimir Putin’s

soul until the Russian leader showed his

totalitarian stripes.

W. and Condi were so clueless about the mind-set

of Palestinians that Condi was blindsided by

the Hamas victory in 2006, learning the news

from TV as she did the elliptical at 5 a.m.

in the gym of her Watergate apartment. {HOW



The Bush chuckleheads misread the world

and insisted that everyone else go along

with their deluded perception, and they

bullied the world and got huffy if the

world didn’t quickly fall in line.

President Obama, by contrast, employed smart

psychology in the global club, even on small

things, like asking other leaders if they

wanted to start talking first at news conferences.






With Anglo-American capitalism on trial and

Gordon Brown floundering in the polls,

Mr. Obama took pains to drape an arm around

“Gordon” and return to using the phrase

“special relationship.” He gave a shout-out

to the Brown kids, saying he’d talked dinosaurs

with them. [SOUNDS LIKE HIGH W.]

He won points with a prickly Sarkozy when he

intervened in an argument about tax havens

between the French and Chinese leaders, pulling

them into a corner to help them “get this all

in some kind of perspective” and find a

middle ground. Mr. Obama also played to the

ego of the Napoleonic French leader, saying

at their press conference, “He’s courageous

on so many fronts, it’s hard to keep up.”





Soon Sarko was back gushing over his charmant




Having an Iowa-style town hall in Strasbourg

with enthusiastic French and German students

was a clever ploy to underscore his popularity

on the world stage, and put European leaders

on notice that many of their constituents

are also his.

Like a good shrink, the president listens;

it’s a way of flattering his subjects and

sussing them out without having to fathom

what’s in their soul. “It is easy to talk

to him,” Dmitri Medvedev said after their

meeting. “He can listen.” [YEAH, BUT THIS




The Russian president called the American

one “my new comrade.”[PUTIN WAS EVEN MORE PUBLICLY




Mr. Obama, the least silly of men, was even

willing to mug for a silly Facebook-ready

picture, grinning and giving a thumbs-up

with Medvedev and a goofy-looking

Silvio Berlusconi [I'LL AGREE WITH YOU THERE;



Now that America can’t put everyone under

its thumb, a thumbs-up and a killer smile

can go a long way. [GO A LONG WAY? REALLY?






But I digress. Paul

[The April 4, 2009, Digression was revised
on April 8.]



For March 25, 2009

[An online magazine has just bought (and says

it will publish) a version of the Digression that

appeared on this day. So I'm taking it down from

this space and will provide a link to the

published piece later.]



for March 24, 2009

"A Whole Host" of Obamisms

Sure, many presidents and public figures sometimes

find themselves unable to stop repeating certain

words or phrases during a speech, and President

Obama, at his news conference tonight, was no


Like Richard Nixon repeatedly saying he could

have easily taken the easy path, or George W. Bush

telling us the presidency is "hard work," President

Obama now has his own pet phrase: "a whole host."

At tonight's Q&A session, he used "whole host"

seven times; for those who missed the

repetitions, here they are:

-- "...the FDIC could step in, as it does with a
whole host of banks..."

-- "the American people are making a host
of sacrifices"

-- "It is going to take a whole host of

-- "There are a whole host of veterans' issues"

-- "There are a whole host of people who are students
of the procurement process"

-- "Let's do a whole host of things"

-- "So there are a whole host of steps"

And the phrase is catchy, too; his press secretary, Robert

Gibbs, was using the phrase earlier in the day.

Prior to the Obama era, "whole host" was

perhaps best known pop culturally as a phrase in

a well-known James Taylor song, "Carolina in

My Mind," which Taylor playfully altered this way:

"With a holy host of others standing 'round me
Still I'm on the dark side of the moon...."

I expect the president will probably be

using the phrase in a whole host of new

ways in the future.

But I digress. Paul



for March 23 - 24, 2009

Obama's Appearance on "60 Minutes" Last Night, etc.

It's official: President Obama already has

seniority among former presidents, having

served longer in the White House than our

ninth president, William Henry Harrison, who

dropped dead around a month after his inauguration.

So if Obama were to quit his job today -- and

I hope he doesn't -- he wouldn't be the

president with the shortest tenure.

On "60 Minutes" last night, Obama showed us the

White House-as-a-family-residence, and that

got me wondering about the particulars of

presidential living (not that I'm thinking

of running for anything). But I wondered:

would I be covered by a lease during my

tenancy at the White House? Would I be

effectively classed as a renter, with the

rent paid by the federal government? Would I

have to pay a security deposit?

Sounds like Obama is, effectively, a temporary

tenant who has to vacate in 3 years and several

months, unless he wins the 2012 election.

Suppose I came into the White House and said,

not for me, not my style. Too 19th century. But

I'll keep it as my nominal residence, while

actually residing in, say, Arlington, in a

21st century A-frame place with modern sculpture

and a grand green front lawn, where I'd feel more

comfortable. I'm the president -- I can do

that, right?

Look, I can understand relocating to D.C. as

part of the job. But why do you have to live

in a one-size-fits-all house that

still has all the smells and stains and ghosts

of your predecessor?

In other words (and let's be frank), Bush's

Crawford friends, some with b.o. and dripping

bar-b-q sauce and mud, probably left their own

unique imprint and odor, and I would want to get

all that deep-cleaned immediately. (Remember the

"Seinfeld" episode with the smelly car? Sorta like

that.) But what if the cleaners have done their

best and yet I'm still smelling 43 and his

frat buds? Or, what if I just can't stand the

idea of sleeping in the same place

where you-know-who slept for eight years?

I guess I'd feel stir crazy and cooped up in

the White House. I'd be looking to get out

and take solitary walks at every opportunity.

I'd have to find a way. Could I wear a

super-realistic face mask that makes me look

like I'm a completely different person -- and

then take a walk in the woods? If not, then

who's running things around here: me or my

security people?

And what if the president -- who is the decider,

after all -- decides to veto his security

peeps and insists on going to the grocery

store on his own, without anyone else? Can his

security people overrule him? Suppose the president

says, "So arrest me." Can Secret Service

agents then detain or bust the president

and physically stop him from going to the

grocery store? Would they have to handcuff the

prez and place him in a detention area?

I mean, how would that look? Everyone would ask

whether there's any difference between a president

and a prison inmate. Everyone would wonder why

the president has the power to drop

nukes and annihilate life on earth but doesn't

have the authority to buy a pack of smokes

at the 7-11. Shouldn't the commander-in-chief

have the last word?

Frankly, I don't think I'd last even as

long in the White House as William Henry

Harrison. Not enough power in the position.

* * * *


A more stupid bumper sticker than "9/11 Was an

Inside Job" probably does not exist (although

"What Has Any Afghan Ever Done to You?,"

which cropped up after 9/11, is

a runner-up in the idiocy sweepstakes).

Also, note the adjacent leftover "Dennis

Kucinich for President" bumper sticker, which

just shows that Kucinich -- who is as

smart about domestic policy as he is unwise about

defense issues -- has a way of attracting foreign

policy crazies.

If any fresh proof were needed of Kucinich's

foreign policy ineptitude, check out his

recent statements opposing President Obama's very

necessary deployment of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan,

reported prominently on the the Russia Television

(RT) news service, which can sometimes seem like

a propaganda arm of the Kremlin. (The Kremlin,

of course, has a personal interest in opposing

our involvement in Afghanistan, because

Medvedev/Putin probably wouldn't want to

see us succeed where their nation failed

militarily in the 1980s. Moscow conveniently

forgets the U.S. was attacked in '01 by

terrorists based in Afghanistan and backed

by the Taliban government there -- and the

people who attacked us are currently regrouping

in that area. So, obviously, we want to

stop that resurgence.)

Like former Sen. George McGovern, a World War II

vet, I am against some wars, not all wars,

and Afghanistan is a necessary one. Pacificism

merely means the other guy's violence


As I wrote in this space a couple years ago:

those who spout platitudes like "war doesn't solve anything"

are just spouting platitudes. Yes, war should be avoided at

almost all costs, but -- hmm, let's see -- war stopped slavery

in the United States, war stopped Adolf Hitler in Germany,

war stopped bin Laden's proxy government in Afghanistan.

Sometimes you have to counter-intuitively light a backfire

to stop the main fire, you have to inject a little smallpox

to get rid of smallpox. (That's where guys like Howard Zinn

and Noam Chomsky, who were once wise in their younger days

but not in their post-9/11 older years, make big mistakes

in judgment, not understanding such a central paradox. But

then we all get old.)

With regard to the Afghanistan war, I side with Sen. John

Kerry, another vet, who not only supported that conflict

but said we should have gotten in sooner (why on earth did

we wait till October '01, giving bin Laden a chance to

escape?!) and should have stayed longer to bomb Tora Bora.

What exactly did the anti-Afghanistan war activists

suggest we do in the weeks after 9/11? Serve bin Laden

a subpoena in the neverlands of Tora Bora? And what

if his protectors had started shooting? Then we're

shooting back, right? Well, hey, that's precisely

what war is!

So "war doesn't solve anything" is one of those

platitudes -- like "love conquers all" and "I am

the way and the light" -- that really, when you

examine it, isn't very wise or true and doesn't

make a whole lot of practical sense.

And let's hope that we don't let the national trauma

of the Iraq conflict cloud our collective judgment so

that we don't see that the next war, if there is one,

may be very just. A patient traumatized by

inept surgery may be overly reluctant to

have a necessary operation in the future.

But I digress. Paul



for March 22, 2009

New on DVD: "Milk"

Take it from me, a hard-core, incorrigible

heterosexual: "Milk" is magnificent.

The story of late-blooming politician Harvey

Milk, a city councilman (they call them

supervisors in San Francisco) who served for

only a year but broke new ground by being

openly gay and putting gay issues defiantly

front and center, this biopic is

riveting, inspired, carbonated, airborne.

Sean Penn disappears into the role of Milk as

magically as Robert DeNiro became Jake LaMotta in

"Raging Bull" all those years ago. It's on that

level, easily.

Josh Brolin is also brilliant in his very

knowing, very smart psychological portrait

of a deeply repressed homosexual,

assassin Dan White, a role that probably should

have been expanded (if only to show how financial

pressures contributed to White's mental illness).

"Milk" is also a vivid evocation of a long-ago

counter-culture era (and scenes are packed with

such obsolete phenomena as record players,

typewriters, unprotected sex, landlines and the

San Francisco Chronicle).

The Anita Bryant footage is priceless; she almost

comes across as an actress in an ironic

performance trying to portray a truly

ludicrous holy roller, which is exactly what

she was.

And excellent use of Bowie's "Queen Bitch" and

Sly's "Everyday People" in the film (Tom Robinson's

exciting but unjustly forgotten "All Right, All

Night" would've fit perfectly here).

Also, S.F. supe Tom Ammiano makes a nice,

passionate cameo.

But don't look for any deleted scenes of note

on the DVD; evidently, all the magic was used

in the picture.

But I digress. Paul



for March 20, 2009

Visiting A.I.G. Execs is Only the First Step

"Well I'm going to the mansions where Pfizer

lives/the mansions that they built by ripping

off the sick/I'm gonna tell 'em that they can't

do that no more/There's a deep discount on aisle

four/I'm stealin' medication," goes the lyrics

of one of my latest songs, "Stealin'

Medication," which has actually gotten some radio

airplay in recent months.

As the composer of "Stealin' Medication," I was

gratified to see this story -- --

in today's online edition of The New York Times,

reporting about a group that is

taking its anger about the A.I.G. bonuses to

the streets where the executives live.

Great idea. It's what I've been advocating in

this space and elsewhere for a long time: bring

your protests to the neighborhoods where venal,

overcompensated executives live -- and make some

noise there. Those excessive bonuses are

both the symbol and the reality of exactly

what is unfair about the accumulation of

wealth in America: the wrong people are


More than talent, more than hard work,

gaming the system, along with

nepotism and luck, will make you wealthy and

successful in the U.S.A.

Let's be real: those execs at AIG are failures,

incompetent in their own fields, yet they're

fabulously wealthy. Explain

to me how that happened so we can stop it from

ever happening again, at A.I.G. or elsewhere.

My advice to protesters is to put

your time to really good use and target

the heads of companies that make

profits off sick people (e.g., the

major pharmaceutical and health insurance

firms). After all, the execs

at companies like Pfizer and Merck are

basically saying to the uninsured: "go bleed

to death if you can't afford our medication;

it's survival of the fittest in the jungle

out there."

So let's adopt their attitude. Let's take that

very same approach to the rich execs at

the pharma companies. Maybe some picketers will even

be motivated to block their streets and sidewalks.

Maybe other protesters will refuse to come

down from their trees until the execs

make medication affordable to those who need


In other words: exert leverage. Do what they're

doing to us. And remember: almost no harsh protest

tactic could possibly be as callous as denying medication

to sick people who can't afford it.

This is clearly a new era, but President Obama

can take us only so far. In order to get

meaningful health care reform (and business

compensation reform, for that matter), there must

be a combination of official action from the

White House and Congress and

effective acts of civil disobedience,

targeting bad corporate actors where they live.

So come down from your trees, you eco-protesters.

Come down from your occupied buildings,

you anti-Iraq war people. Come put your

resourcefulness and energy to better use

by targeting immoral, unethical, overcompensated

CEOs at the palaces they call home.

Practice on the AIG execs first but then set your

sights on an even nobler target: the residences of

the heads of the pharma and health insurance


But I digress. Paul



for March 19, 2009


Last Night's Attack on a Marine Recruiting Center in Berkeley
Exclusive photos

Last night, on the eve of the 6th anniversary of
the U.S. invasion of Iraq, anti-war protesters
(we assume) vandalized a Marine Corps Recruiting
Center on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, Calif., smashing
plate glass windows and splattering paint. This
is how it looked at daybreak this morning, its
broken windows replaced with wood.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Red paint tossed by protesters on the wall of the
Marine center.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Paint splattered walls and gates of the Marine
center and of an adjacent business.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

The controversial memorial, in Lafayette, Calif.,
to American soldiers who have died in Iraq. Here's
a shot of it in April 2008, when the number of
dead stood at 4,039 (the number has since been
updated to 4,925).

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *
* * *

The Great Recession is everywhere you look these
days. This morning, during an early morning walk,
I snapped this shot of a homeless man sleeping
on a sidewalk next to a Kinko's picture window
in Berkeley.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Another shot of the homeless man, sleeping next
to shelves of Kinkos's multi-colored paper.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

One more picture of the man sleeping outside a
Kinko's store.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for March 18, 2009

I Was at Britney's First Concert in L.A., Ten Years Ago....

my ticket to Britney's debut live show in L.A.

Haven't seen Britney Spears's "Circus" tour yet,

but I actually did get to see her on her first

tour in 1999, when she performed her debut

concert in Los Angeles at age 17.

Though her first album, "...Baby One More Time,"

had been released only five months earlier, her

following was already intense and massive. She

was playing one of those multi-act stadium shows -- at

Dodger Stadium on June 12, 1999 -- headlined by

one-hit flash Ricky Martin (who I didn't stay

to see) and Will Smith (who I was covering for a


The eclectic pop fest, dubbed Wango Tango, also

featured Nancy Sinatra (doing a fine "How Does

That Grab You?"), an exciting Blondie and a

solid UB40 -- and there were lots of stars in

the audience, too (when Kobe Bryant strolled

down an aisle, carrying himself like an emperor,

the crowd stood and watched his every move).

When Britney appeared, the entire composition of

the audience suddenly changed into an aggressive

all-female, all-teenage mob that seemed to view

me -- the only middle-aged male there (hey, I was

working!)-- as their unwelcome daddy and

chaperone, who they wished would just go away.

I half-thought I was going to

be lynched at one point.

Britney performed on a stage crowded with several

dancers and bandmates doing mass-synchronized

dancing that looked exactly like an aerobics class.

The fans in front of me, standing on chairs, were

so loud I couldn't hear much. And before I knew it,

around 20 minutes into the set, her first concert

in L.A. was over. Her legend, of course, was

just being born.

* * * *

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, edgy last night on Ferguson's show.

With "Seinfeld" in constant syndication, and with

"The New Adventures of Old Christine" a fresh

presence in prime time, a lot of people tend to

take Julia Louis-Dreyfus for granted. One

tends to forget how spontaneous and unpredictably

funny she can be -- until you see her in an

appearance like the one last night on "The Late,

Late Show with Craig Ferguson." She started off

funny, got funnier and then edgy as she

let loose some talk that was completely bleeped

by Standards & Practices and that

seemed to take even Ferguson aback. Would

love to hear the uncensored footage.

But I digress. Paul



for March 15, 2009

Just listened to the new bin Laden audiotape,

and the first thing that struck me was he sounded

sort of dehydrated, which -- who knows? -- might

be related to his kidney disease, which (in some

cases, doctors say) can feel like the worst

hangover imaginable.

So there is hope!

He also comes out against wine, folks (so I'm sure

he'd be no fan of my recently released song "The

Wine Song," which goes, "I want wine, I want wine,

I want more and more and more wine...").

And he denounces radio, too, and singles out

the BBC for condemnation (which means he

wouldn't like the fact that "The Wine Song"

was recently aired by a radio

station -- double blasphemy!).

Elsewhere, he talks about morality (which is

sort of like Charles Manson lecturing on good

and evil), speaks repeatedly about "temptation,"

talks a few times about "reaching shore" (but,

thankfully, doesn't plagiarize

my song "Drowning Man," which is also about

reaching shore), says something about spears, and

plays the Middle East card rather than justify

his own mass homicidal actions.

And, yeah, he mentions the Koran several times,

though it's unclear what good the book does

him if it guides him only to evil acts.

But I digress. Paul



for March 14 - 15, 2009

Al Jazeera, staffed with steno secretaries for

al Qaeda who pose as reporters, once again carried

water for bin Laden (such sweet boys!) and won't

tell us where the water came from, which makes

the "network" a bit of a collaborator with bin

Laden, wouldn't you say?

You guys at al Jazeera probably didn't even try to

trace the chain of custody of the latest audiotape

from bin Laden. Maybe you could give us a hint as

to which part of the world it might have come from.

(Sounds like...?)

Let's just say that if bin Laden causes more

bloodshed -- and he will, or will try -- that

some of the blood will be on the hands of

you folks at al Jazeera, because you could've helped

us catch him. Most of the "reporters" at the

"network" can barely conceal their pathological

closet sympathies for bin Laden and his religious

psychos. You guys aren't hiding it well.

The job of a journalist is not to turn in people

like bin Laden, you say. But it is your

job and responsibility when there are

extraordinary circumstances involved. You're

citizens first, journalists second, and you could

save many thousands -- maybe millions -- of lives by

doing the right thing and trying to find where he's

hiding -- and revealing that info to the authorities.

Let me provide an example that you guys

at al Jazeera might understand. Suppose

(and let's hope something like this never occurs)

the wife of the head of al Jazeera were kidnapped

by a terrorist group, and one of your reporters was

able to score an interview with the head of that

group. Are we to believe for one moment that

al Jazeera wouldn't bring all its resources

to bear to find out the location of the interview

and to alert the authorities about where it

was taking place?

Of course they would. In that instance,

al Jazeera would (rightly) be acting more like

cops than reporters -- and would certainly make

no apologies for doing so. They would surely cite

"extraordinary circumstances" in justifying their

actions and their scuttling of confidentiality


Well, there you go; you've just agreed that

a confidentiality agreement is not always


It's amazing how people suddenly

see the light with such clarity when an

example is given that involves their own


But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Last night's "Saturday Night Live" was one

of the unfunniest in recent memory, standing as

vivid proof, if any were needed, that

Tracy Morgan is not funny. Morgan is under

the misimpression that a bad joke told at

a low volume will miraculously become

funny if you shout it. (Also -- suspicious

sin of omission: why no Jim Cramer sketch,

which would've been a perfect fit for SNL

this week, and everyone knows it. I wonder

which one of Cramer's contacts at SNL or NBC

got such a sketch idea dismissed.)

* * *

How refreshing to hear Congressman Barney

Frank (D-MA) say it honestly and directly

on "Fox News Sunday":

"I'm for a single-payer health care plan

like Medicare."

And he's right: the easiest way to provide

universal health care in the U.S. is to simply

expand Medicare until everyone's covered.

Right now, given the stigma of "single-payer"

among conservatives, incrementalism may be

the best the Obama administration can do.

But the most painless path to universal

health care probably lies in the gradual

expansion of a program that's already

in place.

* * *

Dontcha just hate all those people on TV

interview shows who say (whether it's true

or not), "This was a team effort," "There

is no 'i' in team," "We all checked our egos

at the door," "This wasn't about me but

about the group," etc., etc.?

All well and good if that's true. If something is

really a team effort, then by all means label

it as such.

But can you imagine Picasso unveiling "Guernica" and,

with false modesty, saying, "Ya know, 'Guernica'

was a group project, and I want to thank the team,"

or if Leonardo had displayed "The Last Supper," saying,

"And thanks to the team that made this possible -- it

wasn't just me!"

As I get older, I find that the people who talk the most

about a project being the result of "teamwork" are

generally the ones who had least amount of input into it.



for March 12, 2009

New on DVD: "Rachel Getting Married"

Yeah, it's Demme's best feature film in 15 years,

though that's not saying much, given the fact

that his best movies were all made before '94.

The core problem with "Rachel" is the lack of focus

suggested by the inadequate, slightly off title;

after all, the movie is not about Rachel

or her wedding as much as it's about Kym and her

return from rehab, the much more compelling story,

and as such it should've been titled something

like "Home for the Wedding," with its focus

shifted accordingly and more decisively.

It feels like a combination of "Interiors" and "The

Return of the Secaucus Seven," though it would've

been interesting to have seen Kym evolve into

something other than what she was at the beginning

of the film. (Character growth is the element that

makes so many Woody Allen pictures greater than

most others. Remember how Dianne Wiest's character

blossoms by the end of "Hannah"? Or how our

perceptions of Cheech in "Bullets Over Broadway"

shift dramatically as the movie progresses?)

Here, Kym at the beginning is Kym at the end,


The "grant me the serenity blah blah" rehab scenes

follow the memorable ones in "Traffic," in which

the counselors are either dim and bureaucratic or

platitudinous and cloying (and "Rachel" may be

the first major feature to note that the personal

stories told in group therapy sessions -- which

always leak out, despite guarantees of

confidentiality -- are often as untrue as the

tall tales of James Frey or Herman Rosenblat).

I love the Sayles-ian dishwasher competition, though

I wish Kym could've been worked into it (perhaps she

could've freaked out when she was unable to pull a

stuck dish from the washer, much as she couldn't pull

Ethan from the car seat all those years ago).

All told, the movie is fascinating from start to

finish, despite its flaws (e.g., the focus problem

noted above; the fact that major

plot elements (like the car wreck and the

mother-daughter fight) aren't integrated into

subsequent sequences). And what a surprise to see

Debra Winger all grown up, looking like late

Carole King and attractive in a brand new way.

The DVD includes a generous helping of deleted

scenes, all justifiably cut -- except the funny one

in which Kym meets and greets old friends in the

wedding reception line.

But I digress. Paul



for March 10, 2009

Don't Do Anything for The Taliban That
You Wouldn't Have Also Done for the Ku Klux Klan

Lots of talk in the Obama administration these days

about the possibility of negotiating with the

Taliban in Afghanistan, or having Karzai do so.

My response is this: it depends on how you define

the Taliban. If you mean the people who backed or

worked with Mullah Omar, the answer is a flat-out

no; we shouldn't negotiate with any of those people.

In fact, we should jail or kill most of Omar's

top brass, once we find which caves they're

hiding in.

But if you're referring to the brave folks in

Afghanistan who were only nominally allied with

the Taliban but stood up to (or tried to stand

up to) Mullah Omar and voiced opposition to, say,

the bigoted Taliban policy of forcing Hindus

to wear yellow stars on the streets of Kabul,

and thought it was wrong to throw in with bin

Laden, then I say, yeah, talk with

such courageous individuals. Reward them with

a place at the table. We must reach out to those

in Afghanistan who were the equivalent of the

underground resistance during Nazism (even if

they were part of a self-interested group

like the Northern Alliance).

But to those who backed Omar (and, by extension,

bin Laden) who now sidle up to us hoping for

a concession, we must tell them what Bill McKay

told a corrupt Teamster in "The Candidate":

"I don't think we have shit in common."

Let's not reward, explicitly or implicitly, the wrong

people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even if it

would bring a quicker peace. We don't need that

kind of peace. I would much rather see continued

war -- war that would kill killers planning, say,

dirty bomb attacks on Manhattan right now -- than

a peace that results in Omar's right-wing lieutenants

sharing power in Kabul.

Our guide to policy should be this: don't do

anything for the Taliban that you wouldn't have

also done for the violent terrorists of the

Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s in America.

But I digress. Paul



for March 8, 2009

Kashmir Border Drawn in Plutonium

I took a taxi from Oakland, Calif., today and

chatted with the driver, who said he was originally

from India. Talk soon turned to last Fall's

Mumbai attacks, and he was passionate about the

tragedy, angrily blaming Pakistani militants and

cursing the Kashmir crisis for helping to create

the climate that caused it.

As I listened to his tirade against Pakistani

militants, I realized this was almost certainly

the temperature throughout much of India: hot

toward Pakistan and ready for

cold vengeance, with Kashmir a way too convenient


Both sides are profoundly pissed -- and all nuked up,

too. Both sides have barely budged a substantial inch

since '47, it seems. Both sides's competing claims

in Kashmir are now complicated by separatist demands

and counter-claims by China. And the Mumbai

attacks, recently traced to members of the

Lashkar-e-Taiba of Pakistan, have added accelerant

to the tinderbox.

If Kashmir blows in a nuclear way, the body count

could be unthinkably massive -- and the nuke cloud

could travel over....China, or anywhere in the neighborhood,

creating a potentially unprecedented humanitarian


Yeah, I know, there are lots of global hot spots.

Yeah, we have to establish a two-state solution in

the Middle East. We need to rein in the

increasingly ill Kim Jong Il. We have to

sit down with Ahmadinejad and read him the riot

act. And, most important to U.S. security, we

absolutely have to stop the resurgence of the

Taliban in Afghanistan.

But it's all too easy to imagine breaking news coming

out of Islamabad and Delhi about multiple nuclear

strikes throughout both nations, with each side claiming

the other fired first, with casualties in the millions.

And then we'll wish we had had the foresight to spend

more time on Kashmir than on, say,

Gaza, where nukes aren't really in play.

The line of control in Kashmir is, post-Mumbai,

drawn in plutonium. Hillary Clinton and

Ban Ki Moon should hold a summit with Zardari and

Singh to definitively resolve the Kashmir crisis

so that all parties recognize the borders and LoCs

in the region. (Perhaps there should be (yet another!)

sub-Secretary of State to focus on the region.)

It's unlikely a single summit will settle things; deep

underlying tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the

area are fueling the disputes. But if most Indians

are as enraged at Pakistan as my cabbie was yesterday,

I bet any minor spark could set the whole

region ablaze, possibly radioactively.

But I digress. Paul



for March 6, 2009

Fresh evocation of American suburbia by San Francisco's
own Robert Bechtle titled "'60 T-Bird" ('67 - '68), now
on display at the Berkeley Art Museum.
[photo by Paul Iorio.]

Visited the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum

yesterday and its "Galaxy" exhibition, an

eclectic collection of paintings

BAM hasn't shown for awhile. Highlights include

Magritte's striking "Duo," Warhol's silkscreen

"Race Riot," a couple engravings by William Blake,

a drip painting miniature by Pollock, Rothko's

"Red Over Dark Blue on Dark Gray" and Robert

Bechtle's "'60 T-Bird." (I did a

double-take on the Caracciolo, thinking it

was a Caravaggio, whose style Caracciolo

thoroughly rips off.) Galaxy runs until nearly

Labor Day at BAM.

* * * *

"Are times so stressful that our young president

is going grayer a mere six weeks into the job?,"

asked The Washington Post the other day.

Isn't it more likely that Obama was using

hair dye during the campaign and is only now

showing his real gray? In any event, we elected

him for the gray matter inside (not outside)

his skull.

But I digress. Paul



for March 2 - 3, 2009

A New Crime Wave?
According to KALX radio's Marshall Stax, Crime, the
seminal Bay Area punk band, may be re-uniting
and might
appear on his show, The Next Big Thing,
in the near future. Above, a vintage Crime poster from
a recent exhibit at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum.
(Also, many thanks to Marshall for playing two
new songs of mine, "You're Gettin' Played" and "The
Riot Noise (Off Avalon Green)," on tonight's Next
Big Thing!) [photo of poster by Paul Iorio.]

* * *

Someone asked me what inspired my new

song "The Riot Noise (Off Avalon Green)." I started

writing it after walking into a riot that erupted

in Berkeley, Calif., on September 5, 2008. (I actually

ran into the riot to snap the shot that is the

cover of my upcoming album of the same name.)

In my song, the line "I don't know who threw

the chair but that was no excuse to shoot bullets

in the air" was suggested by this AP photo of

another riot, in Thessaloniki, Greece, on December

7, 2008, where violence escalated after a protester

tossed a chair at cops:

(photo: Nikolas Giakoumidis)

But I digress. Paul

The Daily Digression is not sponsored
by AeroShave! (photo by Paul Iorio.)



for March 2, 2009

And so we're all supposed to believe that

Bernie Madoff, when he was chairman (not merely

a senior vice president or COO) of

overly-respected Nasdaq, was ethical

and honest? I don't buy it. My business

experience tells me that, generally, a person

exhibits the same sorts of tendencies at

one company that he or she does at another, more

or less. It strains credulity to believe

Madoff only became corrupt in recent years,

and was, prior to that, a model of ethics and

probity. It probably takes a lot of practice

over many decades to become as expertly

nefarious as he became in his sixties.

What does the fact that Madoff was chairman of Nasdaq

tell us about Nasdaq? If you scratched the surface

beneath the fortunes of Madoff's colleagues at

Nasdaq, do you honestly think they'd come up clean?

(Is there such a thing as a completely clean fortune

in America? Was there ever, considering America

was founded on the mass theft of labor via

slavery? Isn't it true that any bum can amass

wealth if all his workers work for free? I digress.)

If one can't trust the former chairman of Nasdaq,

whose later clients/victims included savvy, respectable

folks like John Malkovich and Steven Spielberg, then

who can one trust in the investment world?

BTW, check out the Google News Archives to see how

glowingly some news organizations covered Madoff in

the 1990s. Reminds me of how some financial journalists

today still quote and give credibility to sources

at discredited companies like Moody's, which either

fraudulently or negligently gave triple A ratings

to firms that failed mere months later.

Uh, let's see: Moody's was waay wrong

about fundamental aspects of the

economy, and yet you're still quoting people

from the company. And I'm sure you'll continue to

quote them in the future, throwing good money

after bad in order to justify crappy

journalistic decisions.

[I wrote and posted the above column at
around 12:30am on March 2, 2009; some
of the ideas I originated here were
later echoed by a guest on PBS's "NewsHour" around
15 hours after I posted the ideas here.]

But I digress. Paul



for February 24, 2009

The other day I saw a sight from the Pleistocene

era: a McCain bumper sticker on an old, rusty GMC

truck. And I thought, could there possibly be

any sight so yesterday on the planet?

Then this morning I got my answer. There was

old-fashioned Jim Cramer on the "Today" show,

thundering like a Brontosaurus about how the

horse-and-buggy is not disappearing and how talkies

will never supplant silents. And I realized, yes,

there is something more antiquated than a McCain bumper

sticker on an old GMC truck.

Cramer -- an over-amplified defender of discredited

free market policies who wants President Obama to

pass the jellybeans and say "things aren't terrible" -- just

can't get his mind around the fact that unregulated

capitalism has fallen and failed as surely and

decisively as communism fell nearly two

decades ago.

By the way, Cramer shouts too much. I mean, if

this is how he is on camera, can you imagine what

he's like with subordinates? I wonder how many of

his co-workers have accused him of creating a

hostile work environment. That old style of a

rich (and wrong!) boss shouting at poor

subordinates is, thankfully, going down

the toilet as fast as unregulated capitalism

is -- and good riddance.

Why give airtime to this guy and others

like him (such as Zandi of Moody's)? After

all, Cramer and his kind -- the

supply-siders -- have been proved wrong. They

were (and still are) oblivious to the unacceptable

inherent risks of the unregulated marketplace.

Why not give TV airtime to those who

have been proved right?

* * * *

[cartoon/caption by Paul Iorio, 2009;
drawing by unknown artist.]

But I digress. Paul



for February 23, 2009

Slum Enchanted Evening

Time was, prior to 9/11, the Oscars were held in

what seemed like the early spring rather than the

late winter, and it fit better there. When

I lived in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and covered

aspects of the Academy Awards as a reporter, the

Oscars weren't handed out until almost April.

I remember it was like a federal holiday in the

area, and I'd walk through West Hollywood on

the way to pick up my tux or something

and see people all dressed up in their suburban

driveways in the middle of the afternoon, preparing

to drive to the Oscars or a related event.

And it seemed the trees were just starting to

bud and everyone was coming out of hibernation

and there was a sense of re-awakening all around.

But since 9/11, the ceremony has been held

in the dead of winter (which -- admittedly -- is

hard to define in L.A.) as if the Academy

was trying to throw off terrorists by shifting

the typical date of the Oscars.

Last night's ceremony was yet another late-winter

event, and I watched it on TV in Berkeley, Calif.,

and don't have much to say about it, except the


-- It is becoming exceedingly easy to predict

the winners (I predicted all the major ones,

except for Winslet) just by looking at the

winners of the various guild awards.

-- Hugh Jackman worked out better than one might

have expected, though Steve Martin was so funny

in his brief appearance that I began to wish he

was the host. Bill Maher was also a welcome

gust of truth and wit and perhaps he, too, should

be considered to host the 82nd awards ceremony.

-- I wish Alicia Keys had sung something (she's

such a genius as a singer that she virtually sings

when she talks).

-- Very gracious of Sean Penn to have praised Mickey

Rourke from the podium.

-- In another century, in another era, I'm convinced

Kate Winslet would have become a genuine Queen of

some country.

-- Having five actors descend on the actor

nominees felt more like a rehab intervention

than an appreciation.

-- In the old days, if a Woody Allen movie were nominated

in any category, it would also be nominated for the

best director or best original screenplay

prize. It's telling that recent Allen movies are

now noted for something other than his direction

and writing. (He is in something of a late Chaplin

(post-"Monsieur Verdoux") phase.) Cruz's performance

was indeed notable, though it worked only in tandem

with Bardem's.

But I digress. Paul



for February 20, 2009

Here're a few everyday photos I

recently shot around my neighborhood in

Berkeley, Calif.:

a novel, leftover bumper sticker for You-Know-Who!

* * *

the rainy season has arrived out here, and
this is what it looked like last Sunday.

* * *

occasionally, we have bouts of severe fog in Berkeley
that are almost like heavy smoke, such as this one
last year.

But I digress. Paul



for February 14 - 16, 2009

Roman Polanski, and Why All Charges Against Him Should Be Dropped

Roman Polanski is one of the most reflexively brilliant

people I've ever interviewed. Talking with him, one

really feels the pull of genius, in the sense that

he spontaneously puts a fresh angle on

whatever moment you're in and causes you to

re-think what you're thinking. When you've finished

a conversation with Polanski, your mind is somewhat

altered, your view of the world is a bit

different, you come away charged and alive to

the possibilities out there.

I landed my interview with Polanski -- a rarity

and a scoop at the time -- through the late Richard

Sylbert, an enormously gifted production and set

designer of classic films by Polanski, Mike Nichols

and others, and a very close friend of the


Sylbert seemed to think of a film as a place that

one can return to repeatedly, like an old family

living room from childhood, and hence he designed

locations in movies that millions of us do

return to each year, via cinema (e.g., the

Braddock family home in "The Graduate," Mrs.

Robinson's bedroom in "The Graduate,"

Ida Sessions's apartment house (with its

claustrophobic, parallel outdoor walls that

seem to be closing in on Jake Gittes),

Evelyn Mulwray's foyer (the site of so much trauma),

and on and on. The lives of lots of moviegoers were

partly lived in those spaces, and Sylbert made sure

they stuck in collective memory.

I had planned to talk with Sylbert for only ten

minutes or so to get some quotes for a Los Angeles Times

story on "Chinatown" that I was writing but we hit

it off (as reporter and source) and our conversation

went on for well over an hour. He was

evidently impressed with my expert knowledge

of "Chinatown," which I'd seen hundreds of

times, and at the end of the interview

asked, "You want Roman's phone number?"

And I said something like, yeah, sure.

Keep in mind that getting an interview with Sylbert

himself was a bit of a coup in those days, as his

number was deeply unlisted. (In late 1998, I had

an advantage over many other journalists in that I

had already been using such pre-Google search engines

as Alta Vista and HotBot, which led me to the unlisted

number of a relative of Sylbert's, who referred my

message to Richard.)

Anyway, I called Polanski and left a message on his

answering machine, not expecting much to come of it.

Some time later, I caught a message on

my own machine, and it was unmistakably

Roman, calling from Paris. We exchanged calls back

and forth, and then set up a phone interview for a few

days later, when he would be on a family vacation in

the Dolomites.

A couple days before 1999, I interviewed Polanski

in-depth about "Chinatown" and a bit about other

topics, but the central subject of my article

was "Chinatown," his best film by a fair margin,

in my view, though there are many other high peaks

in his oeuvre (I'd rank "Knife in the Water" higher

if it had come before "L'avventura"). (I'd go on

to do other interviews for the "Chinatown" piece

in early '99.)

My interview with him was the basis of articles

I wrote and reported for the July 8, 1999, issue

of the Los Angeles Times. (A top editor at the paper

said that my story had generated more reader response

than any other article that had appeared in that

section of the Times; I'm flattered that film

aficionados have told me they never completely

understood the film until they read my articles;

an uncut, updated version of the story appears

on my website at

A few years after creating this cinematic masterpiece,

Polanski was caught in a scandal somewhat similar to

the one that almost prematurely ended the career of

Leonardo da Vinci centuries earlier. Leonardo, accused of

having an affair with an underage model in Verrocchio's

studio, was almost jailed and trashed by the

Florentine authorities -- and imagine the loss to the world

if he had been.

Fact is, there aren't many bona fide geniuses on the

planet, and the human race can't afford to throw them

out as if they were yesterday's Yuban -- unless there

is an absolutely compelling reason that fully overrules

mitigating factors.

And the Samantha Geimer case was never a compelling

enough reason to toss out a world class director like

Polanski. (It was, after all, not a case of murder,

an exponentially more serious crime that no western

nation condones.)

Apart from the narrow legal concerns that are currently

in play in the case, perhaps we should also begin to

rethink and debate the big picture issues about the

basic fairness of such prosecutions and whether we

tend to overstate the seriousness of such crimes

in the States.

First, what Polanski did would not have been illegal

(or at least would not have been prosecuted) had

he done it in his home country (France), his native

country (Poland) or the place where he sometimes

vacations (Italy). Laws regarding age-of-consent vary

wildly from decade to decade and from nation to nation

(and even, to some degree, from state to state

in the U.S.).

As footage in the recent documentary "Roman Polanski:

Wanted and Desired" clearly shows, Polanski seemed to be

genuinely and completely unaware that having sex with

a teenager was illegal in the U.S. In many ways,

this was a case of how the sexual provincialism of

a nation created a high-profile international injustice.

Here's an analogy everybody might understand. Suppose

you visited one of the northern provinces of Nigeria,

where Sharia law is in effect, and suppose you were

in your hotel room innocently playing a mandolin while

your girlfriend was resting on the couch. You might

very well hear a knock on your door and find that the

local police want to arrest you for violating Nigeria's

Sharia law that prohibits playing the mandolin,

particularly in the presence of a woman (look it up;

it's actually against the law in some

parts of Islam).

If the Nigerian police had led you away in handcuffs,

your reaction would be something like: "What're you

talking about? I had no idea such a thing was illegal

in your country. Who would make such a law?" And

they would say, "Playing a mandolin is explicitly

prohibited by Sharia law in parts of Nigeria, and

you, sir, are under arrest."

And you would respond with, "Nobody ever told me this

was against the law in your country. How was I

supposed to have known that? Who was the person

designated from the Nigerian government to tell

me, as I arrived at the airport in Lagos, that

mandolin-playing was illegal in Katsina province?

Did somebody at the airport hand me a list of things that

are illegal in this country but legal in my own?"

Analogously, that's very similar to what happened

in Polanski's case. As I noted before, he was

arrested for something that isn't really a

crime in his home country, and when he was busted he

seemed to be completely unaware that he had done

something illegal. How can it be fair to fully

prosecute someone for behavior that we never told

him was illegal?

If the crime was so serious, then how come the

so-called victim has repeatedly said she was far

more traumatized by Judge Laurence Ritteband's

handling of the "unlawful intercourse" case than

by what she did with Polanski? I think most would

agree today that everybody -- both the "victim"

and the accused and everyone in between -- would

have been far better off if the whole incident

had never been brought into the legal system and

had been handled as a private matter between families.

Don't get me wrong: I would never consider committing

an act similar to the one that got Polanski in

trouble -- and I think aspects of his behavior in

that case (using Quaaludes, for example) are not

very defensible. But just because I wouldn't do

such a thing doesn't mean that I think it should

be prosecuted as a serious crime warranting

excessive legal penalties.

It would seem to be common sense that behavior

that is virtually legal in Vancouver shouldn't

get you a 20-year sentence if you do the same

thing several miles down the highway in Seattle.

I'm not saying there should be international

standardization of laws -- there shouldn't be,

because each nation has its own traditions and

practical realities. But a sensitivity to

cultural differences should be factored into cases

like Polanski's (or into the hypothetical case of

an American prosecuted for playing a mandolin

in Nigeria).

In the current climate of witch hunting and hysteria,

it's not likely Polanski's conviction will be

tossed out now or anytime soon, despite the new evidence

brought to light about malfeasance committed by the

disqualified judge in the case.

Maybe Polanski will just have to heed the hard truths

of "Chinatown" itself, and say to himself:

"Forget it, Roman, it's Santa Monica."

* * * * *

Regarding the Michael Phelps story: it's

not like he was accused of selling pot.

He just took a toot off a bong, standard

behavior for guys that age. Leave 'im alone!

* * * * *

Re: Roland Burris. I told ya so. (See my

column, below, titled "Don't Seat Burris,"

January 7, 2009.)

But I digress. Paul



for February 12, 2009

Surely, You Must Be Joaquin'.(Or Maybe Not.)

I watched the Joaquin Phoenix interview with

David Letterman in real time last night and

was riveted by what initially looked like

a major actor committing career suicide on late

night TV. I thought, this is either


or an Andy Kaufman-style hoax. As I thought

about it through the day today, I was starting

to wonder whether it was a Phoenix-Letterman

collaboration along the lines of "The Late Show"'s

Johnny-the-Usher bits.

If not, it ranks right up there with Lennon's

infamous behavior at the Troubadour or Brando's

eccentric late interviews or Norman Mailer's

drunken TV appearances.

Either way, an extremely entertaining departure

from the usual movie promotional fare.

* * *

An interesting fact that I just unearthed: did

you know that only seven popularly-elected U.S.

presidents have served two, full, consecutive

terms? Only seven of our 44 presidents! (According

to my own research.)

It breaks down this way. Thirteen presidents served

two complete terms, but four of them -- George W. Bush,

Monroe, Madison and Jefferson -- were not winners of the

popular vote in at least one of their elections.

Wilson "served" two terms but was actually in charge

for only six years before a stroke incapacitated him

and made him a merely nominal commander-in-chief. And

Cleveland's terms weren't consecutive.

Meanwhile, eleven of our presidents served less than

one complete term in the White House.

* * * *

So, sadly, the Guarneri Quartet begins to end its

existence with a few dozen final shows in North

America, 45 years after its birth.

When I first saw them, in June 1972, when the

quartet was eight years old, they were the new kids

on the classical block, and they would give

controversial interviews comparing classical

composers like Beethoven to Bob Dylan and the


In those days, their performances of the late

and middle Beethoven quartets were causing quite

a buzz, and I was completely blown away (as a 14 year

old!) when I heard them play the No. 11

in F Minor (the so-called "Serioso"), the last

of Beethoven's middle quartets and the one to which

I keep returning 37 years later.

You can still catch the Guarneri in various cities

through June (and there'll be a handful of

performances in October, too), but after that,

there'll be only the recordings.

* * *

Thought I'd share this I picture I shot of the
Hollywood Bowl from an interesting vantage point:
Mulholland Drive. Circa 2000.

But I digress. Paul



for February 11, 2009

Perfect DVD for President's Day Weekend: "John Adams"

As an evocation of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson

and Benjamin Franklin, who really should have been the

central subject of the series, "John Adams," the 2008

HBO mini-series now on DVD, has almost no peer on the

big or small screen. The black hole is unfortunately

the characterization of the title character,

John Adams, second president of the U.S. and

an even-handed figure during our revolution.

John Adams is played here by the usually impressive

Paul Giamatti, who portrays Adams as something

between a sad sack and Jimmy Olsen, looking (without

his wig) a lot like Uncle Fester of "The Addams

Family" -- and 2% from being an inadvertent comic


Unfortunately, Adams's life was not as eventful

or fascinating as Lincoln's or Jefferson's or

Franklin's or even Obama's, for that matter,

so we have one episode devoted mostly to the time

Adams caught a bad case of the sniffles in Europe

and we get to see him cough a good deal.

The portrait of Abigail Adams, the second First

Lady, alas, is also flawed. Played by the almost always

winsome Laura Linney, who leans too heavily on being

smugly amused here, Abigail Adams comes

off as someone who is constantly, privately seeing

her husband as an object of ridicule, constantly

chuckling about him to herself.

Elsewhere, much is made of the cultivation of son

John Quincy, but there, unfortunately, is no

foreshadowing of what a mediocrity he'd become

in adulthood.

Yes, the series is based on a book by one of our

best historians, but, frankly, I've lost faith

in the veracity of a lot of history. As I've

gotten older, I've seen people I know covered

in the press, and sometimes their published

life stories are so wildly inaccurate that they

almost qualify as fiction. And this is the 21st

century, when primary documents and firsthand

remembrances are preserved like never before.

Back in Adams's time, a lot of what passed as

fact was almost surely sheer myth.

An example. Look, I love Hillary Clinton, but let's

be real: in an earlier century, her story about

sniper fire in Bosnia would have been stamped by

all historians as the stone cold truth. Yet it

was debunked only because -- incredibly -- there was

actual video footage of the event (and of the sweetest

little sniper you've ever seen!).

So you have to wonder how many stories of

Revolutionary War derring-do are actually,

factually true, and how many are the 18th

century equivalent of, uh, sniper fire

in Bosnia.

Anyway, this is a mostly terrific mini-series -- you

come away feeling as if you've really met

Washington and Franklin -- and it's perfect

for President's Day, though the quality drops off

precipitously after the second episode.

But I digress. Paul



for February 11, 2009

Should We Cap Anchor Salaries at a Half-Mil?

The banking crisis and economic collapse has

opened up -- or should open up -- a wider-ranging

debate about paying executives exorbitant salaries

when their companies are failing.

How about the news biz itself? What about the

massively excessive salaries of executives at top

newspapers that have been failing for years? Some

daily newspapers are losing a million dollars a

week, yet their top executives are paid multimillion

dollar salaries. For what are they paid? To run

the paper into the ground?

Perhaps the salaries of all tv and print journalists,

and associated executives, should be capped at half

a million until their organizations return to

profitability. Or maybe there should be a rule: no

journalist should make more than the president of

the United States. Because a reporter or anchor

who "earns," say, 16 mil a year, is too out of

touch with the everyday concerns of 99%+ of the

citizens they serve. Which probably accounts for

the oddly lacadaisical attitude of a lot of tv

journalists toward the health care crisis in

this country; when they ask questions about it

at news conferences, there is an abject lack of

urgency in their tones.

TV viewers might get a better understanding of the

news they receive if the networks used captions

beneath the faces of the talking heads and anchors

and correspondents who they air (such as: "The

anchor reporting this health care story makes

$7 mil a year; his health care costs are

completely covered, and then some; his

mother-in-law is a top executive at

Pfizer"; or "Correspondent reporting this story

about overly-generous CEO pay makes $11 mil a

year, which is more than the combined salaries of

hundreds of midlevel employees at his company;

and he has a book deal from a company with a huge

stake in the pharmaceutical biz." Etc.

Those who make $9 mil (or whatever) a year in

broadcast news made it because they (or their

agents) were clever at leverage. Because if

they were really worth that money, their companies

and their TV programs wouldn't be failing right

now. If, say, Katie Couric were really worth the

multimillions, her show wouldn't be in third

place; her ratings are roughly below or equal

to the ratings earned by her predecessor anchors,

which suggests one could probably put one of

many correspondents in that spot and have the same

ratings. Which means that last place is rewarded

with something like $15 million.

And to the CEO or anchor who says, "Fine, go ahead

and cap my salary; I'll go somewhere else," we

should start calling that person's bluff. If,

say, Couric balks at having her salary cut to

half a million, let her go. Where would she go?

The other anchor spots are already taken. CNN

would be her only alternative. She'd likely

end up running Larry King's show, and that

would be no real thorn in the side of her

former employer. (And even if she did end up

on a competing news program, one assumes she'd

bring her failing ways there, too.)

Likewise with the heads of the failed banks.

If we cap their salaries at half a mil, to

what collapsed financial institution

would they go for more gravy? And if they

did go elsewhere, they'd probably bring along

their ineptitude there, too.

I'm starting to think it's possible that the

election of President Obama is the first

major symptom of revolutionary change to come,

not the revolutionary change itself. I think

the whole nation has awakened to the

massive, callous, fundamental unfairness of

undeserving people earning millions of dollars

a year while many of us can barely pay our

basic bills.

But I digress. Paul



for February 9 - 10, 2009

After walking home this afternoon (and dodging

Berkeley's traffic cops, who seem to have become

ubiquitous in recent days), I immediately

turned on my favorite radio show, KALX's "Next

Big Thing," and was thrilled to hear Marshall

play my latest song, "Doctor, Please Restore My Youth,"

around an hour ago. Many thanks to the station

and Mr. Stax!

* * * *

Twenty years ago this Saturday, the Ayatollah Ruhollah

Khomeini, via fatwa, sentenced novelist Salman Rushdie

to death for blasphemy. Though formal advocacy of the

death sentence by Iran has largely ceased, there are

many Islamic hard-liners who still want to do him in for

writing "The Satanic Verses" in 1988.

A couple weeks after the '89 fatwa, I covered a rally in

support of Rushdie in Manhattan that was interrupted

by a bomb threat and wrote about it and associated

issues for the East Coast Rocker newspaper in its

March 29, 1989 issue. Here's that story (and

another piece that has not been published until now):

from The East Coast Rocker newsaper, March 29, 1989

We Must Send These Fundamentalists a Clear and Sharp Message

By Paul Iorio

The rock world has finally started weighing

in with its belated condemnations of the

Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence

on novelist Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately,

certain factions have chosen to use

oppressive tactics to fight the Ayatollah.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in

the organization by several U.S. radio stations

of boycotts and burnings of records by Cat

Stevens, due to the singer's backing of

Khomeini's death threat.

Without a doubt, Stevens's support of

Muslim terrorism is completely damnable,

though record burnings are not the proper

way to vent one's outrage. Indeed,

suppressing Stevens's work on the basis

of his political or religious beliefs is doing

the Ayatollah's job. We should be able

to hear Stevens' music just as we should

be allowed to read Rushdie's books.

When we respond with such a boycott,

by fighting fascism with fascism, we defeat

ourselves. We should combat Khomeini

by making sure that Rushdie's "The Satanic

Verses" is sold and displayed by major

book chains.

And Viking Press should heed

NBC-News's John Chancellor's suggestion

to call the Ayatollah's bluff by bringing Rushdie

over to the U.S. for a publicity tour.

We must send these fundamentalists a

clear and sharp message: no political

or religious leader, not even in our own

country, will intimidate or terrorize us into

limiting freedom of expression.

One can condemn Stevens's approval of

the Rushdie death contract without boycotting

his music, just as one can deplore poet Ezra

Pound's Nazism without condemning his

brilliant Cantos.

Certainly there are grounds for not airing

Stevens's songs, but those grounds are

aesthetic, not political; his wimpy folk lacks

any semblance of edge or energy, enduring

guilty pleasures like "Peace Train" and

"Moonshadow" notwithstanding.

We've had enough censorship from

religious fundamentalists -- from Falwell

to Khomeini -- and should put religious

extremists of all faiths on notice: they have

absolutely no business imposing their

private beliefs on a secular society. Period.

How does one deal with bomb threats and other

violent acts by those who wish to stifle free

speech? Norman Mailer, speaking at a recent

PEN reading of "Satanic Verses" in Manhattan

that I attended (and that was delayed by a

bomb threat), gave advice on how to handle

telephone bomb threats, which, he noted,

only cost a quarter to make. Quoting Jean

Genet, Mailer said to tell such callers:

"Blow out your farts."

* * *

In January 1996, I wrote and reported another story

related to the Rushdie affair. For this piece, I walked

around Manhattan with a copy of "The Satanic Verses"

prominently displayed, visiting both everyday places

and locations where the book might raise eyebrows and

tempers. The idea was to see how provocative

the novel was seven years after the fatwa. Here's

my report (which has never been published):

page one of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

* *

page two of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

* *

page three of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

* *

fourth and final page of manuscript (click to enlarge it)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- There has been a lot of talk lately about

there not being enough "respect" for various

religious right-wingers in Iran and elsewhere.

Could you please tell me how religious militants

(e.g., the backers of the Rushdie fatwa, those

who supported the 9/11 attacks, etc.) have earned

that respect? Could you please tell me why

such religious militants merit respect?

Could you please tell me what specific actions

they have taken that are worthy of respect?

Am I supposed to "respect" the fact that they

respond with homicidal violence when they

object to a novel or an editorial cartoon? Why

should I respect that?

In my view, most religious militants are

worthy only of contempt. And disrespectful is

as nice as I'll be toward them.

P.S. -- Why are we still listening to rich

twerps like Mark Zandi of Moody's, which (either

negligently or fraudulently) gave top

ratings to companies months before those

companies collapsed?

Isn't there something deeply wrong and

disingenuous about some TV news people (who are

making multi-million dollar salaries) who interview

Zandi and other millionaires (who were virtually

complicit with those who caused our financial crisis)

and say, "Tsk, tsk, off with the heads of the rich"?

Sort of like King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

telling the French revolutionaries, "We're looking

for the culprits, too."



for February 9, 2009

Top o' the Grammys!
Alison Krauss, Robert Plant performing in
Golden Gate Park, October 3, 2008.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

The Grammys got it right last night by giving

top awards to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

for their "Raising Sand" collaboration -- and

"Please Read the Letter" was the song to honor,

too. Anyone who was at the penultimate

show of Plant and Krauss's 2008 tour, at Golden

Gate Park in San Francisco last October, saw

an audience that got naturally high from

the moment it heard the opening drumbeat

of "Letter" and then became exhilarated as

the song progressed. I went to a fair

number of concerts last year but not one

(besides the Plant/Krauss one) at which an

audience became so openly transported by

a single song. Looking forward to

"Raising Sand, Vol. 2."

But I digress. Paul



for February 8, 2009

Here're a few pictures I've recently shot:

Sullyville (aka, Danville, Calif.), Sully's hometown, shown
here around an hour before he appeared on Jan. 24, 2009. As
you can see here, the town is also proud of the fact that
Eugene O'Neill wrote "Long Day's Journey" when he lived in Danville.

* * *

Remember that night a few weeks ago when the moon made its closest pass
to Earth of '09? Well, here's how it looked in Berkeley, Calif.

* * *

A midnight shot of the barbed wire fence surrounding
eco-protesters in trees last Fall.

But I digress. Paul



for February 4, 2009

Was My Phone Tapped In the Bush Years?

A Reporter's Suspicions

As a journalist who has written for almost every

major newspaper in North America, and for a lot of

magazines, I wanted the 9/11 attacks

to be my beat in the years after 9/11. But it

never really happened. At the time, my

specialty was arts and entertainment journalism,

so making the switch to hard news was not easy,

particularly in that period when the newspaper

industry had begun to collapse, leaving

fewer publications to write for.

But in 2004, I did come up with a bit of a scoop:

Using the so-called Wayback Machine search engine,

I discovered time-stamped archived Usenet and chat

room postings on Muslim fundamentalist websites

that seemed to indicate, judging by the dates of

the messages, that some Muslim militants

knew about the 9/11 attacks before they occurred

and that word of the impending attacks might have

been in the air and involved a wider web of people

than just the hijackers and bin Laden's conspirators.

As a freelance writer, I decided to report the story

independently -- asking various government sources for

comment -- and then submit it to various publications.

Though I didn't contact the Joint Terrorism Task Force

(JTTF) for comment, I was called by the JTTF out of

the blue. And, frankly, I was more than happy to get

their perspective and, in the process, talk with

them about my reportage. (As The Washington Post's

Bob Woodward and others have always pointed out, you're

a citizen first and a journalist second, especially

when it comes to issues that could be a matter of

life or death.) My info, after all, did not come

from confidential sources but from obscure

Internet archives that I was not obligated to keep secret.

My interviews with the two JTTF agents were not for

attribution, meaning they spoke on the condition

that they not be identified by name. Suffice it

to say that I spoke to two of them, both

of whom called without having been first contacted

by me. I spoke with the first agent on July 22, 2004,

for around an hour, and the second agent on December

3, 2004.

To be honest, neither gave me the third degree and both

were sensitive to the nature of both their roles and

mine -- and both were refreshingly and unambiguously

un-bigoted about Muslims.

The only red flag came at the beginning of the conversation

with the second JTFF agent on December 3. This call came

the day that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy

Thompson made his famous remarks about the U.S. food

supply's vulnerability to terrorist tampering, which

was, by the way, one of the plots discussed in

some of the Usenet messages I had uncovered.

Anyway, that second agent said that he had initially

reached my AOL answering service and asked me

about what sort of phone service I had. "Do you

have service through AOL?," he asked.

"No, through ATT," I said.

At the time, I didn't think much of the exchange.

But shortly afterwards, I realized that he had

been a bit too curious about who provided my

phone service. This was a JTTF agent, after all.

I thought, uh oh, I bet my land line is going to be tapped.

In the subsequent months, certain mundane but distinctive

details from my personal phone conversations

seemed to be getting around to people who didn't

know me. At first, I thought, maybe it was

just a nosy neighbor. My apartment, after all, is in

an apartment house whose units are way too close

together, and you can sometimes overhear conversations

in adjacent rooms. That might be it, I thought.

But I wanted to be sure. Suspecting that my land line

might be tapped, and wanting to rule out the nosy

neighbor theory, I conducted a test. I simply called

myself from a remote pay phone, left a message on

my own answering machine and waited to see whether what

I said eventually leaked out.

I took lots of precautions to rule out stray factors.

For example, I made the calls to myself from an

isolated pay phone at a place that could not

be overheard by anyone (on the far east side of

the Clark Kerr campus of the University of

California at Berkeley). I made sure that the

answering machine that would receive my message

in my apartment was muted so there was no chance

a neighbor would overhear it. And I left a message

that contained unique or very personal information

(or misinformation) that could not possibly be

known or said by anyone else.

I'm not going to reveal some of the things I said

into my answering machine -- too personal -- but I

can give an example of the sorts of things I'd say.

I'd always say something that had some sort of

security or confidential component, like: "I know

a journalist who interviewed Rumsfeld, and he tells

me that, off the record, Rumsfeld really can't

stand Tom Ridge. Hates him." Something fictitious

and distinctive that could only have come from me.

And, sure enough, each time I left such a message,

the info seemed to get around to complete strangers

in my daily interactions, usually within around

three or four days. For instance, I'd be in a line

at the grocery store and someone nearby would

pass by and say something like "he can't stand

Ridge." Something like that. Something that

sent a clear signal to me that my phone

line was being monitored.

After this happened a couple times, I quickly moved

to protect the privacy of friends and family members

who would call, switching almost all my telephone

conversations to my new cell phone and

using my land line mainly for dial-up Internet service.

That seemed to clear up the problem.

I must confess that I later saw the mischievous

potential of such a situation; after some

local sociopath (in an unrelated matter)

starting leaving vaguely threatening messages on

my answering machine for no reason, I decided to

use his name as a guinea pig in my experiment,

leaving a message on my answering machine along

the lines of: "[Name deleted] is always praising

bin Laden. Sickening." I did it half-jokingly,

still not knowing at the time whether my

phone was being tapped or not. Interestingly --

and this may be only a coincidence -- the

harassment from the guy ceased within a week.

As for my story, there was substantial interest

in it from CBS's "60 Minutes" and from the Los

Angeles Times for a time, but ultimately

it wasn't published or aired. As a freelancer,

I had to go on to other assigned stories and

couldn't continue to develop or pitch the

9/11 piece. (A version of it is posted on my

home page at

So was my phone tapped or not? I don't know for

sure, though the circumstantial evidence strongly

suggests it was. Now that a new administration

is in place in Washington, with new priorities, maybe

I should request a copy of my FBI file and solve

the mystery definitively.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Mostly masterful story in TNY about a region in

which I spent part of my childhood (and it happens

to quote my little sister, too!): southwest Fl.

The only big-picture element that Packer and his

sources neglect to mention is that the more

extreme hurricane seasons of recent years have

made that area a far less desirable place to

settle and do business. People simply don't want

to risk being wiped out every few years by a

Cat 3 or 4, and that's one (albeit only one) of

the reasons behind declining property values

in parts of that area. Remember Al Gore's famous

maps in "An Inconvenient Truth"? Climate

change, more than any other factor, will re-shape

that state in the coming decades.



for January 30, 2009

So what will Springsteen play at the Super Bowl?

Here are a few scenarios:


opens with "Glory Days"
"The Rising"
"Working on a Dream"
ends with "Born to Run"


opens with "New York City Serenade"
"The Angel"
"If I Was the Priest"
ends with "Drive All Night"


opens with "Two Hearts"
"Kitty's Back"
ends with "Glory Days"

But I digress. Paul



for January 25, 2009

Maureen Dowd's latest column truly nails

Kirsten Gillibrand, who spent around 20

inconsequential minutes in the U.S. House

before being promoted to the Senate by a feeble

governor not elected to his own post. As she notes,

Gillibrand resembles no one so much as...Tracy


Why do we celebrate politicians who have never said

anything original, never written anything memorable,

never led the way on an issue when it was unpopular,

never risked everything to take a brave stand?

When someone like Gillibrand is elevated over

more deserving contenders, one has to suspect

that there are laundered favors or laundered

grudges involved.

Or perhaps the late Sen. Hruska has become more

of a prophet than anyone might have guessed

back when. He was definitely ahead of his time

in championing the rights of the mediocre, for

whom we now seem to have a fetish.

But I digress. Paul



for January 24, 2009

I went to Danville to see Sully Today....
the Danville Green: epicenter of Sully-mania. [photo by
Paul Iorio]

I traveled to Danville, Calif., today to see

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger make his first

public appearance since he saved 155 lives

last week by landing his crashing jet on

the Hudson River. Danville, of course,

is Sully's hometown, and thousands turned

out on the main Green to see and hear

speeches by him, his wife, and assorted

local politicians.

After his wife, Lorrie, introduced him

("I'd like you to meet my husband, Sully"),

he walked to the podium to enthusiastic

cheers and thanked the audience three times.

The crowd then broke into a spontaneous chant:

"Sull-ee! Sull-ee! Sull-ee!"

In person, he's taller, lankier and more

good-humored than he seems on TV, with an

easy laugh and a likable manner.

At the podium, he kept it brief. In fact,

here's the entire text of his speech:

"Lorrie and I are grateful for your incredible
outpouring of support. It's great to be home
in Danville with our neighbors and our friends.
Circumstance determined that it was this
experienced crew that was scheduled to fly that
particular flight on that particular day. But
I know I can speak for the entire crew
when I tell you: We were simply doing the
jobs we were trained to do. Thank you."

This was a proud day for Danville, an upscale,

distant suburb of San Francisco in a scenic,

BART-less part of the East Bay called the

San Ramon Valley. The place is almost

Capra-esque (people wait in an orderly line

to cross a busy street; a restaurant advertises

"the best tuna melt ever!"; even the manager

of a grocery store looks like the president

of a bank). And there's a sort of New England

gentility to some of the locals (who once

included playwright Eugene O'Neill

in their number).

At the ceremony, people in the crowd exchanged

Sully myths and gossip. One woman talked

(as if she had inside knowledge) about how

Sully had been seen cooly sipping a cup of

coffee right after the Hudson landing, as if

the whole accident had been a routine


Of course, we'll have to wait until his

upcoming "60 Minutes" interview to learn

the other details about how a massive

tragedy was, against all odds, averted.

Sully holds up a plaque on a stage in Danville. [photo by
Paul Iorio]

Danville fans of Sully, after his speech. [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for January 22, 2009

So how is the Obama era being celebrated in

liberal areas like Berkeley, Calif. (the petri

dish of democracy)? This picture pretty much

sums up the mood here.

someone's car
in Berkeley, decked out as an Obama shrine. (I wonder if he can
clear the Caldecott with that on top.) ((photo by Paul Iorio)

* * * *

Here're a few other humorous photos I shot in

the last couple days:

* * * *

But I digress. Paul

[photos above by Paul Iorio]



for January 21, 2009

Notes on the Inauguration Ceremony

The ceremony was Greek, not Roman, in spirit,

memorable, not monumental, organic, not

contrived, and Obama's speech didn't overreach

or try to become something grander than it

actually was.

The closest he came to an eternally quotable line

like "Ask not what your country can do" was: "The

question we ask today is not whether our government

is too big or too small, but whether it works."

And I loved the inclusiveness of "We are a nation of

Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and

nonbelievers" (finally, a president who has the

sensitivity and courage to include "nonbelievers").

And then there was his marvelous slam that could

easily apply to the misguided, evil supporters of

bin Laden: "To those leaders around the globe who

seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills

on the West, know that your people will judge you on

what you can build, not what you destroy."

There were also stray lines that stuck, some of

them almost Dylanesque ("we will extend a hand if you

are willing to unclench your fist").

And I loved the way his ascension to the presidency

happened not with some predictable high noon sharp

speech but with live, original music that overflowed

naturally from the Bush years into the Obama era.

Elizabeth Alexander's poem was a marvelous

celebration of the quotidian, though, alas,

I don't think mass audiences have much of an

ear for even the finest poetry.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Yes, close Guantanamo, by all means and with

due dispatch. But make sure that some of the seriously

violent criminals there are fully prosecuted and not

let out on some legal technicality. Keep in mind that

we have all sorts of degrees of due process in America,

and different standards apply to criminal, civil,

military and corporate cases. "Beyond a reasonable doubt"

is not always the level of proof required to convict

in the United States and probably shouldn't be the

level of proof needed to imprison some of the

mass homicidal folks at Gitmo. Using one of our other

standards in some instances would serve both

justice and security. And, by the way,

it's not hard to see that President Obama's

political career would be completely over

if even one of the Gitmo detainees were to be

released and went on to plot, say, a successful

dirty bomb attack on New York.



for January 19 - 20, 2009

"The Hour When the Ship Comes In..."

impressionistic/blurry photo of President Obama, back when
he was Sen. Obama, in an Oakland (Calif.) crowd in early
2007 by Paul Iorio.



for January 16, 2009

Sully Should Head the NTSB

In the folds of ordinary American life are hidden

some astonishingly extraordinary people who

generally toil in obscurity until some

freakish event brings their greatness into

the spotlight. Proof of that happened yesterday

afternoon, when Chesley Sullenberger made a

series of brilliant, reflexive, split-second

decisions that saved perhaps hundreds of lives.

I mean, the temptation for him to try to fly on

to Teterboro would have lured almost every other

pilot into untold tragedy and devastation. This

was spontaneous decision-making of the

highest order.

President-elect Obama should tap Sullenberger, who

is associated with UC Berkeley, to

head the National Transportation Safety Board. But

the way things are going, Sully may be drafted to

run for California governor in 2010. Lucky

Lindy never did what Sully did.

But I digress. Paul



for January 14, 2009

If I found a brilliant surgeon who had just the

right specialized training and experience for


for January 14, 2009

If I found a brilliant surgeon who had just the

right specialized training and experience for

an operation I was about to undergo, I wouldn't

drop him just because I discovered he hadn't

fully filed taxes in the past. Frankly, I wouldn't

care. I'd want the best surgeon I could find,

no matter what problems he might have in terms

of filing forms.

Likewise, with Timothy Geithner. The American

economy is on the operating table and in critical

condition. It needs a smart, super-competent

professional with specialized experience in

the areas that are currently in distress, and

Geithner fits that bill. Frankly, I don't care

about the minor mistakes he might have made in

the past in his personal life; the patient is

dying and in need of Geithner's expertise now.

But I digress. Paul



for January 13, 2009

Well, Roland ("Trailblazer," if he should say

so himself) Burris is not our first

senile-seeming U.S. Senator. Hope he didn't

have to pay too much for the seat.

Is this the sort of "bold" future we're

talking about?

I must say that the Senate is showing such

a lack of spine lately that I would be very

surprised if it passes any sort of universal

health care legislation by this time next year.

Mark my words. Clip and save this. By January

2010, I bet we still have virtually the same

health care system in place. Welcome to 1993?

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- At this hour, Blogojevich, still receiving

hefty paychecks from the state of Illinois (though

deprived of the bribes he wanted to take), is

probably laughing all the way to Cristophe's.

I would have had a lot of respect for Burris

if he had told Blogojevich, "I won't play

ball with a corrupt official; I'm turning down

your appointment." Why are we rewarding people

like Burris when there are lots of whistleblowers

and quiet heroes out there who are neglected

on the sidelines? That's where the Dems'

partnerships should begin.



for January 12, 2009

Bush, Frosty

Quote of the day:

"At times, you've misunderestimated me," President

Bush said to journalists at his final press

conference this morning. (Personally, I think

Bush may be mis-accusing the press.)

Bush also said one of his big mistakes was not

finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The

way he phrased it this morning, he made

it seem as if there had been some sort of Easter

egg hunt on the banks of the Euphrates and,

gee whiz, we couldn't find the booty

hidden there.

Truth is, the mistake was not that we couldn't

find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The

mistake was in erroneously believing

that there were WMDs there in the first place.

And with regard to Bush's "connecting dots about

9/11" bit: there's nothing wrong with connecting

dots if there are genuine links between terrorists

and a foreign government. But what Bush

did was to connect dots in order to draw an imaginary

or unfounded linkage between 9/11 and Saddam

Hussein, who virtually hated Osama bin Laden.

Bush might as well have drawn a link between

al Qaeda and the government in Mexico City.

* * * * *


What's the difference between a loan and a bridge

loan? Isn't every loan effectively a bridge loan?

* * * * *

Isn't the phrase "returning to the status quo ante"

redundant? No need to use "ante."

* * * * *

Can we please retire the very tired phrase

"fifth Beatle" and anyone who uses it?

But I digress. Paul



for January 11, 2009

Rather than seat Roland Burris, I suggest that Dems

wait until soon-to-be-Governor Pat Quinn appoints someone

like....Jesse White, the man who has refused to sign

Blogojevich's certificate of appointment. Jesse

White seems like the sort of profile in courage

the Senate could use right about now. Blogojevich,

under a cloud of his own hair-stylist's making,

does not deserve the victory that Burris's

seating would give him.

* * * *

Still haven't seen "Frost/Nixon" yet but have seen enough

clips to be sort of puzzled by it.

Look, I lived through the Watergate era as a teenager

who was virtually obsessed with the Nixon scandals

and all the media coverage about them. I was so

involved in anti-Nixon political activism at the

time that I actually was a marshal at and organizer

of a pro-impeachment protest when I was 15-years old

(and I was even covered in my hometown's main

newspaper at the time). But, frankly, I don't

even remember watching David Frost's televised

interviews with Nixon in '77.

In fact, I don't think I've ever watched one

of David Frost's shows from beginning to end, and

I've always been an avid TV viewer.

When I was a kid, in the 1970s, Frost always seemed

a bit remote, aloof, somewhat dense and square. As

a teen, I and my friends much preferred Cavett and

Carson, with an occasional dose of Susskind or

even William F. Buckley. In terms of electric

interviews, Cavett v. Mailer, or Buckley v. Kerouac,

loomed much larger in the zeitgeist of the era.

I can imagine that the new generation is a bit

confused by this film. They must be wondering:

Was Frost the guy who brought down Nixon? They

must be wondering: Was this an important moment,

mom and dad, when everybody in the post-Watergate

era was glued to the TV set to watch Frost

snare Nixon? I think the film makers are

guiding young people to the false impression

that this was a larger event than it actually

was (a reviewer at TNY touches on this

aspect, too).

You know what Watergate-related event truly scared

and charged everybody contemporaneously? The so-called

"Saturday Night Massacre," in which Nixon got rid

of the top guard of the U.S. Justice Dept. and

the Watergate special prosecutor, who

the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General

both courageously refused to fire at Nixon's behest.

On that night, on an autumn weekend in 1973,

with a succession of alarming news bulletins

interrupting that Saturday night's television

programming, you really got the horrifying

sense that the federal government

was truly collapsing and that we weren't

being told the whole story of what was

going on at the White House.

Now there's a moment in Watergate history

ripe for cinematic dramatization.

But I digress. Paul



for January 7, 2009

Don't Seat Burris

Anyone appointed to the U.S. Senate from

Illinois can't assume office until his

certificate of appointment is signed by

the Illinois secretary of state. Why

should Roland Burris be an exception?

The signature of the secretary of state is a

de facto (if not intended) check on the unchecked

power of the governor. Should the governor make an

appointment that is clearly irresponsible or make

a rash appointment when he is in his political

death throes, the secretary of state can, in effect,

check that power by not signing on.

I don't know what's gotten into Dianne Feinstein

lately. Once admirable, she's fast turning into the

next Joe Lieberman, what with her apparent opposition

to Panetta and her backing of Burris. Filibuster

proofing the Senate seems further away than ever.

But I digress. Paul



for January 6, 2009

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and, doggonit,
the people just elected him Senator!

Now that Al Franken has been certified

the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota

(though there will certainly be a legal challenge

from Coleman), all the Senate contests have now

been resolved (even if the appointments have not).

As you may recall, there were 11 Senate races that

were considered highly competitive back on election

day, and I offered my own predictions on who would

win each one (which I published in my November 4,

2008, Digression (see below), and posted at

4:15am on Nov. 4).

How did I fare? I predicted 11 of the 11

Senate contests!

* * *

Frankly, Leon Panetta may be just the right guy

to head the CIA. Some criticize him for not having

specialized experience in intelligence, but let's

be real: it was all those so-called intelligence

professionals who didn't see 9/11 coming. Maybe we

need someone (like Panetta) who can bring a fresh,

smart approach to the spy agency. He couldn't possibly

do worse than the team that ignored the red flags

about bin Laden in '01.

* * *

One of my favorite xmas presents this year was a

marvelous book of photographs of R.E.M. by David

Belisle, "R.E.M. Hello" (Chronicle Books) (thanks

to H!). It's packed with fascinating and often

revealing pictures of the band in the 2000s.

Anyone who loves this band the way I do will want

to see these pics.

Yorke and Stipe: melancholic genius overload.
[by David Belisle]

But I digress. Paul



for January 4 - 5, 2009

And the Best Picture Oscar Goes to..."The Wrestler"? Probably.

Finally saw "The Wrestler" this afternoon and must

confess I came out of the Metreon crying like a

wuss (to use the trade parlance of the film). Not

only is "The Wrestler" almost certainly the best

picture released in '08, but I'm trying to

figure out how many years I'd have to go back

in order to find a movie as poignant or moving

(though, admittedly, I've not yet seen all the major

movies of last year).

It is certainly comfortably in league with such

first-rank classic films about pugilists like

"Raging Bull," "Million Dollar Baby" and "On the

Waterfront," no doubt about it.

At times, it's like a top-grade episode of "The Sopranos"

and, at other times, achieves something close to the

brilliance of films by De Sica and other Italian

neorealists. (Director Darren Aronofsky and

screenwriter Robert D. Siegel should

definitely find some way to collaborate again.)

And what a resurrection this is for Mickey

Rourke, whose career had been left for dead years

ago by both critics and the movie biz. (Doesn't

it seem like not long ago when Rourke was playing

pranks with a popcorn box in "Diner"? ) Now he's

very likely to be nominated for a best actor

Oscar in a few weeks and seems the

favorite to win in a category that looked like

a lock for Sean Penn just last month.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if "The Wrestler"

were to win the best picture Oscar in February.

In my Digression of December 7, 2008, I wrote

that "Wall-E" was probably going to be

nominated for best picture -- and I think

that's still the case, though I also believe it has

far less of a chance to win than it did several

months ago. After seeing "The Wrestler," it's

obvious that "Wall-E" is soo pre-recession

in spirit, packing all the emotional wallop of a

brand new Subaru. And the buzz has also drifted

away from Penn and "Milk," which seems to have

peaked a bit too soon, and moved unmistakably

toward "The Wrestler," which captures the current

recessionary zeitgeist like no other major film

in release.

* * * *

Haven't yet seen "Frost/Nixon" but am surprised

Langella was cast, given that Nixon was the least

Italian of all our presidents (remember the bigoted

stuff about Rodino that Nixon said

on his tapes?).

* * * *

Also haven't seen "Rachel Getting Married," though

Demme is one of my favorite directors. Am impressed

with Anne Hathaway as an actress, but far less so

with her personal life, which (as she should know

by now) can easily undermine a career. How come

there's something about her that tells me she could

become the next Claudine Longet by the time

she's 40?

But I digress. Paul



for December 31, 2008

Happy new year, everybody.

For today's Digression, I'm publishing an unpublished

story I wrote and reported a few years ago on J.D.

Salinger. I'm proud of this story, as it reveals

brand new details about the reclusive author's

day-to-day recent life in New Hampshire. Very unfair

that it was not published by the newspaper for

which it was written (I think my editor chickened out

because Salinger and his people are famous for getting

litigious about anything written about him; but

every fact in this story is nailed down and solid).

Anyway, here's the story that certain mainstream

papers, probably bowing to pressure from Salinger,

wouldn't publish!

Tomorrow, by the way, is the author's 90th birthday

(so the piece has been updated a bit).

Salinger Turns 90 in January

What the Townspeople Think About J.D. Salinger

By Paul Iorio

J.D. Salinger will turn 90 in January, which means he has

now lived for 56 years in the tiny town of

Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, in seclusion. By all

accounts, he’s still as reclusive as when he was when

he first moved to town on January 1, 1953, back

when President Truman was still in the White House.

The author moved there around 17 months after the release

of his first and only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the

Rye,” at a time when he was “tremendously relieved that the

season for success of ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is over,”

as he told the Saturday Review magazine in 1952. Little did

he know the season had just begun.

The townspeople of the Cornish Flat area seem to have grown

accustomed to him and usually leave him alone to live

his day to day life with his wife, a quilt and

tapestry designer around half his age, in a house

near a covered bridge (how fitting it's a covered

bridge!) that leads to Vermont. (He moved down the

road to his current Cornish house after divorcing

his previous wife in 1967.)

Most people in the area do not talk about him or

to him. But some do.

"People know who he is, yet he acts like nobody

knows who he is," says Lynn Caple, who runs the

nearby Plainfield General Store, where Salinger

and his wife occasionally stop in to buy the

New York Times and other items.

"Very straight-faced guy," says Caple. "I've only seen

him smile once. I've been here four years."

Other neighbors, like Jerry Burt of Plainfield, have

actually been to his house, which he says is at the

end of a long driveway and atop a hill on hundreds

of acres owned by the author. "We would

go over to watch movies in his living room and have

dinner with him," says Burt, who claims he hasn't

seen the author since 1983.

"He's got a big living room with a deck that looks out

over the hills of Vermont, way up high, very private,"

he adds.

Burt recalls one dinner party at Salinger's house

twenty-some years ago at which Salinger, who is said

to enjoy health food, served meatloaf. "No Julia

Child," he says of Salinger's cuisine. And

the conversation was rarely literary. "He talked

about movies and the gardens and his children," he says.

The books Salinger usually talked about were not novels

but non-fiction works related to “health, being your own

health provider -- and gardening."

Of course, none of the guests dared to mention


"You'd never even think to do that if you were around

him," he says. "He'd just give you a look. He's a

very tall man and stern looking. You just know not

to do that. He'd probably show you the door and

say, 'Don't come in.'"

“He never talked about his work except to say he wrote

every morning faithfully,” he says. “And he said if I was

ever going to be a writer, I would have to do that.”

He also says Salinger has a big safe -- like a "bank

safe" -- where he keeps his unpublished manuscripts. "I've

seen the safe, I've looked in it. And he told me that he kept

his unpublished [work] there....It's huge," says Burt. "You

could have a party in there."

At one get-together in the 1980s, Salinger screened Frank

Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon," about a group of people

who find a paradise called Shangrila tucked in a remote

corner of the Himalayans. "He liked all those old things,

those old silents, Charlie Chaplin," he says. (His

description of the Salinger party almost resembles the

scene in the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard” in which a

has-been screens old movies for friends in a remote house.)

Another neighbor, this one in Cornish, is much more

circumspect about what she says about Salinger and

takes great pains to defend him. “He has been a wonderful

neighbor,” says Joan Littlefield, who lives close to

him. “The minute we moved into the neighborhood, he

called and gave us his unlisted number and said,

‘We’re neighbors now.’”

Littlefield spontaneously defended the author against

some of the allegations in the memoir by Salinger’s

daughter Margaret A. Salinger, “Dream Catcher: A Memoir”

(2000). That book claimed, among other things, that

Salinger was involved in offbeat health and spiritual

practices, such as drinking urine and Scientology.

“This thing about telling him to drink his own urine

or something that I heard that somebody wrote about,”

said Littlefield. “...I think that if any of these

reporters did some research into Ayurvedic medicine

or the medicine of China or the Far East, they would

probably find out that the medicine people over

there recommend this sort of thing.” (Ayurvedic

medicine provides alternative health treatments -- including

urine drinking -- that have origins in ancient


Littlefield defends Salinger on smaller issues, too.

“Absolutely ridiculous things have been written about

him, like that they had two Doberman attack dogs,”

she says. “For Pete’s sake, they had two little

Italian hounds of some kind that looked like Dobermans,

and they were skinny and tiny as toothpicks!”

(Our requests for an interview with Salinger went

unanswered. The author is famous for not granting

interviews and has given only around six interviews,

some of them brief and grudging, to reporters since

the release of “Catcher.")

Most other people in the area see Salinger only when

he's out in public, if at all. “He’s great looking for his

age,” says photographer and area resident Medora Hebert,

who has spotted him twice. “He’s dapper, very trim.”

“It was a long time before I could actually recognize him

because he looked so ordinary,” says Ann Stebbens Cioffi,

the daughter of the late owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore,

Phoebe Storrs Stebbens.

But Salinger himself has said that he thinks others don’t

see him as ordinary. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind

of man," Salinger told the New York Times in 1974. And

some agree with him: "He's a very strange dude," says

Hanover resident Harry Nelson. Burt agrees: “He had a

weird sense of humor,” he says.

What emerges as much as anything is that the

author is a serious book lover and serial browser

who shops at places ranging from Borders Books to

the Dartmouth Bookstore. “He was uninterrupted

during his hour or two of browsing for books,” says

a person answering the phone at Encore! Books in West

Lebanon, New Hampshire, describing his own Salinger


“He does come in reasonably frequently,” says someone

who answered the phone at the Dartmouth Bookstore in

Hanover, New Hampshire, around 20 miles north of Cornish.

“He’s a pretty good customer here but doesn’t really

say anything to us.”

"He frequented the Dartmouth bookstore," says an

employee of Borders Books Music & Cafe in West Lebanon.

"I talked to people who worked over there one time;

they say he wasn't very nice, wasn't the most cordial

person. So I kind of keep my eye out for him

here, go my own way."

Adds Medora Hebert, "One of my daughter's friends

was a cashier at the Dartmouth Bookstore. And they warned

him, 'If J.D. Salinger comes in, don't talk to him,

don't acknowledge him.'"

And there have been many reports of Salinger

browsing the stacks at the Dartmouth College

library. “I’ve talked with people who have met

him in the stacks and whatnot,” says Thomas

Sleigh, an English professor at Dartmouth College.

Salinger is also said to enjoy the annual Five-Colleges

Book Sale at the Hanover High School gym, a springtime

sale of used and antiquarian books that raises money

for scholarships.

In Hanover, as in Cornish, he keeps to himself. "My

wife [says] Salinger always said hello to Phoebe

and no one else," says Nelson, referring to Phoebe

Storrs Stebbens, who was a year older than

Salinger (and incidentally shares the same first

name as a major character in “Catcher”).

And area booksellers say Salinger’s books are

displayed just as prominently as they would be

if he were not a local.

Then again, Salinger doesn’t have many books to

display, since he’s published only three besides

“Catcher,” all compilations of short stories or

novellas that had been previously published, mostly

in The New Yorker magazine. His last book,

“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and

Seymour, An Introduction,” was released in

January 1963. His previous books were the bestsellers

“Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Nine Stories” (1953).

(By the way, The New Yorker magazine actually

rejected "The Catcher in the Rye" when Salinger

submitted it as a short story/novella that was

substantially similar to the novel, according to

Paul Alexander's book "Salinger: A Biography.")

In 1997, he had planned to publish a fifth book,

essentially a re-release of his last published

work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The

New Yorker in June 1965. The book’s publication

was ultimately scuttled.

But “Catcher” eclipses everything else he’s

done -- by a mile. It’s one of the most

influential 20th century American novels, a

coming-of-age odyssey about high school student

Holden Caulfield, who wanders around New York

after being kicked out of prep school. And

it's arguably the first novel to convincingly capture

the voice of the modern, alienated, American


"Catcher" was successful in its initial run but not

nearly as successful as it would become by the end

of the 1950s, when it started to turn into a

freakish cult phenomenon. To date, it has

sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and

continues to sell hundreds of thousands more each year.

Over the decades, the book has appealed to a wide

range of readers that even includes certified

wackos (John Lennon’s killer had a copy on him

when he was captured). So it’s not surprising that

Salinger has had to fend off obsessive

fans even at his private Shangrila of Cornish

Flat, which has a population of under 2,000.

“People approach him a lot,” says Burt. “And they

stole clothes off his clothesline. They stole his

socks, underwear, t-shirts. And they’d come up on

his deck. It’s a huge picture window that

goes across the front of the house looking out to

Vermont...And he said he’d get up and open the

drapes and people would be standing there looking in.

It really pissed him off.”

And there was also a much publicized scuffle outside the

Purity Supreme grocery store (which he used to jokingly

call “the Puberty Supreme,” according to two biographies)

in 1988, in which Salinger reportedly mixed it up with

a couple photographers who tried to take his picture.

But for the most part, people in the area don’t bother


“People in Cornish are quite protective of him,” says

Cioffi. “I can’t think of anyone who will tell you

a word about Salinger,” says a woman who answered

the phone at the Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont.

Apparently, Cornish is the perfect place to go if you

vant to be alone. “This is also a part of the country

where [writer Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn lived in his

enclave -- and his kids went to public

schools,” says Bob Grey of the Northshire Bookstore

in faraway Manchester Center, Vermont, referring to

the Nobel laureate’s former home in Cavendish,

Vermont, which is around 20 miles from Cornish.

“It’s the kind of place where, if you’re going to move

to be left alone, it’s not a bad place to be.”



for December 23, 2008

Almost 30 Years After "All in the Family" Went
Off the Air....

Excerpts from my exclusive interview with Carroll
O'Connor -- unpublished until now.

"Archie Bunker...never laughed."

I was lucky enough to have interviewed Carroll

O'Connor a few times in the 1990s, most memorably in

1997, when he talked about (among other things)

"All in the Family," which went off the air

thirty years ago this April.

That conversation, which lasted a couple

hours, took place in a church in the

Westwood section of Los Angeles on Labor

Day weekend of 1997 -- Saturday, August

30, 1997, to be exact, a few hours before

Princess Diana got into a car wreck in Paris.

Most of the conversation was about a play he had

just written, "A Certain Labor Day," though he

also talked about "All...," adding previously

unreported backstage details about how the series

came into existence every week. Here are excerpts,

which haven't been published -- until now (except

for a few lines, which I first included in one

of my newspaper articles of 1997):

CARROLL O'CONNOR: Yeah, we used to sit

and talk about making lines funnier or inserting

something. But I always used to make sure that these

jokes were not just jokes, they were characters's thrust

and parry. And I wouldn't play a pure unadulterated

joke. I could do it. But I always thought

we were doing these little plays on "All in the

Family." And there was a little crisis every week.

Archie Bunker, for instance, he never laughed.

He came in bothered every night about

something that went on in the day. He had a

crisis a day. And then he had a crisis at home

with his son-in-law and his daughter. And crisis

is what people understand. From a purely pragmatic

point of view -- forget art for a moment -- crisis

is what the ticket buyers understand. Everybody out

there has a crisis. I take credit for being the

one who was driving every week towards a little

play. I'm [not saying] everybody else was going

the other way. But I was the principal -- I used

to sit around the table and say, "Why should anybody

want to see this?...What is in this little play

we're doing that makes it worth watching?"


O'CONNOR: ....Let's go for the crisis.

Let's put a crisis in. If putting a crisis

in means losing a few jokes, let's put the crisis in.

Every single week, we improvised something on the set.

And we used to have a script going upstairs [at CBS].

We used to use computers, the big Xerox computers -- I

mean, they were monsters in those days, those Xerox

things -- so we could send [dialogue]. The minute we

made changes, they rushed up and put in the new pages.

They'd come down with three, four new scripts every

day. We went through all kinds of paper! And Xerox

machines kept turning them out for us. We'd

improvise and...we'd have to go up and get the script



O'CONNOR: The time when Archie

changed the baby's diaper, and there was

frontal nudity on the little boy ["Archie,

The Babysitter," aired Jan. 12, 1976]. They

decided they wouldn't do it. I must say

Norman Lear went to bat for us. He won the

day on that one. But I think that even then,

they fudged it. They let us do it and then

they...did a very fast shot.


O'CONNOR: There was one very important

episode when Archie and Mike get a little boozed and

discuss the origins of racism and Archie explains why

he thinks what he thinks ["Two's a Crowd," aired Feb.

12, 1978]. Locked in a liquor room, in

the storeroom. And Archie opens up. He doesn't

forswear racism, he just explains why he believed his

father about [assuming Bunker's voice] Jews

and niggers."

* * *

As it turned out, while O'Connor and I were chatting,

the world had suddenly changed in a tragic way,

unbeknownst to both of us. On my way home from

the interview, I heard the breaking news that

Princess Diana had been involved in some sort of

car crash. (But I digress.)

As I mentioned, O'Connor's show went off the air

30 years ago this April, though -- of course -- it's

still very much available on DVD, even if it's

(oddly) somewhat scarce in syndication.

I recently watched the entire fourth season of

"All in the Family" and was struck by how modern

most of it seemed. Some of the dialogue sounded

like it was written in 2008 -- like this passage,

which first aired on October 20, 1973:

HENRY JEFERSON: How come we don't have a black
president? I mean, some of our black people are just
as dumb as Nixon.

ARCHIE BUNKER: You ain't got a black president,
Jefferson, 'cause God ain't ready for that yet.

MICHAEL: Wait a second. What?!

ARCHIE: That's right. God's got to try it out
first by making a black pope, which he ain't done yet.

LIONEL: Maybe that's 'cause God ain't Catholic.
. . .

GLORIA: Is that all you can talk about, whether a
black man or a white man should be president?

ARCHIE: Well, what do you want to talk about, little

GLORIA: How about a woman president?

ARCHIE: Oh, holy cow!

HENRY JEFFERSON (aghast): A woman president?!

GLORIA: Mr. Jefferson, this may come as a big surprise to
you, but women are much more oppressed than blacks.

HENRY JEFFERSON: I don't see no ghetto for women.

GLORIA: What do you call a kitchen?

LOUISE JEFFERSON: I call it a prison.

HENRY JEFFERSON: Stay out of this, Louise, you're
talking foolish.

LOUISE: Do you know what Shirley Chisholm said?
Shirley Chisholm said that she ran into more
discrimination because she was a woman than because
she was black.

HENRY JEFFERSON: That's why she didn't get elected.

LOUISE: Right.

HENRY: Because she was talking foolish.

GLORIA: Mr. Jefferson, you've come a long way,
baby. But from now on it's we women who have
to overcome.

Sounds like vintage 2008 dialogue, eh? Right out

of the Obama-Hillary headlines, right? Ahead of

its time, no doubt.

But it was also very much of and about the 1970s,

too. The fourth season was the last one of the

Nixon era, coming at a point when the show had

accumulated enormous momentum and was knocking it

out of the proverbial ballpark every week with

an astonishing level of consistency. And it also

includes some of the most frequently syndicated

episodes (e.g. Archie takes a bribe from a

corrupt lawyer in exchange for dropping charges

against a mugger from a prominent family; a

seemingly washed-up unemployed colleague

visits the Bunkers and ends up landing a

job as Archie's boss; Archie celebrates

his 50th birthday (though it's hard to believe

Bunker was as young as 50 in '74; he could've

easily passed for 64).

Still, it's hard to call it the best season, because

the first four were really almost equally brilliant,

with the consistency starting to lag only in the

final four seasons, though it's also true that

some of the very best episodes were in the later

seasons (particularly the sporadically

inspired eighth season).

The best way to define the prime of "All in the

Family" is to recall favorite episodes from

memory. Let's see, there was that one that

everybody remembers in which Sammy Davis Jr.

kisses Archie (second season); the one where

right-wingers paint a swastika on the Bunkers's

front door (season 3); the show in which Archie

gets addicted to speed (season 8) -- among many,

many others. Generally, you're naming stuff

from the first four years.

The first season had a fresh, almost shock-jock


The second was dominated by Maude, who really

sort of overwhelmed the show (she soon had

her own spin-off series).

The third and fourth seasons were almost a

"Rubber Soul"/"Revolver" peak, with the 4th

introducing neighbors Frank and Irene Lorenzo

(amazing that Vincent Gardenia was given the

role, given the fact that he had played a

completely different (and unforgettable) character,

a wife-swapping swinger who Edith naively

invited to the house in the previous season;

and George Jefferson and his family (who, like

Maude, also got a solo series).

The 4th was also arguably Rob Reiner's best season

though Reiner, creatively, will probably be

remembered by future generations less for

his role as the blustery Michael Stivic than

as the film maker behind one of the funniest

films ever made, "This Is Spinal Tap."

And the crazy energy of Frank Lorenzo truly

spices up things, though one gets the sense

that he was originally written as a gay

character but was instead converted into

something more mainstream: an Italian

husband who loved to cook and sing

(just as the core ensemble characters

of "Seinfeld" seem as if they had been

initially written as roommates).

As for Archie: if you watch footage of former

Chicago mayor Richard Daley Sr., you'll see such

a remarkable resemblance between Bunker and

Daley that you'll swear the former must have

been modeled on the latter, and in fact he

might've been. Today, Bunker almost seems

like a dead-on caricature of Daley, right

down to the mayor's famous malapropisms.

(The Bunker character was fully created in

1970, only a couple years after Daley became

a villain to many for orchestrating the

"police riot" of 1968 in Chicago.)

Other times, Bunker is played as Willy Loman

for laughs (sort of).

It's interesting that O'Connor plays Bunker in

such a way that a right-winger could watch the

show and say, "What's so funny about that?"

His non-punch line punch lines were that straight.

Also, you can see Bunker's influence on the

Tony Soprano character in "The Sopranos,"

particularly in the mob series's later

episodes. (David Remnick, writing in

TNY last year, showed a fine ear for

dialect when he once wrote that Tony

Soprano "sounded more Summit than

Newark" in the first season.

Very true, though I would add that

his accent and manner actually shifted

from Summit to near Hauser Street in

later episodes.)

Things began to decline on all fronts for

the series during the fall season in which Jimmy

Carter was elected president. By late '76, the

landscape, culturally and politically, had

shifted. Nixon the dictator had been

overthrown. The revolutionaries were victorious.

Liberal paranoia, which had given the series

some of its tension, had dissipated. And

"All in the Family," which had had a lock on the

number one spot for most of the decade,

dropped out of the top five for the first

time -- and permanently.

Today, you'd have to be at least thirty-six

years old to even vaguely remember a first-run

episode of "All in the Family." But I'd find it

hard to believe that someone unfamiliar with the

show wouldn't find any episode from the first

four seasons hilarious in a meaningful way.

But I digress. Paul

[above, photo credit: photographer unknown]



for December 19 - 21, 2008

Regarding the Rick Warren Invocation

I took a job at the San Francisco Chronicle

as a staff writer in 2000, and one of my first

assignments was to write about TV coverage of

the upcoming presidential election and the

candidates. At the time, televised debates were

being scheduled and Reform Party candidate Pat

Buchanan wanted to be included in them. So I

contacted all the major and minor presidential

candidates and asked if they would comment for

my article, and the only one who responded was

Buchanan, who phoned to talk about why he thought

he should be allowed to participate in the

debates. Great, I thought; I can use the

interview for my story.

Ran into my boss at the water cooler around

an hour later and told her the mildly good news

that I had landed an interview with one of the

presidential candidates for my article.

"Which one?," she asked

"Pat Buchanan," I said.

She looked horrified and talked as if I

had committed some terrible faux pas.

She was the top features editor at the paper,

a mostly terrific editor who could sometimes pull

magic out of the air during deadlines (in contrast to

some of the lower-level editors, who

ranged from plodding to downright

dishonest, to be honest, though almost all

of 'em were very nice people. But that's another


Anyway, she was disappointed because she

didn't like Buchanan and didn't want to give him

any ink.

I explained to her that I, too, despised Buchanan's

politics (probably more than she did) and that I was

personally to the left of Nancy Pelosi on some issues,

but thought Buchanan should be heard, particularly

at a paper where predictable liberalism was rampant.

This was journalism, after all, not advocacy, and I

was writing a news story in which Buchanan was a

player, so it was important that I include

him, no matter what my personal feelings about

his politics were.

She, on the other hand, likely came away from

the discussion thinking, ohmygod, I just hired the

wrong guy; he's been on the job for only a few weeks

and already is giving podium to guys like Buchanan.

(My previous journalism experience, by the way, had

been entirely in New York and Los Angeles, not in

S.F., so maybe that had something to do with it. You

see, I was taught at Spy/Washington Post/Los Angeles

Times, etc. to follow the story where the facts

led you, without fear or favor. But they had a

different way of doing things at the Chron, where

editors openly gave preferential and biased

coverage to personal pals, which sort of made

me nauseous. What made me more nauseous is

that top editors there were well-connected

enough to spin the situation into a narrative

that favored them, not the truth.

To digress further for a moment, here's an example

of how the Chronicle would give favors to personal

pals in its reportage. Context is this: a publicist

wanted to control coverage of a story I was writing, and

I politely but firmly refused his request. Publicist,

it turned out, was a personal bud of a top editor

(which wouldn't have changed my response even if I'd

known that fact). My editor(who is still at the paper, by

the way) criticized me (in a written evaluation, no

less!) for not doing a favor for that publicist

pal of a top Chronicle editor. And he was completely

open about it, too! Here's the evaluation, written

by my editor:

This S.F. Chronicle evaluation left me wondering:
gee, I thought you weren't supposed to do favors for
personal pals in journalism. (Yes, my editor actually
said I shouldn't defy publicists!)
[click to enlarge]

Anyway, I've over-digressed here. But I'm telling

this story because I identify strongly, in my

own microcosmic way, with Barack

Obama's decision to let Rick Warren give the

invocation at the inauguration. It's like something

I would do (and, as I just said,

like something I did do -- in an analogous way,

on a far smaller scale -- shortly after being hired

as a writer for the Chronicle). In politics (as

in journalism), a real pro puts aside his own

personal beliefs and allows someone with whom

he disagrees to be heard.

And in politics, there's practical value to that.

Because the worst thing you can do for your own

cause is to muzzle the opposition, to make them

feel as if they're powerless and have

no voice, to make them scared of the new power

structure. Because that's when they'll lash out

the most, that's when they'll gather in church

groups in huge numbers and bury you

in the next election.

But if you bring them into the dialogue, make them

feel like they're not invisible to the new regime,

you stand a better chance of convincing them to

compromise on certain issues later on.

Like gay marriage. Hey, I voted against Prop 8 and

thought it was a real tragedy that it passed, and I

also think that opponents of gay marriage like

Warren are despicable and, frankly,

backward-thinking. (And I'm a hard-core hetero!)

But let's let the man speak. Because if we hear

him, there's a better chance he may hear us in the

future on issues like gay marriage, a better

chance we might be able to convince him of

the wisdom of our point of view.

However, if there is no dialogue, there can be no

persuasion, or little chance of it. Which is why

I also advocate sitting down and talking with Hugo

Chavez, Mamoud Ahmadinejad and the Castro brothers

(but not with an irrational, homicidal fanatic

like bin Laden).

Proponents of gay marriage: get shrewd. Bringing

Rick Warren to the party is probably the most practical

way to convince him and his people to soften their

opposition to gay civil rights.

But I digress. Paul



for December 17, 2008

Poor sweet Caroline. Prior to today, she

had more mystique, breathed a more rarefied air,

exuded a more untouchable grace. Now she has

to lunch with non-entities like the mayor of

Schenectady. Sort of like J.D. Salinger deciding

to come out of seclusion to do in-store promotion

for his new novel. The enigma becomes diminished.

The legend becomes too accessible, familiar.

Suddenly the person is no longer a "get" interview

or a rare thrill to meet.

Interesting that her mom, at around the same age,

also decided to take a relatively conventional job,

book editor at Doubleday, where she -- believe it or

not! -- came into the office on Park Ave.

on a regular basis to work (that's where I actually

saw her once, in the editorial offices there;

Jacqueline Kennedy remains the only Kennedy I've

ever seen up close and in person).

Not that the U.S. Senate is a "conventional" job,

though lots of conventional or at least politically

unremarkable people have held the position, among

them: Jean Carnahan (qualification: wife of a

governor), Hillary Clinton (qualification (at the

time): wife of a president) and Liddy Dole (qualification:

wife of a senator). So, in that context, "daughter

of a legendary president" makes her as qualified

as many who have recently served.

Let's face it, as I've written before (to quote my

Digression of November 16, 2008, posted below):

"Truth be told, the Senate has always been an easy

job. Anybody can be a Senator (though it'$ very hard

to actually be elected to the post). Politicians'

relatives without any experience in government have

ascended to the job and performed well. Because it's

a position in which your main responsibility is

to simply vote the party line (unless you're in the

leadership, where you're co-creating the party line).

Is there any other position in which you can

be away from work for years and have nothing

go awry?"

Yeah, Caroline may not be an arm twister or

wheeler dealer like lots of powers of the Senate

have been, and she's seems a bit too private for

politics, but she does bring a personal clout

and a powerful name to the table, which can go a

long way toward making her an effective member

of the legislative branch. Plus, she's exactly as

progressive as outgoing Senator Clinton has been

and enjoys an excellent working relationship with

president-elect Obama.

Senator Caroline Kennedy? We could do (and have

done) a lot worse, and it would be difficult to

do much better.

But I digress. Paul



for December 14 - 15, 2008

One of the Problems with the Car Business

Ah, remember when car designs were memorable?

I know almost nothing about cars or the car industry,

but couldn't help getting caught up in the discussion

on this morning's Chris Matthews television show,

when everyone talked about their favorite cars.

I must admit I'm in solidarity with Andrew Sullivan of

The Atlantic, who, like me, doesn't drive and doesn't

know or care much about cars.

Oh, I used to drive, and still can, but don't, largely

because I didn't need a car when I lived in and around

Manhattan in the decades after graduating from college

and so got into the habit of not being dependent on

a car. Today, as a Bay Area resident, I'm perfectly

content with BART and its various forms of connecting

transportation, thank you very much.

But I'm certainly not oblivious to the vehicles

around me every day and suspect that one of the

problems with the car business today is its

lack of imagination.

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, there used

to be really snazzy cars. When friends and neighbors

would visit, our suburban driveway always seemed to

be packed with lively MGs and Triumph Spitfires and

Fiats and even an Aston Martin or two. They had

style, character, personality, pizzazz, a sense

of fun. (And some even had that great lost

guilty pleasure: a fifth gear!)

And now everything is a Toyota. Not to knock

Toyotas, because If I were in the market for an

affordable car, I might end up with a Toyota, too.

(Because good luck getting parts

or repair service for an Aston Martin in this

part of the world in the 21st century.)

But cars today seem to look the same: generic,

bland, utilitarian, un-fun, with almost

interchangeable designs.

What happened to exciting design ideas? In the

1960s, even American cars had a sense of conceptual

daring, in their way. I remember when one of our

neighbors of the 1960s drove up with a brand new

Corvette (with retractable headlights) for the first

time, and all the kids (and adults) crowded around

it as if it were a UFO that had just landed on

Courtney Drive.

What happened to the wow-factor?

The only vitality I see out there in mainstream cars

is in the VW Beetle, whose semi-circular shape

is almost pop art in spirit. Even though they've been

around for awhile, they still look innovative

in contrast to the blandscape on the highways.

In the current homogeneous environment, even French

cars, once widely derided, are now a welcome contrast

to the vehicular sameness out there.

At least when you see a Citroen or a Deux Cheveux,

you're seeing something unusual and memorable

and quite unlike anything else, even if its design

doesn't quite fully work. (As writer Henry Biggs put

it on the MSN website: "...the French do occasionally

build cars if only to have something to burn next

time they decide to riot").

Look, I'm certainly not saying American car

makers should emulate the French, but if you were to

combine the U.S. utilitarian spirit with

Japanese efficiency and a European sense of

innovation in design, Detroit might actually come up

with something people want to buy. (Nowadays,

it's easy to spot an American car; just look

for a bulky vehicle that overdoes the steel and


Me, I prefer daring to safe mediocrity anyday.

Until the industry puts some inspiraton and

surprise back into its cars, I'll continue

to take the BART.

But I digress. Paul



for December 12, 2008

Kudos to that Reuters reporter for being the only one

at yesterday's Obama press conference to ask the

president-elect about his health care plan.

The other esteemed journalists -- all fully insured,

I'm sure -- asked about Governor Milosevic, or whatever

his name is. Perhaps uninsured reporters, who more

fully understand what a callous horror the U.S. health

care system has become, should be assigned to ask

questions at the next Q&A session, because the

insured might not completely appreciate what a

five-alarm crisis this is for millions of Americans.

Yeah, I fully understand that the question from

the CBS reporter needed to be asked, but it's hardly

a tell-tale detail that Blagojevich somehow knew

that Obama wouldn't play ball in the governor's

nefarious game. The governor, like the rest of

us, knew Obama's reputation for honesty and, hence,

knew not to ask him to engage in horse-trading.

In any profession, in politics or elsewhere, a

person sets an ethical tone that tends to either

invite or discourage certain solicitations and

associations. And smart staffers can easily see

where a conversation is going and stop it before

it goes there.

In any event, the Blagojevich tapes are

exculpatory toward Obama. The real wonder -- and

it's damn near a secular miracle to anyone who

has been an honest professional in the midst

of corruption -- is how Obama managed to rise through

the ranks of Chicago politics and come out as

a genuine model of high-minded ethics. Amazing.

Less amazing is the shameful behavior of Jesse

Jackson, Jr., who seemed to go along to get

along, which is what most people do, unfortunately,

in such circumstances, because whistleblowing

requires enormous courage and risk. My own

hard-earned experience tells me that

when you blow the whistle on someone powerful --

whether in politics or journalism or anywhere

else -- the following generally happens: you

get fired, then smeared, then blacklisted in

your profession, and then the real bad luck


But I digress. Paul



for December 7, 2008

Does "Wall-E" Deserve a Best Pic Oscar Nom?

Wall-E: a star is boring? (photo from Pixar)

I'd really like to like "Wall-E." A lot of critics

I respect rave about it. But after watching it

two-and-a half times, I still find it a

bona fide bore.

The first time I viewed it, I fell asleep around forty

minutes in. The second time, I saw the whole thing

and got into it a bit more, but was still astonished

by how uninteresting it was for such a highly-praised


Maybe it's me, I thought. Maybe I wasn't in the

right mood for it. So I tried it a third

time -- with 10 minutes of deleted scenes -- and

was still yawning throughout.

Problem is its occasionally flat visual effect, a

constricted style that looks like a computer screen

for much of the film. I don't care what novel

storyline or earnest message a film maker

intends, because intention and concept scarcely

matter, if there is no visual magic on the screen

(and there's very little here).

To be sure, there are some inspired moments, around

an hour in, during the space sequences, which soar

like no others here. But otherwise, it's just a

lot of mechanized stop-start motion that expresses

little except an overall lack of flow.

As for the love story, it's less Chaplin-esque than

"E.T."-esque, and hard to praise because it consists

mostly of Walle-E screaming "Eve" and Eve yelling

"Wall-E" (the name Wall-E is shouted at least a

hundred times or so, or so it seems).

The good news: if you cut the visuals and just

listen to the audio portion, with all its whirs

and beeps and musical loops and repetition,

it sounds sort of like a fascinating piece of avant

garde music, which makes it more deserving

of a Grammy than of an Oscar, though the

film will probably be nominated for best picture

on January 22nd.

But I digress. Paul



for December 4, 2008

I was just in San Francisco a few hours ago and

shot a few photos. Here they are:

Light through stained glass windows falls on columns
in Grace Cathedral in S.F.

* * *

A cat sleeps on a snoozing dog on Powell Street in S.F.
-- something you don't see every day! (Almost lost in the
cropping: a mouse is actually atop the cat.)

* * *

This is what the holiday season looks like in S.F.'s
Union Square.

* * *

And here are a few photos I shot several weeks ago:

A squirrel feasts on Halloween leftovers.

* * *

A voter (with child) on presidential election day,
at a polling place in Berkeley, Calif.

But I digress. Paul



for November 28 - 29, 2008

If you're looking to watch some DVDs over

this Thanksgiving weekend, here are my

reviews of a few movies I've seen (or re-seen)


Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Conformist"

I tend to watch Bertolucci's films primarily for

their visual beauty.

Is there a more seductive light blue anywhere in the

world, offscreen or on, than the one in "The Conformist"?

It's slightly darker than powder blue, like a

light twilight snow in Central Park, or the comic book

blue of "Ghost World," an almost blue white (just

look at the scenes in the Paris store).

For deep blue, I go to Coppola, particularly the first

"Godfather" film, which looks the way it does largely

because Bertolucci (and ace cinematographer Vittorio

Storaro) led the way years earlier with "The

Conformist." Coppola's dark blue is that of the sky

at 30,000 feet, or of Frank Sinatra's eyes up close

(which I was lucky enough to have seen in person, from

around a foot away, on a movie set in 1980). But

I digress.

I'm more impressed with "The Conformist" as a fest of

shadow and color, that by-product of light, than as a

character study of a conformist. The film is remarkable

for, among other things, the way it makes shadows look

like they seemed in childhood, as huge mysterious things

that you could get lost in. His style of manipulating

shadow and light, later used so revealingly

by Coppola in the opening sequences of "The Godfather"

to suggest a contrast between good and evil, furthers a

stylistic throughline that appears to come from no less

than Caravaggio.

The film is also about the low angle of the sunlight

through the fog in the forest during the climactic

murder scene (even if that sequence has a continuity

gaffe; the snow disappears just as the professor

gets out of the car), a setting that is remarkably

similar to the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos."

As a portrait of a conformist, however, it is lacking. If

Bertolucci, revising the Moravia novel, is trying to draw

a character who goes along to get along, who blends in

chameleon-like with whoever he happens to be with, who

takes the path of greatest agreement and least

resistance, then the title character, Marcello Clerici,

is not such a person.

Clerici is actually a sometimes contrarian and

contentious sort of guy, deeply committed to an

evil political ideology. He may be callous,

conscienceless and amoral but is far from chronically

malleable; after all, he argues with a priest during

confession, debates politics with his former

professor at dinner, and refuses to join in a group

dance even when surrounded by dozens

of dancers in Paris. Leonard Zelig he ain't (in

fact, "Zelig" could have easily been titled

"The Conformist").

Remember, the premise of the film is this: because

Clerici killed someone when he was kid (or he thinks

he killed someone), his life is shaped by his desire to

be normal and to fit in amongst non-homicidal regular

people. But the main problem with that premise is

that it doesn't follow that he would then commit

himself to a political organization that orders him

to kill political opponents. If the concept is that

Clerici wants to show how much he is an average

everyman non-killer, then wouldn't killing someone

be exactly the opposite of the conformity he's

supposedly trying to achieve?

Still, it's always welcome to see a great film that

exposes the cruelty and savagery of Nazi and

Nazi-associated fascists of the thirties and forties.

But for all the talk in the film about Mussolini's

people forcing dissidents to drink castor oil -- sort

of an execution by diarrhea, in some cases -- there

is not much shown onscreen of the imaginative

sadism of the blackshirts (the way there is in

Wertmuller's films or in Pasolini's scalding "Salo,"

which not only shows the trauma of torture but actually

traumatizes anyone who dares to view that film).

Dominique Sanda's portrayal of someone who

knows she is about to be murdered may be traumatic

enough for most viewers. Still, the most salient and

memorable imagery in "The Conformist" relates to light,

shadow, blue.

P.S. -- How telling that Bertolucci uses the E.U.R.

subdivision in Rome as the setting for a mental

institution, which is what it looks like today, for

the most part. Rather than the ultramodern city

of the future, the E.U.R. now looks clinical, cold,

sterile, like that odd building in Columbus Circle

(2 Columbus Circle) in Manhattan that nobody has

ever seemed to find a use for. (I was more

impressed with the E.U.R. as a kid than I am now.)

Also, the Vittorio Emanuele monument appears in

the picture, making me wish the Italian government

would dismantle it, piece by piece, and bury

it in landfill off the coast of Ostia Antica.

Look, I love most of Rome but can't think of

another major monument in a western European

city as overstated, pompous and arrogant.

(It would be impossible to imagine it in Florence.)

P.S. -- Some DVDs of "The Conformist" include

interesting interviews with both Bertolucci and

Storaro that are well worth checking out, if only

because of Bertolucci's characteristic wisdom and

insight. Here's what he says about directing actors:

"I always tell my actors, 'Please surprise me.

I need to be fed with surprises. Surprises are

nourishing.'" Very refreshing (particularly in

contrast to a dim editor I once worked with at

a Bay Area newspaper who used to tell me and other

writers to try to do the opposite -- "no surprises"

was his motto).

* * * *

Woody Allen's "Scoop"

I'm certainly thrilled with the unexpected

resurgence of Woody Allen's career in the

2000s and loved "Match Point" and am looking

forward to "Whatever Works." But "Scoop" falls

into the lower tier of Allen films

that are well-crafted but not really very funny.

I can't imagine that any serious critic would

recommend this one for its hilarity. It's sort of

like a U.K.-based re-make of the slight "Manhattan

Murder Mystery" with recycled bits from "Broadway

Danny Rose" and "Small Time Crooks." Sure, there

are some suspenseful moments -- the scene on the

boat is chilling -- but not all the movie's supposedly

tell-tale details hold up to scrutiny (e.g., why

would the murderer have hidden the key in a hiding

place that he knew Scarlett Johansson

had already discovered?). But I loved the Camusian

death at the end.

* * * *

"The Devil Wears Prada"

One of the great things about "Prada" is that

the audience becomes educated, along with Anne

Hathaway's fashion neophyte, about haute couture.

For example, in the beginning, I looked at

Hathaway's blue sweater and, with her dark hair

against it, thought it looked very pretty. But

Meryl Streep's character, with a rarefied

level of refinement in high fashion that Hathaway

and most people in the audience don't have, sees

right to the core of her fashion flaw, calling it

that "lumpy blue sweater." And gradually, Hathaway

(and moviegoers) realize that Streep

is...right. It is bulky. After Streep's description,

I couldn't see that sweater the same way for the rest

of the film.

Streep truly tops herself here, perfecting the

throw-of-the-jacket at either an assistant or a chair,

both of which she treats with equal disregard, and

the dry slicing put-down ("Is there a reason my coffee

isn't here? Did she go to Rwanda for the beans?").

"Prada" is entertaining and satisfying throughout, and

some of the deleted scenes are as terrific as the ones

that made the cut.

* * *

"TV Classic Westerns"

For those curious about the westerns that began

to sprout on television around fifty years ago, a

variety-pack of episodes from four series of that

era is available on DVD. Though there's no

"Gunsmoke," "Rawhide" or "Bonanza," there are

"Death Valley Days," "The Rifleman," "Bat Masterson"

and "Wagon Train."

The latter was the most popular of those included here,

or at least it was until ABC Entertainment, in an

incredibly boneheaded decision, decided to expand

it, a la "The Virginian," to 90 minutes, thereby

inadvertently killing it. (In one of the most

spectacular falls in ratings that I'm aware of, it

went from #1 to unranked in the top

twenty in a matter of months.)

"Death Valley Days" is probably the worst of them,

a series so old-fashioned it could pass for what

television might have looked like in the 19th

century, had there been TV in the 19th century.

"Bat Masterson" was the most eccentric and stylish

of them, what with Masterson's cane and dapper duds.

But the problem with the cane gimmick was that all

the bad guys always had guns, so showdowns inevitably

devolved into traditional gunfights in which the cane

was irrelevant or merely ornamental.

"The Rifleman," a succinct (half hour) weeknight series,

had a welcome punk edge to it and was almost, but not quite,

Eastwoodian in sensibility.

I never watched any of this stuff when I was a kid, which

explains my current curiosity, now satisfied enough to tell

me I didn't miss much back when.

But I digress. Paul



for November 25 - 26, 2008

Season 7 Starts Shooting in a Couple Weeks

Reading "Mondo Freaks."

Two reasons to be cheerful in 2009: there'll

be a 7th season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

and a new Woody Allen movie, "Whatever Works,"

also starring Larry David.

Shooting starts on the next ten episodes of "Curb" in

a week or two, though there are no credible leaks on

whether Larry and Loretta become a permanent item or

if Cheryl remains estranged from her ex.

Those who have yet to check out the 6th season have a

treat awaiting them, because it may be the best so far, or

at least it includes the (arguably) funniest "Curb" episode

ever, "The Freak Book," which makes me laugh just thinking

about it. Yeah, I know, there have been plenty of other

contendas for best episode, to wit: "Lewis Needs a Kidney,"

which actually may be better and more resonant than

"Freak Book"; and such slighter, but only

slightly slighter, episodes like the hilarious "Krazee-Eyez

Killa" and "The Car Pool Lane" (and "The Car Salesman"

and "The Wire" and "The Larry David Sandwich," in which

Larry, while inside his wife, interrupts sex with her

because he can't resist taking a phone call

from his overweight manager Jeff, with whom he

seems to have better chemistry).

I vote for "Freak Book" because of the seemingly

genuine enthusiasm that Larry and Jeff have for

"Mondo Freaks," an exploitative coffee-table book

full of pictures of physically deformed people.

The second disc of Season Six, with only four

episodes, may seem skimpy at first, but it packs

a bigger wallop than most "Curb" double-discs.

Only problem with "Curb," which is otherwise close to

perfect, is its occasional plot deficiencies, storylines

that are often jerry-built, a weakness it shares with

"Seinfeld," which, as hilarious as it was, could never

really carry an adequate plot over the span of even

two episodes (remember the contrived mail truck/golf club

bit?). And that same sense of contrivance is apparent

in, say, the story in which Larry stages the mugging of

his wife's shrink, which leaves the viewer unwilling to

suspend disbelief -- and wondering why the police wouldn't

want to talk with the mugging victim and the main witness.

And then there are promising plots not taken, like

the one in which Leon robs people of their

jerseys, thinking they're Larry's jerseys; that

story could've easily bloomed into one in which Larry

winds up in a legal mess, accused of conspiracy to

commit strong arm robbery, because of Leon's

well-intentioned overstepping.

But "Curb" isn't primarily about plot but about

a set of tangled, complicated relationships that crash

and burn and recombine and uncombine and resurge

-- and sometimes resurge and disintegrate at the

same time, which is to say it's as close to life itself

as a great sit-com can get.

But I digress. Paul



for November 20, 2008

Well, it's official. The only ones who don't love

Barack Obama are the religious right of America and

the religious right of Islam. Al Zawahiri

just sent his latest right-wing rant from the

15th century and -- surprise! -- he doesn't like the

progressive modern policies of Obama.

For those who don't remember al Zawahiri, he's

bin Laden's number two, a physician (albeit a

physician who hasn't yet learned that being overweight

is a big health risk). And I don't think he fully

understands that his and bin Laden's medical prognoses

have, with the election of Obama, just taken a

turn for the far worse.

You see, al Zawahiri, the president-elect has said

repeatedly that if his soldiers catch you guys in

their crosshairs, they have orders to shoot to kill.

And Obama is way smarter than Bush and more likely to

figure out where you're hiding. So get your cave in

order, because your reactionary ways are a-comin' to

a close.

As I've said before, I've got a bottle of marvelous dry

Tuscan red all ready for the great day when bin Laden is

declared dead. Can't wait.

Sure, we should and can negotiate with a lot of

despots we disagree with (e.g., even Ahmadinejad,

Chavez, Castro, etc.). But not with bin Laden or

al Qaeda.

The reason? They targeted apolitical civilians, Muslims

among them, in a non-wartime context. Civilians.

Deliberately. I still can't get my mind around what

those guys did in '01. Even in wartime, when

civilians are killed, they are killed by accident, not

by design.

And by the way, al Zawahiri, you have your facts

wrong about Obama's father. Yes, his dad did begin

life as a Muslim, but as soon as he got a first-class

education, at Harvard and elsewhere, he quickly learned

that all that religious stuff was just bullshit and

soon abandoned theism. Smart guy.

In any event, his son is obviously his own man and

was not raised by his father but by people who

were Christians, which accounts for his Christian


But I digress. Paul



for November 18, 2008

Here's the best (and funniest) lede paragraph I've

seen in a long, long time. It was written

by Burkhard Bilger and appears in the new issue of

The New Yorker:

"Elephants, like many of us, enjoy a good malted beverage

when they can get it. At least twice in the past ten years,

herds in India have stumbled upon barrels of rice beer,

drained them with their trunks, and gone on drunken

rampages. (The first time, they trampled four villagers;

the second time they uprooted a pylon and electrocuted




for November 17, 2008

Mean Girl

It's hard to believe some can't see the fact that

Sarah Palin's national political career is sooo over.

She may be a presidential contender in 2012? Are you

joking? You think she might team up with Dan Quayle?

Honey, she just came off a stint as America's newest

National Laughingstock. People tune in to watch her

only because they want to see her screw up on camera.

They watch her the way they watch TV Bloopers.

For cheap kicks. To feel good about their own

failings. Her legacy -- forever -- is as Tina Fey's

sidekick (and, man, has the bottom dropped out of the

Palin-related humor industry, no?). Sarah,

we're not laughing with you, we're laughing at you.

Further, your meanness toward uninsured sick people

who need to see a doctor makes you an unsympathetic

figure. Go back to teaching creationism or

whatever you were doing before.

But I digress. Paul



for November 16, 2008

A Sea of Udalls

Nobody's noticing it, but the U.S. Senate is

gradually being depleted of its

greatest talents.

Many of the leading lions will be gone in the next

Senate. Our best Senator, Barack Obama, has

found another job. Congress's greatest foreign

policy mind, Joe Biden, has also found employment

elsewhere. Ted Kennedy, sadly, has cancer and

is not expected to live far into the new year. Hillary

Clinton is in negotiations to leave her job, and so

is John Kerry. Even Dianne Feinstein is seriously

considering a gubernatorial run. (And since his

political sex-change operation, Joe Lieberman has

been of little use to either side.)

So who's left to perform before the C-Span cameras?

Two new Udalls and a Stuart Smalley (if we're lucky).

The Senate is now officially 2% Udall.

Truth be told, the Senate has always been an easy

job. Anybody can be a Senator (though it'$ very hard

to actually be elected to the post). Politicians'

relatives without any experience in government have

ascended to the job and performed well. Because it's

a position in which your main responsibility is

to simply vote the party line (unless you're in the

leadership, where you're co-creating the party line).

Is there any other position in which you can

be away from work for years and have nothing

go awry?

Still, there's at least one lion left, John McCain,

and here's my suggestion: appoint McCain Secretary

of Defense. No, hear me out. Do what some businesses

sometimes do. Appoint your main rival to a post

that you know he could not turn down. And then, a

year or so later, replace him with someone else, saying

that you and McCain don't see eye-to-eye with regard

to, say, the Kurdistan separatist crisis, or

whatever the crisis du jour is in a year. By so

doing, you've effectively fired McCain from the

Senate and put him into early (or earlier)

retirement. (Sort of like what Eisner did to

Ovitz on a different playing field.)

Remember, cabinet officials do not get tenure. This

is not a post at the Kennedy School of Government.

And this ain't a luxurious six-year Senate stint

from which you cannot be fired (even if you're caught

in a restroom trying to kiss an undercover dick, so

it turns out). Look at how long cabinet officials

have lasted in previous administrations. Mere months,

in some cases. A best case scenario -- and this is

stretching it -- is eight years, though most don't

last that long at all. And if you think the position

will bring immortality or household name recognition:

anybody remember William P. Rogers? George von L.

Meyer? Cornelius N. Bliss? (I think Cornelius

used his middle initial in order to distinguish

himself from the many others named Cornelius Bliss.)

On the upside, an Obama cabinet official does get

the satisfaction of serving someone who may turn

out to be the greatest president since Lincoln

himself. Or you can stay in Congress and risk

getting lost in a sea of Udalls.

But I digress. Paul



for November 12 - 13, 2007

The Ten Commandments have some new competition.

A religious group in Utah has been promoting its

own alternative to the Commandments, called The

Seven Aphorisms, and wants to erect an Aphorisms

monument on public land, which is now the

subject of a hot new case before the U.S.

Supreme Court.

I, too, have my own alternative to the

Commandments, or rather an edit of the

Commandments that I'd like to share.

After all, the Commandments must have been

tough to edit back when they were first written

on stone tablets, which are nothing like the nifty

word processors we have today. If laptops

had been around in Moses's time, here's what a

good editor might have done:

1. I am the Lord thy God: Thou shalt not have false gods before me.

This is your lede commandment?! Wording this
in the first person makes God seem immodest -- and
as if it's a pick-up line at an orgy ("Hey, baby,
you can't worship anybody but me"). If you're
going to keep this as a commandment, find a way
to re-word it in the third person, even if you
have to quote someone else saying it
(e.g., "Thou shall not have false gods before


2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Look, if you're going to be The Lord, you've
got to learn to take some heat and nasty words every
now and then. Scrap this Commandment.


3. Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath.

Awkward wording, to say the least. Also:
by "holy," I assume you mean "suspend all activity."
You're essentially giving everyone a license to be
lazy on a particular day and feel good about it.
No can do. Schedules are too tight in the modern
age. Scrap this one, too.


4. Honor thy father and mother.

Generally a good idea. But what about
the millions of people whose mothers and fathers
are not worthy of honor, who are
Nazis and rapists? Re-write.


5. Thou shall not kill.

In all instances? Thou shall not kill Hitler?
Thou shall not kill bin Laden? Thou shall kill in
wartime? Thou shall not kill in self-defense? Too
many exceptions to the rule. Go back and make it more


6. Thou shall not commit adultery

What if it's an open marriage and the husband
doesn't mind if you have relations with his significant
other? Too broad.


7. Thou shall not steal

Again, generally a good idea but too vague.
It's legal, for example, to steal something that
was stolen from you. During the French and
American revolutions, revolutionaries stole
almost all the property of the ruling elites.
Keep but modify.


8. Thou shall not bear false witness against a neighbor.

It's hard to disagree with this one, though
Ben Franklin said it better with "Honesty is the
best policy."


9. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife.

What's wrong with a little coveting now and
then? I know, coveting can lead to harder things
(which is what I've been hoping for lately!).
Also, does this apply to thy neighbor's husband?
Ditch this one.


10. Thou Shall not covet thy neighbor's goods.

This commandment gets outshone by the much
kinkier "neighbor's wife" commandment. Lacks pizazz.
Try combining this one with the 9th commandment.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Tuned in to the CMAs earlier tonight, hoping

to catch a performance by Alison Krauss, but, alas,

she wasn't scheduled to play. I did hear Martina

McBride, who sort of swept me away. Every time I hear

McBride, I think, what an amazingly natural singer she is,

natural as a gale.

* * *

P.S. -- With the regard to the case of possible

plagiarism by Neil Halstead of my work (which I wrote

about in the November 10th Digression, below), let me

make this clear. If I sense that he or his people are trying

to reverse this situation and make it look like the

opposite is true, then I will definitely take this

dispute to a more formal venue so that the record

will be clear about this. (Hard drives and copyrights

don't lie.)



for November 11, 2008

Now that the election results have been

mostly finalized, how did the Daily Digression

do with its pre-election predictions?

Let's see, I speculated about several possible

scenarios but wrote that the most likely outcome

would be 353 votes for Obama, 184 for McCain. The

final tally was 365 to 173, so I was close.

I also tried to predict the outcomes of the 11 main

competitive U.S. Senate races, and I was correct

about nine of them (though Chambliss still has to face

a run-off), and wrong about only one of the 11. (The

Franken-Coleman contest is still in dispute.)

And at what time did I call it for Obama on

election night? Well, I didn't post anything on the

Digression last Tuesday night, but I did phone a good

friend, an Obama supporter, to tell her that Obama

had just won the election. According to my cellphone

records, I made that call at 9:31pm (ET) Tuesday, more

than a half hour before the tv networks projected his win.

It was obvious Obama couldn't possibly lose once he'd

won Ohio.

But I digress. Paul



for November 10, 2008

Last night someone made me aware of a new song,

"Witless or Wise" by a guy named Neil Halstead,

that seems to appropriate the melody of one

my own original songs. And sure enough, his song

does appear to be way too close in melody to one of my own

songs, "I Don't Know If I Know You No More," which

I posted on March 22, 2008, on the vibecat website

and kept up on the site for several months. It's

now on my album "75 Songs (Part 3)." Halstead's

similar song was released many months afterwards.

(I sent an MP3 of it to myself on 3/22/08 by email,

so that's its copyright date; registered copyright

was slightly later.) If anyone has heard both

his track and mine, I'd like to hear what you think


But I digress. Paul



for November 9, 2008

The Rise of Self-Interested Progressivism

Look, I don't want to ruin anybody's Kumbaya moment,

but the stats are in: 70% of black voters in California

voted for a proposition banning gay marriage last

Tuesday, according to exit poll research by Edison Media

and Mitofsky International. And that means that the vast

majority of black supporters of Barack Obama in the

blue Golden State support their own civil rights but not

necessarily the civil rights of other groups.

There has been a lot of self-interested progressivism

in the last couple decades. When was the last time

gays marched for Chicano workers' rights

in the Castro? When was the last time blacks marched

for gay rights in Harlem? When was the last time

Hispanics demonstrated about environmental issues

in L.A.? When was the last time eco-activists

demonstrated for the single-payer health plan?

When was the last time black men marched in favor

of abortion rights?

It's almost comic to think those groups would do

any of that.

And it wasn't always that way. Back in the 1960s, Martin

Luther King used to speak out against the Vietnam War

almost as much as he spoke out on racial issues. Student

anti-war activists would march in support of

Cesar Chavez's farmworkers union in those days.

And Chavez's people would join the black civil rights


There was a lot of welcome cross-pollination among

activists then. And people were not as concerned

with their own demographic groups as they were


And that just ain't the case anymore.

A contrast. When Rubin Carter was falsely accused of

murder in the 1970s, I and other whites supported

his struggle for justice. Sure, Carter was no saint,

but he was clearly falsely accused.

When Reade Seligmann was falsely accused of having

committed a monstrous assault in 2006, I similarly

supported his struggle for justice. But because his

accuser was black, most blacks at the time sided with

the persecutor -- Crystal Mangum -- not with the

persecuted in that case. (Yeah, the Mangum case is

a divisive issue -- which is all the more reason to

bring it up, so that all its associated issues can be

properly resolved. By definition, virtually every

struggle against injustice has been divisive.)

What happened to the thirst for justice in that

instance? What happened to the quest for truth?

One of the main illnesses in this country is the

attitude of my-ethnic-group-right-or-wrong. If an

Italian-American mafioso is accused of murder,

some Italian-Americans in certain neighborhoods will

not only stand up for the guy, whether he did it or not,

but they'll cite his prosecution as a case of ethnic

prejudice. He's one of us, they'll say.

Similarly, if a common black thug robs some guy

at gunpoint, some blacks will not only back the

criminal, whether he did it or not, but they'll actually

try to turn it into a political cause. He's one of us,

they'll say.

That tendency must stop. Period.

Instead of blindly siding with your own ethnic or

demographic groups from now on, why not try siding

with the person who is in the right, whose cause is

just? Instead of supporting the person

whose skin color most resembles your own, why not

back the person who is actually telling the truth?

That's the revolution that needs to happen next.

I don't think the gay guy who was just un-married

by Obama supporters -- who told him, "No, you

can't" -- wants to sing "Kumbaya" just yet.

But I digress. Paul



for November 7 - 8, 2008

Loose Thoughts on the New Era

1. If the current tableau out there were

"The Godfather": Bush would be Sonny Corleone;

Obama would be Michael Corleone; Lieberman

would be either Fredo or, more accurately, the

Abe Vigoda character at the end of the first film

("For old time's sake, Tom?"); Joe Biden would

be consigliere Tom Hagen; Rahm Emanuel would

be Clemenza; Oprah would be Johnny Fontane; Bill

Clinton would be Moe Green ("talking loud, saying

stupid things") or Jack Woltz; John McCain would be

Capt. McCluskey; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be Virgil

Sollozzo ("I hope you're not a hothead like Sonny");

Hyman Roth (the good side of Hyman Roth) would be

Warren Buffett; Jeremiah Wright would be Frank

Pentangeli ("an old man and too much wine");

Jesse Jackson would be Johnny Ola; Eliot

Spitzer would be Pat Geary; and the Talia Shire

character would be Hillary Clinton at the end

of the first film when she suspects

Obama had something to do with the death of her

husband's political reputation ("she's hysterical").

2. Joe Lieberman should not be let back in, and not

just because he was a traitor. If his seat had been up

this year, he would have been soundly defeated, so his

views do not reflect the current will of the people.

(Harry Reid is one steely guy, eh? Exactly what the

Dems need right now.)

3. Bob Dylan should be the poet selected to read

at the inauguration. Or Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

(Or maybe Melle Mel.)

4. Whenever possible, we should ditch the term

African-American and instead refer to the nation, not

the continent, from which the person's ancestors came.

Obama is a Kenyan-American. Most "African-Americans" are

actually west African-Americans (very few came from

Kenya centuries ago). The diversity on the African continent

is the same as the diversity on the European one. I'm not

called a European-American, but rather

an Italian-American (or someone with an Italian-American last

name), and those who came from the African continent should be

given the same level of individuality.

5. If a universal health care bill is not passed within

the first six to nine months of the Obama administration,

citizens can fairly assume that the same gridlock of '93

is in effect, that the revolution is stalled in traffic.

People should then start taking extreme civil disobedience

actions, e.g., by going to the primary residences of the

top executives of pharmaceutical and insurance companies

(and others who make profits off the sick) and staging

raucous demonstrations in front of their homes on

a regular basis. For starters.

6. The White House family dog should be a...beagle.

7. The rich bums who have run major financial services

firms into the ground should either be fired or be forced to

work at the federal minimum wage without health benefits,

pensions or bonuses -- if their companies want to see a

dime of bail-out money. That should be one of the

conditions. Let them work as their workers work. These

executives obviously have no special skills worth paying

for; if their MBAs and business experience led to

the collapse of their companies, then we can conclude

that even an unskilled, rank amateur could've

taken the CEO's job and done at least as

well. Start paying those guys what they're really

worth, not what they can unfairly leverage.

8. Maureen Dowd, we love you, but please, stop

flirting with Obama. He just don't dig you, babe.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- I'm a big fan of the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM)

and highly recommend the "Mahjong" exhibit currently

on display there, but I did ridicule their

Mao-era propaganda exhibit in a previous Digression

(see column of October 9), so I wondered idly whether

I'd be hassled by some disgruntled staffer

when I visited there yesterday.

Sure enough -- and it might be sheer coincidence -- I was.

While strolling slowly through the gallery, some

diminutive security person, who didn't identify herself

as a staffer, stood in front of my path, and I walked on

anyway, and she stood in front of that path, too, as

if she were a crazy person. So I walked on anyway

again, but she stood in that path, too, before

she finally identified herself as an usher or whatever

she was and asked that I check in my bag at the front

entrance, which I promptly did. (I bring this up

only because these sorts of things tend to get

distorted in the re-telling, don't they?) Note to

BAM: in the future, you guys should consider handling

such requests from a distance, clearly identifying yourself

as a staffer -- and not by standing in the way of

a patron.



for November 5, 2008

So You Say You Want a Revolution!

It takes a nation of millions... [photo by Paul Iorio.]

But I digress. Paul Iorio

[above, photo by Paul Iorio of Obama speaking in Oakland in early 2007.]

P.S. -- Now that a racial barrier has finally

fallen, it's time to move toward taking down other

barriers -- for example, creating a climate in which

there are political candidates who don't think the

concept of god makes a whole lot of sense. (Oh, yeah,

and you also said an African-American could never

be elected president in this generation!) That's

the direction the human race is going, after all. The

defeat of Liddy Dole is a really good sign. She

called her opponent godless, and some voters said,

even if that were true, what's wrong with godless?

There's a tendency among some progressives to say,

let's liberate every unpopular or minority group

EXCEPT this one, the non-theists, because they're

too unpopular. If the black and gay civil rights

movements have taught us anything, it's that there

are always new brave stands to take, new mountaintops

to climb, new resistances to overcome in each new

generation. Let's start by taking "under god" out

of the Pledge, so that non-theist school kids don't

have their rights trampled.

* * *

P.S. -- One point that obsververs haven't brought

up is that the election of Obama is more a triumph

of the immigrant narrative than of the dominant

African-American narrative in this country. After all,

Obama was the son of a father who was born in another

country -- Kenya -- and came to the U.S. relatively

recently (1960s), which puts the president-elect in the

tradition of other first generation politicians

who attained high office. His late father was,

effectively, an immigrant to the U.S. -- at

least for the six years or so in which he lived

here as a student. (Or you could see him as a

Kenyan who briefly lived in the U.S.) Further,

Obama's dad and paternal ancestors did not live

through the various liberation struggles in the

United States over the centuries and decades and

never suffered as slaves here. So Obama's narrative

is quite different from the main African-American

storyline in the U.S.



for November 4, 2008

Predicting Today's Presidential, Senate Races

My best prediction, based on all the major polls

and my own research, suggests there

will be a closer race in the electoral college

than most analysts now think. One clue is the

Kentucky Senate race, where Mitch McConnell is

now widening his lead over Bruce Lunsford,

suggesting that disenchantment with Republicans

in red states is not as intense as first thought

following the financial collapse last month.

If Florida and Ohio end up in the McCain column, as

they well might, the pressure will be on Obama to

find substitutes -- and the electoral

logic makes that difficult. I mean, if Florida is

not locked up for Barack, how can North Carolina or

Virginia be?

In the last analysis, I'm comfortable making a

prediction only about the likely range of results,

which I think will be between a 353/184 Obama win

and a (less likely) 274/264 McCain upset.

In the U.S.Senate, I project that at least eight of

the 11 main competitive Senate seats will go to the

Democrats. Here's the scorecard:

ALASKA: Stevens loses to Begich.

GEORGIA: Too close to call, but Chambliss has an edge.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Shaheen beats Sununu.

KENTUCKY: McConnell wins another term.

MINNESOTA: Live, from Minnesota, it's Senator Franken!

OREGON: Merkley over Smith.

NORTH CAROLINA: Dole is defeated.

MISSISSIPPI: Too close to call, but Wickers looks likely to win.

VIRGINIA: Warner by a mile.

NEW MEXICO: Udall beats Pearce.

COLORADO: Udall beats Schaffer. (What's with all these
Udalls, anyway?)

[posted at 4:15am, Nov. 4, 2008.]

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Tomorrow morning, if Obama wins, I bet

newspapers all over the country will use the banner

headline: "Yes He Can!"



for November 3, 2008

Yesterday's Jason Mraz Concert

"Can I ask you to vote no on Proposition 8?!," Jason

Mraz said from the stage last night to wild cheers

from the crowd, at his show in Berkeley, Calif.

This was, of course, around 48 hours from election

day, so politics was on everybody's minds, even if

Mraz's blend of pop, rap and reggae transported

his fans elsewhere for most of the concert. (By the way,

out here, in California, the debate about

Prop 8 -- which would ban same-sex marriage, and

is backed by one of the ugliest television ad

campaigns in recent memory -- is actually

eclipsing the presidential race in some quarters,

particularly in Berkeley, where Obama might as

well be running unopposed.)

Anyway, after Mraz's condemnation of Prop 8, he

launched into "Live High," a song from his new

album, "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things,"

released around six months ago and already

certified gold.

But the audience's most intense enthusiasm was

reserved for "I'm Yours," his latest hit (currently

a number ten single, and one of the few songs in the

top ten that's not a Def Jam release), a reggae

tune that fans greeted with shrieks that must have

been deafening inside the open-air theater

(I heard the show from the hills above the

Greek, and the crowd was loud even there).

Near the end of the show, Mraz decided to have some

pure fun, shouting out, "Let's make this place a

party!," as the opening piano notes of The Foundations's

"Build Me Up Buttercup" rang out. Marvelous cover

(complete with "overdubs" from the crowd) of one

of the most perfect pop songs ever made.

Opening were an impressive British band from Brighton,

Two Spot Gobi, and Irish singer Lisa Hannigan (Damien

Rice's ex), whose music occasionally suggested

the aura of an enchanted forest.

* * * *

Andy Rooney had a funny one last night about the

predictable tradition of defeated presidential

candidates being gracious to their victorious

opponents. He quoted what the late, great

Henry Wallace said when Wallace was asked

to praise Harry Truman, who had just defeated

him in the '48 election: "Under no circumstances

will I congratulate that son of a bitch!"

(Ah, Henry, integrationist decades before

everyone else, universal health care supporter

decades before everyone else: if only

you could've lived to see the day that

might be coming tomorrow.)

But I digress. Paul



for November 2, 2008

OK, at ground level, the Sunday before Tuesday,

here's what I'm getting:

Even in noncompetitive California, where I'm based,

there are nasty TV ads that have cropped up like

poisonous mushrooms from the GOP Trust PAC

(, juxtaposing images of Jeremiah Wright

with Obama, resurrecting a controversy that had been

satisfactorily explained and resolved months ago.

I don't know if the spots are running in purple states

like NC, VA, MO, etc., where they could gain traction

and become a problem for the Dems.

Plus, the latest major polls in the big swing states

show an Obama lead of merely a point or two, which -- given

the wind chill factor of the Tom Bradley Effect -- translates

into a likely McCain edge in some of those states.

A 274 to 264 McCain win is not hard to imagine on Tuesday

night (even if a 353 to 185 Obama win is easier to

picture). Pundits who say Pennsylvania has to be in the

McCain mix for him to win: where do they get that?

My calculations show he could lose Penn and New Mexico

and New Hampshire, and still make 274.

To those who think 274 to 264 is out of the question,

I have 13 words for you:

Remember the evangelicals who were invisible to exit

pollsters in Ohio in '04.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- The lines for early voting are quite stunning, aren't

they? I haven't seen voting lines that long with my own

eyes since July 2, 2000, when I was in Mexico on election

day (I was there to cover another story for the Washington

Post), and Vicente Fox was in the process of turning out the

entrenched PRI and being elected president.



for November 1, 2008

"After voting for Obama on Tuesday, come join our godless,
socialist jam session, and frug to the latest fad!"

* * * *

To John McCain's supporters: remember to vote on Wednesday!

* * * *

Obama supporters should heed these words from the Bible:
"Don't get overconfident." (Is that from the Bible?)

* * *

A very possible electoral vote scenario on Tuesday:

According to my calculations, it's possible McCain
could win 274, Obama 264.

By the way, check out the brand new Zogby numbers,

which now show Barack's margin within the margin of

error. Those who are in the lead in the final stretch

should always watch tendencies toward overconfidence,

implicit immodesty and ingenerosity to long-time


* * *

For the record, I was the first person anywhere to have

coined the word "Barack-a-docious." Granted, the word

hasn't exactly caught on anywhere, but if it ever does,

it started here.

But I digress. Paul

[Jam session photo above from ABC-TV.]



for October 30, 2008

Not sure whether Tina Fey's much-deserved newfound

surge of success on SNL will transfer to her

series "30 Rock," which is just too insiderish

to gain a big audience. It's sort of like the

meta-episodes of "Seinfeld" that featured a

television show within a tv show -- the least

effective episodes of that otherwise

almost flawless series.

Fey's Palin is an instant comedy classic, but

too bad she's wasting her genius on a character

so topical. Palin's 15 minutes will likely end

on Tuesday, and I bet she doesn't return to the

national stage in any substantive way (look at

how her poll numbers have dropped since voters

have gotten to know her). And her roguish

behavior in this final week -- "my daddy McCain

isn't going to tell me what to do!" is the way

she's been coming off -- will likely ensure she

remains a phenom -- in Alaska. Fey's impersonation

will probably seem as obscure and dated in 15 years

as SNL's Ross Perot does now.

The inspired spontaneity of SNL is often a thing

of wonder, but keep in mind that, even in its

golden years, it had as many misses as hits. Even

in its classic first season, entire episodes were

duds (check out the one hosted by Louise Lasser,

and the first one hosted by Elliot Gould, etc.).

Great artists from J.D. Salinger to Stanley Kubrick

have taught us that we should always aim for the

illusion of spontaneity, not spontaneity

itself, in works of art and entertainment. (I mean,

how many dozens of drafts did Salinger write of

the opening of "Catcher in the Rye" in

order to make it sound like it just rolled

off his tongue? And if you look at Bob Dylan's

recording studio logs, you'll see that his worst

albums were generally those he did in a day or two,

and his best were usually those he

recorded and re-recorded over a period of months.)

Keep in mind that the funniest movie ever made -- Kubrick's

"Dr. Strangelove" -- was the result of take after take

after punishing take. As a result, we have a work that

resonates down the decades, fresh as ever.

Even if Palin does become vp in January, it still

doesn't grant immortality to Fey's version of her. Remember,

Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford resonates today because it

was great comedy and because Ford was a president -- and

almost all presidents are remembered forever in the U.S.

Veeps don't have that sort of historical heft. (Quick -- who was

Ford's veep? Who was Goldwater's running mate? And,

while we're at it, who played Perot on SNL back in the day?)

No doubt, SNL is on a roll these days, but the stock in

Palin-related humor is very likely to dive precipitously

in a matter of weeks if not days. (I bet some of Kristen

Wiig's wildly funny characters out-survive Fey's Palin.)

Then again, I may be wrong about the durability of

Palin and Palin-related humor. If someone held a gun to

my head and said I had to predict a winner this Tuesday,

I'd say I can't. If the gunman insisted, I'd say,

"Probably McCain." Despite the polls. Why? Too

much racism in Florida and Ohio.

* * *

I was sitting around in Marin some time ago with some

friends when the talk turned to Stanford University,

where one of them used to teach. And I had just been

over there (to see the Cantor, a terrific art museum,

by the way) and was wondering why so many buildings

on campus were named after Herbert Hoover, a name

synonymous with disgrace, abject failure and

discredited theories. I mean, this fellow Hoover

brought such misery to millions of people because of

his wrongheaded ideas about unregulated capitalism.

So why is he now rewarded by having buildings at

one of the world's great universities named

after him? Unsuspecting or uninformed Stanford

students might get the wrong idea about this presidential

malpractitioner, second only to Nixon on most lists

of lousy presidents. Seriously, of the

43 presidents we've had, Nixon ranks 43rd and Hoover

ranks 42nd, in my estimation.

Anyway, the Stanford prof -- a very nice and smart guy,

incidentally -- offered an explanation, saying Hoover

had done some work earlier in his career that was

laudable and notable. (Though I must say that even if

that were true, it hardly eclipses his failures.)

I mention this because Hoover's name has been ubiquitous

lately in the presidential race, with both Obama and

McCain trying to make the other look like the 30th

president. Obama has a point in saying that McCain

resembles Hoover; McCain, after all, has been a huge

supporter of the sort of unregulated capitalism that

Hoover championed and that has gotten us in the current

financial mess. But I'm still trying to figure out how

on earth McCain can get away with calling Obama both

a Republican Hooverite and a socialist. That's

not only a stretch. It's almost surreal.

* * *

Out here in California, there's a ballot proposition

called Prop 3, and, frankly, I haven't really checked

it out, though if I did, I'd probably be for it.

Unfortunately, on heavy rotation on Bay Area TV

stations is a syrupy, annoying commerical

in which an "adorable" Jamie Lee Curtis "conducts"

an "adorable" chorus of children singing an "adorably"

off-key rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."

Too adorable for my tastes. If I see that ad

one more time, I might just vomit from

sugar overload. (And I'm not the only one.)

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- There are some actors and musicians who

do come off genuinely adorable and irresistible

in settings with children, but Curtis, alas, ain't

one of 'em, at least not here.



for October 29, 2008

Great to see so many stars come out to

honor the late Paul Newman (and the Painted

Turtle)the other night in San Francisco. And

isn't it amazing how Julia Roberts can eclipse

everybody by simply walking into a room? As

dazzling as ever after all these years.

* * *

As brilliant as Patti Smith's "Horses" is, her

2005 live version of that album is superior to

the original in almost every way. I finally

got around to listening closely to it -- on the

double-disc legacy edition of "Horses," released

a few years ago -- and kept thinking the live one

should replace the original. (I was also reminded

how ballsy a track "Birdland" is.)

* * *

And I've been listening to The Rolling Stones'

"Singles: 1965 - 1967," which compiles each Stones

single from those years, with its b-sides, on

individual CDs. Great concept. Interesting

liner notes, too. They say Mick and Keith initially

didn't want "Satisfaction" to be released as a

single but were (thankfully) overruled

by the rest of the band. (Look how wrong you can be!)

I didn't know until last night that that was Nicky Hopkins

playing piano on the Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow."

Sure, everyone has heard that tune many thousands

of times by now, but think of how magical, unusual

that piano work is, dancing in and out of the

arrangement like a miniature toy ballerina, or

sounding like a child's music box. (By the way, am

I the only person who was an admirer

of Nicky Hopkins' solo album "The Tin Man Was

a Dreamer"? Don't know if it's even in print

anymore, and my own vinyl copy is long gone, but

"Waiting for the Band" and a few others are

terrific tunes.)

But I digress. Paul



for October 26, 2008

A Worst Case Scenario for Obama on Election Night

Oh, yeah, I see the poll numbers, but I also

remember the New Hampshire primary. Remember

New Hampshire? Obama up by double digits in

the pre-primary polls but losing by double-digits

when the voting actually happened. And

nobody could quite figure out why there was

such a disparity between the polls and reality,

though some thought the Tom Bradley Effect

might have had something to do with it.

Just in case you don't remember January 2008,

here's a news story posted on the CBS News website

just before the New Hampshire primary:

"Obama leads Clinton 35 percent to 28 percent with
Edwards getting 19 percent in the poll....The polls
had a margin of error of five percentage points...'It's
unimaginable to me that Obama won't win, and win by
double digits,' said CBS News senior political
correspondent Jeff Greenfield this morning
on The Early Show."

If the current crop of polls are as wrong as the

New Hampshire primary polls were, then here is how

election night might play out on November 4th:

ABC News begins its coverage on election night

this way:

CHARLES GIBSON: At this hour, the polls have

now closed on the east coast, and ABC News is ready

to project a winner in two swing states that

Senator Obama thought might fall in his

column: Virginia and North Carolina. In the state

of Virginia, we project its 13 electoral votes will go

to John McCain. This one was hotly contested, Sen. Obama

thought he had a shot at it, it was the key to his

theory of a changed electoral map, but tonight, ABC

News projects that Virginia falls to the GOP.

And in the state of North Carolina, same story.

Obama had campaigned vigorously there, had a lead

in the polls, but tonight it is going solidly for

McCain by a comfortable margin.

There is some good news for the Democrats at this hour

in that some of the traditionally blue states are, as

expected, staying blue tonight. New York, with its

31 electoral votes, and New Jersey, Connecticut and

Vermont, all projected to go to Obama, no surprise



CHARLES GIBSON: Polls have now closed in

the central time zone, and in all parts of Florida,

but ABC News is not yet ready to name

a winner in the Sunshine State, which, as everyone

knows, is a crucial part of both the McCain and Obama

strategies. But it is too close to call in Florida

right now, with early returns almost evenly

split between the two candidates, with a slight

edge for McCain, though we don't feel ready to name

a winner there quite yet.

And in Ohio, with around 10% of the returns in,

you can see McCain jumping to an early lead, 53%

to 47, though it is far too soon to call that

state for either candidate. Our exit polling is

showing McCain with surprising strength in the

Akron/Canton area, south of Cleveland,

where Obama had high hopes.

This cannot be good news for the Obama campaign

which has said it must win either Florida or Ohio

in order to win the White House, and at this hour

he is trailing in both states, though again, we

are not ready to project a winner in either.

Alright, big win at this hour for Barack Obama.

In the state of Pennsylvania, with a hefty 23

electoral votes, we project the Keystone State

will go for Obama, though the margin is much

slimmer than initially expected by our

exit pollsters. And in Michigan, also a must-win

for the Democrats, a healthy margin for Obama.

Polls are now closed in Missouri, a state Obama

thought was in play, so it can't be encouraging

for him to hear that it is leaning heavily for

John McCain. And in Iowa, where polls had shown

a big lead for the Democrats, it is too close to

call, with an almost 50:50 split of the vote at

this point.

OK, a bit of breaking news here, and it's big.

Our analysts at ABC think enough votes have been

counted in Florida to call the state, and to call

it for John McCain. So, George, it appears that

at this early part of the night -- and

remember, polls have not yet closed in the Mountain

and Pacific zones, so this is not over yet by a

long shot -- but it appears as if John McCain is

having a much better night than expected.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, Charlie, far better.

This can't be good news for the Obama campaign. The Florida

win now puts the pressure on Obama to prevail in Ohio

because he knows he has to win there if he is to stand

a chance of reaching 270 electoral votes. He simply

can't lose both Florida and Ohio and expect to make it,

particularly now that McCain has already picked

up Virginia and North Carolina.

CHARLES GIBSON: In Ohio, McCain currently

has a two-point edge, which he has maintained all

night, but it is still too close to call,

especially since results in Cuyahoga County, an

Obama stronghold, have not been fully counted.

Shades of 2004, there are already allegations of

voting irregularities in that county that

will surely be investigated by the Secretary of

State in that state. So this is a developing



CHARLES GIBSON: It is now 11pm in

the east, 8 pm in the west, where polls have just

closed, and we are ready to project a

solid win for Sen. Obama in the state of

California, where he had been expected to prevail.

And in the GOP column, Arizona, home state of John

McCain, obviously, going for McCain by a wide


But the western swing states we're looking at -- New

Mexico, Colorado, Nevada -- are clearly trending

McCain in early returns.


three, Charlie, I really don't see how Obama could

possibly get to 270. And frankly, with those three it

still may not be possible for him to pull out a win

tonight. Looks like we're seeing the Tom Bradley Effect

in effect, as we suspected might be the case

all along, and trumping the economy as a

factor among voters. And already there

is anger in the Obama camp, particularly

about voting disputes in parts of Ohio,

with one senior staffer saying, "A second election

is being stolen from us, and we're not going to let

that happen," referring, of course, to the 2000 election.

But I digress. Paul



for October 25, 2008

Imagine if someone had gone into a coma one year

ago and came out of the coma just this morning with

a full memory of everything that had happened before

his deep sleep. Imagine the awakening, with family

members filling him in about everything that had

happened in the past year. The news would

probably freak him out. Doctors might suggest

some valium.

Family members would start to tell him about the course

of the presidential election, and the former coma victim

would say, "Uh, let me guess: the nominees are Hillary,

of course, and Romney."

"Not exactly," a relative would say. "Things took an

unexpected turn."

"Oh, Huckabee got the nod, right?," the coma victim would


"No, it's actually McCain versus, uh, Barack Obama."

And the coma victim would laugh and laugh. Oh, that's a

good one, he'd say. Barack Obama! Ha, ha.

"No, we're serious. It's Obama and McCain."

"But Hillary was a sure thing."

"Until people started voting, it turned out."

"So It's McCain/Romney?"

"No, McCain/Palin."

"Who's Palin?"

"That's what everyone's asking."

"Look, I've just come out of a coma and I don't

appreciate that you're messing with me."

"We're not joking."

"Then McCain has it locked up, right?"

"No. You're not going to believe this, but

Obama has a considerable lead and is widely

expected to win."

"How did this happen?"

"While you were asleep, most of the capitalist

system fell. Like the Berlin Wall fell."

"Oh, now you're making this up. The economy was going

great guns when I went into a coma. So unemployment's

a bit up?"

"More than that. Remember the capital markets sector

of the economy?"


"Well, it's been nationalized."

"What? Did Hugo Chavez take over the government?"

"No, Bush did it all by his lonesome."

The coma victim starts sweating, turns red in the face.

"Doctor," says a relative. "I think you need to double the valium. "

* * *

If Barack Obama becomes president in January, and

that looks extremely possible at this point, all

the assumptions about power and prejudice and

progressivism will suddenly change in America. When

activists protest, as they surely will, in March to

commemorate the sixth anniversary of the start

of the Iraq War, they will be protesting a war run

by a black progressive president, Barack Obama.

"Stop Obomba's Bombs," the placards might read.

When leftists talk about how they want to "fight the

power," they'll be talking about fighting a black

progressive. When they talk about speaking truth

to power, ditto. When they talk about "The Man,"

ditto again. Likewise, when they talk about the person ultimately

in charge of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the Justice

Department. And they'll have to re-think their

thoughts about America being a racist nation.

The whole idea of being disadvantaged in America will

also have to be re-thought if an African-American is

actually running the country. Some will inevitably say:

how oppressed can a black person be in the U.S. if

the most powerful person in the country is black?

Jokes about the White House being too white,

about a bunch of white men being in charge -- all

those perceptions and cliches and images (and t-shirts)

will be out the window if Barack is in charge.

But I digress. Paul



for October 23 - 25, 2008

Do Mess With Moody's

So satisfying to see executives from the main credit

rating agencies -- particularly Moody's, which has

had a lot of questionable dealings over the years -- taken

to task by Congress for giving triple A ratings to junk,

thereby helping to facilitate the current financial


Moody's has been a bad actor for a while; it was

formally accused in the 1990s of essentially saying

to some companies, "You can either pay us to rate

your credit or we'll rate your credit for our own

amusement and spread the word through the industry."

Great to see them get their just desserts.

* * *

Liar Crystal Mangum has a new book out, "If I Did It"

(I think that's what it's called).

Question to the D.A.: Why didn't you prosecute that

bitch for filing a false police report?

* * *

Hey, people in the media and in the Pittsburgh PD:

the reverse B shoulda been a tell-tale clue for


Let me make sure I understand this: a young woman comes to

you, saying someone carved a reverse B on her face. I mean,

was the mugger Leonardo da Vinci? Or maybe some dude who

carried a mirror with him when he defaced his victims. That

sounds believable on its, uh, face. I'm surprised some

tab didn't immediately dub him The Mirror Mugger!

Of course, a society that believes the tall tales of the

Bible -- love that one about rising from the dead! -- all too

easily falls for such stories like the one about the

woman with the reverse B on her face. Or the Jennifer

Wilbanks story. Or the Crystal Mangum story. Or the

Tawana Brawley story. Or the McMartin story.

Thing is, nobody in the media or in law enforcement

seems to get fired after falling for such obvious

lies. (And they're often way too skeptical about

tales that are actually very true! I once spent

a long time explaining to a friend, who was not

being very smart about a story I was relating, that

one can have massive internal bleeding from

blunt-force trauma (say, a speeding baseball

to the chest) without ever shedding a drop

of blood externally. But she was familiar only

with the cinematic version of injuries.)

So let's see who was gullible this go 'round. First of

all, the Pittsburgh PD, including (but not limited to)

one Diane Richard, spokeswoman for the


Also, John McCain, U.S. Senator, who reportedly phoned the

woman, Ashley Todd, to express condolences. And Sarah

Palin, beauty pageant finalist, who also called

the woman with the reverse B on her face. And, crossing

party lines, Allison Price, spokesperson for Obama, released

a statement about "our thoughts and prayers" and all that crap.

And lots of reporters -- Ramit Plushnick-Masti of the AP,

among them -- also couldn't see through that reverse B.

I'm sure some dope out there still believes her

initial claim, saying "the photographic

evidence -- she does have a B on her face, after

all -- contradicts the official report."

And I'm sure Geraldo was in the process of setting up a trust

fund for the poor woman before she was exposed as

a liar. I'm all choked up.

* * * *

Thanks to those who emailed me about my recent

column, "She's Blaspheming as Fast as She Can,"

(see Digression, below). Glad you enjoyed it.

To those who found it offensive, let me just say,

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" (to coin a


Let me tell you what I find offensive:

An Iraq war vet sees combat that convinces him there

could not possibly be a god, at least not a benevolent

one. He raises a son and sends him to a public school

that he helps to finance with his tax dollars. He

tries to raise his kid according to his own private

spiritual values, making sure not to indoctrinate his

son into any religion, making sure he can choose

his own philisophical beliefs when he grows up.

But one day his son comes home and tells his dad

that they force him to participate in a group

religious chant at school every morning -- that's

precisely what the "under god" part of the Pledge

of Allegiance is -- and he doesn't feel right about

that. The dad is angry, tells school officials that

that's not how he wants his kid to be raised, that

in the U.S. the separation between church and state

also applies to tax-payer funded schools, that

public schools should not be taking sides on the religious

debate about whether there is a god or not.

Of course, school officials and others don't care a

bit about his complaint and continue to coerce his son

into joining a morning religious chant.

Now that's offensive.

Politicians and pundits who step on eggshells in order

to make sure they don't say or do anything at all to

offend Muslims, Jews and Christians, somehow leave their

manners at the door when it comes to treating non-theists

with a proper level of respect. Evidently, it's ok to

offend and disrespect non-theists, who are then asked

not to say or do anything that might be objectionable

to people of other religions.

Well, until that double standard is corrected, I will

continue to treat the world's great -- and not so

great -- religions with the the same level of respect

that is accorded non-theists in the

U.S. (if I feel they're so deserving).

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If "under god" has no significant religious

meaning, then why include it?



for October 22, 2008

If Early Voting Trends Continue, The Electoral Map
Will Look Like This On November 4:

Obama's on track to win 353 electoral votes to
McCain's 185

Quinnipiac and Gallup, take a hike. Exit

pollsters, find the exits.

Early voting data has now arrived, and such info is much

harder and more reliable than mere polls, making

traditional polling seem sort of obsolete right about now.

And the results, in state after state, are astonishingly

blue. North Carolina's early voters, for instance,

have been Democratic by a healthy margin so far, which

would suggest an Obama victory may be in the offing

in this traditionally red state. But before Barack fans

get too excited, keep in mind that early voting

in N.C. in '04 was mostly Democratic, too,

and Bush ended up winning there.

Still, these '08 numbers are waay beyond '04. As of

yesterday, 56% of the early voters in N.C. were Dem

and 27% Rep (in '04, it was 48 Dem to 37 Rep, according

to a prof at George Mason U). In Florida, 56% of the

early voters have been Dem., 29% Rep. (I couldn't

find comparative data for '04). Nevada results are

also said to be trending Democratic.

If this continues, Obama will be on track to win

around 353 electoral votes, according to my own

calculations (see map, above).

Then again, there are still 13 days before the actual

general election, and events could create a whole new

political climate. If, for example, some foreign

policy crisis were to take centerstage, or if

black-o-phobia were to set in among voters, the map

could end up looking something like this

on November 4:

Obama's worst-case scenario: 283 for McCain, 255 for Obama.

But I digress. Paul



for October 21, 2008

She's Blaspheming as Fast as She Can!

Well, at least it seems Sarah Palin isn't an

advocate of blasphemy laws, or we certainly

would've heard objections from her to a lot

of the humor on "Saturday Night Live," birthplace

of the Church Lady, where Palin appeared

last Saturday.

Still, it's hard to believe that her chumming around

on SNL is fine with people like Donald Wildmon

and his American Family Association, which

seems to have a fetish for boycotting all sorts

of companies and sponsors of TV programs it

deems un-Christian.

Maybe the religious right feels it has to keep quiet about

its kooky beliefs during this campaign season, or else

risk the election of a "Muslim" named Obama.

So I guess we can assume that Sarah Palin, the

American Creationist, thinks it should

be legal to blaspheme or mock the so-called Lord?

And she must think free speech covers -- oh, I don't

know -- the right to say that, say, the virgin birth

was a ruse by Mary to deceive Joseph into believing she

hadn't had an affair with another man? Might

make an interesting novel. And thanks to

the absence of blasphemy laws in the

USA, we're free to speculate about such things

without fear of prosecution.

Palin evidently -- i.e., she's not speaking out

against SNL, which has mocked religion since

its early days, and she was actually swaying with those

late night infidels! -- is ok with that sort of free

speech. Maybe she's more free-thinking than

we think!

Let's hope she's more liberal about blasphemy than other

religious fundamentalists, like those in Pakistan and

Afghanistan, who advocate -- and enforce -- a strict

set of very backward blasphemy laws.

Latest example is in Afghanistan. A 24-year-old student,

Parwiz Kambakhsh, simply distributed some info about

women's rights under Islamic law, and he was sentenced

to death. He appealed his sentence the other day, and

it was reduced to a mere 20 years in prison. That's

what passes for progress in the Karzai era. 20 years.

Which means Parwiz will be in his mid-forties

before he sees freedom -- if he survives his

prison term.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan appear to be even stricter.

Here's part of the Pakistani Penal Code: "Whoever

willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy

of the Holy Quran or of an extract therefrom

or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any

unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment

for life."

Damages? Suppose I have a copy of, ahem, That Book, and

it accidentally falls into the toilet? Life imprisonment

for that? Talk about a broadly-written

law. Sheesh!

But that ain't nothing compared to long-standing Sharia

law statutes, which state the following (and I ain't

making this up): "It is unlawful to use musical

instruments -- such as those which drinkers

are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and

flute -- or to listen to them. It is permissible to

play the tambourine at weddings, circumcisions,

and other times, even if it has bells on its sides.

Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow

middle, is unlawful."

I mean, where do they come up with this Sharia

stuff? Let me get this straight. Flute and lute:

not OK. Tambourine: OK, but only if it's being played

while cutting off part of a child's penis. And what

the hell is a kuba, anyway? Any restrictions on a

Strat with a wah-wah peddle and a whammy bar?

(By the way, who the hell would play a tambourine

during a circumcision? Sounds kinky to me.)

I know, it's hard to roll back the laughably

antiquated Sharia laws in Afghanistan and

Pakistan when you're dealing with a large part

of the population that was indoctrinated at a

young age in the madrassas. But Karzai and Zardari

need to find a way to begin the process of

modernizing their legal positions with regard

to blasphemy, if only to prevent more

injustices -- like the verdict against

Kambakhsh -- from happening again.

Back to to the blasphemous Sarah for a moment.

Sarah, stand before the congregation and be

shamed, speak in tongues, repent and wash

that devil Lorne right out of your hair

with holy water. Instead of being in the

devil's lair, aka Studio 8-H, shouldn't you

have been at home, nursing Trig and a grudge

against those who took "Death Valley Days"

off the air?

But I digress. Paul



for October 20, 2008

Whatever happens on November 4, the outcome will

probably seem inevitable, obvious in retrospect.

Yes, it was clear all along there was too much

racism in America for Obama to be elected.

Yes, it was clear all along that Obama had the

momentum and the grassroots support to win.

Yes, I'm not surprised it was an Obama landslide.

Yes, I'm not surprised it was a McCain landslide.

Yes, I'm not surprised it was the closest presidential

election in U.S. history.

You can make a case for all the above scenarios, as

we approach the gravitational pull of election day,

now two weeks away.

Everyone is talking about the Tom Bradley Effect,

but there are two other important electoral dynamics

few are noting.

1. THE OHIO '04 EFFECT -- Ah, remember that one?

Kerry was expected to win on general election day,

according to exit polls, but -- surprise! --

evangelicals came out of the proverbial woodwork,

spooked by the idea of a liberal winning -- and

by hot button issues like gay marriage -- and streamed

from the churches to the voting booths, giving Bush

a second term.

Well, that same dynamic may be writ large with

Obama -- writ large because of the black-o-phobic

vote not just in Ohio but in the Florida panhandle,

rural areas of Virginia and North Carolina,

and in the red areas of other purple states.

Come the morning of November 4, if it looks like

Obama's going to win, an army of rednecks in

pick-up trucks with confederate flag license plates

will suddenly wake from their Pabst Blue Ribbon

hangovers to drive to the polls to stop a black

from becoming president. Black-o-phobia

is one thing the polls may not be accurately


2. THE 2007 DYNAMIC -- Remember 2007, the Pleistocene

Era, the early throes of Beatlemania, when it was a

wow-wee thing to see Obama attract 12,000 fans in

Oakland, Calif.? How quaint, now he's attracting

100,000 in Missouri.

But anyway, remember 2007, when pundits assumed Hillary

would be the nominee because there was no way mainstream

Dems would vote for Obama? Yet, throughout '07, there was

nagging evidence to the contrary? Huge crowds for Obama,

not so much for Clinton. Lotza contributions and enthusiasm

for Obama, not so much for Clinton. Yet, until people

actually first cast their votes in Iowa in '08, the party

line was still that Hillary would win.

That same dynamic may be repeating itself now, in that

the conventional wisdom (Obama can't win because of

racism) appears to be contradicted by big crowds and

polls that say otherwise. But keep in mind an

oft-forgotten fact: Obama almost lost the

nomination to Hillary in the final reel. It

could've easily gone the other way.

* * *

Didya hear Andy Rooney last night? He endorsed McCain

and Obama, saying he was mightily impressed

by the youth of both contenders. And he's as

sick and tired of William McKinley as the rest of us!

(I think that's what he said.)

But I digress. Paul



for October 18, 2008

The Daily Digression Endorses Barack Obama for President.

First, the Digression is not a political advocacy

blog. It's a mostly reported online column, and when

I cover and analyze politics, I try to do so fairly,

freshly, even-handedly. Just because I'm endorsing

Obama for president doesn't mean I'm not going to be

as critical of him as I am of John McCain, if he's so


That said, I'm endorsing Obama because he makes

sense time and again on the issues that matter,

is on the right side of history, is unusually

persuasive. America is going where he's going,

and we can get there now or we can delay

progress for another several years.

With a President Obama, we stand our best chance

of getting health insurance for all

Americans, fixing the economy, mitigating the

effects of global warming, killing bin Laden

and stopping terrorism on a long-term basis by

shutting down the madrassas cesspool

that breeds jihadists.

McCain is a relic. He's still spouting the gospel

of unregulated capitalism, even as its pillars fall

by the day. It's astonishing how oblivious he can

be to the history in the making around him.

And his decision-making is sometimes reckless and

irresponsible, as his choice of Sarah Palin has made

abundantly clear even to leading conservatives.

And frankly, I'm uneasy about McCain. To be blunt,

when I see him in the debates, I get the sense of a

guy who was never properly treated for post-traumatic

stress syndrome, which has now, decades later,

blossomed into a monster in his mind, like a case of

syph untreated for way too long.

By contrast, Obama is surprisingly

well-adjusted, post-neurotic, temperamentally

suited for the presidency -- and refreshingly

honest (any other politician with his name would

have changed it to Barry O'Bama).

Plus, with an Obama presidency, we also get Joe Biden,

arguably the greatest foreign policy mind in America.

When I see an Obama/Biden bumper sticker, it feels

completely right in a way that, say, an Obama/Kucinich

sticker wouldn't. The Obama who intersects with Biden

is easily the best the U.S. can offer in '08.

But I digress. Paul



for October 17, 2008

The Limits of Cool (and the Better Reason to
Back Obama)

I'm not as impressed with Obama's supposed cool

as many others are. Dukakis was cool, too, in much

the same way as Obama is, and that, it turns out,

was one of his least appealing characteristics in

the end, particularly when he was cool

when asked what his response would be if Kitty were

raped. We all learned that night that cool is not

the appropriate response in all instances to everything

life throws at you. Sometimes anger is the right

tool -- and, yes, sometimes violence is the only

proper response (if you had bin Laden in your cross

hairs, for example). Also, cool becomes complicit

at a certain point (when you're in a group of people

doing something objectionable, and you have to

stop them from doing it, for instance). And

cool becomes untenable at other points (witness

the broad-daylight mass panic on 9/11 around

the south tower when the south tower fell).

By cool, most pundits really mean unflappable, which

is even more of a Dukakasian term. Unflappable

may have been given a bad name in the '88 election, but

it is exactly the quality you need in a crisis, when, say,

someone has just attacked Washington, or

someone is trying to break down your door and kill

you. There are some people who get cooler when the

heat gets higher, and Obama is one of them, though

he has yet to show us the full range of responses he

is capable of in a crisis.

Rather than cool, the quality about Obama that

impresses me most is a characteristic common to

a lot of geniuses I've interviewed (from

David Rabe to Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Woody Allen

to Roman Polanski), and that is: radical common

sense, the keen ability to show the contours of reality

exactly as they are, without indulging in wishful

thinking or interested distortion.

As I said, cool will get you into trouble if the

right response should actually be anger (as Dukakis

discovered). But radical common sense -- that

ability to see that not all wars are bad, but the

Iraq war is, and that not all spending cuts are good,

but some are -- is what Washington has been missing

for many, many years.

Incidentally: funny thing about anger and cool;

it's much easier to be the former when you're

losing and the latter when you're winning.

George W. Bush's supporters were calm when the

2000 election results were cutting their

way -- but they had a Brooks Brothers riot

in Florida when the recount threatened

to topple their "win."

Many years ago, there was a brilliant "Saturday Night

Live" sketch in which a group of people had fallen

through thin ice on a lake and were screaming angrily

and desperately to people on the sidelines to help

them out of the ice hole. But the folks on the

sidelines, sitting comfortably in warmth, were

indifferent to their plight and openly aghast

at the rude level of rage expressed by those

freezing to death. While they were commenting

on the utter vulgarity of the anger of the

drowning people, the ice beneath those on

the sidelines suddenly broke, and they, too, became

stuck in an ice hole, and they, too, began screaming

angrily for help to anyone within earshot. As the

sketch ended, both groups were raging at the same

volume and in the same way.

Which shows that, for all of us, cool has its limits.

But I digress. Paul



for October 16, 2008

A Second Look at the Final Episode of "The Sopranos"

I saw most of the final episode of "The Sopranos" last

year but didn't see the whole thing until yesterday, when

I rented the DVD.

So I didn't fully know how truly lousy it was. Easily

one of the five worst episodes of "The Sopranos,"

and I'm being nice.

I always thought the ultimate resolution would

be one in which Meadow became a criminal attorney

who ended up prosecuting associates of her father.

A Shakespearean clash of the generations.

But the actual final episode doesn't even hang together

in terms of basic dramatic compentency. What happened

to that plot element about everybody in the family

splitting up because of death threats? Are we to

believe that security arrangements were

all tossed aside for a casual meal in an open diner,

with all the family members gathered together without

even a bodyguard? And nobody at the table looks at

all nervous, despite the DefCon4 danger level.

Characterization of A.J. is inept. He comes off more

like a flashback of how Tony (or someone Tony's age)

behaved back in 1975. A kid like A.J., coming

of age in '07, would be into Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, not

Bob Dylan's acoustic period of 45 years ago. A.J., after

all, is not a throwback to a previous boho era in

any other way -- he's a typical, spoiled, suburban

Oughties guy.)

And in the unlikely event that a boy in '07 was

listening to "It's Alright Ma" and reading Yeats,

that would be far more laudable than someone

listening to pseudo-operatic wiseguy junk like "Cara Mia"

or reading mediocre Biblical verse (now

there's a ripe target for ridicule!).

What is obvious now on close DVD viewing is the

key clue about the ending that almost everyone missed.

Notice that Meadow runs -- frantically, anxiously -- to

the diner as if she wants to warn her family about

an imminent danger that she had just become aware of.

She looks like she knows something awful is

about to happen and wants to alert them before it does.

Why else would she be running -- and running in a state

of near panic? She's not late. They're not talking

at the table as if she were late, not saying things like,

"I wonder what's holding up Meadow" or "Where's Meadow?"

(By the way, nobody would be scrutinizing any

of this episode if it were not the very last one.)

Anyway, this one ain't "Pine Barrens." It ain't even

"The Blue Comet." It's a choke.

But I digress. Paul



for October 15, 2008

A lot of bruised feelings at tonight's debate.

Touchy, touchy. "You ran an ad that said the

former chair of my steering committee once sold

bad hash at Woodstock." "Your aunt once sold Nazi

memorabilia on Ebay to pay her heating bill." Etc.

And then, after sniffling, they started talking to

their imaginary friend "Joe." Dear Joe, I will

click my heels and say there's no place like a

tax shelter. Dear Joe, deliver me from this

studio and Bob Schieffer's tough questions.

And there was McCain, looking like he had a glass

left eye, "flashing [his] madness all over the

place," to quote a Steve Forbert song. And there

was Obama, looking like he hadn't gotten enough

sleep last night, probably wishing the election were

tonight, now that the Quinnipiac numbers are as

ripe as they've ever been.

Obama probably should've shown more anger when bringing

up Palin's implicit incitement of hate at her rallies,

an ugly, dangerous phenomenon. The backward-thinking

religious fanatics that attend her speeches do in

fact shout, "Kill him!," and there are also reports

that she has winked and gestured affectionately at

fans in the crowd who have yelled death threats \

about Barack.

Serious matter. She'd truly better hope that

someone doesn't take a shot at Obama,

because if someone ever did (heaven forbid), angry

citizens would know exactly who to blame for helping

to create a climate in which that could happen.

There're already enough such threats on the Internet

(just Google the words "Obama" and "Aryan" to catch

the very latest assassination plots!), and Palin

should not be allowed to stoke that stuff.

All told, my guess is this debate won't matter a bit

on November 4th, any more than the situation in

South Ossetia matters now. New crises will

erupt between now and then that will probably

supercede everything we're talking about today.

Remember: an election is not a measure of who voters

prefer. An election is a measure of who voters prefer

on a particular day.

But I digress. Paul



for October 9, 2008

The New Irreverence in Chinese Art

Puncturing sacred cows, post-Mao: Wang Guangyi's
"Chanel No. 5" (2001).
[photo by Paul Iorio]

While traveling alone by local train behind the

Iron Curtain as a teenager in the 1970s, I saw a

lot of telling, unforgettable images of everyday

Communist life. One of the smaller memorable moments

happened after I was briefly detained in Zagreb by the

local authorities (for being an American, which was

sufficient cause for suspicion in those days). As

the train zipped along a rural area just north of

present-day Bosnia, I looked out the window and saw

hard-working, happy peasants using sickles -- as in

hammer and sickle -- to harvest crops in a vast field.

And I thought that it looked just like a Communist

Norman Rockwell painting, an almost laughably

idealized vision of collectivist propaganda -- except

it was a real-life tableau. (Of course, there were no

such soft-glow scenes once I crossed into the far more

brutal Bulgaria, where there were plenty of rifles at

checkpoints and unhappy-looking workers who had

supposedly lost their chains, but that's a whole

different story.)

I thought about those Croatian peasants with sickles the

other day, as I walked through the awesome new exhibition

of Chinese Communist propaganda art from the Mao era, on

display at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum (BAM).

I wasn't in the museum for more than three minutes

before I began laughing out loud at some of the

romanticized posters and paintings depicting an always

benevolent Mao greeting grinning workers or leading

some heroic charge or posing with red icons of decades

past. A priceless collection.

Also on display at BAM, and equally fascinating, is

post-Mao, modern Chinese art that shows, beyond a doubt,

that China has been hurtling at warp speed toward not

just economic transformation but cultural and artistic

metamorphosis, too.

There are paintings that poke fun at Mao and at the

Communist traditions of his day, stuff that would have been

considered an absolute sacrilege a couple decades

ago -- and now is on open display.

There are Chinese equivalents here to Rothko, Pollock,

Klee and Warhol, and it's breathtaking to see how far

China has come in terms of aesthetic experimentation

and liberation.

The exhibition also includes one of the most inventive

and stunning installations I've seen in any museum,

Wang Du's "Strategie en Chambre" (1998), an expansive

work centered around the figures of Boris Yeltsin and

Bill Clinton surrounded by mountains of newspapers and

topped by pure magic: an uncountable number of multi-colored

toys hanging from the ceiling, giving the effect of a Pollock

painting in the air or of Klee mobiles that have multiplied

madly or of a swarm of exotic insects hovering.

An astonishing work.

The exhibition, "Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art From the

Sigg Collection," continues at BAM until January 4, 2009.

A bubbly Mao, oh-so-pleased to meet Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels, in one of the dozens of pieces of
Mao-era Communist propaganda art now on display at the
Berkeley Art Museum.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

* *

Detail of Wang Du's "Strategie en Chambre," featuring
dozens of multi-colored toys hanging from the ceiling.

[photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for October 8, 2008

Last night, one presidential candidate praised bin

Laden and the other said he wanted to kill him.

It was McCain who hailed bin Laden, calling him

and his fellow Afghan warriors of the 1980s

"freedom fighters," and it was Obama

who said he wanted to "kill bin Laden."

The contrasts were stark elsewhere, too. Obama looked

comfortable, poised, Kennedyesque. McCain seemed like

he was waiting for a next round of interrogation from

his Vietnamese captors.

Obviously, McCain was coached to play it sotto voce

so as not to appear angry, but it had the opposite

effect; his idea of soft-spoken resembled a tense

prisoner talking low so the guards wouldn't hear him.

There were also failed attempts at jokes by McCain,

recalling the humor-impaired Nixon and Goldwater.

"You know, like hair transplants -- I might need one

of them myself," McCain joked at one point. Nobody


And when Tom Brokaw asked him who he'd choose to head

Treasury, McCain responded awkwardly, "Not you, Tom."

Brokaw rolled with it in a good-natured way, saying,

"For good reason." But it was an inappropriate,

are-you-running-for-something moment.

Brokaw was right in trying to make sure

the candidates abided by the rules they had agreed

to -- but why did they agree to such lousy rules

in the first place? No follow-up questions by the

moderator and no rebuttals by the contenders made for

a constricted, repressed debate, until Obama finally

overrode the rules near the end and got the flow of

free speech going again.

Obama hit his high note with a passage that had some

of the force of a Shakespeare soliloquy. "Sen.

McCain...suggested that I don't understand. It's true.

There are some things I don't understand. I don't

understand why we ended up invading a country that had

nothing to do with 9/11..."

Obama could've made more of that, expanding it into

a real tour de force with: "And I don't understand why

McCain thinks the private sector can take charge of

our health care system when it can't even manage itself.

And I don't understand why a senator who votes

with George Bush 95% of the time thinks that he

represents a change from Bush. And I don't understand

why...." Etc.

Incidentally, at the end of the debate when the

candidates were milling among the people onstage, I

caught a camera shot on one network that showed

Obama reaching out to shake McCain's hand, and

McCain refusing the handshake and diverting him

instead to Cindy McCain, whose hand he shook.

To be sure, there may have been another moment,

off-camera, in which they did shake hands.)

Again, a bit Nixonish.

It looks more and more like McCain will be holding

a press conference on November 5th to say, "Well,

you won't have John McCain to kick around anymore."

But I digress. Paul



for October 6, 2008

Barack Obama has been taken to task

for his past associations, however remote,

with radicals from decades past. Isn't it time

the media started focusing on John McCain's defense

of right-wing extremists and outright fascists

associated with South Vietnam's Ky and Thieu

regimes of the 1960s?

McCain, of course, served in the U.S. Navy in defense

of Thieu and Ky, so one can understand his personal

reluctance to denounce the South Vietnamese leaders

who he sacrificed so much to support. He evidently

doesn't want to admit those five-and-a-half years in

a North Vietnamese prison were served for a big mistake.

Now that the passions of the Vietnam era have cooled

a bit, perhaps McCain can bring himself to say what's

obvious to most Americans today: Thieu and Ky

were neo-fascists, governing without popular support,

whose human rights violations equaled (or virtually

equaled) those of the North Vietnamese.

Ky, in particular, is indefensible by any measure of

modern mainstream political thought. Here's Ky in

his own words: "People ask me who my heroes are. I

have only one: Hitler. We need four or five Hitlers

in Vietnam," he told the Daily Mirror in July 1965.

Why does McCain, to this day, still voice support,

at least implicitly, for Ky and Thieu? At the very

least, McCain should, however belatedly, unequivocally

condemn Ky's praise of Hitler, if he hasn't already.

(My own research has yet to turn up a clipping in

which McCain has been significantly critical of

either leader.)

And why don't we hear outrage from pundits and

politicians about his support for Ky?

Yeah, I know, it was the policy of the U.S. government

at the time to back Ky and Thieu, but that's no

defense. If Nuremberg taught us anything, it's that

you can't hide behind I-was-only-following-orders or

it-was-the-policy-of-my-government when

defending your individual actions in wartime.

Maybe McCain thinks Ky is a maverick. Maybe

he thinks Hitler is a maverick, too.

Look, my dear late dad quite literally broke his

back as a U.S. paratrooper fighting against Hitler's

soliders in Germany and in Belgium. And he was among

those who busted open the gates of Hitler's slave camps

in western Germany, spring of 1945. What he witnessed

turned his stomach for the next six decades, and he'd

tell me about what he saw that day as a 19-year-old,

but only reluctantly, because it was such a bad memory.

So I know what a true patriot looks like.

A mere several decades later, we're supposed to

stand by silently as a major presidential candidate

says, "It's cool to support a guy who supports Hitler."

So now I'm nauseous -- about McCain's backing of Ky and

and about the silence, the lack of outrage about that.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- And don't give me that crap about Ho being

the greater evil. Ho Chi Minh had broad popular

support, north and south, and no designs

on neighboring nations, so we had no business

appointing a president for the Vietnamese


[parts of my column today first appeared in my column of

June 7, 2008.]



for October 4, 2008

Hardly Strictly Tops Itself with Krauss & Plant

Krauss, Plant and band at Golden Gate Park last night.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

"This is, seriously, the best festival I've ever been to,"

said T-Bone Burnett from the stage, after performing an

immensely enjoyable set with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

yesterday evening in Golden Gate Park in San


It was opening night of the annual Hardly Strictly

Bluegrass music fest, a free three-day extravaganza

featuring dozens of top rank folk-rockers, folkies and

singer-songwriters, among others, and the crowd was


Burnett wasn't exaggerating. I can't remember the

last time I've seen such a sense of exuberant celebration

on such a vast scale, as if the city had just been

liberated and everyone had come to the park to rejoice

with beer, wine, smiling strangers, non-stop dancing -- and

the best live roots music of the year (for the record,

I had water, straight up).

The band seemed charged by the fact that the crowd was

charged, turning in a performance that was even more

electric than their show in Berkeley a few months ago

(and that's saying a lot).

As for Krauss's voice, I tend to run out of superlatives

when describing its beauty. Let me put it this way: I'm

a non-theistic guy but when I see and hear Krauss sing, I

know for certain there's a musical heaven.

Plant was almost Presleyesque (early Presleyesque)

in terms of charisma, stagecraft, vocal mastery.

And T-Bone's guitar work was often irresistible,

particularly when it resembled John Lennon's rhythm

playing with the early Beatles.

Hardly Strictly continues today and Sunday with an

incredible overabundance of greats, including

Elvis Costello, Iris Dement, Emmylou Harris and Nick

Lowe (all made possible by the massive

generosity of entrepreneur Warren Hellman).

But I digress. Paul



for October 3, 2008

Haven't seen the overnights yet, but I bet yesterday's

Biden-Palin match-up drew the largest audience ever

for any debate, probably largely because people wanted

to see a rank amateur slip and say something stupid

in front of around 60 million TV viewers.

Well, the slip didn't happen, and the headline is,

Palin Didn't Blow It, which isn't the same as

saying she won, because she didn't. It was Joe Biden's

to win, and he did so with Springsteenesque passion,

and when he got to the part about having been a single

parent and not knowing whether one of his kids was

going to make it, well, let's just say there

were a lot of undry eyes.

Biden showed heart and decency but also

confirmed he's still one of the smartest people

in the country on foreign policy. Not only did he

mention capturing and killing bin Laden (Palin didn't),

but he also showed the long-term path to

eliminating future Islamic terrorism:

education reform.

"There have been 7,000 madrassas built along [the

Pakistan-Afghanistan] borders; we should be

helping them build schools," he said. Biden sees

that Islamic terror will stop only when a new

generation of kids growing up in Pakistan (and

on the West Bank, for that matter) are

taught something other than jihad in class.

By contrast, Palin showed a lack of foreign

policy wisdom, calling Iraq the "central front

of the war on terror," despite the fact that

bin Laden and his gang are based elsewhere; and

saying "John McCain knows how to win a war."

(Does he really? The only war in which he fought,

Vietnam, was a defeat for the U.S.)

On domestic policy, she seemed oblivious to

the history-in-the-making going on in the financial

sector, as she spouted outdated cliches about

how the private sector handles things better

than the government. Evidently, she wants health

care to be run by the same private sector that has

just collapsed so spectacularly and that had to

be rescued by the government. (Maybe we should

put AIG and Lehman Bros. in charge of the U.S.

health care system.)

Still, there were no major gaffes on either side,

which means this debate is likely to be almost

completely forgotten by next Tuesday, when

Obama and McCain face off with Tom

Brokaw in Nashville.

* * * *

By the way, some cyber-hacker has evidently

been able to gain remote access to my email

account and may be sending emails from that are not from me. I'm

aware of this only because I received a sales

email from my own email address this morning

that I didn't send to myself. I'm going to be

working with AOL to solve this problem. In the

meantime, if anyone receives any sort of

uncharacteristic email from,

please let me know immediately, because it may not

be from me! Thanks.

* * *

You know, when you do undercover journalism, as I did

in the 1990s, that targets a corporation like Moody's

(see below), you can expect that they're not going to

say good things about you. So if you hear smear coming

from someone at that company, tell them to shut the

hell up with their lousy fiction. (And feel free to

send me an email telling me what slander someone

there might be saying.)

But I digress. Paul



for September 29, 2008

As a journalist, I've been lucky enough to have

met and interviewed, usually one-on-one, some of

the greatest icons of cinema, from Woody Allen to

Tom Hanks, but, unfortunately, I was never able

to meet Paul Newman, who died the other day and

who I admired immensely.

I did, however, write and report about one of

his best films, "Cool Hand Luke" -- my favorite

Newman film, even if most critics prefer "Hud" --

in a story that I wrote and reported for The

Washington Post in 1994.

In my Post story, I asked physicians and other medical

professionals to assess the accuracy of the medical and

health information in feature films. And here's

what the pros told me about what would happen if a mere

mortal were to eat 50 eggs in an hour, as Newman's

character did in the film:

Doctors say Paul Newman's character in "Cool Hand Luke"
was behaving foolishly when he ate 50 eggs, most of them
hard-boiled, within an hour.

"I think you would get a protein overload," says
gastroenterologist Martin Finkel. "One would worry
about over-distending the stomach and rupture."

"You'd cause such an obstruction to your gastric
tract that you'd have constipation for days if
not weeks," adds Rose Ann Soloway, a specialist in
toxicology at the National Capital Poison Center.
"That's something that hard-boiled eggs do: they
really slow up metabolism in the bowels."

(The above is from my piece in the Post.)

Newman, of course, was exempt from the medical

realities that face the rest of us. Or at least

he seemed that way on screen, where he'll live on


But I digress. Paul



for September 28, 2008

Regarding the financial crisis: what

rating did Moody's give AIG and all those failed

investment banks just before they collapsed?

Do those ratings constitute fraud or incompetence

on the part of Moody's? If Lehman had, say, a

triple A on Thursday and failed on Friday,

then of what value is a Moody's rating? Are some

news organizations hesitant to investigate Moody's

because they fear having their own credit

ratings downgraded? (Full disclosure: I did

undercover journalism about Moody's in '93 for

a story that never came to fruition, taking

a "position" there for several weeks when I

was actually collecting info about them. But

the piece didn't pan out. For the record, my

undercover journalism reporting was confined to the

period between late 1992 and mid-1995; the best

of those articles were published by Spy magazine

and Details magazine, and I've posted them, along

with other pieces of mine, at

* * * *

What John McCain Is Thinking Right Now

Maybe I'll ditch her after the election. Yeah,

nobody will notice in that dead zone just before

Christmas, and she can say, "Trig needs my undivided

attention" -- just like that National

Review gal suggested. After the election.

Then again, I might not make it to the White House

with Sarah dragging me down.

But if she quits now, it'll be the Eagleton kiss

of death. I'm indecisive, they'll say. And then

I'd have to break in a brand new running mate.

Meg. I always liked Meg. She reminds me of me.

True grit.

Standing up for 90 minutes really took it out

of me. And I'm trying to make amends with the

Letterman people, but they won't take my calls.

Ole Miss is pissed, too, 'cause I kept 'em


But back to Sarah. She didn't tell me about

that affair with the snow machine racer some years

back. She didn't say, "Let me introduce you to my

family: here's my daughter the slut, my husband the

cuckold, and me -- the adulteress." She didn't

say that.

But the press won't find out about all that tabloid

stuff until after the election. For now, everyone

only knows she's not exactly the brightest light

in the greater Arctic Circle region.

Not sure if my melanoma's back. Saw a spot yesterday.

Not certain about it. Haven't even told Cindy yet.

I'll keep it to myself for now. Nobody has to know

until after November 4. And then on New Year's Eve,

when everybody's preoccupied, I'll tell the

world, casually, "Oops, look what I found, one

of those spots on my lower back."

Could be nothing. But what if it's serious? And what

if Sarah has to take over? She thought Kissinger was

president in the 1970s. It took me 90 minutes to explain

to her what a borough in New York City is. At the U.N.,

she asked for a Spanish translator in order to talk

with the Brazilian ambassador. How can I work up

the courage to tell her goodbye?

Would Meg take the spot? How about Carly?

A private sector gal -- that's what's needed for this

financial mess. Or maybe a gook. That might

smooth things over with the Asian vote.

Lieberman hates Sarah. Oh, he says he loves her, but W

has his phone tapped. You should hear the private

stuff he says. His memoir is gonna tell all.

HarperCollins wants him to title it, "Diary of a Traitor:

My Life On Both Sides of the Aisle," but Lieberman

wants "Remembrances of a Principled

Statesman," so there's a bit of a disagreement

there. And he knows about the snow racer, too.

And who is this Daily Digression fellow

anyway? That Oreo guy, calling me a failure

as a fighter pilot. That punk. Thankfully,

the big papers didn't run it.

I'll wait until after the Biden-Palin debate before

I think about replacing her with Meg. She might

do better than expected, if she keeps interrupting

Biden like she did in that debate in Alaska. Just

keep interrupting Joe, and if he overrides her

interruption, he'll look like a bully. Unless

Joe has some readymade zinger like, "Uh, governor,

in Scranton it's considered bad manners to interrupt

someone when he's talking." We'll see.

I wonder if Tina Fey is available?

But I digress. Paul



for September 27, 2008

Friday Night at the Fights

First, am I the only one who noticed that the

debate organizers seem to have placed Obama's

microphone too low? The apparently low mic,

which Obama even tried to adjust at one

point, caused him to lower his face and eyes

more often than he usually does, not his best

angle, and to become less audible

when he lifted and turned his head. McCain,

being shorter, was exactly the right distance

from his own mic, giving him the

advantage in the first ten minutes or so.

But then Obama hit his stride and started

singing that bit that went, "You were wrong

about Iraq...," and he was crooning.

And that's when I realized that he doesn't

resemble JFK as much as he does the early,

skinny Sinatra -- cool, self-assured, the

consummate master at the podium (though lately

a bit of Gwen Ifill's style seems to be

seeping into his persona).

But McCain acquitted himself well, too,

though he came off more like the president of

a small-town bank in a 1950s Capra movie.

Around an hour in, McCain got emotional about

losing the Vietnam war, and I have to say I sort

of got choked up seeing how he was so personally

invested in that conflict, as wrongheaded as that

war was.

After standing for around an hour, it seemed as

if the 72-year-old McCain wanted a chair. Notice

that between the 68 and 73 minute marks, McCain

used the word "sit" three times (Obama, talking

about the same subject, didn't use the word at

all). And then he became frustrated trying to

pronounce "Ahmadinejad," though he did score points

caricaturing what a meeting with the Iranian leader

might sound like.

McCain soon became overly bold, calling for

an across-the-board spending freeze, which Obama

shot down expertly, noting there are some programs

that are underfunded and others that should be

phased out altogether. (By the way, McCain

should retire that "Miss Congeniality"

line, which he used twice last night.)

All told, both candidates did well, with a slight

edge going to Obama.

* * * *


Here's a shot I snapped the other week of
a crowd lined up to watch eco-protesters in
Berkeley, Calif.

But I digress. Paul



for September 26, 2008

Nice setlist for the Paul McCartney show at

Park HaYarkon, the biggest surprise being

"A Day in the Life," which he hadn't played

live anywhere until a few months ago, I hear.

Macca is apparently becoming less McCartney-centric

these days about the Beatles songs he performs,

as evinced by the inclusion of a Harrison tune,

"Something," which, truth be told, is effectively

a Harrison/James Taylor composition, though

Taylor has been too kind over the decades about

the swipe; a bona fide (as opposed to nominal)

Lennon/McCartney song, "A Day in the Life," which

is arguably a Lennon/McCartney/Martin composition;

a Lennon song, "Give Peace a Chance," credited

to Lennon/McCartney, though it's actually one

of the many "Lennon/McCartney" songs

that was not written by both of them.

By the way, if Lennon were still alive, and I were

McCartney, I would push to renegotiate the

Lennon/McCartney credit on all the Beatles

songs that were written either wholly by

McCartney or by Lennon, so that authorship

would go to the person who actually wrote each

track. I find it very unfair that a masterpiece

like "Yesterday" is not only co-credited to Lennon,

who didn't write a note or word of it, but that

Lennon is the first one listed as the composer.

Likewise, it's just as wrong that McCartney

is listed as co-writer of "Give Peace a Chance,"

a tune Lennon wrote alone and that the Beatles

never recorded.

Accuracy, transparency, honesty should trump all

else in both business and in the arts. The old

days of the 1950s, when some cigar-chomping

mogul named Morty would demand to have his

name listed in songwriting credits for a song

he didn't write, are long over. Of course,

the Lennon/McCartney partnership was never that

sort of thing, but "Lennon/McCartney" is also not

an accurate credit when it comes to a large percentage

of the Beatles catalog. Unfortunately, renegotiating

the record of authorship in Lennon's absence -- with,

say, Yoko Ono and the estate of Lennon -- wouldn't

feel right, particularly given that a deal's a deal

until both sides say it's not -- and they both agreed

in writing to the co-credit -- and that Yoko may not

be fully aware of who composed what

in each song.

One saving grace is that McCartney didn't have to deal

with a dishonest bandmate who tried to falsely

take credit for the brilliant melodies and lyrics

that he alone composed. He was spared

that nightmare.

Anyway, I'm digressing.

Regarding the HaYarkon show, which I didn't attend,

it's curious he played nothing from "Abbey

Road" (except Harrison's "Something"), the

Beatles's best album. Perhaps that's because

he has been playing the side two medley to

death since 1989. But still, there are

some unrealized possibilities in the "Abbey"

material; has he ever tried expanding

"Her Majesty" beyond a single verse? Or

playing "Golden Slumbers" as a free-standing song?

Also, he plays "Blackbird" all the time, but

why not try the exquisite "Mother Nature's Son,"

too? Maybe together with "Blackbird."

Has he ever performed "Another Day" live?

Does it not come off well in concert? I think

it's one of his very best singles, despite the

rep given to it by "How Do You Sleep," which

itself is not a very good tune at all. I frequently

play "Another" on acoustic guitar in my apartment

for pleasure and thoroughly enjoy it.

"Mrs. Vanderbilt" is a very smart addition to the

setlist, though I'd prefer an emphasis on "Ram"

material like "Back Seat of My Car," "Dear Boy,"

"Too Many People," "Monkberry Moon Delight," etc.

(Maybe he should play the whole album at Radio City

and encore with the entire "Band on the Run,"

Truth is, no single McCartney show could possibly

include even half of his greatest songs.

* * * *

Back in the day, after Nixon nominated a dope

for the Supreme Court, Senator Hruksa of Nebraska

defended the nominee, saying: "[The mediocre] are

entitled to a little representation, aren't they?"

Well, Hruska would have just adored Sarah Palin. Her

IQ in terms of political thought and general reasoning

ability is almost certainly somewhere in the 90s, which

makes her not just average, but something even better for

those with a fetish for mediocrity: slightly below


To be sure, an IQ can be highly variable within a

given person; Albert Einstein's IQ in physics was off

the charts, but his verbal IQ was probably around 103.

So Palin may have extraordinary abilities we don't know

about yet -- maybe she's highly intuitive when it comes

to predicting which sled dog will lead in the Iditarod,

not an insubstantial talent for those betting in the

tundra -- but we do know this, or should know this,

by now: Palin is astonishingly stupid

when it comes to political thought and policy


And I don't mean just un-intellectual or


She lacks even basic common logic and sense in that

area -- and the self-knowledge to stay out of an

arena in which she's clearly overmatched.

Which leads to the question: what was John McCain

thinking when he chose her? Is there something in

his character that caused him to make such a reckless

decision, or is it that his judgment has become

rusty with age?

Remember, McCain does have the instincts of a

fighter pilot -- but of a fighter pilot who failed,

almost fatally. He was shot down and did not succeed on

his final mission. Granted, that aborted sortie over

Hanoi might not have been his fault -- great pilots are

often downed, even when they're flying expertly and

wisely -- but, then again, it might have been the

result of McCain making an aerial maneuver

that was too risky and careless, bold in a

dumb way.

Like his decision to choose Palin.

The latest evidence of Palin's unbraininess was on vivid

display last night on the "CBS Evening News," in an

interview with Katie Couric that was even more

revealing than her conversation with Charles Gibson.

Here's an annotated transcript (my remarks are in bold caps):

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of
your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between
a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land
boundary that we have with Canada. It, it's funny that a
comment like that was kind of made to -- caric -- I don't
know, you know. Reporters --


PALIN: Um, mocked, I guess that's the word.

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our, our next door
neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that
I am the executive of. [THEY'RE IN THE
And there in Russia --

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations,
for example, with the Russians? [EXCELLENT

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. [TRADE MISSIONS
We -- we do-- it's
very important when you consider even national security issues
with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space
of the United States of America [AN INADVERTENTLY SURREAL
, where, where do they go?
] It's just right over the border. It
is from Alaska that we send those out ["WE
] to make sure that an eye is being kept on this
very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there.
They are right next to, to our state.

So there you have the annotated version.

In the interest of fairness, if Palin would like to

explain herself or be interviewed by me for the

Daily Digression, I can be reached


* * * *

POLITICAL QUOTE OF THE DAY: On today's "NewsHour,"

Rep. Barney Frank was more persuasive than I'd ever

seen him. He rocked the place. And he had a

terrific one-liner, saying that John McCain's

return to Congress to help write legislation

that had already been largely written was

like "Andy Kaufman as Mighty Mouse" miming

"Here I Come to Save The Day."

But I digress. Paul



for September 24, 2008

Sen. John McCain (above) wants to postpone the presidential
debate because of the ongoing tragedy in Darfur.

* * * *

Hope Paul McCartney's show tomorrow at Park HaYarkon

turns out very well. But keep in mind that this

isn't the first time McCartney has had to deal with

death threats from religious right-wingers.

In 1966, when he toured the southern U.S. with the

Beatles, Christian fundamentalists vowed to kill

the band during performances in Texas and

elsewhere, after John Lennon made controversial

remarks about Jesus Christ.

Forty-two years later, only the fanatics's robes

and sheets have changed.

* * *

You know, it occurred to me the other day: if some

folks in the Noam Chomsky faction of the American

left substituted the words Taliban and al Qaeda with

the phrase Ku Klux Klan, they would have greater

clarity about bin Laden and the Afghanistan war of '01.

And if the religious right of America took a hard look

at the Taliban, they would see themselves in the mirror.

* * * *

Missed most of the Emmys the other night, but did

catch Teri Hatcher's yellow dress, which may have

been the highlight.

But I digress. Paul



for September 20, 2008

Last Night's My Morning Jacket Show

Jim James, rocketing. [photograher unknown]

Turns out that all the raves I've been hearing about

My Morning Jacket's current tour are accurate,

if last night's concert in Berkeley, Calif., was

any indication. At Friday's show, the band seemed

bent on doing nothing short of reinventing the

electric guitar jam for the late-Oughties, and

there were at least three or four guitar odysseys

that were thrilling, twisty, intense,

unpredictable and always awake to the

undiscovered possibilities of amplification.

And what a night for atmospherics! Fog turned

into mist and then into drizzle and then into

heavy fog and mist at the open-air Greek Theater,

while the group's light show (which I saw from

the hills above the theater) was caught in

the haze. At one point, a beam of lavender

in the heavy fog looked like a massive batch

of cotton candy in the sky.

Even band leader Jim James remarked on the

weather. "Thank you for waiting through the

mist and the rain," he said, noting that the

area looked like "a misty Scottish battlefield."

Then he and his band played a rousing "I'm Amazed"

-- the best song on their new album, and one of

the catchiest pop-rock tracks released by anyone

this year -- and the tune blazed like brilliant

autumn leaves in a grove.

"I love it when it starts turning Fall again, and

you start feeling nostalgic," James said, before

playing "Golden."

Last time he played this venue, in May, 2007, it was a

chilly night on the verge of summer, and he was doing a

solo acoustic set, opening for Bright Eyes and

(among other things) giving fans a preview of

"Touch Me, I'm Going to Scream (Part 1)"

a year before its release.

This show, supporting the amazing "Evil Urges" album,

was far more exciting and fun. Highlights included

"I'm Amazed," set-opener "Evil Urges," the Clashish

"Off the Record," the quirky "Highly Suspicious"

and the truly breathtaking, groundbreaking guitarwork

after "Run Thru."

This is one of the year's most exciting indie

tours, well worth checking out.

But I digress. Paul

[above, photo of Jim James from, circa March '08.]



for September 18 - 19, 2008

The Antonioni Revival

A couple weeks ago, the Venice Film Festival screened

Carlo di Carlo's "Antonioni su Antonioni," based on

interviews with the late filmmaker Michelangelo


Last month, the National Gallery of Art in

Washington, D.C. had retrospective screenings

of many of Antonioni's films, including some real


And some of his movies are -- finally -- making it to

DVD in the U.S. (though I still can't find a copy of

his first color film, 1964's "Il Deserto rosso").

So there seems to be a bit of an Antonioni revival

going on.

Re-watching several of his pictures recently, I came

away with a new appreciation of "Blow-Up," underrated

by those who overrate "L'avventura." I now see more

clearly its central meaning, metaphysically and otherwise:

we never get the entire picture; as human beings, we

have incomplete information about existence. And the

closer we get to the truth, the further away

it gets.

That also explains why the main character picks up

physical fragments -- a plane propeller, a shard of

Jeff Beck's guitar -- much as he sees only fragments

of what he photographed in the park that day. Beautiful


And when he blows up a photo in order to solve a

mystery, the photo becomes only more mysterious,

more ambiguous. The more he sees, the less he sees.

It's like sitting too close to the amplifiers at

a rock concert; you end up hearing less when it's louder.

My only beef is the ending, the mime tennis match, a

clever idea that doesn't really fit with the rest

of the film. The irresolution plays less well than

it does in "L'avventura."

Don't get me wrong, I love cinematic irresolution,

but you have to make it work, as Antonioini

did in "L'avventura" (or as David Chase did, many decades

later, in the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos").

Antonioni knew form could get in the way of

expression; if what he wanted to express didn't

fit the narrative formula of conflict/climax/resolution,

then he'd jettison form.

By the way, it's also a lot of fun (in this short

life!) to run into a flock of pigeons, snapping

pictures wildly, as the main character does in

"Blow-Up." I tried that a couple years ago myself, and

here's the photo I shot (click it to enlarge it):

The central metaphor of "Blow-Up"

also applies to the flock of pigeons

sequence, too, because people who get

inside a flying flock of birds see

them less clearly than those who

watch from a distance.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- If you'd like to read some of my other writings

on cinema, published in such publications as The Los

Angeles Times, The New York Times, etc., please go to

P.S. -- To any writer who wants to echo my original

insights on Antonioni and "Blow-Up": if you do

so, please don't forget to cite Paul Iorio as your




for September 18, 2008

So who knew the narrative would twist so unpredictably,

that the American economy would collapse so spectacularly

weeks before the presidential election? Pundits, hold

your predictions.

Also, I've never seen so many Republicans and Wall

Streeters become born-again socialists overnight.

Welcome to the fold. Solidarity forever, and all

that. Gee, I thought they were all for free markets

and de-regulation. This Sunday, let's hear George

Will admit he was wrong about unregulated capitalism

(fat chance).

And who knew Palin would start to fade like Sanjaya. Her

convention appearance now seems more like a stunt or like

someone slightly drunk who comes late to a dull party

and really livens things up but is soon forgotten.

* * *

Here're a couple photos that I've snapped in recent


This one is of a sculpture, "Westinghouse-Fichet"

(1984 - 88), by French artist Bertrand Lavier, on

display at the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum. Consists

of an ottoman atop a refrigerator, a fresh juxtaposition

I'd never seen before.

* * *

Also, here's an everyday photo I shot the other week of

a street in San Francisco's Chinatown.

* * *

LOCAL NOTES: I sometimes videotape news shows when

I'm out and then fast forward through them later. The

other day, I noticed that the local CBS affiliate here

in the Bay Area had temporarily put its traffic reporter,

Elizabeth Wenger, in the anchor spot for one of its news

programs. All I can say is, wow, did she fill the chair

like a natural. Beauty, brains, youth. And a huge

future in broadcast news, I bet.

But I digress. Paul



for September 17, 2008

What They Need's A Damned Good Whacking

Some rich, homicidal, transient Syrian-born guy,

whose family has more houses than John McCain, is

now spending his leisure time lobbing death threats

at the world's greatest living composer,

Sir Paul McCartney.

The "reason" for the threats is that McCartney plans

to give a concert in Israel to celebrate its 60th

anniversary as a nation.

And that's evidently not to the liking of one Omar Bakri

Muhammad, also known as Omar Bakri Fostock.

Muhammad/Fostock said the following to London's Sunday

Express in last Sunday's edition: “If he values his

life Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will

not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be

waiting for him.”

"Sacrifice operatives"? Sounds like a job description

invented by H.R. Haldeman. Terrorism has finally

gone bureaucratic. Next they'll have Sacrifice

Management, Sacrifice Research and Development, etc.

Look, I've been warning in print for decades about the

encroachment by Muslim militants on free speech and

artistic expression. First they came after Salman

Rushdie for writing a work of fiction. Then the militants

said, no, you can't even draw a cartoon of their

prophet Mohammed. Then, earlier this year, they

scared away Random House -- Random House, no less! -- from

publishing a book ("The Jewel of Medina") that

included a fantasy about religious figures. And

now McCartney's on their hit list for taking a

political stand.

It's long been a slippery slope when it comes to

the demands of Muslim right-wingers. What's next?

Are they going to threaten theater-owners who

screen the new Woody Allen movie because

they consider it sacrilegious? Are they going to

demand that the Uffizi Gallery remove religious

paintings by Giotto and Raphael because they're

the works of infidels?

No, we should not suspend free speech every time

Muslim militants throw a temper tantrum. Islamic

extremists must learn to be tolerant of expression

that offends them and should understand that violence

is not the only way to respond to a disagreement.

Hey, I support the creation of a Palestinian state

and a two-state (three-state?) solution, but I also

say: happy birthday, Israel; you've long since earned

your sovereignty.

And bravo to Sir Paul for his bravery in rebuffing the

militants and for insisting the show must go on.

But I digress. Paul



for September 16, 2008

Watching the Newly Released "Get Smart" DVDs (and Loving It!)

Agent 86, tracking down Yellowcake at Zabar's pastry counter.

Given its ubiquity on YouTube and its cult

popularity in recent years, it's hard to

believe "Get Smart," the 1960s TV series,

hadn't been officially released on DVD in

the U.S. until last month.

Watching most of the first season the other

week, I was reminded why this was one of the

funniest sit-coms in broadcast tv history -- one

of the five funniest, in my view (the other

four being "All in the Family," "Sanford and Son,"

"The Honeymooners" and "Seinfeld").

Like "Seinfeld," and unlike the other three,

it took a couple dozen episodes for "Get Smart"

to hit its full stride, and when it did -- near the

end of the first season, with the two-parter "Ship of

Spies," a nice blend of humor and suspense -- it was

as good as sit-comedy gets.

For those about to rent the "Smart" DVDs, my

suggestion is to start with disc four of the

premiere season, which includes the final (and

funniest) episodes of the first season. Disc

one is somewhat spotty, revealing a series still

searching for its identity, a show still framed

as a sort of Spy-and-His-Dog type

thing, probably in order to make it more

palatable to middle America.

There is, of course, the endless succession of

gadgets and inventions, like the hilariously

malfunctioning Cone of Silence (and the more obscure

Tube of Silence), gun phones, hydrant phones,

hair dryer phones and the truly astonishing

cologne phone! Plus peg leg guns,

violin guns, purse guns. In 2008, some of

these inventions seem simultaneously

futuristic and anachronistic (like that rotary

shoe phone).

And let's not forget the many inventive hiding

places of the ever-suffering Agent 44!

All told, it's as addictive as potato chips,

particularly in the late first season.

* * *

Other DVDs I've been watching lately:


Within 29 seconds of the first episode of the first

season, I was roaring with laughter. But after

the first half dozen shows, it becomes

less startlingly funny, though still enormously


Redd Foxx is riotous even when he's just sitting

in his favorite chair, though I can't help but wonder

how much more brilliant the series would have been

as a Richard Pryor-Redd Foxx vehicle, with Pryor,

of course, in the Lamont role.

"Sanford and Son" differs from the other four

greatest sit-coms listed above in that it's a

two-person comedy, which is harder to sustain

than such ensemble works as "Seinfeld," "The Honeymooners,"

and "All in the Family," which all had four main

regular characters.

Sometimes "Sanford" resembles "The Honeymooners"

without an Alice or a Trixie, though Sanford and his

son have more modest dreams than Ralph and Ed. Where

Ralph and Ed hatched extravagant get-rich-quick schemes,

Lamont and Fred just wanted to break even or turn a

modest profit, for the most part. And the two programs

shared at least a couple plot lines in common (e.g.,

finding a briefcase full of money and being confronted

by the crooks who own it; mistaking someone else's

dire medical diagnosis for his own, etc.).

The best of season one is "A Matter of Life and Breath,"

in which Fred, and then Lamont, have a medical scare

that turns out to be a false alarm

Sadly surprising that Foxx wasn't given a shot on

network TV until this series, when he was already

in his fifties.

* * *


Everybody has seen the very first episodes of

SNL countless times, but not as many have seen the

final few shows of the first season (which extended

until almost August of '76).

The quality on Disc 8 is variable, though there are

gems to be found, particularly on the program hosted

by Kris Kristofferson, which is must-see stuff,

powered by Kristofferson's presence in sketches

in which he plays, among other things, a congressman,

a tv ad pitchman -- and a gynecologist dating one

of his former patients. But the most hilarious sketch

is the tv cop show parody "Police State," starring

Dan Aykroyd -- an idea ripe for revival.

* * *


Interesting DVD, with both monologues and

interviews from "The Jack Paar Show" of the

early 1960s. Paar's style so influenced

Johnny Carson that the two could pass for

close cousins. On this DVD, his guests

include a mostly humorless Barry Goldwater and

Robert Kennedy, still emotionally

fragile in the months after his brother's murder.

But his most impressive guest was Muhammad Ali, back

when he was called Cassius Clay, who seems to have

invented rap on the Paar show on November 29, 1963,

when he rhymes while Liberace plays piano. It

occurred to me: if you were to put a hip hop beat

behind Ali's rhymes, you'd have a terrific rap track.

I'm surprised someone hasn't done that yet.

* * *

ANOTHER TV NOTE: For at least the third time in recent

months, Al Roker, on "Today," has used the line "Hey,

I've got some pictures of dogs playing cards!," or

some variation of that, which he always passes off

as a spontaneous quip, which it ain't. I think

he needs some fresh material.

But I digress. Paul

[above, photo of Don Adams from Seattle Times.]



for September 14, 2008

Who Will Palin Choose As Veep When She Succeeds McCain?

Our nukes are about to fall into the hands of

the Taliban.

Lemme me explain. But first, the short math.

Pollsters say Florida's not in play anymore and

is out of reach for Obama. That means ditto

for everything redder -- namely Georgia, Virginia,

Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada.

So let's see. The I-4 corridor ain't in play,

but metro Cincinnati is? That's humorous. Count

Ohio out for Obama. Count Wisconsin

out. Count the West Wing out, too.

McCain becomes #44 in January, and how long do you think

it will be before his melanoma recurs and metastasizes,

and doctors give him, say, six months to live?

(Look, I certainly hope that doesn't happen, but let's

look at realistic scenarios for a moment.) At his

age, the likelihood of recurrence is substantial.

And that's when our nukes fall in the hands of the

Taliban, aka Sarah Palin, who resembles Mullah Omar

(without the eyepatch) in oh so many ways (e.g., she's

a fundamentalist who acts like a book burning

religious crusader).

That's Palin, president number 45, who recently went on

Charles Gibson's show and casually declared war on, oh,

Russia, Iran, and other "spaz" nations, before heading off

to, presumably, dress a moose, whatever the hell that is.

She's likely to ascend to the presidency without ever

having given a national press conference, because I

doubt McCain will let her meet the press in the seven

remaining weeks till the election -- and after Nov. 4,

she doesn't have to.

The big question, for those with foresight, is: who

will Palin choose as her vice president when she

succeeds McCain? The answer is easy. She

would have to mollify the many moderates (not to

mention moderate-liberals and liberals) who would

be threatening mutiny and calling for her to step

down so that someone qualified could run the country.

And the only way for Palin to stop calls for

her resignation or impeachment (over, say,

Troopergate) would be to choose Joe Lieberman, who

would then reassure a trembling nation that the

mainstream is still in power and that he has arrived

on the scene to become Palin's Cheney.

* * *

Odd that Palin repeatedly referred to John McCain as

"McCain" in her second interview with Charles Gibson.

(What? She's not on a first name basis with her running

mate yet? Yet she repeatedly called Gibson "Charlie.")

* * *

Prediction: McCain starts using phrases

like "freak out."

Prediction: Obama starts using phrases

like "dern it" and "well, heck."

Prediction: Palin digs up some distant

gay cousin and trots him out, saying, "I love him just

the way God made him."

* * *

Tina Fey was funny last night on SNL as Palin, but

people tend to overstate the resemblance. After all,

Fey is a very attractive woman, Palin is not (Palin

misses being attractive by around 7%). "And I can

see Russia from my house" is a classic SNL moment.

SNL's season premiere was primo, at least for the

first hour. "Quiz Bowl," featuring a home-schooled

team; Kristen Wiig's glove commercial; and the Inchon

fight song sketch were absolutely hilarious. (Wiig

has a brilliant ability to play unhinged characters

in a manner that's both controlled and way

over-the-top.) But the high note was the Political

Comedian monologue on Weekend Update, which (unless

my Yuban was playing tricks on me) was a bit of comic

genius, or something quite like it.

But I digress. Paul



for September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin is Fully Qualified to be the Principal

of a Public High School in Alaska

Charles Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin was a

magnificent piece of television journalism. Gibson

was even-handed, understated, more than fair, quietly

tough and unexpectedly lethal.

Palin sounded like an undergrad on an essay


Incredibly, she claimed that Alaska's physical proximity

to Russia was one of her foreign policy credentials.

(Which, of course, would make the Mayor of Nome and

thousands of Eskimos experts on international relations.)

Gibson followed the logic of her claim and asked one of

the most brilliant questions of the political season:

"What insight into Russian actions, particularly in

the last couple weeks, does the proximity of the state

[of Alaska] give you?"

Palin's response was something you'd expect from a

not-so-bright candidate for student body president

of a high school: "They're our next door neighbors.

And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska."

Shockingly, she didn't even know what the Bush Doctrine

was (I knew instantly what Gibson was referring to,

with regard to the Bush Doctrine), and somewhat

less shockingly, admitted she had never traveled

outside America before her "trip of a lifetime" to

Kuwait and Germany last year.

And then there's her awkward use of language -- "We

must make sure that...nuclear weapons are not given

to those hands of Ahmadinejad" -- and Valley Girlisms

(she puts down "someone's big fat resume" like she's

talking about "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"; she says

the 9/11 hijackers did "not believe in American ideals"

(those hijackers were sooo grody!!!)).

In short, she's the new "American Idol" flavor of the

month -- and approximately as qualified as Sanjaya

or Fantasia to conduct foreign policy and manage

nuclear weapons.

But I digress. Paul



for September 10 - 11, 2008

The Seventh Anniversary of an Awful Day

I actually liked the twin towers, aesthetically. I

particularly enjoyed walking through the World Trade

Center plaza on early Sunday mornings, when almost

nobody was around, because that's when the architecture

seemed to come alive without the busy distractions of

tourists and office workers. When the plaza was windswept

and desolate, it reminded me of the Acropolis, and the

towers themselves looked like a pair of Stanley Kubrick's

futuristic monoliths in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

I used to think: this whole city may be gone

in 700 years but those towers will stand like the Great

Pyramids forever, there is no erasing them. I used

to think that a lot in my countless walks through

that plaza. I had high hopes for those towers.

When I lived in and around (mostly in) Manhattan

from 1979 to 1996, I photographed the towers from

every angle imaginable: through the sculptures in the

plaza, from the Hoboken ferry on the Hudson, from atop

the south tower, from atop the unfinished World

Financial Center in '85, you name it.

On this 7th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks,

let me share several of my own original photos

of the towers, which I shot in the

1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The real tragedy, of course, was the death of

thousands of people in those towers, so let's all

remember those who died on that awful day.

I shot this pic in 1984 through a sculpture in the World Trade Center plaza.

* * *

The twin towers were the backdrop for a speech by Bill Clinton; I snapped this photo on August 1, 1994, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

* * *

An early nineties photo that I snapped from across the Hudson.

* * *

The twin towers, as seen from a hill in Hoboken, N.J.; I shot this in the 1980s.

* * *

Another picture I snapped from inside a nearby sculpture.

* * *

I shot this one from a boat on the Hudson (early nineties).



for September 10, 2008

Once again, The Daily Digression is first.

In yesterday's Digression (see below), I coined

the term "Palinista" to refer to supporters of

Sarah Palin. Today, in her column in the New

York Times, Maureen Dowd also uses the

word "Palinista."

For the record, I coined it first.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for September 9, 2008

A couple hours ago, in Berkeley, Calif., eco-protesters

finally came down from the redwood in the oak grove

where they had been tree-sitting for the past 21 months.

There was no rioting or violence as there was last

Friday evening (see Daily Digression, Sept. 6, 2008), but

tensions were high until the sitters came down to earth

at around 1:30pm (PT).

I was at the scene a few hours ago and shot these photos:

Two activists voicing support for the tree-sitters earlier today. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

A protester from "CopWatch" watches cops who were keeping activists away from the oak grove this morning. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

The redwood where the final four tree-sitters sat, around ninety minutes before they came down from the tree. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Yes, "Save the Oaks" t-shirts were on sale at today's protest. [photo by Paul Iorio]



for September 8 - 9, 2008

The Temporary Palinization of America

(The Rise of the Palinistas)

The B---- To Nowhere: She wants you to trust her with the launch codes. [photographer unknown]

If Sarah Palin had tried to run for president in

early 2008, she would have likely lost all the primaries,

trailing somewhere between Sam Brownback and Duncan

Hunter. As a complete unknown outside Alaska,

she would have had to meet the press and do interviews

in which voters would've plainly seen her vast

inexperience and lack of stature. Her funding would've

dried up, her mis-speakings would've been ammo for

Letterman and Stewart, and she would've dropped out

after the first couple primaries, fading back into the

Aurora Borealis just in time to host the next Iditarod.

In other words, she wouldn't have been able to earn

her spot on the presidential ballot -- though she's now

fully capable of being appointed to the ticket.

With a mere seven weeks or so until the general, McCain

can now cynically keep her away from almost all the top

national journalists -- and she can run the clock the

way she couldn't if she were a candidate campaiging a

year before the election.

Scripted by pros, stage-managed like an actor, Palin can

play "Tootsie" for several weeks, without having anyone look

too hard at who she really is. Meanwhile, lots of minor

pols now think they, too, are Sarah Barracuda -- or could

be, because Sarah didn't have any major experience before

ascending to the national stage, so it could happen to

them, too, they think. (By the way, get ready for

the Palinization of television advertising, an

onslaught of tv commericals for all sorts of products

featuring perky wifey types (Palinistas) saying things

like, "I'm just a regular PTA mom, and I don't know

much about history, but I do know about my history

with laxatives." Etc.)

If you believe she's qualified to be president, then you're

effectively saying there's no such thing as being properly

qualified for the presidency, that the presidency is an

unskilled position that a virtual amateur can do as well

as a pro.

I mean, it's one thing to be responsible, as she was as

mayor, for events like the "Fishing Derby" and the

"Alaska Arbor Day Celebration," and quite another

to be in charge of enough uranium and plutonium

to end life on this planet. (As for her experience

as governor of a state with the population of Charlotte,

North Carolina, it should be noted that she

has yet to serve a full calendar year in that


And a huge issue that the media is largely ignoring is

that she believes the religious theory of creationism

should be taught alongside the scientific theory of evolution

in the public schools.

That's akin to believing in voodoo or in a flat Earth -- and that's

what's called a red flag. It means, among other things, that

such a person lacks the mental ability to assess fact-based

evidence, which is not the sort of quality you'd want in a


Imagine if Palin were to say she believes the world is flat and

that you can fall off the Earth by sailing across the Pacific.

You would need to know nothing else about her in order to

know she's not qualified to be president. Electing someone

who believes in creationism is like electing someone who

still thinks the sun revolves around the Earth (and,

astonishingly, one in five Americans still believes the

latter). Some pundits would note that truth, if they

weren't on such a sugar high from the jellybeans.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. --

Q: What's the Difference Between Sarah Palin
and Those Who Persecuted Copernicus?

A: Lipstick.

* * *

P.S. -- For those who think Palin's popularity is

sure to endure, I have two words for you: Ross Perot.



for September 6, 2008

I ran into a mini-riot in Berkeley,

Calif., on my way to hear the Dave Matthews Band

perform at the Greek Theater several hours ago.

As I walked along Piedmont Avenue at around 7pm

(Friday), a violent scuffle broke out between police

and eco-activists trying to stop the University of

California from cutting down a grove of oak trees.

Here are some photos I shot of the mini-riot.

The guy on the ground clashed with cops and was tossed around and beaten pretty badly. (Sorry for the bluriness, but I was in the midst of the melee and being jostled.) [photo by Paul Iorio.]

* *

Two cops detain an activist (he's beneath a guy's bare arm at center left) while a crowd surrounds the cops and chants, "Let him go." [photo by Paul Iorio]

* *

A woman smashes a metal pot/drum with a bar in the middle of Piedemont Ave. [photo by Paul Iorio]

Needless to say, I didn't make it to the Dave Matthews show

until late (just as a 4.0 quake hit that part of the

East Bay, I found out later), though I did get to hear

around 45 minutes of the gig from the hills above

the Greek Theater.

I arrived as Matthews was starting "Eh Hee," a song he

released as a digital single a year ago, which was

followed by a song I didn't recognize and then by a

full-band version of 2003's "Gravedigger," which

got fans going.

"It's a lovely evening," Matthews said from the stage

after that one -- and it was. Cool, dry, crisp, like

the first night of fall (after a day of 100 degree


The crowd was even more enthusiastic about

2002's "Grey Street," featuring some spirited

sax playing by whoever has replaced the late

saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who died a few weeks ago.

Anyway, I didn't have time to hear the rest

of the concert, and walked home along Piedmont,

where I'd seen violence a few hours before.

Things had become considerably more harmonious

at the site of the protests; some guy was playing guitar and

singing some Bob Marley song, cops were

mingling and talking with the activists -- and

I strolled home.

But I digress. Paul



for September 5, 2008

Probably John McCain's best speech yet, though

that's not saying much because he's not exactly known

for his oratory. The problem with his "change" theme

is he's implicitly saying he disagrees with the policies

of the Bush administration, though he actually claims

he does not disagree with them.

When he made his entrance, he, frankly, looked a bit

like a senior security guard, casually checking to see

that the stage was safe and in order for the arriving


What has been glossed over by some news organizations

is that his speech was interrupted at least three times

by noisy protesters, who were quickly, muscularly whisked

away, Beijing-style, by security guards. They seemed to

almost blow McCain's cool at one point.

After his speech, the body language onstage was

telling. Palin looked like McCain's fling (because she

acted like his fling), though you'd never say the same

thing about Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina. Sure, McCain

and Palin briefly acted the expected role of candidate

and running mate, but for the most part, McCain

seemed to be distancing himself from her and even

appeared to be a little miffed at her, as if he had

found out hours earlier that there was real substance

to the rumor that Palin had once had an extramarital

affair with a snowmachine racer. Meanwhile, he gave a big,

big wave in the direction of Whitman, almost as if to say,

"Hold on, Meg, you're on standby."

Ah, how soon we forget the lessons of Eliot Spitzer:

the most puritanical are often the most secretly


But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for September 4, 2008

Check out the sermons by Sarah Palin's pastor,

Ed Kalnins, staff crackpot at the way-out

Wasilla Assembly of God.

Plus, the inside word is that, yes, there is

some evidence to substantiate the charge

that Palin had an extramarital affair with

a snowmobile racer and biz associate of her


So let me put all this together. A wild

and crazy church. A swingin' adultress

luv guv. And an underage daughter who's

havin' unprotected pre-marital sex with

an adult.

Sounds like the religious right has really

loosened up in recent years!



for September 4, 2008

The First EyeWitnessNews Candidate for Vice President!

Now the McCain strategy is becoming clear: hire a

television newscaster as your running mate if you

wanna win!

Of all the skills required to become a successful

candidate, telegenicity is key.

McCain was looking for someone with the ability to look

directly into the camera and make it work, the ability to

play the space onstage, and a sense of what is

and is not effective on TV.

Palin's experience in broadcasting in Alaska has evidently

paid off. She has become the very first EyeWitnessNews

candidate for vice-president or president, and she

knows all the tricks and buzzwords.

News flash. Breaking news. We have a reporter on the way

to the scene now. This is developing news. We'll bring

you details as we learn them. Stay with us. Because

firefighters are getting the upper hand on that blaze.

70% contained. Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.

They're lucky to be alive. We really dodged a bullet.

The tide has turned. What a difference a day makes!

Thank you for joining us. Stay tuned.

Yes, that's what a Palin presidency would sound like.

But could you please name one -- just one -- original

policy idea that she mentioned in her entire half-hour-plus

speech? Can you name one original policy idea that she

has ever had? If so, could you show me documentation

of that?

Unfortunately for Palin, her punch lines are already

getting stale. "Thanks but no thanks on that bridge to

nowhere": uh, Sarah, I think we already heard that one.

Like...last Friday. (Even Cindy McCain was almost

rolling her eyes in a cutaway shot.)

And then there was that odd appearance by McCain -- odd

in that he didn't properly close out his cameo

with a "see you tomorrow night" or something. Instead

he was led off the stage by nurse Sarah, who will make

sure gramps doesn't wander from the home and his meds and

onto the stage again.

Other notes on Night 3:

MITT ROMNEY: Inconvenient truth omitted from Romney's

auto-bio last night: he failed to mention that he came

from wealth, which gave him a gigantic advantage in his

later business pursuits.

And Romney's line about "homes that are free from

promiscuity" received an uneasy, embarrassed, tepid

response, the reason being that it's now known

the Palin home was the site of unprotected, underage,

unmarried sex. (At least we know they're not frigid in


MEG WHITMAN: She looks sort of like a female version of

John McCain -- or John McCain's sister.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- The real double-standard about Palin is

that some female pundits, so relentlessly harsh

about the seemingly low IQs of guys like Dan Quayle

and W, overlook her obvious lack of stature and

appear to be charmed by Palin. If she were a guy

who called himself "an average hockey dad" and who

was as demonstrably mediocre and lacking in experience

as Palin is, a lot of female columnists would be

kicking the tar out of him. Instead, some who

ridiculed Quayle for every misspelling are making

excuses for Palin, suspiciously pulling their




EXTRA! for September 3, 2008

Lemme guess. Tonight, Sarah Palin will

give her Checker's Speech. Using the slick

broadcasting skills she learned in Alaska, she'll

get all choked up at the podium -- and then, in

a burst of righteous indignation and anger, she'll say

something like, "And to those of you in the news media,

I have a message for you: Leave my children alone!!!!!,"

and the audience will respond with three minutes of

wild applause.

Afterwards, some pundits will probably say the following:

"I think she might have saved her job tonight" and

"If there was any doubt going into the convention about

whether Sarah Palin could stand the heat, there is no

doubt anymore" and "Looks like she hit it out of the

hockey arena!"

* * * * *

Palin Ain't the Quayle of '08. She May Be The Harriet Miers.

Elderly John McCain, with less energy than he had

as a young man, gets lazy about vetting his first major

nominee. All he knows is he needs A Woman on the

ticket, and it really doesn't matter much which Woman.

(Is this how McCain will choose his Attorney General

and Supreme Court nominees if he's elected?)

And so, with the same gambling instincts he showed as

a fighter pilot -- instincts that, by the way, got

him shot down over the Hanoi metro area -- he made a

bold, careless veep choice and let the

devil take the hindmost, as they say in his parts.

Well, now the devil is taking the hindmost.

Because Palin is fast developing the distinct

aura of a nominee who gets ditched within a

week or so of being nominated. Yes, Palin may be

the Harriet Miers of Campaign '08.

The Daily Digression has been digging around and

found there are even more question marks

about her than the press has revealed.

For example, far from being universally popular

throughout her career in Alaska, it turns out that

she was the object of a recall campaign several months

into her first term as mayor. In early 1997, a group

of around 60 Wasilla residents (a huge number of

people for a town that small) formed Concerned

Citizens for Wasilla, which objected strenuously to

several of her early decisions and wanted her removed

from office.

It's worth noting that she ascended to mayor of Wasilla

from the Wasilla city council, a position so tiny that I

couldn't find any coverage of her race

in the main newspaper in the area, The Anchorage

Daily News.

So, effectively, Palin was a part-timer before she

became governor of a state that has a smaller population

than the city of San Francisco.

Also the Digression has learned Palin has not been

shy about putting daughter Bristol, even when she

was a child, in the media spotlight when it was to

her advantage -- and that her household was recklessly

permissive when it came to guns.

When she was merely 9-years-old, in 1999, Bristol Palin

was covered in the Anchorage Daily News because of her

rifle-shooting education. "First-time shooter Bristol

Palin, 9, recently learned how to handle a rifle," went

the piece in the ADN. Can I ask a common sense

question, or is it too old-fashioned to ask what

the hell a 9-year-old is doing in the vicinity of

a rifle?

[Incidentally, it's important to note that Palin defines

herself as an "average hockey mom"; Barack Obama has never

defined himself as an "average hockey dad" -- and neither did

JFK. So we must, to some degree, scrutinize her on her own


The New York Times and The Washington Post have uncovered

their own info about her, including:

-- the state legislature is investigating abuse-of-power

allegations against her

-- she was busted for drunk driving in 1986.

-- for two years, she belonged to an eccentric political party

that wanted to put the issue of Alaska secession to a

ballot vote

-- the father of Bristol Palin's daughter, Levi Johnston,

describes himself as "a fucking redneck," according to

several news organizations.

Question not asked by anyone: if Levi was 18 when he had

sex with 17-year-old Bristol, then doesn't that make

him an adult having sex with a child? Is that illegal

in Alaska? If so, then how come sex crime allegations

are being levied (or not levied) in an inconsistent

manner here?

More later.

But I digress. Paul



for August 3, 2008

Notes on Day 2 of the GOP Convention

There's something vaguely German about the whole gathering.

Even the music sounds like Wagner, though it isn't.

A few notes:

-- Norm Coleman: Reminds me of a Franklin Mint salesman,

practicing his sales pitch alone in front of a mirror the

night before going door-to-door. And what an ear for

catchy language: "Change the Republicans can

actually deliver."

-- Funny how the Repubs now claim to admire Martin Luther

King, when in fact they vehemently opposed him when he was


-- Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Looks like

the Anita Bryant wing of the party. I half expected

her to welcome us to the Florida sunshine tree! Also

has an ear for catchy language: "Minnesota is a really nice state

that loves you!"

-- Tommy Espinozzzzzzzzzzzzzza

-- George W. Bush: Might've coined something with that

"angry left" bit. Not quite "nattering nabobs," but

getting there.

-- Fred Thompson: Calls Obama "inexperienced" but believes

Palin is qualified because "she knows how to field dress a moose."

-- Joe Lieberman. Hadassah looks like she's thinking, "Joe,

how did we sink so low? Joe, how did we lose all our Connecticut

friends?" Michael Beschloss had a nice insight on PBS, saying

that Lieberman's speech sounded like a barely modified version

of the scrapped speech he had written to accept the GOP vice

presidential nomination. (He may have to give that speech

yet.) Probably right.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for August 29, 2008

After hearing Sarah Palin speak, I have to say

she sounds like the perkiest temp in the whole

typing pool.

A people person!!

And if she ever had to go head-to-head

with Ahmadninejad, why, she'd give that man 15

lashes with a wet noodle!

McCain has made an awful, cynical, dangerous

choice -- dangerous because McCain is old and

has health problems, and if he were

incapacitated as president, she would be the

one in charge of a nuclear arsenal that could

annihilate life on earth.

And get a load of these Churchillian aphorisms:

-- "Put people first!" (As opposed to what? Putting

iguanas first?)

-- "The people of America expect us to seek public

office and serve for the right reasons" (I'm sure

Vaclav Havel is hailing the arrival of a brilliant new

political poet.)

An "average hockey mom," as she describes herself, should

be in charge of average hockey teams, not of the most

powerful nation in the world.

McCain's strategic shrewdness (i.e., wedging into the

embittered Hillary-Ferraro vote) is neutralized by his

nominee's scary lack of experience, which inadvertently

inoculates Barack against such charges. A better wedge

would've been Kay Bailey Hutchison.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- By the way, Hillary and Geraldine should release

a joint statement by the end of today saying

that Palin is no friend of the women's rights movement

and does not speak for them or their supporters.



for August 29, 2008

Notes on Day 4 of the Democratic Convention

Anti-climax. The expectations were too high.

You cannot will an "I have a dream" speech into


Barack's speech was prose, not poetry this time -- and

predictable prose at that (except for the moment when he

slipped and almost said, "The market should reward

drunk driving" -- now that would've been an

unpredictable moment!).

His "you're on your own" bit was classic, as were his

great lines about bin Laden ("We must take out Osama bin

Laden and his terrorists," and "John McCain says he will

follow bin Laden to the gates of hell but he won't even

follow him to the cave where he lives").

But he should know better than to use a come-on like

"This election has never been about me; it's been

about you," which sounds like the sort of thing a car

salesman or prostelitizing evangelical would say.

(Whenever I hear a salesman say that, I immediately

know it's about him, not me.)

It occurred to me while listening to him that

no matter who gets elected in November, there's

bound to be gridlock once again. I mean, Obama has

a job right now, and so does McCain, and we don't

see either of them magically ramming through

legislation or inspiring their Senate colleagues to

action, so it's hard to believe they'd suddenly be

able to do so by merely moving to the co-equal executive


In '93, the Dems had control of both houses of Congress

and of the White House and there was still partisan gridlock.

Perhaps the change that has to happen in Washington is

more fundamental than what Barack wants to bring about.

Maybe our political system needs to be re-imagined and

re-structured with a greater emphasis on direct democracy

instead of representative democracy. What I mean is, bills

and issues that are regularly voted on by Congress, and

that are regularly jammed in gridlock, should perhaps

instead be voted on by the public in ballot referenda. That

way, we can put, say, universal health care to a public

vote, and if the people choose it, it becomes law.

No gridlock. No partisan bickering. No need to reach

across the aisle to massage the interests of some

corrupt congressman who wants an unnecessary bridge for

his district.

Anyway, I don't expect Barack will see any appreciable

convention bounce from this speech, which means he may

have already peaked in the polls. We'll see.

But I digress. Paul



for August 28, 2008

Notes on Day 3 of the Democratic Convention

What a surprise to see Barack show up at the

convention center last night. Great move.

Like a gust of wind into a smoke-filled room. I've

decided that Barack is post-neurotic. He doesn't

seem to have the hang-ups that most of us do,

which allows him to move further faster.

And it was revealing to see him shake hands

with various Dems (it's evident he has great

personal chemistry with Nancy Pelosi). Also,

wonderful to see Barack's great-uncle,

Charles Payne, who helped liberate Buchenwald.

Joe Biden's speech was characteristically forceful

and poignant, particularly when he imagined,

stream-of-consciousness style, the thoughts and

anxieties of everyday Americans as they try to

make ends meet.

It's clear that Biden speaks Middle Atlantic

fluently and can talk Philly Cheesesteak, too -- a

dialect essential to persuading swing voters.

The protracted ovation for Bill Clinton was truly

astounding -- and his calls for unity sounded

heartfelt. And he scored some points noting

that the GOP had control of both the White House

and the Congress in 2001, enabling them to

implement ideas that proved disastrous.

Other notes:

-- Beau Biden seems to be made of the same stern

stuff that his dad is made of. And there wasn't a

dry face in the crowd when he described that

horrific car accident.

-- Harry Reid should lay off history and stick to

politics. Saying that World War II was

partly motivated by oil on the Russian front is a

stretch at best. A quick refresher course: Hitler

was invading everyone in the 1930s/1940s, whether

they had oil or not. Austria, France, the Netherlands

didn't have any oil, but he invaded them, too. The

opening grafs of his speech should have been

better edited.

-- John Kerry: Roared like he rarely did in '04.

-- Evan Bayh: predictable.

-- Chet Edwards: bland.

All for now.

But I digress. Paul



for August 27, 2008

Notes on Day 2 of the Democratic Convention

More electricity than last night. If it wasn't

Hillary's finest moment at the podium, I don't

know what was. Funny, confident, spontaneous,

pithy: if she had been like this back in '07,

she might have won the Thursday night slot this

week. Lots of crowd-pleasing zingers: "No way,

no how, no McCain," "sisterhood of the traveling

pantsuits," etc. Plus, a stirring evocation of Harriet

Tubman at the end. (And, of course, any candidate

who opens with Davies has got to be gold.)

And the cutaway shots of Bill suggest he

might have a thing for her. (You think

they're having an affair?)

The big surprise of the night was keynoter Mark Warner.

I had no idea he was this great. Talk about

Kennedyesque. Came across like a guy who

knows how to get things done in an

innovative, effective way. Best line:

"In 4 months, we will have an administration

that actually believes in science."

But perhpas the most genuine moment of the night

came from the Republican mayor of tiny, cold

Fairbanks, Alaska, who looked like a throughly decent

fellow, his posture hinting at a lifetime of

shivering, his slightly too-large jacket probably

bought at one of the very few shops in Fairbanks

where you can actually buy jackets.

Other notes:

-- Montana governor Brian Schweitzer got the house

a-rockin'. Lots of unexpected pizazz.

--Did you feel the Steny-mania in the hall?

-- Janet Napolitano talked about "the burgeoning cities

and towns" in her home state.

--- Kathleen Sibeliuszzzz: better at governing than

at comedy. (To her credit, she didn't mention

"burgeoning cities and towns.")

-- And why the swipe at Franklin Roosevelt's

ahead-of-his-time vice president by a pundit on

PBS? Keep in mind that ol' Henry

believed what you probably believe now -- except

he believed it decades earlier.

Anyway, time to get back to the "burgeoning

cities and towns" in my region.

But I digress. Paul



EXTRA! for August 26, 2008

Well, it's official: the first night of

the Democratic National Convention was a ratings

dud for the broadcast networks, who cumulatively

attracted a million fewer viewers than they had

on opening night in 2004, according to

TV Week's E-Daily Newsletter.

And the reason is no surprise (read my review below).


for August 26, 2008

Notes on Day 1 of the Democratic Convention

This is what Day 1 sounded like:

This son of a butcher, a baker and a candlestick

maker rose to heights previously undreamed of,

because he dared to dream the dream and hope the

hope and dare the dare and believe the belief, and

in his youth his father walked 50 miles through a

blizzard each day to get to his job in a steel

mill, where he was paid a mere dollar a day,

which he shared with his nine children

after he returned home from his daily

walk, sacrificing so that the new generation

would have a better life, but his spirit

was undimmed, his optimism undefeated, his faith

unquashed, his vigor undminished, his focus un-undermined,

even as his legs ached and he cried out for Extra

Strength Advil liquid capsules, as he drew succor from

his dream of a truly united United States of America,

in which black and white, blue and green, yellow and

red, chartreuse and violet, rich and poor, suburban

and urban, those who walk 50 miles a day and those

who merely walk 50 feet, those who believe, as he

believes, and still believes, that one America, one

nation, one vision, one people, shall prevail against

all divisions, blah, blah, blah.

And on and on. The stories of boot-strap triumph blend

together like a bunch of wallpaper, leaving the

audience with the false impression that wealth

in America isn't acquired mostly through inheritance,

as the facts show. Scratch the surface of almost

any rags to riches bootstrap story and you'll find that

the "self-made" person was actually the beneficiary

of government money or family money or drug money

or criminal theft or unethical business leverage

or a freakish winning at a casino or on a TV game show.

For now, such harsher truths aren't ready for prime time.

For the most part, the first day of the convention, as

seen on TV, was so overscripted and lacking in spontaneity

that it made the Oscars look like an experimental

improvisational performance.

Occasionally, and thankfully, the human element seeped

through all the calculation. Senator Kennedy's speech was

a highlight, if only because he looked surprisingly

robust and sounded like Classic Teddy, despite his terminal

illness. And the adorable Obama children virtually stole

the show, cutely interrupting their dear ol' dad, who

was piped in from Kansas City, Mo., showing everybody

what a real political star looks and sounds like.

Also: Caroline Kennedy looked great, sounded genuine

and has developed a slightly tougher edge that is

very welcome; she should run for Uncle Teddy's Senate

seat after he passes. Michelle Obama was winning

and quite a natural at the podium -- and also generous

(can you imagine Muriel Humphrey saying kind words

about Eugene McCarthy from the stage in '68?)

More later.

But I digress. Paul



for August 25, 2008

Sorry to those who thought I'd be covering the

Outside Lands music fest in San Francisco last weekend.

As much as I wanted to attend, I couldn't because I

was holed up in the studio, doing final overdubs

on two new songs of mine, "Love's a Heaven You

Can't Reach" and "Three Minute Song," which I've released

today (my music site is

In any event, I've covered multiple concerts by almost

all the festival headliners and subheds in the past

year or two (see below or in the Digression Archive

for my pieces on Radiohead, Wilco/Jeff Tweedy,

Tom Petty, Widespread Panic, etc.).

And keep in mind that Radiohead premiered their new

"In Rainbows" material at shows two years ago in the

San Francisco Bay Area and in a handful of other

cities (at concerts that no serious daily newspaper

in the Bay Area neglected to cover), while

Jeff Tweedy's unforgettable gig in Golden Gate Park

several months ago (following a Wilco show across the

Bay) was also a must-see and must-review event.

Anyway, now that my new songs have been released, I'm

back to Digressing!

But I digress. Paul



for August 23, 2008

Once again, the Daily Digression has been first --

this time, the first of the major blogs and

news organizations to have identified Joe Biden as

the likeliest veep nominee (see last Sunday's

column below).

And the Biden choice is perhaps the best strategic

decision in terms of vice-presidential picks since

JFK chose LBJ in 1960, as Biden complements Obama on

foreign policy the way Johnson complemented Kennedy

geographically. (The Biden selection probably won't

mean much in the opinion polls -- until the

vice-presidential debate, where Biden will surely

clean the clock of McCain's running mate.)

As a freelance journalist, I did some intensive

research around a year ago to see which of the

presidential candidates, if any, saw the 9/11 attacks

coming before the fact. And my digging showed that

Biden came the closest (by far) to sensing the clear

and present danger posed by the Taliban and bin Laden.

Listen to Biden on June 21, 2000, speaking on the floor

of the U.S. Senate: "We all know about Pakistan, the

gateway to Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden and his

buddies. Can anybody think of a better place to

beef up border security, so that terrorists can be

apprehended as they go to and from those Afghan training camps?"

Again, that was Biden in the year 2000, over a year

before bin Laden committed mass murder on U.S. soil.

And Biden had the danger sized up perfectly -- before

the fact.

To be sure, Biden wasn't completely alone in ringing the

alarm but he almost was. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was

also somewhat prescient in speaking out about the

Taliban. "The Taliban in their activities...there

[in Afghanistan] have placed them outside the circle

of civilized human behavior," said Pelosi, on June 13, 2001.

(The least prescient about 9/11? Dennis Kucinich.)

Candidates with hindsight are as plentiful as

gravel, those with foresight as scarce as gold.

In this case, the Democratic nominee for president

has chosen a running mate with the latter.

But I digress. Paul



for August 17, 2008

After deeply researching insider blogs,

convention schedules, travel plans

of both the candidate and his veep

contenders -- and applying simple common

sense -- I've arrived at an educated guess

as to who Barack Obama's running mate

will be.

In all likelihood, it's Joe Biden.

[posted at 6:44pm, Sunday, August 17, 2008]

But I digress. Paul



for August 13 - 14, 2008

I must confess I wasn't at all impressed by

the precision mass synchronization spectacles

of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

They didn't express much except a punishing

level of rehearsal. Orson Welles was able to do

more with simple hand shadows in "Citizen Kane" than

the organizers of the Olympics did with their

Himalayan-sized budget.

That said, the folks at NBC (particularly Brian

Williams, Tom Brokaw, Bob Costas and Matt Lauer)

are doing a super job making it interesting even

to viewers who couldn't care less about things

like the 50-meter freestyle competition. (Lauer

had a particularly humorous moment last week

touring a building in Beijing called The Studio

of Exhaustion from Diligent Service.)

* * * *

It occurred to me yesterday that our next

president will be someone who wasn't born

on the U.S. mainland -- a first (I think).

* * * *

If you want to remember Isaac Hayes at his very

best, and you've already seen "Shaft," check out

the "Wattstax" DVD, which captures primo Hayes -- intro'd

by a circumspect Jesse Jackson, no less.

* * * *

The Enduring Ambivalence About Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull, reading the latest edition of
The Daily Digression?

Of all the major 1960s/1970s bands eligible

for induction to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame

who have not yet been inducted, few present a

more difficult problem of critical evaluation than

Jethro Tull. Watching a video of the band performing

in its absolute creative prime -- the period right

after "Benefit" and before "Aqualung," captured on a

DVD called "Jethro Tull: Live at the Isle of

Wight, 1970" -- I saw at once the reasons why

the band should be inducted and why they shouldn't,

though I lean toward the former view ("Aqualung" alone

should be their ticket in).

The DVD shows the band performing on the last

day of the Isle of Wight Festival of 1970, when

the crowd, having already heard The Who and

Jimi Hendrix on previous days, had dwindled

considerably. By day five, the audience was

gnarly, gamey, pissed off and fed up with

malfunctioning toilets and being pushed

around by fest organizers. To its credit, this

documentary/concert film, directed by Murray Lerner,

doesn't prettify this (or Tull's own performance,

for that matter).

Tull took the stage looking like they had just

stepped off the cover of "Benefit." Up close, you

can see that Ian Anderson had a case of stage fright

and, at least at this gig, was nervous, even dorky,

full of odd tics and idiosyncrasies, a strict

taskmaster who missed his own cues, while his

band was precise but clunky, for the most part.

It's when he puts down his flute, which he really

doesn't play very well, and sits with an acoustic

guitar for "My God" that you say, "Wow." Anderson is

relaxed, engaging, marvelously melodic, almost

hypnotic -- for the first three minutes and fifteen

seconds of "My God." And then he does embarrassing

schtick with his flute that even he sort of cringed

at in a 2004 interview included here.

I've long felt the band's best stuff was British

folk and folk rock like "Sossity," "Inside,"

"Reasons for Waiting," "Mother Goose,"

"For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me," "Slipstream,"

"Cheap Day Return," "Up the Pool," the "in the clear

white circles of morning wonder" part of "Thick as a

Brick" -- I almost never tire of hearing

those songs, none of which they played at Isle

of Wight. (Anderson should have hung out a bit

more with Maddy Pryor, by the way.)

Though the setlist here is disappointing (why only one

song from "Benefit"?), you see the dawn of

"Aqualung" taking shape, particularly on "Dharma

For One," where you can hear the band hurtling

toward its "Locomotive Breath" sound. (Turns out

Glenn Cornick had a lot more to do with the

overall sound during this period than you'd guess

from hearing the albums.) By show's end, the

previously angry crowd looked genuinely


The problem with bands that you enjoyed as a child

is that, in adulthood, you can't tell whether you

still like them because of nostalgia or because

of the group's musical value. I was barely

13-years-old, a suburban American kid living for

six months in Florence, Italy, when I first heard

of Tull. I remember the moment well: I was in the

front seat of a Fiat in central Florence in

November 1970, a couple months after Isle of Wight,

looking to the backseat where some cool older guy at my

school, St. Michael's Country Day School, was holding

a brand new copy of "Benefit" (with that "headband" cover)

and talking the band up.

At that time in Florence, "Woodstock" was in the

main movie theaters, "Led Zeppelin 3" was weeks

away from showing up in record store windows and

Italian singer Gianni Morandi had a big hit with a

protest song about the Kent State massacre.

But Jethro Tull, at least for a month or two in the

fall of '70, was the talk of the piazza, and their

melodies seemed to emanate from the medieval and

Renaissance alleys of the city, and there were rumors

flying that Tull was actually a group of 70-year-old men.

But the band's true heyday lasted only from 1969 to

1972, between "Stand Up" and "Living in the Past." The

subsequent albums, between '73 and '78, from "A Passion

Play" to "Songs From the Wood," were spotty at best,

though there are at least a few good songs or musical

moments on each. After 1978, they created almost nothing

worth listening to.

Even at their peak they were the object of an unusual

degree of derision. (I once heard the nickname Jethro Dull;

and the late, great Lester Bangs memorably eviscerated

the band with his famous line about Jethro Tull having

no "rebop.")

To be sure, they're not in the same league as the Stones

and the Who, though their melodies are more memorable

than those of a terrific band like Fairport Convention.

Tull can't be dismissed -- there's just too much good stuff

on albums two through six. "Live at the Isle of Wight,"

the best long-form concert by the group on DVD, is a

great way to take a close look at a band that still

provokes extreme ambivalence after all these years.

* * * *

A Year After "Sicko," Still No Universal Health Care

This time last year, Michael Moore's documentary

"Sicko" was stirring such debate about the U.S. health

care system that some thought the film might actually

spur some sort of policy change.

No such luck. Hasn't happened. The rich keep

getting richer off of the sick, who keep

getting sicker.

As "Sicko" notes, the government provides

free postal service, free police protection, free

education -- and nobody denounces those programs

as "socialist." Why not also provide

something as basic as health care?

Imagine if you had to personally pay the police

department every time you called 911 for an

emergency (though, on second thought, it is true

that in some communities in New Jersey and Louisiana,

I hear you actually do have to pay the cops!). Same

thing as paying for an emergency room visit.

Maybe we need to re-think our socialism-phobia,

which almost nobody else in the world shares. Let's

take that fear apart for a moment.

Since unregulated capitalism failed spectacularly

in 1929, the United States has adopted and adapted

and refined some of the best ideas of

socialism -- e.g., FDIC, unemployment insurance,

social security, food stamps, etc. -- so that

now we're -- thankfully -- a capitalist-socialist

hybrid nation, in a sense.

Even arch-conservatives have seen the absolute

necessity of having a baseline level of government

involvement and regulation, without which we would

have complete catastrophe on several levels,

as we found out the hard way in '29.

Meanwhile, the communists have adapted and adopted

some of the best ideas of American capitalism so that

Russia and China are now also socialist-capitalist


In other words, nobody won the Cold War. We became

partly socialist, and the socialists became partly

capitalist. The U.S. has social security, and China has

Saks Fifth Avenue. In the process, the Soviet Union

ran out of money and collapsed, which probably

would've happened anyway, whether they had been nominally

communist or not, given the fact that their economy has

long been based on main exports vodka and corruption.

(And their totalitarianism, which almost nobody defends

anymore, had more to do with their own political

traditions and history than with the theories of Marx

and Engels.)

In "Sicko," we actually see the spectacle of

Americans "defecting" to communist Cuba in order to

get health care -- and it's no joke.

Oh, I can hear the conservatives now, talking about

the lack of freedom in Cuba. But let's dissect that cliche

for a moment, too.

In the U.S., every dissenter is free to savagely

criticize President Bush in the most radical ways,

but there's no real danger or risk in that.

After all, we work for corporations like

Hewlett-Packard and Oracle and Xerox and GE, not

for Bush. And if you work for Hewlett-Packard,

I dare you to go to the office tomorrow and start

criticizing your boss in order to see how your First

Amendment rights hold up. I dare you to go to work,

wherever you work, and say, my boss is a bum and my company

is run by a bunch of fascist thugs. First Amendment or

not, you'd likely be cleaning out your desk before the

day is done.

In America, you have very limited free speech rights

when it comes to the domain in which you really

reside: your workplace, where you spend most of your

day. Your actual residence is the fiefdom of Xerox or

GE or Oracle, not the U.S.

So, yeah, it's true: there is a public sector

tyranny in Cuba -- but there's a private sector

tyranny in America.

Just watch the final scenes of "Sicko" -- in which

Cuban firefighters in Havana stand to honor the New

York area firefighters who died so tragically on

9/11 -- and you'll realize we have a lot more in

common with the communists than we care to admit.

But I digress. Paul



for August 3, 2008

Last Night in Berkeley, John Mellencamp Declares:

"Hatred Elected George Bush"

Mellencamp performing last year (photo by Paul Iorio)

John Mellencamp has never been known to hold

his tongue about much, and last night in Berkeley,

Calif., on the final date of his tour with Lucinda

Williams, he let it all hang out.

"It's that hatred that's getting people killed overseas,

it's that hatred that's getting -- well, let's call a

spade a spade -- it's that hatred that elected George

Bush," Mellencamp said to cheers from the crowd.

He then paused, chuckled a bit and said: "I'll probably

get arrested for saying that," as if realizing he had

said something a bit extreme.

Several songs later, before "Crumblin' Down," he dialed

back a bit on his comments. "I didn't mean to start

preachin' but I did a little bit," he said, adding at

another point that a lot of people think he

should "shut up about politics."

Mellencamp also talked unusually vividly, even by

his own standards, about the infamous racial incident

that happened last year in Jena, Louisiana.

"Down in Jena there was some kind of problem, you

know, and people thought it'd be a good idea if they

hung nooses in a tree," he began. "...That's a bad

idea no matter how you cut it. Hey, here's a

good idea: [in an ironic, confidential tone]:

after the show let's all go...spray paint swastikas....That's

a good idea...That's not going to get a good result

no matter how you cut it. That is not the way we solve

problems. We're better than that." Fans cheered.

Then he launched into his song "Jena," played here a bit

like a Neil Young protest tune.

Mellencamp made his remarks at a sold-out gig at the

Greek Theater in Berkeley, last night (August 2),

supporting his recently released album, "Life Death

Love and Freedom." (I heard -- and recorded -- the gig

from the hills above the theater.)

His comments about "hatred" followed an anecdote he

told about an instance of racial discrimination he

experienced when he was a teenager in a rock band;

effectively, given the context of his story, he was

implying that racial "hatred" played a part in

electing Bush.

His remarks, however, didn't upstage his music,

which was, at times, as good as live rock 'n' roll

gets; in fact, there are only a handful of acts

-- the Stones, Springsteen, U2, R.E.M., etc. -- who

can play rock with this level of mastery and intensity.

The last segment of the show -- in which he played

several of his best-known songs in rapid

succession -- felt sort of like a jet quickly

ascending over mountain peaks; his versions

of "Crumblin' Down" and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."

had the irresistable force of the Rolling Stones

on their "Bigger Bang" tour, and it was almost

impossible not to dance (or not to move to)

the music.

Also notable were "Rain on the Scarecrow," a

defiant retort to anyone who thinks the Reagan era

was just an endless stream of jellybeans; "Check

It Out," the most enduring song from "The Lonesome

Jubilee"; and an unexpectedly strong "Human Wheels,"

as well as the half dozen or so new songs from his

latest album, "Life Death Love and Freedom," his best

CD in many years.

"Minutes to Memories," one of his finest songs, was

performed here solo acoustic, unfortunately flattening

a lot of the song's appeal, which has much to do with

its central guitar riff, absent here. For years,

I've enjoyed performing that song on acoustic guitar

for pleasure in my own apartment, and it works in a

bare arrangement, but only if you also include that

wonderful riff.

I remember Mellencamp splitting open Madison Square

Garden on December 6, 1985, with a vibrant, electric

version of that one, along with other tracks from

"Scarecrow," still his crowning achievement, in my

opinion. (That was the famous gig at which

Mellencamp generously offered to give everyone

their money back because he felt that a

slightly malfunctioning sound system was

diminishing the sound, when in fact it was

easily one of the greatest rock shows

I'd ever seen.)

Opening at the Greek was Lucinda Williams, playing

songs from her upcoming album "Little Honey," due

in October, and assorted songs from the past decade

or so, as well as a fun encore cover of AC/DC's "It's a

Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)."

Ever since I first heard her perform, in 1988 at

Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, back when her

major song was "Changed the Locks," which she never

sings anymore, I've always had the urge to cry

whenever I hear her music.

I'm not joking: her stuff just breaks my heart,

and I get so sad when I hear it -- I don't know why

that is, though I do know that it has stopped me from

listening to her as frequently as I listen to, say, Bob

Dylan, whose brilliance she sometimes comes close to.

But remember: even at his most bitter and snarling,

Dylan had a marvelous sense of humor ("I can't help it

if I'm lucky" is worthy of a great stand-up comedian),

the missing element in her work.

I think the AC/DC cover is a really good sign. I'd

give a lot to hear her sing "You Shook Me All Night


my backstage pass to an AC/DC show in NY in '85.

But I digress. Paul



for August 1 - 2, 2008

"Laugh-In" Is Forty, Dick Martin is Dead

(But We'll Always Have Beautiful Downtown Burbank!)

Jokes about Ralph Nader, Fidel Castro, the

Olympics, tensions between Pakistan and India,

the obsolescence of cash -- with a special

appearance by Regis Philbin. Sounds like

a new TV series, right?

Nope. I'm describing the first episodes

of NBC's "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," now over

forty years old but so ahead of its time in many

ways that it still seems progressive.

Or some of it does. Clearly, the mod garb and

slang are hopelessly outdated, more associated

today with Austin Powers than with anything else,

as are most of the topical references and silly

sayings such as "You bet your sweet bippy"

and "sock it to me," which never quite made

it into the lexicon after the 1970s.

But get beyond those superficial elements and

you'll see that "Laugh-In," as much as "Saturday

Night Live," was an exponential leap forward

pop-culturally -- and in prime time, no less,

where "SNL" proper never resided. Even today, a lot

of the stoned humor pioneered by "Laugh-In" is

relegated to the 11:30 hour or beyond,

or to cable.

The main thing, though, is that the series, at

least in its first years, is still very funny.

I recently rented a DVD of disc one of the first

season, which includes two episodes from early 1968,

and laughed and laughed.

Some of the one-liners are almost worthy of

Allen and Perelman.

"My grandfather is a sexagenarian," says one woman.

"That's amazing at his age," quips Dick Martin.

And there are humorous moments from Tim


"Hey, man, I don't want my kids hearing all them dirty

words in the movies," says Conway. "They get enough of

that at home."

Elsewhere, Conway plays The Great Nervo, who makes

predictions about events that have already happened.

The two most entertaining regular features were the

opening cocktail party, at which partygoers would

tell a joke that sort of aspired to the level of a

New Yorker magazine cartoon (though many fell far

short of that goal); and "The Rowan & Martin Report"

(aka "Laugh-In Looks at the News"), a forerunner of

SNL's "Weekend Update."

The latter had a future news sub-segment, reporting

headlines from 20 years in the future, 1988 (oh,

how quickly a future date in time becomes a date

from the past in any sort of speculative comedy or

drama). It even joked about Reagan becoming president.

Among the more humorous future news bits: "Item.

White House. 1988. President Stokely Carmichael,

in his office in Hanoi, today once again repeated

that the United States must get out of America."

Some of the sketches were more cutting-edge than

most prime-time fare today. In one segment, Rowan

and Martin covered campus riots, play-by-play

style, as if they were sports events ("the winners

will be invited to meet Berkeley in the national


At another point, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop

play government officials writing a press release

about an international incident at sea, gradually

altering the facts so that an accident in which 15

Russians were injured by Americans is changed to

one in which 15 Americans were deliberately hurt

by a Russian submarine.

One great thing about seeing this on DVD is that

you can finally slow down the ultra-quick cuts in

order to read the placards and bumper stickers that

whizzed by way too fast when they were first aired.

For the record, here's what was invisible to viewers

in 1968:

"Lower the Age of Puberty," "Get Our Boys Out of Berkeley"

and "Bullets are Forever."

Other highlights are abundant: a French juggler who

juggles plates but ends up breaking all of them; a

sight gag in which someone flamboyantly waves a sword at

Dan Rowan, who casually pulls out a gun and shoots him

(a similar bit got a lot of laughs many years later in

the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark").

It's puzzling that other networks didn't counter-program

with their own knock-offs, though ABC tried and failed.

Ultimately, the show became passe by 1970 and was fully

eclipsed by the more outre "All in the Family" by 1971.

Its influence is still felt everywhere today from

"SNL" to "The Late Show with David Letterman," and

you can even see a stylistic thru-line from Rowan

to Letterman (though Letterman at this point has

become an original in his own category).

Last May, as everyone knows, Dick Martin died at

age 88, which is 23 years longer than his partner

lived. Their DVDs, obviously, live on, but rent

them with this caveat: get the "Laugh-In"

discs that have complete episodes, not

the best-of clip jobs, and stick to the stuff from

the early years.

* * * *

As soon as I finish reading the poems Coleridge

wrote on opium, the novels Hemingway wrote on booze,

the lyrics Lennon wrote on acid, and the works that

Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac wrote on a variety

of recreational drugs, I'll read Princeton's study

(scientific, I'm sure) describing the underrated University

of Florida as a "party school."

But I digress



for July 27, 2008

Last Night's Steely Dan Show

reeling in the you-know-whats

Almost everybody coming out of the Steely Dan

concert last night in Berkeley, Calif., was

smiling wide, as if they had just gotten

laid or were about to. The show was that


A couple hours earlier, from the stage, in the

middle of "Hey 19," Walter Becker even gave some

advice to the romantically inclined in the crowd.

"Sometimes on a summer night, way up in the hills of

Berkeley...after a Steely Dan head home

with your beloved, the object of your affections,

and there's only one thing in mind: showing her

how much, how very much, you love her," said Becker,

who then proceeded to talk about one way to

have fun with your loved one.

"Go to the liquor cabinet," he said, and find

the stuff labeled "'100% guaranteed'...If you

break the seal, you're gonna feel real," he said.

"You understand what I'm saying?"

The crowd roared approval, as the band lit into

a soulful verse celebrating "Cuervo Gold."

From the beginning to the end of this two hour-plus

gig, Steely Dan was fully dedicated to making sure

everybody within earshot -- even the people up in the

hills, where I was -- was aesthetically satisfied

and entertained.

The pleasures were many. There were exotic sounds

from quirky instruments turning up like rare animals

at a zoo. One minute, the tenor sax and the tenor

trombone would be re-combining into new combinations,

then there would be mysterious guitar riffs creating

texture, nuance. Plus, and most important, you

could dance to it all, which a lot of people did.

As the summer night progressed, hits and new material

and obscurities came vividly to life: my favorites of

the night were "New Frontier," "Black Friday," "Peg"

and finale "Do It Again."

And there was Becker's colorful intro of

Donald Fagan: "Lead singer, pianist, singer-songwriter,

composer, author, producer, star of screen, stage

and television, man about town, stern critic of the

contemporary scene, please welcome, if you will,

the original, the originator, the one, the only

one, Mr. Donald Fagan."

After the show, as I walked back home, through my

favorite park in the world, I realized that the show

had caused me, for a time, to hear the sound of

chirping birds and the rest of the world in a brand

new way, which is one of the reasons I was

smiling, too.

But I digress, Paul



for July 27, 2008

A point missing in the discussion about

the surge in Iraq is that it's way too

early to declare "mission accomplished"

with regard to the lessening of hostilities

there. The surge is only a few months old,

and insurgents might easily re-surge later,

stronger than ever.

Remember: Tet was quashed, too, in early 1968,

but the guerillas came back with a vengeance and

fought on for several more years -- to victory,

in fact. (To be fair, McCain may not know about

all this, as I hear he didn't have access to

Cronkite in those years.)

Lately, McCain is sounding like a guy who drives

your car into a ditch and then wants to be

congratulated for replacing its flat tire, though

the car still remains in the ditch.

He's changing his heart
(you know who you are!):

McCain has flip-flopped
from advocating a "hundred year"
presence in Iraq to supporting a
"time horizon" for withdrawal.

* * *

Here's A New Idea for An Antonioni Exhibit....

In the U.S., the neglect of Michelangelo Antonioni's

work verges on the criminal. Up until

recently, even some of his most popular films were

not available on DVD domestically.

Which is why it's so welcome to see that the

National Gallery in Washington, D.C., is in the

midst of a gourmet Antonioni retrospective, spanning

his entire career and including rarely-seen gems

like "L'eclisse," the last of the trilogy that

began with "L'avventura," and (especially)

"Deserto rosso (Red Desert)," which I am dying to

see because I'm told it experiments with color

(and birds!) brilliantly. (Check out

coverage of the screenings at

As I wrote in the Daily Digression on July 31, 2007:

"I've always had the feeling that if Michelangelo

Antonioni hadn't been a film maker, he would've

been a post-expressionist painter, because that's

the sensibility he brought to cinema. In fact, he

seemed to see film as an almost purely visual

medium, and the best example of that was the

dazzling end of "Zabriskie Point," which was

virtually one expressionist painting after

another, if you were to still each frame. I was

always waiting for Antonioni to take his aesthetic

to the next level and make a two-hour film that was

purely painterly visuals, with no plot, no story."

Here's an original idea for a museum exhibit

that is long overdue: a photography exhibition of

stills -- blown-up still photographs -- of around

forty moments or scenes in Antonioni movies. I thought

of this idea after recently watching "The

Passenger" and finding that I kept pausing the

film just to savor various visual images that were

as powerful and resonant as many great modernist

paintings. This most painterly of auteurs should

surely have his moving paintings stilled and

displayed by a major museum.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of McCain from]



for July 23 - 24, 2008

A few notes on DVDs I've watched (or re-watched)



re-watching it the other day, I was struck by

how Hitchcockian the suspense was (particularly

the sequence in which Josh Brolin sees Javier

Bardem's shadow beneath the door). The

first time I saw it, I was very impressed and

literally on the edge of my seat (to coin a phrase!),

but second and third viewings reveal flaws,

among them: suspense dissipates after the

first hour, despite a nice star turn by Woody

Harrelson; Tommy Lee Jones's opening VO segues

into Brolin's first appearance onscreen, confusing

viewers into thinking the VO was Brolin's

(further, what Jones says about "old-timers" and

generations changing hands doesn't really come

into play later in the film); it's not

believable that the cop in the opening sequence

would separate Bardem from his oxygen tank in

the squad car; etc.

More significantly, the two main characters are

indistinctly conceived. Brolin's character is

initially drawn sort of like Kris Kristofferson's

memorable sunuvabitch in "Lone Star"; but that

persona is soon supplanted by a more typical

Coen Bros. character: the bumbler a la William

H. Macy in "Fargo." And it's an uneasy combination,

likely the result of competing, colliding visions.

Likewise, Bardem's character, truly a singular

creation of American cinema, is nonetheless

indecisively conceived. In the early part of

the film, he's scripted as a serial thrill killer

who kills for killing's sake. But as the

movie progresses, the concept of his character

shifts -- not through evolution -- to that of

a businessman in the underground economy who

is semi-reasonably trying to get back

money stolen from him. There's less duality

here than flawed concept.

Still, a great thriller -- and probably as good

as "Fargo," the Coen brothers's peak to date.

* * *


"No Country For Old Men," "There WIll Be Blood"

gets better with each viewing. It unfolds much

more naturally and organically, and has the epic

sweep of a best picture Oscar winner, which it

didn't win but should've. And it's probably the

first major film since Kubrick's "2001: A Space

Odyssey" to be wordless in its first fifteen

minutes or so -- but with all meaning perfectly

conveyed. Seeing this right after "No Country"

makes the latter look like a cartoon. Paul

Thomas Anderson is like Coppola and Polanski in

his ability to create a complex plot that

yields new revelations on fifth and sixth

viewings. The brilliance is everywhere:

the baptism by oil, the thunderstorm of gold,

the "milkshake" sequence at the end, the

"Peachtree Dance" moment of truth with

Henry, etc.

The plot is sort of like an entrepreneurially

legitimate version of the entrepreneurially

nefarious sub-plot of "Chinatown," in which

Noah Cross and others are trying to bump people

off their land in order to turn the land into

valuable property. Of course, Plainview is more

honest, even if he tries to give them "quail

prices" at first. (And good to see Eli Sunday

"repenting" before his death.)

* * *

JESUS CAMP: Fascinating docu

about the thoroughly nauseating indoctrination

of kids into fundamentalist religion. The sort

of manipulation of impressionable children

depicted here is not just disgusting; it's

child abuse.

It also proves beyond any doubt that most people

in the modern era don't come to religion

naturally but through warped, intense brainwashing

at an extremely tender age. Left to their own

devices, these kids might have gravitated naturally

toward the wisdom of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Sartre,

Yeats, Bob Dylan, etc. -- all better writers

than the anonymous folks who wrote and revised

and (badly) translated the Bible.

* * *

A MIGHTY HEART: I expected

an earnest, well-meaning work but was

pleasantly surprised at how consistently gripping

it was, from beginning to end -- a very satisfying,

moving movie that refuses to be exploitative about

the tragic death of journalist Daniel Pearl. And

Angelina Jolie disappears into Mariane Pearl

the way a great actress should. You know, with

all the tabloid headlines about her these days,

we tend to forget that she's a first-rank actor

(and you can almost believe she might be a

presidential contender in 2020).

* * *

GANGS OF NEW YORK: Funny thing

is, "Gangs" could pass for futuristic. As an

evocation of Boss Tweed's Tammany New York, it's

magical, convincing. But the style of its characters

is so inventive and unfamiliar that it's almost a

depiction of a future era of thuggery, the way

Stanley Kubrick/Anthony Burgess created ultra-modern

droogs, who dressed flamboyantly and spoke in

pseudo-Shakespearian slang (a characterization

that, by the way, was reportedly based on

real-life 20th century street criminals in

St. Petersburg who wore Edwardian garb and

had their own Russian dialect).

At times, it's like walking through pre-Civil War

New York, the way it must've really been. You

also see that, before the Civil War, parts of

America still had a tin-whistle Colonial

resemblance, while the decades after the Civil War

were more akin to the modern era (in fact, that's

when the grandparents of most baby boomers

were born).

Anyway, I digress.

A masterful film, even if it has neither the epic

perfection of "The Godfather, Part 2" nor the concision

of "Goodfellas." After seeing it a second time, I had

opposite feelings simultaneously: it should've

been edited down to something more succinct and it

should've been expanded by another hour.

* * *

GRIZZLY MAN: It's one of

the best documentaries of the decade -- and

not just because it features footage of

a guy hours and days before he was eaten by a

brown grizzly bear in Alaska, though that's one

of its draws.

It's also a penetrating portrait of someone

with a death wish, a clinically depressed alcoholic

who replaced booze with the natural adrenaline

released by hanging out with deadly animals. The

doomed subject, Timothy Treadwell, revered and

anthropomorphized and sentimentalized bears, a fatal

misjudgment. But before that judgment becomes fatal,

we experience his obsessive love of wildlife

and Alaska, the very picture of untrammeled

paradise, though it's telling to see that even in

these remote reaches of the far north, where there's

almost no human population, he's still as full

of anger and frustration as someone living in a

crowded slum (witness his tirade around 80

minutes in).

Ultimately, the foxes almost upstage the bears

in this film; you'll never think of a fox the same

way after seeing how much they look like a mere whim

(Richard Thompson's instrumental during

the fox chase sequence is immensely enjoyable).

In the end, Treadwell filmed his own death, but with

the lens cap on -- an apt metaphor for someone shutting

his eyes to the danger nearby.

* * *


Perhaps the most unimaginative mock-documentary ever

made. And I'm not saying that because I'm privately

offended by something in it, because I'm not offended by

it. I'm merely astounded by the degree to which the film

makers did not smartly (or even interestingly) (or even

competently) extrapolate from its premise to the future.

For the dim only.

* * *

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO: Finally saw the

double-DVD edition that was released a couple

years ago, though I must admit I have nothing

major to add to critical thought about this

flick right now. It has moments of indelible

beauty and other moments...not so indelible.

To my knowledge, no one has brought up the

fact that its theme song, "Somewhere My Love

(Lara's Theme From 'Doctor Zhivago')," is

overplayed to the point of distraction -- something

like 27 times. And while the theme is a classic

of its kind, the song doesn't seem to have an

ethnic Russian flavor the way, say, the music of

"Zorba the Greek" is distinctly Greek

and the music of "The Godfather" is Italian.

"Somewhere My Love" could as well be the theme

of a British period drama.

But I digress. Paul



for July 21, 2008

The Next Coen Brothers Picture

The Fall movie season kicks off after Labor Day with the
Coen Brothers's comic take on paranoid movies, "Burn After
Reading," starring That "Oceans" Team Clooney and Pitt.

The next Coen Brothers movie, "Burn After Reading,"

is a C.I.A.-themed comedy starring Brad Pitt, George

Clooney and John Malkovich.

I've not yet seen the film, due in theaters after

Labor Day, a traditionally fallow period for

releases, but it looks to be a send-up of the

sorts of paranoid movies that Clooney has starred

in in recent years.

After "Michael Clayton" and "Syriana," I thought

Clooney's next project might be the feature film

version of "The Man From UNCLE," an idea I'm sure

is kicking around Burbank these days, or will be

once someone reads this.

Frankly, I think Clooney works better in movies

less byzantine than "Michael Clayton" and

"Syriana," Paranoid Movies of the kind I poked

fun at in a feature for the San Francisco Chronicle

newspaper in '97 that included a usable game board

for The Paranoid Movie Game, which I'm re-printing

here, for your enjoyment!

Have hours of fun with The Paranoid Movie Game! (I conceived and designed and wrote the Paranoid Movie Game for the San Francisco Chronicle in '97 (the only elements not authored by me are the drawings within the boxes).]

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Clooney and Pitt: photographer unknown.]



for July 20, 2008

Last Night's Feist Show

Feist played Berkeley, Calif., last night

and was alluring, enchanting, impossibly

seductive. Hard to believe from

the fervent reaction of the mostly twentysomething

crowd that she wasn't always a Big Indie Star, but

as recently as a couple years ago, she wasn't.

"1234," of course, changed all that, and though

everyone has heard it a few million times,

the song is still astonishingly fresh and carefree

and irresistible -- perfect folk-pop magic, like the

memory of hiking through a forest as a child. Played

here at mid-set, it seemed to cast a spell on fans,

even the ones listening from the hills above

the theater, where I heard the show.

In a 90-minute set that featured much of her latest

album, "The Reminder," released around 15 months ago,

Feist was both bold and fragile, sexy and innocent,

guileless and knowing, spontaneous, loquacious, even

chatty, talking about everything from apartment living

to opening for Rilo Kiley. Highlights included

"Mushaboom" ("We'll collect the moments, one by one/

I guess that's how the future's done"), set closer

"Sea Lion Woman" and the second encore (don't know

the title of that one).

Opening act The Golden Dogs, a quasi-power pop

indie band from Toronto, is well worth checking out.

Very impressive set. I wish I knew the title of the

second song they played because it was truly

fabulous. Sort of a combination of the Velvets

and the Talking Heads and McCartney circa "Ram"

(and in fact they performed a wonderful cover

of McCartney's "1985"). I wouldn't be surprised

if they broke through in a big way.

The Golden Dogs, terrific band.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Feist from; pic of Golden Dogs from True North website.]



for July 18, 2008

OK, this is my last bit about that cover of

The New Yorker magazine. I just received my

subscription copy of the mag in the mail

(can't they put those postage address stickers

on the back, over the Saturn ad, so the covers

aren't defaced?).

Anyway, when you see the real cover, Barack looks

more like a U.S. Navy sailor during Fleet Week

than a practicing Muslim. And that empty chair?

They could've put Jeremiah Wright in that.

The other side of The New Yorker cover is,

literally, this advertisement (below) for the

Saturn Outlook luxury SUV, which sells for around

$30,000. Obviously, the front cover wasn't

so radical that it caused rich, conservative

back-cover advertisers to drop their ads.

"We hawk yer satire at the fronta da shop,
we hawk yer gas guzzler at da back."

But I digress. Paul



for July 17, 2008

No Riots Yet Over The New Yorker Cover

As The New Yorker's David Remnick noted last

night on "Charlie Rose," the best commentary about

his magazine's controversial Obama cover came

from Jon Stewart, who said the following:

"You know what [Obama's] response should've been? It's
very easy here, let me put the statement out for you:
'Barack Obama is in no way upset about the cartoon that
depicts him as a Muslim extremist. Because you know
who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists! Of
which Barack Obama is not. It's just a fucking

And Remnick rightly wondered whether the cover's

detractors also took other satire, like "A Modest

Proposal," literally (which is something I also

wondered in my July 14th Digression, below).

Recently I read all TNY's cartoons from the

1920s to today, and one thing that struck me was

the courage it showed in the late 1930s and

early 1940s in skewering Nazism. Today, I see

that sort of welcome audacity in the famous

Jyllands-Posten cartoon series of 2005, which

is wearing very well with time.

The Obama cover: not quite as ballsy as this.

But I digress. Paul

P.S. -- Remnick is also right when he expresses

distaste for editors and others who say, "I get it

but let's not publish this because THEY may not get it."

I can attest that that sort of attitude

does exist among certain people in publishing; my

last editor, a senior editor, at the San Francisco

Chronicle (let's call him "David," though that may or may

not be his real name) once asked me to delete the word

"ubiquitous" from a news story because he thought readers

might not understand such a "big" word. People are smarter

than you think, I told him -- or at least they're smarter

than "David," who also thought the phrase

"quid pro quo" meant cause and effect. Look, I prefer

simple, direct language in news stories, but sometimes

a word just fits, as ubiquitous, a pretty common word,

did in this case. (By the way, how did "David" manage

to flourish at the newspaper, where he's still employed?

The same way Donald Rumsfeld flourished at Defense (and

convinced otherwise bright people to back the Iraq war

in '03): by lying, which I'm sure my former editor

will be doing once he reads this.)



for July 16, 2008

Once again, the Daily Digression leads the pack!

In my July 14, 2008, column (below), I noted the

"irony-deficiency" of those critical of the

controversial cover of The New Yorker magazine.

On July 15th, in the Los Angeles Times, James

Rainey also wrote about such an "irony-deficiency."

(July 14th, of course, came before July 15th --

and his story was a riff on breaking news, not a

piece that was six months in the making.)

Rainey probably didn't even see my blog before

he wrote his thing, but there is a problem out there

with big media companies ripping off the ideas and

language of bloggers who have low readership like

myself. The Daily Digression, and other blogs, are

becoming a sort of backwater for good ideas that

journalists with tight deadlines at big newspapers

can steal with near-impunity.

If you guys are going to pilfer my ideas, and I'm

not implying Rainey did (neither of us invented

the phrase, after all), take a few seconds to say

or write: "As freelance writer Paul Iorio put it."

P.S. -- And if the Rainey story is actually bait --

a deliberate nicking of my material in order to

provoke a response for which they have a readymade

retort (e.g., "that's typical Paul") -- my response is:

I don't care if it's bait or not. If you steal my

material, I'm going to note it publicly and to your

editors. And if it's merely an innocent matter of

my idea preceding yours, I'm going to make sure people

know who came first.

* * * *

There should be no compassionate release for

Susan Atkins. Let her die in prison -- that's

exactly what she deserves.

There are good, honest poor people out there

who have never committed an awful crime, who die

abusive, unspeakably cruel deaths because

they don't have money for the basics. Where is

the compassion for them?

Rather than focus time and energy on a homicidal

sadist like Atkins, let's instead focus our

generosity on poor people who are dying and in pain

because they can't afford medication, who are being

evicted by callous landlords who couldn't care less

that their tenant is dying, who are the targets of

muggers because they are weak from chemo, who are dying

in homeless shelters or on the street without even a

proper bed, etc. By contrast, Atkins has it made

in the shade.

But I digress. Paul



extra! for July 14, 2008

The New Yorker Cover, and Sharpton's Irony-Deficiency

I actually talked once, one on one, with Al Sharpton,

in a telephone interview in late 1985, when I was a

writer/reporter for music trade magazine Cash Box

in New York. He was virtually unknown then and

organizing some sort of anti-drug benefit concert,

and I thought it would be a newsworthy item for my

weekly column, East Coastings.

It wasn't an in-depth Q&A, just a casual quickie

with some guy who was putting together a show for what

seemed like a good cause.

But around ten minutes into the conversation, I noticed

there was something really ugly about this guy Sharpton.

As gracious and nice as I was being to him, he simply

wouldn't let me be gracious and nice, and he kept raising

his voice as if he were trying to pick a fight.

And I would say something like, well, good luck with

the concert and thanks for the interview, and he would

shout for no reason at all as if he wanted an argument.

Strange, unpleasant fellow, I thought at the time.

It was only years later that I was told that Sharpton

was not the sort of activist he was pretending to be,

and that he was actually working as an undercover agent

for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (that sort of thing

is hard to confirm, but I've heard it from multiple reliable

sources). For the '85 conversation, he was directed to me

by a colleague who was, evidently, trying to cause problems

for me in some way or deflect attention away from himself

for some reason.

Let me further digress here for a moment to provide

full context. A few years later, as an independent

investigative reporter, working at first for the Village

Voice on spec, and then for a time for CBS's "60 Minutes,"

I did uncover disturbing information -- downright

nauseating information -- that linked my magazine Cash

Box with the worst sort of industry corruption. But keep

in mind, I was the one who uncovered and exposed this

nefarious activity. And, I should note, there were a lot

of music-news reporters at the time who didn't lift a finger

to voice support for (much less help) my investigation, even

though they knew full well what I had uncovered, and even

after I was nearly murdered in front of a shoe store on

West 72nd Street in Manhattan in a still-unexplained

assault during the week I went to "60 Minutes"

(October 13, 1990). [Advice for aspiring freelancers:

don't get physically injured while freelancing,

because you won't be able to afford to fix your

injury. You think the government doesn't care

about your health care?! Corporate America

cares even less.)

I say all this to show the landscape in which Sharpton, the

FBI agent, phoned me, one of the honest guys at Cash Box.

(For the record, most of the editorial people at the

magazine had a lot of integrity; certainly my

writer/reporter colleagues in New York and Los Angeles

were honest pros; but it was on the business side, mostly

in the Nashville bureau, where there was extremely corrupt


Anyway, in the subsequent years Sharpton eventually

made a name for himself as an activist, though few of

his supporters seemed to know his apparent history

with the FBI -- and even fewer know about his past

today, it seems.

When the Tawana Brawley scandal broke in 1989, it

didn't surprise me at all to see Al, the blowhard

who I had interviewed years before, at the forefront,

this time shouting lies as loud as he could in front of

every camera he could find. I had already experienced

his pick-a-fight attitude and deception, and all of

that was on grand display during the Brawley affair,

when Sharpton lied, lied and lied again for

personal gain. And I have yet to hear him apologize for

his role in the Brawley hoax, and until I do, I will

never consider taking him seriously or believing a word he


If I had lied the way he lied about Brawley, I would

have never worked another day in any field. So tell me

why he's still on the public stage? It's not like

the man has changed; he has gone from championing

Brawley in '89 to defending liar Crystal Mangum in


But there are other reasons why Sharpton is abhorrent,

e.g., his religious fundamentalism, which puts him in bed

with Pat Robertson, and not just jokingly, either. In the

years since Brawley, he has become indistinguishable

from a right-winger with regard to issues of

censorship and First Amendment rights.

The latest example is typical. There was Al, earlier today,

yelling like people couldn't hear him, trying to gain

advantage by criticizing the witty, controversial cover

of The New Yorker magazine that satirizes perceptions

about Barack Obama. Seeing him on various news programs

today, it was clear Sharpton really was out of his depth,

without the brainpower to take on the sort of high satire that

he didn't understand. I mean, the guy is such a religious

literalist that you wonder whether he even knows what

irony is.

But there he was tonight on some nightly news show.

"Michelle in an Afro wig, [Obama] in Muslim garb: it

plays on all the ridiculous notions that we

hope we're getting out of American politics," Sharpton

told one television reporter.

Clearly, Sharpton is irony-deficient. Does he also

not understand Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and

other serious satiric works of literature? Or pop

cultural touchstones like Elton John's "Texas

Love Song"? Does he take those works literally, too?

Until Sharpton decides to take some time out for a college

level course on satire, he really shouldn't be weighing in on

subjects he knows absolutely nothing about.

But I digress. Paul



for July 14, 2008

Here are the two latest installments of my

comic strip series "The Continuing Adventures

of bin Laden, the Jihadist Pooch." (Another

dozen episodes are


[Note: I know, I know -- every dog is unique and

has his or her own personality. Some dogs are

good-hearted, loving and even heroic, and they

don't deserve to be lumped in with a sick mammal

like bin Laden. So, to dog-lovers everywhere: it's

not my intention to de-individualize (de-humanize?)

dogs with my cartoon series.]

* * * *

QUICK NOTES: Bravo to The New Yorker for

its ballsy cover of Barack and his wife,

making satirically explicit the implicit,

unspoken, irrational fears of the American

ring-wing...the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray

is a smart addition to PBS's "Washington

Week"....Very cool of Little Steven to celebrate

Bastille Day on last night's "Underground Garage,"

must-hear radio...For the record, The Daily Digression

was the first media outlet to speculate about an appearance

by Ted Kennedy at Invesco Field in August (see Daily

Digression, July 9, 2008, below); a couple days

later, on July 11, on "The NewsHour," the

always-interesting Mark Shields talked about his

own fantasy of a Ted Kennedy appearance in Denver...New

Newsweek poll showing Obama and McCain within a few

points of each other is probably far closer to the mark

than the previous ones showing a double-digit Obama

lead; the presidential race is shaping up to be yet

another near-50:50 contest that will be fought and won

in places like Gettysburg, not in the mountains of

Montana. And to those who think race is not a

significant factor in the election, I say: race

would be a substantial element even if the

vice-presidential candidate -- and not the

presidential contender -- was African-American....OK,

someone pointed out to me that a certain woman

has a wedding ring on her left hand. True, but there's

always hope, however distant, that her right hand

is available! (Just joking.) (I think.) (HD TV

is quite revealing!)

I heard the Feelies reunion shows in NY and NJ were great. So when do we get to hear them in northern California? (Also, anyone know where I can buy a new copy of "The Good Earth"? As you can see (above), my vinyl version is worn out!)

But I digress. Paul



for July 11, 2008

Second Takes On Recent Concerts I've Heard

Listening to bootleg recordings of recent shows

I've heard, here are a few thoughts:

1) Mark Knopfler's "Cannibals" is a lot of fun

in concert, worth the price of admission in itself.

2) "Hot Corner" is the unexpected stand-out of the

recent B52s show in Berkeley, much better than

"Juliet of the Spirits," the 2nd single from the

band's new album.

3) Of all the songs Alison Krauss and Robert

Plant performed at their recent gig, "Please Read

the Letter" is the one I keep going back to.

4) If I rave any more about Jesca Hoop's set,

people might think I have a thing for her, so

I'll shut up.

5) The live verson of Death Cab's "I Will Possess

Your Heart" is addictive.

6) "Mr. Richards" is the best of the new

songs R.E.M. performed at its recent concerts

in Berkeley, though almost all the "Accelerate"

material is first-rate.

* * * *

Nothingness + Time = Matter

Thanks to those who wrote to me about my "A does

not equal A" philosophical argument (The Daily

Digression, July 1, 2008, below). As I wrote,

my premise, if taken to its conclusion, debunks

certain fundamental ideas common to most


In my view, religious people of almost all

faiths focus too much on the mythological

moment of Creation -- and scientists focus too

much on the Big Bang, the moment when the

universe supposedly began.

But that's not how to look at it. The most likely

explanation of "Creation" is this, in my view:

in the beginning, there was no beginning, because there

was complete nothingness.

And nothingness, of course, did not require a creator

or a moment of creation.

Nothingness also has no beginning and no ending.

But nothingness plus time -- an uncountable amount of

time, trillions and trillions of millennia -- equals

matter, because (as I've noted before) time

is transformative. So nothingness over a vast

expanse of time will inevitably produce some

sort of small irregularity -- a wisp of gas, for

instance -- that, in further time, will lead to

another bit of matter and then another, setting

in motion the unfolding of the universe we

have today.

The element that most thinkers leave out of the

equation when discussing Creation is time, which

is really another form of nothingness and merely

our own contrivance, a way that we organize successive

instances of nothingness (and being) and stack them

atop one another to create order, something.

Paradox, obviously, did not need a creator, either.

But I digress. Paul



for July 9, 2008

The Unspoken Debate About Obama's Electability

An Imaginary Dialectic

ANTI-OBAMA: Let me get this straight: the Dems
are nominating a guy who can't catch a cab in parts
of New York City, yet can win old south
bastions like Georgia and Virginia, where the
Confederate flag still flies. That's realistic?

PRO-OBAMA: You pundits are all the same. You said he
couldn't possibly win that U.S. Senate seat in '04, and
he won. You said he couldn't possibly win
the Democratic nomination for president, and he has won it.
And now you're saying he can't possibly win the presidency.
Some pundits ought to consider another line of work.

ANTI-OBAMA: But winning primaries is one thing; winning
the general is another altogether. George Wallace won
primaries and was probably on his way to the nomination in '72,
thanks to intense factional support that would not have
translated into a presidential win. I'd love to see how
Obama plans to win, say, Wisconsin, which Kerry
barely took.

PRO-OBAMA: Have you seen the major polls lately? Obama is
way ahead, sometimes by double digits, in all the major
swing states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota,
Michigan -- even Colorado.

ANTI-OBAMA: Yeah, and he was leading by double digits in
the polls in New Hampshire before he lost the New Hampshire
primary by double digits. So what does that tell you about
the reliability of polls about Obama?

PRO-OBAMA: But the polls were completely accurate in most
subsequent primary states. And voters have consistently said
they are more concerned about McCain's age than Obama's race.

ANTI-OBAMA: How stupid do you have to be to think a racist
is going to admit to a pollster, a complete stranger, on
the record, that he is a racist and wouldn't vote for
a black candidate?

PRO-OBAMA: Then how do you explain the crowds at Obama
rallies? How do you explain 70,000 people at a rally in
Oregon, a state where there are something like 7 black
people, I think. And he's drawing crowds in traditionally
red states. He's even campaiging in Montana. When was
the last time the interior west was seriously in play for
the Democrats?

ANTI-OBAMA: Reminds me of the student who doesn't want
to do the hard work of studying for a calculus exam and
instead spends all night doing something even more
difficult -- but by volition -- like investigating
the 19th century origins of mass transit in his hometown.

It's fun for him to go to Montana. And it's
a lot more scenic than campaigning in old-fashioned machine
areas of Pennsylvania where some white voters will
simply not vote for a black person. Period.

PRO-OBAMA: Every credible poll has him winning
Pennsylvania by a comfortable margin.

ANTI-OBAMA: Tell me exactly when all those bitter
Pennsylvanians suddenly fell into Barack's column?
Wasn't it just weeks ago that he couldn't win Pennsylvania
from Hillary no matter how much money he threw at it?

PRO-OBAMA: The money advantage he had over Hillary was
small compared to the money edge he has over McCain.

ANTI-OBAMA: Funny thing, if Obama had less money, he'd
probably do more. He'd be forced into a more meat and
potatoes strategy, parking in, say, Monroe County, Pa.,
or Grant County, Wisc. -- counties that were
virtually 50:50 in '04.

PRO-OBAMA: He can afford to lose Monroe County because
he'll make up for it by racking up larger totals in
Philadelphia than Kerry did. What you're
not seeing is that we're dealing with a different
electoral map this time. You're driving through
Yugoslavia with a 1988 road map.

ANTI-OBAMA: Things have changed since '88, but not
so much since 2004. I could drive through Yugoslavia
with a 2004 road map.

PRO-OBAMA: In retrospect, you'll see how historically
inevitable Obama's election was all along. McCain is an
antique -- what's the famous phrase in "The Godfather"?
"Pensa all'antica." He thinks in old ways. He's Crocker
Jarmon, to mix movie comparisons. Even looks a
bit like him. Obama's McKay.

ANTI-OBAMA: Obama may be historically inevitable -- but in
2020, not this year.

PRO-OBAMA: You'll be convinced when you see his acceptance
speech at Invesco Field this August. Smart idea. Barack
alfresco. The Dems can literally clear the air. The opposite
of the tear gas of '68. Barack and Hillary can elope in the
Rockies. Bill can join the "fairy tale" that has now become
reality. And maybe the party can even persuade Ted Kennedy to
make a swan song appearance for a closing night curtain call
with, among others, Jimmy Carter, for that public handshake
that didn't happen 28 years ago -- showing that we may
have our family squabbles, but in a crisis or a general
election, we come together.

ANTI-OBAMA: That's the movie version. The reality is that
lots of Hillary backers are going to vote for McCain, no
matter who the running mate is. As the cliche goes, people
don't vote the bottom of the ticket. He could choose even
Al Gore and it wouldn't have an appreciable effect. In
the end, McCain will win at least 300 electoral votes.

PRO-OBAMA: In the end, Barack will win with around 300
electoral votes.

But I digress. Paul



for July 1, 2008

Here's the latest installment of my comic strip

series "The Continuing Adventures of bin Laden,

the Jihadist Pooch!" Click it to enlarge it!

(Another dozen episodes are


[By the way, those ubiquitous "Unlikely Alliance"

ads featuring Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson were

created months after my own Daily Digression

column of December 18, 2007, about what I

called "The Robertson/Sharpton Religious

Conservative Axis" (archived below).]

* * *

Bee Ballet

While listening to the B52s concert in Berkeley

on Sunday night, and watching people in the audience

dance inventively, I wrote in my notebook: "The B52s

are really choreographers, or choreographers in

reverse, in that their music strongly suggests,

even compels, certain dance moves by listeners."

Yesterday morning, I got an email from the

brilliant conceptual artist Jonathon Keats that

shows he had been thinking independently along

that line -- about external stimuli suggesting

choreography -- for longer than I have. Except he's

now taking the idea to a whole different level.

The premise of his latest conceptual art

work -- and I hope I'm getting this half right -- is

that plants and flowers will suggest choreography for

dancing bees. Keats has created what he

calls a "bee ballet" -- commissioned by the Yerba

Buena Center of the Arts in San Francisco -- made

possible by the planting of "hundreds of flowering

cosmos plants" in various neighborhoods in San Francisco

with the intention of having bees dance and buzz

around them in unpredictable patterns and ways.

With consultation from a Smithsonian zoologist, Keats

is creating choreography for bees by planting plants

and flowers that strongly suggest a pattern of motion

for the bees. But the audience will have to

imagine the dances created by the bees -- extrapolating,

of course, from the plant stimuli they're encountering.

Keats is sort of a 21st century combination of

Wittgenstein and Warhol, specializing in these

sorts of "thought experiments," as he calls them,

that dwell at the intersection of art, philosophy and

humor. (For example, he once sold his thoughts to

museum patrons and has literally copyrighted his

own mind.)

And he once mounted a petition drive in Berkeley to

create a binding city law, a Law of Identity, that

states A=A.

Yeah, I know that last one was meant as a bit of

absurdist humor, but the more you think about the

logic of it, the more A=A becomes less self-evident.

For example, the lamp-in-your-bedroom equals

the-lamp-in-your-bedroom. True or false? At first,

you say that that's obviously true. But then

you think about it and realize it's not so obvious at

all. Because the first iteration of the

"lamp in your bedroom" (A) happened a second or two

before your reiteration of "the lamp in your bedroom" (A),

so the second "A" is a different "A" because it

is conjured at a different point in time than

the first A.

Another example: if I were to say, "Paul Iorio equals

Paul Iorio," that's not really true. Because in

stating the equivalency, you're positing Paul Iorio at

two separate moments in time. And as Heraclitis once

said, "You can never step in the same river twice." Time

is transformative. Therefore, A does not equal A.

If you say "A" at 8pm and then "A" again at 8pm and

five seconds, the second "A" is not an identical

equivalent but a subsidiary reiteration of the

original A; you're saying the second A with the

idea that it is a copy, not the original.

(The implications of this demolish the idea of a

fixed soul, if you carry the logic forward, which

I won't do here because I don't have time.)

I could go on. (Of course, the preceding four paragraphs

about A=A are my own thoughts, not the thoughts of

Keats or anyone else.) But let me end with a photo I took of

Keats OuijaVote balloting system, which was on display

last winter at the Berkeley Art Museum.

For specifics about Keats's bee ballet, go to .

Keats' OuijuaVote balloting system.

But I digress. Paul



for June 30, 2008

Last Night's B52s Show, Etc.

The first time I heard the B52's in concert was

in the summer of 1979, just as its first album was

being released. The quintet was playing Wollman

Rink in New York's Central Park and, if I'm not mistaken,

was opening for the Talking Heads.

I remember everybody in the audience seemed to

have a copy of New York Rocker, one of the great

music newspapers of the era, and a lot of people

were completely unfamiliar with the B52s, despite

the fact that local radio station WPIX (what

a fun and smart station that was back then;

remember the PIX Penthouse Party?) was playing

tracks from the debut.

From my perch in the rocks at the edge of

Wollman (where one could see and hear the whole

show perfectly), I was knocked out and thinking

I'd never heard anything like them before. The big

song of the night seemed to be "52 Girls," and

some people in the audience thought the name of

the band was 52 Girls, and there was one guy who

couldn't see the stage who was wondering whether there

were 52 girls in the band. Such was the mystery

and mythology surrounding the arrival of these wacky

space-age Athenians.

By this summer, punk had long since morphed

into various New Wave mutations, and the Ramones

had sort of gone Hollywood. (Their own Wollman Rink

show of '79 sparked open arguments among fans

leaving the gig; some loved it (as I did) and

some didn't; I remember "Don't Come Close," which

they didn't really play much after '79, sounded so

thrilling and buoyant that day.)

But getting back to he B52s. As I left the gig,

the main things I remember are that "52 Girls" was

the dominant song and the late, great Ricky Wilson was

the bandmember people were taking about most.

Fast forward 29 years later. Berkeley, Calif. The Greek

Theater. Last night. The B52s have returned after a

16-year absence with a new album, "Funplex," only their

third post-Ricky Wilson album since his extremely

untimely death in '85. The last time the B52s had an

album out, Bush was president, there was a bad recession

and Iraq was the center of foreign policy debate. In

other words, nothing has changed.

"Funplex" is a surprisingly vital album, and the

50-minute set the band played last night, as part

of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" extravaganza

(I covered the 2007 edition of that tour in this

space), was very danceable and very enjoyable. Set

included a half dozen new tunes ("Funplex" and

"Hot Corner" were the best of those), classics

like "Rock Lobster" and "Roam," and lots of humorous

stage banter (including a dis of Larry Craig). Great

to hear them in such fine form.

But I digress. Paul



for June 29, 2008

Massive Indie Star

It takes around 9 seconds to fall in love with
Jesca Hoop's music

Please let me rave embarrassingly about Jesca Hoop,

who opened for Mark Knopfler last night at the Greek

Theater in Berkeley. Her stuff is absolutely,

astonishingly, I'm-running-out-of-superlatives to

describe how brilliant a singer-songwriter she is.

Hadn't heard her name before last night, but I fell

in love with her music approximately 9 seconds into

her opening song.

Hoop understands that a three-minute song is its

own free universe, with as many time zones as you want

it to have, with melodies within melodies, with any

unpredictability you can get away with, using very

little sound to get a lot of effect.

In her five song set, she fell into melodies like water

into crevices, or a river into tributaries, and each

song -- "Summertime," "Money," finale "Seed of

Wonder," from her debut album "Kismet" -- topped the

previous one.

Amazing. I bet she'll she be as big as Feist within

a few years.

* * *

(and while I'm in a raving mood!)
Knopfler: Better Than Ever Live

30 years after his debut, he continues to astonish

Last night, Mark Knopfler played the fifth

date of his U.S. tour in support of his latest

solo album, "Kill to Get Crimson," a further

resurgence in a career that keeps flying higher

almost each time out.

Among the peaks of the show: "True Love Will

Never Fade," the first single from the new one,

which had the power of an "Oh Mercy"-era Dylan

ballad; "Cannibals," which felt like an open

air celebration in New Orleans; "What It Is," which

(to me) evokes a vintage western flick (especially

when you hear it in the hilly woods above the theater,

where I heard both Knopfler and Hoop); encore

"So Far Away," always a sure shot; and the most

riveting "Sultans of Swing" I've ever heard him

play in concert.

In the 30 years since "Sultans" and the first

Dire Straits album were released (30 years ago this

October), Knopfler has successfully

re-invented himself so often that he could

conceivably play a set with no Straits material and

still satisfy fans, who love getting lost

in his guitar playing much as people used to

hang on every note of Jerry Garcia's jams. As

marvelous as his singing is, perhaps he should toy

with the idea of performing a series of completely

instrumental concerts; I thought of this while

listening to the inspired jam at the end of

"Marbletown," when Knopfler riffed with his

pianist like great conversation or two rapid streams

merging. This is a tour worth catching.

But I digress. Paul

[photo of Hoop from Minnesota Public Radio; pic of Knopfler from]



for June 28, 2008

Last Night's Robert Plant/Alison Krauss Concert

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss played such a

terrific show last night at the Greek Theater

in Berkeley that one hopes they turn their concerts

into a live album/DVD and release "The Battle

of Evermore" as their first single, because

"Evermore," at least last night, was as awesome

as anything I've heard live in years, with Plant's

singing recalling his 4th album prime, and Krauss

trading and weaving vocals with Plant like a

great tapestry.

It was the undisputed highlight of this concert,

and even in the hills above the theater, where

I heard the show, fans were entranced, charged.

But this was no Zeppelin or Plant solo gig, not

by a long shot. In fact, it was as much a Krauss

concert as anything else, and was sooo T Bone in

sensibility, and was actually a true and seamless

fusion of disparate styles, as well as an ironic

reclamation by a British rocker of his American

roots. (Originality, of course, is often the

inadvertent product of failed imitation; on

the way to following in the footsteps of

various blues legends, Zep became something

else altogether: a bona fide original in

its own right.)

Highlights were everywhere. T Bone did a marvelous

"Primitives," with the memorable line: "The

frightening thing is not dying/the frightening thing

is not living."

Krauss hit high notes with Gene Clark's "Through the

Morning, Through the Night," from Krauss/Plant's

"Raising Sand" album, and with the

haunting, siren-like "Trampled Rose." (Though

let me take this opportunity to say there are

way, way too many songs in popular music

about roses, an overrated, predictable flower.

And there aren't enough tunes about, say,

the Venus Fly-Trap or Jimson Weed,

which would set an ominous Tone for a song,

dontcha think?)

But I digress.

There was also a fresh reimagining of "Black Dog"

on banjo. (Another way to have re-arranged that

one would have been to play it briskly

on acoustic guitar, scatting the main Page guitar

riff; try it -- it's fun.)

A couple missed opportunities: "Celebration

Day" could have been transposed for banjo to fine

effect (imagine that intro live!), and

"Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" could have leveled the place

in this context.

On the way home, I couldn't help but think of what

I'd written in this space before: that T Bone

should produce a musical version of "Robert Altman's

'Nashville'" for Broadway or Off-Broadway. The

main parts of "Nashville" are easily transferable

to the stage, and its music and story are fully

ready for rediscovery by a new generation.

For now, if I were Krauss and Plant, I'd provide

radio and MTV with their live "Battle of Evermore"

so everyone can hear it. Then again, it's 2008 -- an era

when everyone's a distributor! -- and that means it's

already all over YouTube. Check it out there.

But I digress. Paul



for June 27, 2008

One original photo I left out of the June 6th column

is a picture I took of Jim Campbell's "custom electronic

installation," part of his "Triptych" (2000), on display

at the Berkeley Art Museum. It's a glowing, space-age

looking thing on the wall -- and looks even more so

when you photograph it.

Part of Jim Campbell's "Triptych" (photo by Paul Iorio].

But I digress. Paul



for June 24, 2008

Here's the latest episode of my cartoon series "The

Continuing Adventures of Bin Laden, the Jihadist

Pooch!" (This particular frame was inspired by Jim

Borgman's Carlin-inspired cartoon of last week.)

My other cartoons in this series are at:

* * * *

The other day, I came up with an idea for

a political bumper sticker, and here it is:

[Note: The Daily Digression tries to provide even-handed analysis and reporting about politics and pop culture (and beyond!) and does not formally endorse political candidates. If I come up with an interesting bumper sticker idea about McCain, I'll be publishing that one, too.]

* * * *

Strange story. French president Sarkozy heard a

gunshot on an airport tarmac today.

Rumor has it he immediately surrendered and offered

to set up a coalition government in Vichy.

* * * *

If you don't live in northern California, you

probably don't fully appreciate the current

atmospheric situation out here, which is

downright weird. Over the last several days there

have been what they call "dry lightning"

strikes -- hundreds of 'em -- that have

sparked hundreds of brush and wild fires in the Bay

Area and beyond. No one fire is especially

dominant, but taken together, they have created very,

very unusual air-quality conditions. What I mean

is, when you step ouside in the SF Bay Area, you can

actually smell smoke, as if a fire were nearby. In fact,

in Berkeley, where I live and where there are no fires,

I can smell smoke in the hallway of my apartment house

from faraway infernos. This is a first for me and a lot

of people.

But I digress. Paul



for June 23, 2008

A mid-summer's day obscenity bust: Carlin's mugshot for Milwaukee Summerfest arrest, 1972.

There's now one less genius on the planet;

George Carlin has died.

I loved the guy's comedy, I really did. More than

any humorist other than Woody Allen, Carlin most

closely expressed my own feelings about religion, and

he was enormously bold and brave and funny about

doing so -- and a few hundred years ahead of his

time, too.

As he would be the first to admit, if he could, he's

not in heaven or in hell right now; he's dead, as we'll

all be eventually. But he created moments of pure

heaven while he was alive, which is the point (and maybe

the only point).

I've been fortunate enough to have interviewed

several of the greatest stand-up comedians of

all time (Richard Pryor, Woody Allen (who is also

far more than a stand-up)), but I never met or talked

with Carlin, and now I never will, which is only one

of the reasons I'm sad about his death.

police report on Carlin's Summerfest bust.

* * * *

Revolution is a powerful tool that should be

used only rarely and sparingly -- and only when all

legitimate channels are blocked and the level of

oppression is unacceptable.

If ever there was a case for revolution -- armed,

violent insurrection -- that case is vivid and

clear in the nation of Zimbabwe today.

Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn from the presidential

race because his supporters are being attacked and

massacred by allies of tyrant Robert Mugabe, who wants

to retain power despite his evident lack of popular

support. But Tsvangirai should do more than just

boycott the election; he should carefully and steadily

consider gathering weapons and arming guerillas for

a coup aimed at toppling the current regime.

Perhaps everyone should do the short math on this

one. Sanctions won't work (they rarely do). Condemnation

by the Security Council won't work (it rarely does).

Mugabe isn't going to budge (why should he?). And

Tsvangirai's supporters will continue to be targeted and

persecuted and killed (you can bank on that).

Let's hope the international community doesn't

vacillate about this situation Kofi Annan-style.

Unfortunately, Mugabe has made armed revolution

the only reasonable option for the oppressed in


But I digress. Paul

[above, Carlin mugshot by unknown photographer.]


June 22, 2008

Last Night's Death Cab Concert

Death Cab for Cutie performed a sold-out gig

last night in Berkeley, Calif., playing over half

of its new hit album, "Narrow Stairs," its

follow-up to 2005's "Plans," which (in my view) is

the band's peak work to date -- and this concert

made a better case for it than for the new one.

The show peaked in the middle, with the double shot

of "Soul Meets Body" and "I Will Follow You Into

the Dark," which is a fabulous song to hear outdoors

in the wooded hills above the Greek Theatre, where

I heard the whole show.

The best new ones were opener "Bixby Canyon

Bridge" and first single "I Will Possess Your Heart,"

which is somewhat in the spirit of the hypnotic, extended-play

mood of Wilco show-stopper "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," which

has spectacularly re-invented The Long Song

for modern indie consumption.

Also of note: a marvelous "Crooked Teeth" and set

closer "Transatlanticism," which had surprising


Death Cab is evolving in interesting ways, though it

still reminds me of the unjustly overlooked indie band

The Connells -- and I can't help but think Ben Gibbard

sounds a bit like a cooler, more genuine

Al Stewart, though the band has more heft than either.

Opening act was Oakland's own Rogue Wave, which caught

fire nicely during its last two songs.

* * *

The Tree-Sitters, Day Whatever

Walked by the controversial oak grove encampment in

Berkeley before midnight last night, on the way back

from Death Cab, and was astonished by the spectacle.

Two sets of metal barricades blocked the northbound

lane and sidewalk of Piedmont Ave. Two sets of barbed

wire fences surrounded the trees where environmental

activists have been living since late 2006 (see column,

below). Klieg-like night lights illuminated

the area like it was Stalag 17. Cops were everywhere.

Take it from my own first-hand experience: I have personally

seen Iron Curtain checkpoints inside Eastern Bloc countries

at the height of the Cold War that looked less fearsome

and fortified.

It's clear that what began as an act of vivid civil

disobedience has now become an out-of-control infection

in east Berkeley.

May I make a suggestion?

The sitters are confined to one tree, right? Then put

netting and cushions beneath that tree around 20 feet above

the ground. That way, if anyone falls, there will be no grave

injury. As it stands now, if someone falls and is

badly injured, then the university and the city will

have an exponentially more serious problem,

as well as a human tragedy. And the longer they stay

in the trees, the greater the chance of a mishap.

Currently, the mainstream student population at Cal

doesn't seem to care much about the oaks dispute.

(And frankly, as an issue, it doesn't rank nearly as

high in importance as, say, providing health care for

the uninsured -- now that's something worth

climbing a tree for!) But if one of the tree-sitters,

heaven forfend, were to be badly injured (or killed) as

the result of a fall, and if it were perceived to be

the fault of the authorities, you might have turbulence

similar to the People's Park riots of 1969.

On a more immediate level, a quick resolution of

this thing would free up police resources; it's

fair to say that last night there were probably

muggings and burglaries that were not prevented

because cops were deployed at the oak grove instead

of in high crime areas.

If the activists come down from the trees, they

can continue their protest by other means; if they

truly have popular support, they'll be able to

organize an effective boycott against

UC interests (they should study the effective tactics

used by Columbia University protesters to

force the university to divest from South Africa in

June 1984). While the sitters's cause may be just,

their tactics have gotten out of hand and are


But I digress. Paul



for June 19, 2008

The "Rad-Lab" on the Big Divide

This chemistry building and its chemicals, protected by this sign,
are mere feet from the Hayward earthquake fault in Berkeley, Calif.
[photo by Paul Iorio]

Many years ago, the powers that be in California

said: let's build a radiation laboratory, a chemistry

building, a sports stadium, an amphitheater and a

student dorm on an active earthquake fault that is long

overdue for a big temblor.

And so they went ahead and built those buildings

within a mile of one another on (or feet from) the

great quaking Hayward divide, which is due for

a big one soon.

Of all the places in northern California, why pick an

active quake zone for your so-called rad-lab? Oh, I know,

it's been buttressed and retrofitted to

the nth degree, but I also know that almost no structure

can fully withstand a direct hit from an 8.5 quake.

And the easternmost chemistry building on the U.C. campus

looks much more flimsy and far less fortified than the

Lawrence lab; anyone can walk by and see shelves of all

sorts of chemicals, safeguarded by a paper sign on

the window that reads: "Steal Here -- Die Here!"

And let's not even think about what would happen if an

8.5 occurred when Memorial Stadium and the Greek Theater

were packed with people. Or rather, let's think long

and hard about it.

Problem is, there's no way any of those places are going

to be relocated anytime soon, though it's worth asking:

isn't there a better place for Lawrence Berkeley (and its

paranoid border guards) than the hill above the fault?

I bring this up now because yesterday's superior court

ruling about whether the University of California can

expand an athletic facility into an oak grove (see column,

below) notes the danger of building on a fault.

The Hayward divide seems to be the root source of

a free-floating community anxiety that attaches itself

to smaller issues like the decimation of oaks. But the

far greater concern should be the hazardous overbuilding

on the east side of the UC campus and the placement of

ultra-sensitive sites on treacherous turf.

But I digress. Paul



for June 17, 2008

Protests Over Oak Grove Escalate in Berkeley

A demonstrator blocks a truck traveling through a protest against the
proposed destruction of an oak grove in Berkeley, Calif. (She claimed the
truck was affiliated with UCB.)][photo by Paul Iorio]

Early this morning, tensions surrounding the oak grove

protests in Berkeley grew considerably worse.

As most of you know, the University of California at

Berkeley wants to destroy a group of oak trees in order to

expand a sports complex on its property. But environmental

activists have been tree-sitting in the oaks since late

2006 to stop that from happening.

This morning campus police removed some of the

tree-sitters' supplies and fenced off the sidewalk

adjacent to the grove, where supporters of the

sitters had been regularly gathering.

This is all happening a day before a Superior Court

judge is expected to decide whether UCB has the

authority to begin construction on its long-delayed


I arrived at the protests around 10:30 this morning

(June 17) and shot these pictures (click on a photo

to enlarge it):

A police officer looks on as a protester jumps atop a car in Berkeley. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

An activist plays a drum as protesters protest near the disputed oak grove. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

The save-the-oaks protest, as seen through a floppy hat. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

A police officer next to the barbed-wire fence surrounding the oak grove. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

The woman-blocking-traffic, seen from mid-range. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

The woman-blocking-traffic, seen in a tight shot. [photo by Paul Iorio]

* * *

Here is the court order (below) served on the tree-sitters and posted on the fence beneath the oaks.
[page one] [photo by Paul Iorio]

[page two] [photo by Paul Iorio]

[page three] [photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul

[posted at 4pm, 6/17/08
updated on 6/18/08]



for June 11, 2008

No Gold Glitters Like Emmylou

I've heard Emmylou Harris perform twice in

the past couple years -- on her "All the Road

Running" tour with Mark Knopfler and at the

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest in Golden Gate

Park, where she appeared as Emmylou Coward at

a Coward Brothers show -- and came away from both

shows charmed and amused and impressed by how she

continues to grow artistically decades after

collaborating memorably with Gram Parsons on

"Return of the Grievous Angel."

"This Is Us" still sounds like a classic of

Oughties Americana, and her star turn singing

"The Scarlet Tide" with Elvis Costello was a highlight

of Hardly Strictly.

Now comes "All I Intended To Be," her latest album, and

there's already a bit of buzz around her original song

"Gold," though I haven't been able to hear the whole album

yet. I see there's a national tour behind it -- from Cheyenne

to Tennessee, as the song says -- but no California date

is listed, so I guess I'll have to be satisfied with seeing

her perform on Letterman tomorrow night.

But I digress. Paul

[Above, photo from 1970s -- photographer unknown.]



for June 7, 2008

John McCain's Kind of Fascist?

McCain has long voiced support, at least implicitly, for the regime of South Vietnam's former premier (and vice president) Nguyen Cao Ky, an open and enthusiastic admirer of Adolf Hitler. Has McCain ever denounced Ky? If not, why not?

Barack Obama has been taken to task

for his past associations, however remote, with

radicals from decades past. Isn't it time the media

started focusing on John McCain's defense of

right-wing extremists and outright fascists associated

with South Vietnam's Ky and Thieu regimes of the 1960s?

McCain, of course, served in the U.S. Navy in defense

of Thieu and Ky, so one can understand his personal

reluctance to denounce the South Vietnamese leaders

who he sacrificed so much to support. He evidently

doesn't want to admit those five-and-a-half years in

a North Vietnamese prison were served for a big mistake.

Now that the passions of the Vietnam era have cooled

a bit, perhaps McCain can bring himself to say what's

obvious to most Americans today: Thieu and Ky

were neo-fascists, governing without popular support,

whose human rights violations equalled (or virtually

equalled) those of the North Vietnamese.

Ky, in particular, is indefensible by any measure of

modern mainstream political thought. Here's Ky in

his own words: "People ask me who my heroes are. I

have only one: Hitler. We need four or five Hitlers

in Vietnam," he told the Daily Mirror in July 1965.

Why does McCain, to this day, still voice support,

at least implicitly, for Ky and Thieu? At the very

least, McCain should, however belatedly, unequivocally

condemn Ky's praise of Hitler, if he hasn't already.

(My own research has yet to turn up a clipping in

which McCain has been significantly critical of

either leader.)

the Daily Mirror article in which Ky praises Hitler.

But I digress. Paul

[I should note for purposes of full disclosure that I do
have a sister (who I'm very proud of!) who is in politics
in the south, but my opinions are not necessarily her
opinions and hers are not necessarily mine, and we
usually don't discuss politics.]



for June 6, 2008

Jean-Luc Godard, May 13, 1968, the day more than a million protesters marched through Paris (photograph by Serge Hambourg).

Stopped by the Berkeley (Calif.) Art Museum yeterday

to see what was on display and was knocked out by

Serge Hamburg's photos of the massive protests of

May 1968 in Paris against the de Gaulle regime

(the so-called Days of Rage). On display are 35

pictures, most of them riveting, especially

the shot of all the great faces near the banner

"Sorbonne Teachers Against Repression"; a photo

of Jean-Luc Godard filming the protests; a poignant

shot of student leader Jacques Sauvageat, almost

tearful amongst his comrades; and a few telling

shots of older pro-Gaullist counter-demonstrators.

Also of interest at BAM is a separate exhibit of

photos, by Bruce Conner, showing Mabuhay Gardens, San

Francisco's Max's Kansas City, in all its late 1970s

glory. And there's a series of striking posters

for the punk band Crime that are worth checking out.

poster for a Crime concert, on display at BAM

OK, equal time for Stanford's Cantor Arts Center; here's a photo I shot there a few years ago.

A couple more original photos:

an ubiquitous sight in Berkeley: a bumper sticker for KALX, the best radio station in the U.S. (along with WFMU), in my opinion (and not just because they've played my own music!).

OK, it's a hokey shot, but I snapped this picture several hours ago of a dog trying to drive a truck.

But I digress. Paul

[All photos (and photos of photos) above by Paul Iorio.]



for June 2, 2008

Night Two of R.E.M. in Berkeley: The Jangle Is Back!

R.E.M., pre-"Accelerate," pre-post-Berry.

Last night, R.E.M. played its second consecutive

show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif., and it

was even better than the first, pure proof that the greatest

jangle in modern American rock is back. And melancholy

is now, once again, danceable.

The news is the new stuff, from "Accelerate,"

which I covered in the previous column (below),

and that material sounds better each time out.

But what distinguished this particular gig was

the number of gems from the band's 1980s catalogue:

nine, which is more than they've usually

performed in recent years. And the choices were


Encore "Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)," which

the band hadn't played in the U.S. since December

9, 1985 (though it did play the song twice in

Europe in 2003, according to reliable setlists),

was as fresh and intense as ever.

(The first time I heard "Carnival" in

concert, at the Beacon Theater in New York in '84, it was

also done as an encore, and it caused people to dance

in the aisles as wildly as I'd ever seen rock fans

dance at a concert (outside of a Grateful Dead show).)

Even Stipe was impressed with his band's performance

of "Carnival" last night -- an endearingly ragged version

that made it sound like you were hearing the group

perform it at one of its earliest shows. (For the record,

I heard this Greek show in the hills above the theater.)

"We had not rehearsed that song in about four or

five years," Stipe said from the stage after "Carnival."

"It's been awhile since we've played it. But it

sounded great."

The crowd roared in agreement.

"So somebody post it immediately," Stipe said.

Elsewhere, "Disturbance at the Heron House," one of

the three or four best R.E.M. songs of all time,

was nearly perfectly played. "Heron" is the sound of a

band in its prime, with every element in harmony, a

pastoral rush like a waterfall or a drive through a

great forest.

Look, I could go on and on -- about "South Central Rain"

and "Auctioneer" and "Electrolite" -- but you get the idea.

I bet parts of the show will be turning up on

YouTube soon, so catch it there.

But I digress. Paul

[collage of REM by Paul Iorio using a photo from the "Chronic Town" EP by an unknown photographer.]



EXTRA! for June 2, 2008

Remembering Bo Diddley

The only time I ever saw Bo Diddley perform was on

May 20, 1989, at Pier A in Hoboken, New Jersey,

where I was covering his concert for the East Coast

Rocker newspaper, which published my review around a

week later.

At the time, Diddley was middle-aged and largely

undervalued by a music industry that had made vast

fortunes off of his musical ideas. As I note in the

piece, his show was fascinating but more than a

little bit sad.

Here is a scan of my original manuscript (click on a page

to enlarge it):

[Bo Diddley review, page one]

[Bo Diddley review, page two]

[Bo Diddley review, page three]

[Bo Diddley review, page four]



for June 1, 2008

Last Night's R.E.M. Show in Berkeley, Calif.

Last night R.E.M. played the Greek Theater in

Berkeley, Calif., the fourth date of its tour

backing "Accelerate," its first studio album in

four years and probably its best since '96's

"New Adventures in Hi-Fi."

When last seen at the Greek, in October 2004, the

band was touring behind a less successful album, was

booked at this venue for only one night, and Michael

Stipe was wearing a John Kerry for president t-shirt.

What a difference four years make. The Kerry t-shirt is

gone, the band is now doing two nights at the Greek,

"Accelerate" is selling quite nicely, thank you, and

the group has rarely sounded better in concert.

And some of the new stuff is good enough to

compete with their classics (and this is coming from someone

who is R.E.M.'s age and is therefore biased in favor of their

1980s oeuvre!).

In concert, new album peaks included surprisingly

strong encore "Mr. Richards," opener "Horse to Water,"

"Man Sized Wreath," the first single

"Supernatural Superserious" and "I'm Gonna DJ," which

has grown substantially since they played it here

in '04; the title track and "Hollow Man" were less

effective live (or at least that's how it sounded

from my vantage point in the hills above the theater,

where I heard most of the show).

A third of the roughly two-hour set was from "Accelerate"

but there was also a good deal of smartly-chosen vintage

material, most notably "Wolves, Lower," a thing of real

beauty here, like watching springtime erupt at time

lapse speed.

And the encore featured a double dose of "Fables of the

Reconstruction" in the order heard on the album:

"Driver 8" and "Life and How to Live It," a bit

of a thrill.

If I were creating the setlist with an eye toward

including neglected gems, I would definitely add "Shakin'

Through" and "Near Wild Heaven" to the set (and the less

rare "Disturbance at the Heron House," "Pretty Persuasion,"

"9 - 9" and "World Leader Pretend"). And I have to

wonder why the band is so averse to "Stand." Simply put,

that song is as fun as anything they've ever recorded.

Crowd response ranged from enthusiastic to extremely

enthusiastic. Some tie-dyed Berzerkeley dude was dancing

so wildly during "Wolves, Lower" that, when I passed him

and his swinging arms, I came an inch or two from

ending up in the local E.R.

Elsewhere, even security guards and police officers were

clearly enjoying the music (and the harmonious mood of

the event, too).

More on this show -- and tonight's gig -- later.

Ah, my first R.E.M. show. "Pretty
Persuasion" exploded the place. Fans danced
aerobically during the encores.

But I digress. Paul

[Full disclosure: I should note that I once sent a CD

of my own songs to the band's management but that

nothing ever came of it, and I'm not pursuing that idea now).]



for May 28, 2008

It's all well and great that Yale University

honored Sir Paul McCartney a couple days ago

with an honorary Ph.D. Maybe this is also a

moment when we can try to figure out why no major

songwriter of the rock era ever spent a day as

a student at an Ivy League university (or at a

British equivalent, though Mick Jagger, with his

stint at LSE, which was a different sort of place

back then, comes close). Or at Juilliard.

To be sure, there are a lot of brilliant musicians

at Yale, its School of Music and its music department,

no question about it. But no songwriter of the caliber of

McCartney/Lennon/Dylan/Jagger/Richards/Townshend/Ray Davies/

Paul Simon/Brian Wilson/Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry was ever

a student, much less a graduate, of Yale or any other

Ivy institution.

In some cases, the genius of a given landmark band was

non-Ivy (say, Paul Simon of Queens College, or Dylan of

the University of Minnesota) while the supporting craftsmen

attended an elite school (Art Garfunkel of Columbia

University, or Peter Yarrow of Cornell).

Why has this been the case? Do admissions people put

too much emphasis on the SAT? Or could it be, to put

it crudely, that a flower best blooms in dung -- at least

initially -- and might wither and die in an expensively

manipulated Ivy environment?

No first-rank songwriter of the rock era has ever come out of an Ivy League university, though a lot of lesser side players did. Witness genius Paul Simon of non-Ivy Queens College, and non-genius Art Garfunkel of Columbia University. And (below) Bob Dylan (University of Minnesota drop-out) and Peter Yarrow (Cornell grad).

Genius: University of Minnesota drop-out.

Non-genius: Cornell grad.

The school that nurtured McCartney's genius was the

Reeperbahn in Hamburg -- a tough, tawdry district of

whores and speed and seedy clubs that allowed the Beatles

to perfect their sound in 7-hour shows every night.

McCartney, a "graduate" of the Reeperbahn, may well be

the world's greatest living composer (it's probably between

him and Dylan, graduate of clubland in Greenwich Village)

and is arguably a better songwriter than Yale's own Cole

Porter was. I can't think of a Porter song as great as

"Yesterday" or "Hey Jude" or "For No One," and I know

Porter's work well.

By the way, I recently picked up a copy of "Cole Porter:

American Songbook Series," a terrific 23-track CD of his

songs performed by various artists, and wondered who the

singer of "Anything Goes" was. To my surprise, I found

it was Porter himself, and he had a not-bad voice by the

singer-songwriter standards of the current, more liberated

era, when voice is considered more important than merely

having a voice, when expression is valued over technique

(though "American Idol," which has also yet to produce

someone of the stature of McCartney (or of even a Badfinger,

for that matter), runs counter to this trend). To be sure,

Porter sometimes sounded as if he were reading it from the

sheet -- and the final verses of "Anything Goes" are as

wordy as a bad blackboard lecture.

The highlight of the Porter CD is Bing Crosby's "Don't

Fence Me In," which sounds as adorably American as any

non-country song before Woody Guthrie, and the nadir

is an awful reading of "I've Got You Under My

Skin," which Sinatra owns (the definitive "Skin" is on

"Sinatra at the Sands" with Count Basie).

While I'm digressing about CDs I've been enjoying lately, I'm

also enthusiastic about "The Best of Laura Nyro," two CDs

with 34 tracks that cover almost all of her peaks. Certainly,

Nyro is not in the McCartney/Porter stratosphere of songwriters

(she's not even in the same league as Carole King), but

is nonetheless sorely underrated -- and her songs are

probably ripe for a revival.

The best way to hear Nyro's songs is to forget or

unhear the better-known versions that were later

turned into hits by MOR acts like the

Fifth Dimension and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Listening to "Eli's Comin'" fresh, suppressing the

memory of the Three Dog Night hit, one realizes how

intense it is and that a band like the Rascals

probably could've turned it into something special and

soulful with Arif Mardin producing (a gospelish group

could cut a great version today). Other gems include

a live "Sweet Blindness," the familiar "Blowin' Away"

and the more obscure "Save The Country" and "Stoney End."

Lately I've been listening to "The Best of Laura Nyro," 34 songs, some of 'em underrated, on two discs. (Obviously, she's not in McCartney's league but worthy nonetheless.)

- - - -

Recently re-watched the DVD of "The Aristocrats," which

I admire for its spirit of extreme outrageousness. I'd

love to see a sequel called "Taboo," with each joke

taking on a different sacred cow of some sort.

It's interesting that I didn't hear major controversy

about it back in 2005 (or maybe I missed it), because

you'd think it would have been targeted by fundamentalists,

who tend to regard a joke as advocacy of the joked-about

subject. (I mean, I used to tell jokes about taboo subjects,

Andy Kaufman style, decades ago -- during a very brief

period in my life when I actually performed stand-up

comedy -- and found that some of my dimmer pals took

my act as non-fiction autobiography (and some

still do, it seems!)

Anyway, the film is an equal opportunity offender -- except

when it comes to the ultimate daredevil sacred cow of

mainstream comedy: Islam. Now there's a

subject for a sequel.

-- -- --

Recently checked out a DVD called "Blind Shaft,"

thinking it was a quirky sequel to

"Shaft" in which John Shaft, a la "Ironside,"

continues his investigative work after

having gone blind. Wrong disc! Instead, it

was a riveting, ultra-realistic Chinese

feature from 2003 about criminality and

corruption in the coal mines of China. I hope

others make the same mistake

and rent it.

-- -- --

Haven't heard anything lately about David Letterman's

tick-head mishap. For those who haven't heard, a tick

became embedded in Letterman's back some time ago; it

was removed but the head of the tick still remains

under his skin, which, as any medical professional knows,

can be a very serious condition. We at the Digression

wish him a speedy recovery from his tick head crisis.

But I digress. Paul



for May 22, 2008

"Do not go gentle into that good night/
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-- Dylan Thomas

[photo from Look Magazine]



for May 19, 2008

Ah, yet another audiotape from bin Laden: what a

better reason for another couple installments of my

own cartoon series "The Continuing Adventures of bin

Laden, the Jihadist Pooch." (If you want to see

the previous 12 episodes of the strip, go to

But I digress. Paul



for May 13, 2008

To remember Robert Rauschenberg, who died earlier today,

here's a photo I shot of one of his works at the Norton

Simon Museum in Pasadena in 1999. It's called

"Cardbirds 1 - 7" (1971), a series of wall reliefs made

of cardboard.



for May 11, 2008

The other day I saw a McCain bumper sticker in

Berkeley, Calif., for the first time and immediately

snapped a picture of it, as if it were a rare

variety of Macaw never before seen outside Natal.

Anywhere else, that sticker might not stick out, but

in Berkeley, arguably the most liberal place

in the nation, it did. Here it is:

the loneliest bumper sticker in Berkeley

I don't know if that means McCain is making inroads

in left neighborhoods or whether it was just somebody's

cousin visiting from Fresno, but I do know that, if bumper

stickers were ballots, Barack Obama would get close to

98% of the Berkeley vote. I have seen cars on Shattuck

that are like shrines to Obama, one with a cardboard

cut-out of him on the roof that probably

wouldn't clear the Caldicott Tunnel. There are

houses that look like Obama palaces, with signs

and pictures in every window. But you can hike

for miles in Berkeley without ever seeing a single

Hillary sticker or sign, though there

have been sightings, I'm told.

lots of these in Berkeley

But California ain't a battleground state. The

main swing states right now are Wisconsin and

Pennsylvania, without which Obama could not possibly

win the presidency. And, in fact, he might not be

able to win the general with them, if

Ohio or Florida also don't come aboard, though one

wonders how they could when even Oregon -- Democratically

reliable Oregon! -- is still a question mark,

as is Minnesota. (Anyone who thinks Georgia and

Virginia are in play is dreaming or joking.)

How is Obama going to do better than Kerry did in the

swing counties of the swing states? I'm talking 50:50

counties like Grant County, Wisconsin, and also

Iron and Washburn counties, which Kerry won by a goose

feather. I'm talking Monroe County, Pennsylvania, where

the vote was virtually tied in '04. It's hard to

believe Obama's money advantage over McCain will close

the gap (remember how Obama threw bucks everywhere during

the Pennsylvania primary but didn't budge in the polls?)

And the vice-presidential choice rarely affects the


If Kerry could barely win Grant County, Wisconsin, how can Obama? Can he offset such losses here with big totals in Madison? Or will the black-o-phobic vote offset the Madison offset?

No, Obama's only hope is he'll rack up totals greater

than Kerry's in liberal areas that will compensate for

his loss of the more moderate precincts that went

Democratic in '04. In other words, the enthusiasm

of his supporters in Madison will make up for his

losses in Washburn/Grant/Iron/etc. counties. Or in

Florida, they think his true believers in Miami

will offset his defeat along the I-4 corridor.

But his edge in, say, Dade County, will likely be

neutralized by white backlash in the panhandle. The

same thing that energizes his backers in Miami will

also energize the black-o-phobic McCain voters in Pensacola.

Let's look at Florida for a moment. The way liberals

have traditionally won statewide is to mount up votes

in the Miami area in order to overcome the panhandle

tally, which is always solidly Republican; the tie-breaker

is, generally, the central, moderate, suburban I-4 corridor.

Sure, Barack will fire up his supporters so that he gets maybe

three percent more in Miami than Kerry did; but that

will be offset by the fact that McCain will win the white

panic vote in the panhandle (where people still drive

around in pick-up trucks with Confederate flag license plates,

looking like extras from the final scenes of "Easy Rider") by

maybe four percent more than Bush got in '04.

When pundits say race is not an issue, what they're really

saying is "race shouldn't be an issue" or "race isn't

an issue among my circle of friends" or "I don't want to

admit that race is an issue." But it is, and not just among

the sorts of rural whites or blue collar workers who will

vote against a black candidate just because he is black.

(Further proof that racism is still alive and well in

America, as if we needed it, came last week with the

public exposure of racist email between Secret Service

agents, who are not exactly construction workers.

Of course, that was just the stuff they put in writing.)

Age, not race, should be the salient contrast in November,

but probably won't be. McCain is almost as old as senile

von Hindenburg was in his final years as president of

Germany -- and is almost as likely to be seen by the

rest of the world as a telling symbol of an empire past

its prime in foreign policy leadership, if he's elected.

Obama is so young that he could run again in 20 years and

still not be as old as McCain is now. And he may have to run

again because, in 2008, there is still too much racism

in America and are apparently not enough black, student

and liberal voters to elect Obama this year.

Is Obama ahead in counties like Monroe County, Pennsylvania, one of the 50:50 counties of '04?

But I digress. Paul



for May 6, 2008

[cartoon/photo by Paul Iorio]

But I digress. Paul



for May 3, 2008

A Brief History of the Next Few Years

-- Jeremiah Wright will appear on the season

premiere of "Saturday Night Live" in

October, acting in a sketch that sends up the

TV sit-com "Sanford and Son," in

which he plays Redd Foxx's character to

Obama's Lamont (Fred Armisen), who

he calls "a big dummy."

-- When McCain and Obama choose their running mates,

pundits will inevitably say, "Voters don't vote

for the bottom of the ticket" and

"Running mates don't usually help but can hurt

a candidate's popularity."

-- In October 2008, there will be fear of a surprise

terrorist attack that never materializes.

-- Around October 20th, people will start talking

about having seen Christmas decorations in

department stores and about how this must be the

earliest arrival of the season ever.

-- Around Halloween, Republican advocacy groups will

run TV ads in key swing states showing Jeremiah

Wright's rants, and McCain will, of course, denounce

the commercials, while saying he has "no power to

tell them to take down their ads, any more than

Obama has the power to tell Rev.Wright to shut up."

-- Obama will go hunting in Ohio and shoot at, and

miss, several geese.

-- McCain will misspeak on the campaign trail, calling

the Sunni insurgents "gooks."

-- Liberals will get giddy in late October when the latest

tracking polls show Obama within three points in

Ohio -- and ahead by one point in Florida!

-- On election day, it will turn out that the late polls

were wrong and that Obama loses Ohio by seven points,

Florida by 12 points and Wisconsin by five. McCain

wins Iowa and Missouri by double digits The final

electoral and popular tally is a massacre for the

Dems, ranking somewhere between the defeats of Duakais

and Mondale.

-- During the Christmas season, "Good Morning America" will run

a holiday segment titled something like: "Why You Hate Your

Loved Ones During Christmas Get Togethers."

-- The press will start speculating about who President-elect

McCain will appoint to his cabinet, and the list will

include lots of new faces from Arizona.

-- Someone will coin the phrase "the Arizona Mafia" to

describe McCain's inner circle.

-- The White House press corps will be reconfigured

to include local reporters from

Arizona news outlets who have covered McCain

in the past and have had access to

him. There will be glowing, puffy stories

about the new First Lady; beauty and

grooming magazines will run features about

how you, too, can look glamorous

like Cindy McCain in just 12 easy steps!

-- There will be a honeymoon period during which

leading Democratic pundits will say over-generous

things like, "President McCain is doing far

better than expected in bringing together disparate

factions." David Brooks will say, "The

grown-ups are back in charge in Washington." McCain's

approval rating in March will hit a record 77%.

-- Mother Jones, the San Francisco Chronicle and

the National Review will all run cover stories with

identical headlines: "Is The Democratic Party Dead?"

The Mother Jones and Chronicle stories will be almost

identical, while the National Review piece will not.

-- The honeymoon will last a few months, until McCain

starts over-using his veto pen. David Brooks will

call him "principled." Mark Shields will call him

"Vito McCain."

-- In February 2009, Katie Couric will resign from

CBS News to join CNN in order to helm a series

that is "still in development." She releases a

farewell statement that partly says, "I bear no

ill will as my ship sails on to ever higher peaks."

-- In the spring of '09, The Washington Post will run

a front-page bombshell quoting anonymous, tearful

White House sources who have borne the brunt

of President McCain's frequent temper tantrums. "The

West Wing has now become a hostile work environment,"

says one staffer.

-- By Labor Day 2009, there will be early

speculation about the 2012 race that

will include the phrase, "But in politics,

three years is an eternity."

-- The New York Times Magazine will run a cover story

during the holiday season of '09 titled: "The Maturation

of Hillary Clinton." Newsweek will be even

bolder, putting her on the cover with the caption:

"The Front Runner in '12?"

-- A serious Draft Gore movement will spring up by

January 2010. Tim Russert will try to get Gore to

announce his candidacy on "Meet the Press," but Gore

will only say "it's too early to decide," which will be

taken as a "yes" by jubilant Gore supporters.

-- Vicki Iseman will receive a seven figure advance

from HarperCollins to write a tell-all memoir

about her relationship with McCain.

-- President McCain adopts a pet German Shepherd

that unexpectedly becomes vicious and bites a CNN

correspondent on the leg at the White House. (A tabloid

is forced to apologize when it runs the headline

"German Shepherd Bites Pit Bull.")

-- The New York Times quotes West Wing staffers about

the insiderish power of Cindy McCain; one source says,

"If the First Lady doesn't like you, you're out."

-- During a "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" segment in

Yemen on "Today," Lauer comes under sniper fire by

Islamic militants who call him "The Infidel Lauer." Later,

the relieved anchor says, "This one could've easily gone

the other way."

-- In the spring of 2010, the Washington Post

will run a front-pager revealing that McCain

has been secretly seeing an oncologist and that

there is widespread speculation in the White

House that McCain's melanoma has returned. McCain

heatedly denies the reports.

-- Those presidential health concerns are swept from

the headlines for a time in the summer of 2010 by

the most turbulent hurricane season since

2005 and a Category Five storm that takes dead

aim at, yes, New Orleans, destroying all the

rebuilding of the past few years.

-- McCain will seize the moment and heroically

helicopter into New Orleans's Ninth

Ward, personally handing food and water to

the devastated victims. But there

will be a moment of confusion when he

says, "We must help the people of Vietnam

in their hour of need." His poll numbers

soar, as everyone forgets about

the gaffe and about the Post revelations.

David Brooks will call him "action Jackson"

-- On Christmas eve of 2010, McCain will admit that, yes,

he has had a recurrence of cancer that is not

life-threatening. The Post, angry that McCain had

dismissed its earlier reports about secret visits to the

oncologist as "fantasies by a once great newspaper,"

harshly questions his credibility and suggests he

should consider resigning. The phrase "credibility

gap" makes a comeback.

-- There will be jokes about McCain's afternoon

naps at the White House after McCain is caught

dozing at a leadership symposium in Arizona. Time

magazine will catch flak for running a photo

of a snoozing McCain on its

cover with the headline, "The Credibility Nap."

-- Cindy McCain will appear in a controversial photo

spread in Vanity Fair wearing a queen's crown

and eating jelly beans.

-- As it becomes apparent that McCain will not seek

a second term because of health issues, the 2012

race moves into gear. Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney,

Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich all set up

exploratory committees, or hint that

they will.

-- Obama announces that he will not seek

another term in the Senate and will

retire from politics; shortly thereafter,

he files for divorce from his wife and

says he intends to relocate to Massachusetts,

one of the few states he won in '08, to live

with his "friend" Samantha Power.

-- Jeremiah Wright announces his candidacy for

Mayor of Chicago.

But I digress. Paul



for April 26, 2008

Shining Light on "Shine a Light"

torn, frayed, mostly fabulous

I finally got around to seeing "Shine a Light"

and couldn't help but think it might have benefited

from a more straightforward approach cinematographically

instead of the incessant cutting that makes this more

of an editor's film than a director's film, though

anything Martin Scorsese is involved with is a

Scorsese film, period. Then again, any movie the

Rolling Stones are involved with is a Stones film,

period, so there is almost a tug of war between

strong-willed auteurs here, with Scorsese

seen pleading for a setlist at one point, which

he definitely could've used to block and plan

shots for his cinematographers who seem to be

scrambling frantically to catch pictures of lightning

after the lightning has already struck, though every

now and then they do catch and bottle a bolt

or two.

But it would've been nice if one of the cameras had

caught, say, Darryl Jones playing the bass intro

to "Live With Me" instead of focusing on one of

the guitarists or had shown Charlie Watts doing

that vintage drum roll that opens "All Down

the Line."

The setlist is a masterpiece, around as good as the

one at the Olympia show in Paris captured in the

"Four Flicks" film, though one can quibble at the edges.

Perhaps the better-live-than-on-the-album "You

Got Me Rocking" might've worked better than the

better-on-the-album-than-live "Shattered," which

I've never heard performed successfully live.

And "Sweet Virginia" or "Dead Flowers" could have

best filled the "country" slot reserved here for

failed joke "Faraway Eyes." And "Respectable" would've

been the perfect song to play with the Clintons

in the audience. And what about a nod to "Bigger Bang"

with "Oh No, Not You Again," the best of the new

ones live.

The choices are otherwise dead on; "She Was Hot," a

highlight, has terrific, unexpected momentum; "Loving Cup"

now sounds like it was written with Jack White in mind

all along; "As Tears Go By" has a real pulse, thanks to

Watts; "Connection" is one of the band's best

overlooked songs of the 1960s, though Keith botches it

here (he did a far better version in Oakland, Calif.,

shortly after this gig).

And each guest star tops the previous one, with

Buddy Guy leveling the place with "Champagne & Reefer"

and with offhand artistry that is assured, authentic

(he livens up the place much as Dr. John did in

"The Last Waltz"). Christina Aquilera, trading vocals

with Jagger on "Live With Me," is a powerhouse, a hurricane,

always blowing audiences away. (Wish they'd brought her

on for the Merry Clayton part of "Gimme Shelter,"

not played here.)

This is a concert film with spliced-in archival footage

that is often hilarious and rare while heavily favoring

self-promo bits in which Jagger one-ups various

interviewers -- as opposed to the Maysles brothers's

"Gimme Shelter," which shows Jagger at both his wittiest

and unwittiest (remember the "philosophically trying"

remarks?). Though the film doesn't pretend to be any

sort of definitive docu on the Stones, one still wonders

where Brian Jones is in all the vintage footage;

Jones has gone from being wildly overemphasized as a Stones

member to, today, being almost completely erased from the

band's history. That said, it's telling that the group

got only better in the years after Jones's death (see:

"Exile," "Sticky Fingers," "Some Girls").

They performed almost half of the "Some Girls" CD,

likely to remain their best-selling studio album of

all time, now that the dust has settled, though at

the time who'd have guessed that its unlikely combination

of disco and punk, warring genres in their day, would

have eclipsed both "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile." But it's

the closest the Stones have come to a diamond seller

like "Nevermind" or "Boston," which they've never had,

even if their cultural influence has been far greater

than all but a few in the rock era. Today, it's easy to

see that "Some Girls," released 30 years ago this June,

had a sort of shock jock element that made it popular

among millions of non-Stones fans, though that

element was partly excised in this film, with the

deletion of an explicit verse from the title track,

a song rarely (if ever) performed by the Stones.

I was lucky enough to have heard the very first public

performance of "Some Girls" material by the Stones, on

the first night of their "Some Girls" tour, June 10, 1978,

a couple days after the album's release, at the Lakeland

(Florida) Civic Center -- and I saw the group from only

several feet away.

As I recall, the new album was erupting unexpectedly,

so the band was in an extremely good mood at this

kick-off gig in '78. In fact, they seemed

downright giddy and manic and drunk on (among other

things) their own effortless rock 'n' roll mastery.

I remember seeing Jagger take the stage to the

opening chords of "All Down the Line," as flashing

lights briefly illuminated his leap into the air

(he looked just like a whip or a lightning bolt) and

remember seeing him physically and playfully

push Ron Wood to the side of the stage at another point.

And I remember how eerie and spooky it looked and

sounded to see Jagger right in front of me singing that

falsetto part of "Miss You" -- and he was singing it

live for the first-time ever.

A year later, with those songs still ringing in my

head, I moved to Manhattan, where I lived for years at

the Beacon, 25 floors above the theater where the

concert in "Shine a Light" took place. In those days

I used to travel to the Beacon Theater by...taking

the elevator!

Which is part of what makes that final shot of "Shine a Light"

(in which Scorsese directs the cameraman to film from

above the Broadway marquee to the rooftops of the Upper

West Side, literally between the moon and New York City) so

magical to me. And it suggests an even better flick: a

movie of a concert on the Beacon roof, a la "Let It Be," in

which the Manhattan skyline co-stars.

the Stones's bestseller, released 30 years ago this June

But I digress. Paul



for April 24, 2008

I was reading a transcript of the latest

audio recording from Osama bin Laden the

other day and wondering: is he dating? Does he

have a lover? Would bin Laden be a less violent

person if he had a sexual partner? Could we save

the world from his destructiveness by simply...setting

him up on a date?

Hence the origin of my screenplay, "Play It

Again, Osama," presented below:

Play It Again, Osama

By Paul Iorio*


OSAMA BIN LADEN (to himself): What's the matter with me?
Why can't I be cool like the Prophet Mohammed?
What's the secret?

An imaginary Prophet Mohammed, wearing a fedora and looking
and sounding like Humphrey Bogart, appears from the shadows.

PROPHET MOHAMMED: There's no secret, kid.
Infidels are simple. I never met one that didn't understand
a slap in the mouth or a slug from a .44.

OSAMA BIN LADEN: Yeah, 'cause you're Mohammed.
I'm not like you. When you lost Aisha, weren't you crushed?

PROPHET MOHAMMED: Nothing a little bourbon and soda
wouldn't fix. Take my advice and forget all the romantic stuff.
The world is full of infidels to fight. All you have to do is whistle.

OSAMA: He's right. You give the unbelievers an inch
and they step all over you. Why can't I develop that attitude?
[mimicking Mohammed] Nothing a little bourbon and soda
couldn't fix.
[He swigs a shot of Old Crow, gags.]



LINDA CHRISTIE: Osama's calling again. We've got to find him a girl.
Somebody he can be with, get excited about.

DICK CHRISTIE: We'll have to find him a nice girl.

LINDA: There must be somebody out there. Someone to take his
mind off losing Mohamed Atta. I think he really loved Atta.

DICK [picking up phone]: I know just the girl for him.



Osama is preparing for his date, which is in an hour or so.
Again, from the shadows comes an imaginary Prophet Mohammed.

MOHAMMED: You're starting off on the wrong foot.

OSAMA: Yeah, negative.

MOHAMMED: Sure. They're getting the best of you
before the game starts. What's that stuff you put on your face?

OSAMA: Canoe. It's an aftershave lotion.

MOHAMMED: You know, kid, somewhere in life
you got turned around. It's her job to smell nice for you.
The only bad thing is if she turns out to be a virgin --
or an agent for the JTTF!

OSAMA: With my luck, she'll turn out to be both.

TITLE CARD: Later That Night....


The doorbell rings and Osama opens the door. It's Linda.

LINDA: How did the date go?

OSAMA: It never would have worked between us.
She's a Shiite, I'm a Sunni, it's a great religious abyss.

LINDA: [laughing]

OSAMA: You're laughing and my sex life
is turning into the Petrified Forest.
Millions of women in the Northwest
Territories and I can't wind up with one!

Osama takes a seat on the couch and Linda sits next to him.

OSAMA: I'm turning into the strike-out king
of Waziristan!

LINDA: You need to be more confident, secure.

OSAMA: You know who's not insecure?
The Prophet Mohammed.

LINDA: That's not real life.
You set too high a standard.

OSAMA: If I'm gonna identify with someone,
who am I gonna pick? My imam?
Mohammed's a perfect image.

LINDA: You don't need to pretend. You're you.

Osama nudges closer to Linda on the couch.

The imaginary Mohammed appears and speaks.

MOHAMMED: Go ahead, make your move.

OSAMA: No, I can't.

MOHAMMED: Take her and kiss her..

LINDA (getting up to go to the kitchen): I'll get us both a drink.

MOHAMMED: Well, kid, you blew it.

OSAMA: I can't do it. We're platonic friends.
I can't spoil that by coming on.
She'll slap my face.

MOHAMMED: I've had my face slapped plenty.

OSAMA: But your turban
don't go flying across the room.

Linda returns with two drinks.

LINDA: Here we are, you can start on this.

MOHAMMED: Go ahead, kiss her.

OSAMA: I can't.

The phone rings and startles Osama, as he answers it.

OSAMA (into phone): Hi, Dick. Yes, she's here.
I was going out -- I had a Polish date.

He hands the phone to Linda.

MOHAMMED: Relax. You're as nervous as Abu Jahl was before
I beat his brains out at the Battle of Badr. All you've got to do is
make your move.

OSAMA: This is crazy. We'll wind up
on al Jazeera!

LINDA (into phone): OK, goodbye.

LINDA: Dick sounded down. I think
he's having trouble in Karachi. I wonder
why he never asks me along on his trips.

OSAMA: Maybe he's got something
going on the side. A fling.

LINDA: If I fell for another man,
it'd have to be more than just a fling.
I'd have to feel something more serious.
Are you shaking?

OSAMA: Just chilly.

LINDA: It's not very cold.

MOHAMMED: Move closer to her.

OSAMA: How close?

MOHAMMED: The distance of Flight 175 to the south tower..

OSAMA: That's very close.

MOHAMMED: Now, get ready for the big move
and do exactly as I tell you.

Suddenly an imaginary Mohamed Atta appears and
confronts the Prophet Mohammed.

ATTA [to Mohammed]: I warned you to leave my ex-lover alone.

Atta draws a pistol and shoots Mohammed.

Osama looks a bit panicky now that Mohammed is gone.

LINDA: I guess I'd better fix the steaks.

OSAMA: Your eyes are like two thick juicy steaks.

Osama kisses Linda, who recoils, pushing him away.

OSAMA: I was joking. I was just testing you.
It was a platonic kiss.

LINDA: I think I'd better go home.

OSAMA: You're making a mistake.

Linda waves goodbye and leaves the apartment.

OSAMA: I attacked her. I'm a vicious jungle beast..
I'm not the Prophet Mohammed. I never will be.
I'm a disgrace to my sex. I should get a job at an Arabian palace
as a eunuch.

The doorbell rings.

OSAMA: That's the vice squad. [He opens the door, and Linda is there.]

LINDA: Did you say you loved me?

Osama and Linda embrace and kiss and the scene fades.


MOHAMMED: That's all there is to it.

OSAMA: For you, because you're Mohammed.

MOHAMMED: Everybody is at certain times.

OSAMA: I guess the secret's not being you, it's being me.

MOHAMMED: Here's looking at you, kid.

*with massive apologies to Woody Allen.


But I digress. Paul



for April 21, 2008

Oh! Ye bitter Pennsylvanians, come 'round to the polls,

but drink not from the chalice of disappointment and

woe, or seek succor by clinging to thy religion and

thy guns, when ye cast ye ballots in the Primary of

the Greatest Publick Importance, at least this week,

until next month, when the next state decideth.

Thou must not delayeth thy journey to thy polls with vain

prayer or the reloading of thy guns. Thou must not

cling to that which provides false solace in grim

times. Thou must not pray out of bitterness in thy

voting booth upon the altar of discredited touch screens,

or place thy bullets amidst the paper ballots that have

largely replaced thy touch screens. Oh, ye bitter

Pennsylvanians, put aside thy clinging and loading and

praying to dodge the sniper fire on the way to the

Primary of Publick Importance!

But I digresseth. Paul